IN HONOR OF MATERNAL MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS MONTH THIS MAY, WE WILL BE FEATURING GUEST BLOGGERS, EACH OF WHOM BRING THEIR OWN UNIQUE EXPERTISE AND PERSPECTIVE TO THE DISCUSSION. IT IS MY HOPE TO HELP EDUCATE AND NORMALIZE THE EXPERIENCES OF ALL MOMS.
Guest Blog Post: Transformation
BY Katayune Kaeni, Psy.D.
My pregnancy went well and I was excited to meet my baby girl. I made a birth vision board, set up my birth plan, had my awesome doula and very supportive husband. The labor and delivery took a loooong time. But, she came out! I was so happy to meet her! My baby girl that I’d spent all of those months talking to and preparing for...now out in the world with me.
Thinking back, knowing what I know now, I can see the first signs of anxiety. It was the night she was born.
I was beyond tired from labor, but I could NOT sleep. I was constantly checking her, making sure she was breathing. Something fierce awoke in me, a kind of unrelenting vigilance that I’d never known. That lasted for quite some time.
Fast forward to day 5: the tears, the overwhelming feeling of “I don’t know what I’m doing”. I couldn’t stop crying.
Those first few weeks, the pain from nursing was almost unbearable. It took some time to figure out she had a tongue-tie. But by that time, I was down the rabbit hole. But, I didn’t know I was down the rabbit hole. I thought I was hanging on and that this was how I was supposed to feel.
She slept next to me in a bedside co-sleeper. I had the monitor on, even though she was next to me, to make sure I could hear her. During the day, I kept busy, even though I was exhausted.
I started to have intrusive thoughts about doing horrible things to my child, or horrible things happening to her by other people. The intrusive thoughts came in like lightening and scared me to the core. I worried that I would sexually abuse her or that someone else would. This was intensely terrifying. I started to wonder if I’d ever been abused; why was I thinking these horrible things?
I knew that I would NEVER hurt my child and I did everything in my power to stop those thoughts. And I didn’t dare tell anyone. Not one person.
I began to have intense feelings of rage, sometimes feeling like throwing her against the wall. Sometimes like screaming from the bottom of my soul.
I had to go back to work at three and a half months. There I was, a psychologist, working in a big medical center, several years under my belt as a therapist. I had no idea what was happening TO ME. I was so in my own head about how I felt, what I thought about myself, the intrusive thoughts themselves, the self-judgment, the questioning of EVERYTHING, the feeling inadequate. But, I would have some days where things weren’t so bad, I could kind of function. Over time, I had more days where I felt like I could function, but I never felt quite right. I was tired to my very core.
It took me a year to figure it out, or at least admit to myself what was going on with me. But when I did, it lit a fire in me and put me on a path that I never saw coming.
I wanted to find out everything I could about postpartum depression and anxiety, but I still didn’t want to tell anybody about how I was feeling. Not even my husband or close friends. I was embarrassed. I felt weak. Believe it or not, I had NEVER been told about postpartum depression or anxiety in grad school. No training in perinatal mood disorders, no seminars, no classes. NOTHING substantial. I knew it was a thing that could happen, but that’s it.
I thought to myself: I’m a Psychologist, a mental health professional; If I, as a therapist, didn’t know what was going on, how in the world would other moms be figuring this out?
I was angry that postpartum mood disorders were not widely known or talked about. I was angry that there was no follow up or real discussion from my health care providers.
Yeah, I was given a depression screen. I knew all of the questions they were asking, I’d given that screen to hundreds of people. I didn’t answer honestly. Also, there were no questions on there about anxiety. I may have denied those too.
I got out of my depression and anxiety. I worked hard to understand what was going on. I still work on things to try and keep myself balanced. What drove me the most in my recovery was the idea that so many women needed help. So many women were alone in their homes, feeling stuck in the cave, stuck in their mind. That they didn’t need to feel this way. That I didn’t need to feel that way. That WE DON’T HAVE TO SUFFER. That we don’t have to do this alone. That there is help, but we need to let them know.
What I didn’t know when I was depressed and anxious postpartum is that I would find my passion from the depths that my heart, mind and soul had to plunge.
I didn’t know that I was being transformed by my experience. I didn’t know that it would unleash a part of me that had such drive and ambition to help other women.
These are the things that we simply cannot see until we make it out.
Oh, man, but when we make it out...we are so much stronger than when we went in. Getting help, getting better, understanding ourselves, having compassion for ourselves, breathing deeply into our strength as women. There is transformation to be had in this experience, if we can allow ourselves to accept and grow with it.
Here's the thing: Everyone’s transformation is different.
Yours will be different from mine, from your best friend or your neighbor. It may come in a different package, smaller or larger than others. Your process, your change: It’s no more or no less than what it needs to be for you.
Your journey is unique and exquisitely YOURS. I’m hopeful that you will find your way through and be able to see the beauty on the other side of your transformation.
Katayune Kaeni, Psy.D., is a psychologist specializing maternal mental health. She was drawn to this specialty after going through Postpartum Depression and Anxiety with her first child. Dr. Kaeni’s mission is to support mothers, train health care providers and advocate for women and families and bring discussions of maternal mental health out in the open. She volunteers for Postpartum Support International as the area co-coordinator for San Bernardino County, works with San Bernardino County to offer local training to healthcare providers and works with local, national and international maternal mental health organizations. She thoroughly enjoys crushing stigma!
Find Katayne Kaeni, Psy.D. online:
Twitter: @drkaeni https://twitter.com/DrKaeni