Growing up, I always wanted two things – to be a teacher and a mom. I couldn’t wait to have my own children. I dreamed of all the cuddles, playing with them and feeling so much love and joy in my heart. I achieved both my dreams; I taught middle school science for five years, and I am the mom of two beautiful girls, Natalie and Chloe, who are now 8 and 6 years old. My reality certainly didn’t meet the expectations I had following their births. I had postpartum depression after Natalie was born, and postpartum anxiety after Chloe’s birth.
Natalie was born following a long, difficult and very unexpected induction. By the time she was born, I was exhausted mentally, physically and emotionally. When I held her for the first time, I expected to feel overwhelmed with love and happiness. But I wasn’t. I felt little besides sheer exhaustion and confusion about what was wrong with my daughter. We both had a fever when she was born and no one knew why. She was brought to the NICU after we had a few moments to hold her.
Later that night, I visited her in the NICU. She was covered in wires attached to various monitors, and had an IV in her little body. My heart broke into a million pieces. I was convinced that I did something wrong.
After a very emotionally difficult week, including difficulty breastfeeding, we were able to bring Natalie home. I felt like a failure as a mom, wife and person. For four months I cried almost daily. I was suffering from postpartum depression, and was in denial about what my feelings meant. Thankfully, one day I finally realized I needed help.
The following week, I began attending a support group and seeing a therapist. I found the support group to be a very big component of my recovery. Here, I found a group of women who completely understood how I felt. There was absolutely no judgement – only support, love and compassion. It took time and a lot of work, but I eventually recovered.
Shortly after this, we became pregnant with Chloe. We were excited, but I was fearful of postpartum depression returning. We made sure to prepare as much as possible. We decided to hire a postpartum doula for extra support, and asked my parents for any help they could provide. They very happily agreed.
Chloe was born in a quick, “easy” and healthy labor, and we went home the following day. She breastfed like a champ and I actually felt pretty good for a while.
A couple of months before Chloe was born, a close family member was diagnosed with cancer. It was immensely stressful for my husband and I. Once my doula was no longer with us, my mental health began to deteriorate. I was very sleep deprived from my inability to get back to sleep after night feedings, and I was filled with anxiety. I had panic attacks and became angry. I screamed and threw things.
Luckily, I knew I needed help, and returned to therapy and a support group soon after my symptoms began. With this help, and getting sleep each night, I recovered and felt like myself again. Since then, I’ve been using my experiences to help other parents feel like they aren’t alone, and have been volunteering with the Postpartum Resource Center of New York for five years.
Some Tips I’ve Learned Along the Way:
- There is help available. You do not have to suffer alone in silence. There are great support groups to attend, therapists to talk to and medications you can take.
- Reach out to family, friends, neighbors and faith community members or hire a babysitter to help around the house with meals or child care.
- Get a physical. There are physiological things that can contribute to how you’re feeling.
- Take care of you. Get sleep, eat healthy foods and stay hydrated. Partake in self-care – exercising, walking in the neighborhood, shopping alone, reading, cooking, bubble baths, taking a fun class or any other activities that makes you feel good and smile.
- Educate yourself! The more I learned about PMADs, the better I was able take better care of myself and feel less alone. A great book to read is Beyond the Blues: Understanding and Treating Prenatal and Postpartum Depression and Anxiety by Shoshana Bennett and Pec Indman. This is a fantastic resource for not only mom, but for her support network as well. There are chapters for moms, partners, family/friends, professionals and more.
Bridget Croteau lives in Suffolk County with her husband, Beau, their two children, Natalie and Chloe, and labradoodle, Jake. She is the author of Me, Again: How Postpartum Depression and Anxiety Transformed My Life. Bridget is also serving as Mrs. New York USA Ambassador 2020 to raise awareness for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and to help moms, dads and families feel less alone. Visit her website at bridgetcroteau.wixsite.com/bridget.
Fast Facts – Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders
- PMADs are very common and occur in 1 in 5 moms and 1 in 10 dads.
- PMADs are treatable. You will get better with help.
- PMADs are more than “just” depression. There is also anxiety, OCD, bipolar disorder, PTSD and postpartum psychosis.
- PMADs can occur during pregnancy, in the first year postpartum or after weaning from breastfeeding.
- There are risk factors including lack of support, previous personal or family history of depression/anxiety, previous trauma, difficult labor/pregnancy and more.
The Postpartum Resource Center of New York has a directory, information, a state-wide help line and more.
More information: postpartumny.org.
State-wide helpline: (855) 631-0001.
Outside New York:
Postpartum Support International is full of information, a help line, online and telephone support groups and more.
More information: postpartum.net.