Please note: The following discusses postpartum depression in great detail and may be distressing to some. I want to note that at no point was anyone hurt—action was always taken prior to that point for the safety of both parties.
When I planned for the birth of both of my daughters, I made not one, but two, playlists for labor and delivery. The first playlist is likely what you would expect: soft, calming Christian music and some chant to calm me and help in breathing through contractions. The second playlist for both girls: hard rock music.
I make the second playlist because I have always used hard rock to power through hard things: late night papers and studying, workouts, cleaning my room, breakups. The second playlist is my “backup” playlist to pull out if the calming Christian music just isn’t cutting it.
Prior to Mariana’s birth, my husband sent me a song by Halocene titled, “Rage.” I listened, and put it on the backup labor and delivery playlist. At the time, I had no idea the role this song would end up playing after Mariana’s birth.
I felt isolated after Mariana was born. No one had offered to set up a meal train for us—I did it myself and pretended others had asked. Five people brought us meals after her birth (two of those were my parents and one set of my grandparents)—we were on our own beyond that. Additionally, doctors were excessively concerned about Mariana’s weight, so much so that I ended up taking Mariana to the doctor every day for four days in a row after her discharge from the hospital. At the final appointment, I was instructed to begin triple feeding: nurse, bottle feed, pump, every two hours. They had wanted me to come in yet again the next day, but Nick said that was enough and that we would seek a second opinion.
The regimen left me exhausted and with no time for naps or to myself whatsoever. I went the first six days home from the hospital without any naps. I was constantly anxious about Mariana’s weight gain. The extreme concern expressed by the doctors had led me to feel that Mariana might just waste away if I failed to continue this strict regimen. I have no doubt that this contributed to the development of my PPD and PPA. When we saw her new pediatrician, we were told that all of it had been unnecessary. I then spent the next month and a half working with an IBCLC to ensure that my supply didn’t drop off after weaning from triple feeding and helping Mariana learn to nurse.
When Madeleine was born, people stopped by and stayed with me for a bit. People helped unload our dishes. Meals came for the first four weeks after her birth. Beyond just one or two people took the time to really check in with me. Covid robbed all of that from us this time.
At first, I thought that my generalized anxiety was just getting worse. But, one night, after multiple night wakings and a day with no naps, it became very clear that it was more than that. This ran deeper.
Anger is an emotion that often points us to deeper issues. It is often an alarm telling us, “something’s wrong. This isn’t right. I need x, and I’m not getting it.” But if we don’t know that, when we feel deep anger, the type of anger that makes your blood boil, your cheeks flush, and drives your fist through a wall…it can scare us.
And that night, everything snapped. All illusions that I was ok went away. Exhausted, alone, and disconnected, the rage overpowered me. The intrusive thoughts began—those thoughts, the ones we are afraid to speak, afraid to ever admit (if you know, you know). I watched, as if outside of my own body, as I screamed at my sweet little baby and then realized I had terrified her. I tried breathing. I tried to calm myself. But the baby was still crying and my whole body was hot and shaking and I knew I couldn’t calm her in that state. And I felt like a failure for it.
So I took her downstairs, put her in the crib in the room down there, gave her her pacifier (I had already fed and changed her), shut the door, turned on the sound machine, went upstairs, cried, and took a twenty minute nap.
The next morning, I told my husband that I needed to get help.
I spent that day researching therapy options. I knew that the anger was an alarm signal that I was not ok, and prior to losing myself to that rage it had been easy to keep myself in denial. It was easy to pass things off as just a phase or as something I could power through. The fit of rage and screaming was my wake up call.
I began seeing a therapist through Talkspace. We went through some breathing exercises and made a plan for what would happen if I felt the rage and intrusive thoughts again. We worked through my guilt of leaving Mariana in her crib to cry when she was still a newborn so I could get even twenty minutes of sleep. We talked about my needs and what wasn’t being met, and brainstormed solutions to better meet those needs.
I remember feeling so alone and ashamed. I felt like a terrible mother. I felt like a failure. How could a mother scream at her baby? How could a mother have these thoughts about her baby? I wanted to just sink into a hole and go away for a long time.
