We’re living in a world that’s not what we’re used to. Our mental load — the daily stress of working from home and taking care of the kids, the worry about our parents, the questions about when life will ever get back to normal — is getting heavier by the day. While this feels like something that we can’t avoid, and we get that, we want to make sure that you’re still doing what you can to check in on you. We want to know how you’re doing, and if you’re not feeling your best, we’re here to support you.
The Healthline Parenthood team created this content package, Mental Health Check: How Are You, Really?, to give you the mental health support wherever you are in your parenting journey. You’ll find articles that will help you through pregnancy, the newborn phase, parenting in a pandemic, and beyond.
I’m happy to kick this off by introducing an editor on our team, Saralyn Ward. A mom of three, Saralyn has direct experience with postpartum depression after the birth of her second child. Her story is strong, powerful, and educational for parents in all different phases of life. I’m proud to work with someone who is willing to share their story to help others.
Don’t forget to ask yourself how you’re doing, because we already know you’re wearing the weight of making sure your family is okay.
— Jamie Webber, Editorial Director
You know how they say every baby is different? Well, I’ve found that to be true. It’s part of the crux of parenting, actually. Once you think you’ve figured it out, something new happens to make you realize you know nothing at all.
But it’s not just the babies that are different. No matter how many times you’ve given birth, each postpartum period offers its own challenges. All three times I’ve been through the fourth trimester have been wildly different. I just had my third child 4 months ago, and so far, this postpartum experience is nothing like my last.
My first child was born vaginally, 7 years ago. It was, without a doubt, one of the most defining moments of my life. The labor was long, but positive. When I made my final push and heard her first cry, for a split second it felt like I was connected to the divine. Giving birth to her was the most empowering, euphoric experience because in that moment I realized just how powerful I was.
The weeks that followed were mostly bliss, peppered with the baby blues here and there. I definitely struggled as we learned to breastfeed and as I tried to heal my body, but overall, I was on cloud nine. I was exhausted but reveling in my new sense of power and purpose.
Two and a half years later, I gave birth again. My second daughter was born via C-section, because she was footling breech, with one foot stuck in the birth canal (yes, that’s as uncomfortable as it sounds). I heard her first cry as they whisked her away to clear her airway, and I was the last person in the room to lay eyes on her — something I was not prepared for.
The anesthesia, epidural, and pain meds I was given were a cocktail I couldn’t handle. I don’t remember much of the first 48 hours of my baby’s life. At some point, I passed out with my tiny newborn on my chest in the hospital bed. I woke up and didn’t remember how she got there. My arms weren’t wrapped around her. She could have easily rolled off and hit the floor — something that took nearly three years to forgive myself for.
The weeks that followed were a blur. Our sweet baby had a host of medical issues that made it nearly impossible for her to eat from breast or bottle. My milk had come in quickly, but she had four oral ties and laryngomalacia, and she lost weight for 2 weeks straight.
I was awake around the clock triple-feeding her: First she would nurse, then I would pump the milk she couldn’t extract. Meanwhile, we’d give her a bottle of breast milk or formula right after nursing, to supplement. The whole process took about 2 hours, meaning I got only 30 minutes of sleep before it started all over again. This was our life for 4 weeks, until she was back to birth weight.
When I did sleep, it was restless. The laryngomalacia made it hard for our daughter to breathe. Every night, she would wake up gasping for air. To say I was terrified is an understatement.
At about the 5-week mark our baby was finally gaining weight steadily, and that’s when the screaming started. She had developed reflux, and she was HANGRY, as if she was making up for lost time. She would settle for no one but me, and I felt like I had nothing left to give.
Those were desperate, dark nights. In the thick of it, I honestly felt like I might never sleep again. I had no idea how to calm her down.
It didn’t take long until my head started playing tricks on me. My mind went rogue, and intrusive thoughts about harm coming to my baby crept in. My worry and exhaustion were quickly morphing into postpartum anxiety and depression. It was a tornado I never saw coming.
Think about your 10 of your closest mom friends. According to the Center for Women’s Mental Health at Massachusetts General Hospital, chances are at least 8 of those friends have experienced the baby blues. According to a 2013 study that surveyed 10,000 mothers, chances are
I, for one, had no idea that perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) were so common. I think this is, in part, because I had never heard any of my mom friends talk about it.
There is so much shame in experiencing PMADs. Moms never want to admit to themselves — let alone their friends, family, or doctor — that they are experiencing debilitating anxiety, crippling rage, paralyzing depression, or obsessive compulsions.
We think we must be terrible moms if we aren’t enjoying every single second with our precious baby. Or we fear someone will take our child away if they heard the thoughts that rip through our heads in the dark hours of the night. We think we must be broken.
At my lowest point, when exhaustion prevented me from seeing straight, and fear was my constant companion, I remember a night where the baby screamed for hours. As I tried to rock her and calm her, tears rolling down my face, the worst intrusive thought yet pushed through my head.
“You could just let go.”
A vision of my baby dropping to the floor terrorized my mind. I was horrified and started bawling. Suddenly, and without warning, I became my own worst fear. Thankfully, in that moment, another, more rational voice countered.
“Put the baby down and walk away,” it said. I laid my crying baby in her crib and left the room, sobbing.
In the weeks that followed I had so much shame that I couldn’t even bring myself to speak of that night. I told no one — not my husband, not my doctor, not my mom. I was afraid they would think I was a terrible person and the worst mom.
At my 6-week checkup, my doctor saw that I was struggling and helped me design a plan to return to health. I never had to go on medication, but I knew it was there for me if I needed it.
In time, as my baby recovered from her health conditions, I got more sleep, and was able to make lifestyle choices to improve my mental health. Still, it took me 3 years to feel comfortable sharing my story.
Our hope at Healthline Parenthood is that by opening up an honest conversation about mental health, we will help others who might be struggling. This month we share content about postpartum mood disorders, the baby blues, and how postpartum depression impacts partners.
But because mental health issues don’t stop at postpartum depression, we have support for you beyond the newborn months. Especially during this pandemic, we’re all feeling a little more strain on our mental health. We’ve got you covered with information like the best meditation apps, how to stop comparing yourself, and strategies to cope.
If this month’s collection of articles helps just one parent feel more grounded, we will have succeeded. It takes courage to get real about your mental health, and we’re here to support you on the journey.
— Saralyn Ward, Parenthood Editor