The first time I no longer felt so alone was during another night waking. I was exhausted, and I pulled out my phone to keep myself awake. I found myself on instagram, and I searched, “postpartum rage.” And I read those posts, watched those stories, and I cried. It wasn’t just me. It wasn’t something I was doing wrong. I screenshot the stories that resonated the most, the ones that put into words what I did not know how to say, and sent them to my husband. “This is what I’ve been feeling,” I said to him, “I feel this rage, I fight these thoughts, I spend my whole existence fighting to keep these thoughts and this anxiety at bay, trying to convince myself that being here is better than being elsewhere, and I’m tired. I’m so tired.” It was the first time I’d been able to express myself to him in a way that he understood, because prior to that point, I hadn’t even understood it myself.
The first fit of rage wasn’t the last. But there was a plan: breathe, put the baby down in a safe place, put in ear plugs, set a timer, meet the need that isn’t being met, return to baby. It didn’t make the fits of rage any easier at first. But it made them something that I was gradually able to manage with more grace. I became better at identifying my needs. I started noticing triggers for the rage. The biggest one: lack of sleep. I made a plan to sleep train as soon as Mariana was five months (the age I’m comfortable with for sleep training. If you don’t support sleep training, fine, do what works for your family—I’ll do what will give me my sanity back). I started taking naps whenever possible and asking for the opportunity to nap. I let things go around the house so that I could focus on meeting my own needs. These were basic needs: shower, a nap, food, five minutes to myself. I’d been so depressed and anxious that I would forget to eat sometimes.
Through it all, I kept listening to the song “Rage,” as I focused on the refrain, “This ain’t the end, we’re here to stay / We rush into the unknown /Fearless and brave / So don’t throw it away, that rage / Won’t stop until sweet victory.” I tried to redirect my rage towards healing. I used it as motivation to be better for myself, my husband, and my two sweet girls. I worked through the guilt and the shame. I took a hard look at my wounds and brought them all to the Blessed Mother. I asked her to undo the knots of my heart.
As I worked through healing my mind, I worked through healing my body as well. And, after switching my meds again, I found myself able to walk and work out again. So, at the beginning of April, I began going to CrossFit. Suddenly, there was an outlet for all that energy and anger. I knew that at CrossFit I could show up, listen to loud music, and drop heavy things. At the end of some workouts, I found myself laying on the floor exhausted, but feeling better physically and mentally than when I had walked in the door. I found that I was getting stronger, and as my body became stronger, my mind did as well. I developed healthy outlets for my anger. I prioritized taking care of myself—which is more often self-discipline than bubble baths and manicures.
As my anxiety has eased up, I find that often anger has taken its place. Rather than becoming anxious about things, I become angry. While different in some ways than the blood boiling rage that happened in the height of my PPD, it is still new to me. I continue using many of the exercises I used at the height of my PPD to deal with this new type of anger. Prioritizing caring for oneself is not always easy, but it is always worth it.
As a Catholic and a woman, this type of rage carried a particular shame: the feeling that I was not only failing as a wife and a mother, but as a woman and as a Catholic. I felt that my rage embodied everything a woman, wife, and mother should not be. I felt that I was failing not only my spouse and my children, but God. I felt so deeply alone and ashamed.
So, if you have dealt with this, if you are experiencing this, I need you to hear me: You are not a failure. You are not alone. You are so incredibly strong. Through the grace of Christ with the Blessed Mother, you can get through this. You will get through this. It is ok to feel this rage. It is ok to need a safe outlet for the rage. It isn’t your fault—it’s lack of sleep, hormones, and the PPD or PPA that is causing this. It’s having unmet needs. So, first, get the help you need. Get medication if you need it. It’s ok if you need it. It’s also ok if you feel confident that you can address this without medication, so long as you are getting help and your psychologist/therapist agrees and supports you in that.
I am going to tell you what I would have wanted to hear: so many women deal with this. This is your Calvary right now, but we are an Easter people. We may not know when the resurrection will come, but it will come. You are so beautiful and you are the best mama for your kids. You are not a failure. By the grace of Christ, you are always enough, and Christ can heal all your wounds. Though it may not feel like it now, you are a great wife, and when you get through this, your marriage can be stronger if both you and your husband seek healing and the sacraments. Your life is worth living and worth living well, so don’t give up. Push through, and be amazed at the beautiful, strong, perservering woman that emerges in the end.
Go to the Blessed Mother, and tell her all your fears. Hold the rosary when you can’t pray it. Cry when you need to cry. Scream (away from others) when you need to scream. Be vulnerable—with Christ, with your spouse, with trusted friends. Though your world may be in darkness, I promise you—the resurrection will come. Dare to ask Christ to help you make it to the third day, and He will answer your prayers.