THE MAMA SERIES X EMILY KASEL
I am honored that Emily decided to share her story with us, she is one strong individual. Thank you Emily. I know you are going to help so many other women that might be suffering in silence. Emily will take it from here.
I am a 30 something girl from Long Island who once sold ad space, taught kindergarten and now spends her days raising kids and then writing about it. I have a tiny dictator toddler and a newborn arriving in a few weeks. I am wildly obsessed with my children and overwhelmed by them every day.
I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and anxiety 6 weeks after my daughter’s birth. It brought me strength and passion I didn’t know I had. I began sharing my story on Instagram and later launched my blog to document my journey. My dream now focuses on redefining the expectations of motherhood and shedding light on the realities of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.
Motherhood: Expectations versus Reality
Learning to manage my own expectations is one of the most important tools in managing anxiety. Though for much of my life, I didn’t know how to do that well. I’ve always had this way of building things up in my mind, only to be very let down. Alternatively, I’d worry about how something might turn out, particularly things out of my control, only to be pleasantly surprised by the outcome. I don’t think I am alone here. This kind of “future tripping” is very common. Motherhood was no different. I expected that I’d take to motherhood like a fish to water. I was sure that nothing would come more naturally. Motherhood was in my bones, I was sure of it.
Then I became a mother and all of those dreams and expectations came crashing down. After giving birth to Mary Clare in September 2017, I found myself in a very dark place. I felt little to no connection to my daughter. I didn't want to be with her while simultaneously wanting to control every aspect of her life. When Mary Clare cried, I panicked. When I left the house without her, the anxiety was crippling. Ultimately, I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and anxiety about 6 weeks after giving birth. I received treatment under the care of my primary care doctor and my longtime therapist. Recovery was a process that took time. The hardest part was not blaming myself but with the support of so many I started to make progress.
After a few weeks, the fog slowly lifted. By the new year, I was having more good moments than bad ones. I began to hit my stride as a mother around February 2018. Then under the care of my doctor, I weaned off my medication in May. I finally had my happy ending.
Then when Mary Clare was about 9 months old, I found out I was pregnant. I remember when I got the positive pregnancy test with Mary Clare, I was overjoyed, this was what I had been wanting for so long! I did not have those feelings the second time around. When I saw the positive test, the walls started closing in all over again. I was having panic attacks. I felt my connection to Mary Clare slipping away. The anxiety seemed inescapable. I never expected to feel this way while pregnant. Yet there I was, again, experiencing a reality that was vastly different from my expectations.
I would soon find out, I was experiencing a relapse which is extremely common. This time around, I knew right away something was not right. I sought treatment immediately and discovered an incredible specialized program right in my backyard – The Perinatal Psychiatry program at Zucker Hillside Hospital. Perinatal mental health care focuses on the unique behavioral and mental challenges women may experience during and after pregnancy. I saw a doctor who specializes in perinatal psychiatry, it was through her I learned more about perinatal mental health and the safety of taking medication while pregnant. I went back on medication and began group therapy. Little by little, I came out on the other side of this episode.
Currently, I’m doing really well. I still take SSRI medication and will continue to do at least one year postpartum in order to avoid a relapse. I continue to see my psychiatrist and regularly attend group therapy. We are excitedly expecting Mary Clare’s little sibling in just a few weeks. Mary Clare is curious, perseverant, funny and sweet. We have so much fun together and the love I have for her cannot be captured in words.
Even still, I have days where I wonder how I’ll make it through the next hour. It’s on those days that I feel the expectations starting to take over, so I do my best I use the tools I have to help me cope. The way I cope with the anxiety that my expectations cause is through a reality check. I ask myself, “what is real right now?” The answer is always, “this moment, Mary Clare and me.” Seems simple but honestly, that’s all we’ve got. The moment we’re in and the people in it with us. When your mind is running away with itself, you must find a way to ground yourself, to bring yourself back down to earth. This reality check helps brings me back to the present. It reminds me that we have no way of knowing what the future holds and that focusing on made up expectations will only do one thing for me. It will steal my joy. I am reminded that enjoying life is about living in the here and now.
I didn’t expect to have postpartum depression and anxiety. I didn’t expect to get pregnant again so quickly. I didn’t expect that pregnancy could cause me to relapse. In a lot of ways, those unmanaged expectations made me really angry. They caused a lot of sadness and pain for me in my first year of motherhood.
However, those unmet expectations also lit a fire inside me, one that drives me to help and educate other women. Historically, the realities of motherhood and childbirth are not part of the mainstream conversation. I believe this has set womankind up with unrealistic expectations of motherhood and ultimately makes it so much harder for us. That’s why, I believe, as a community of mothers, it is up to us to change the conversation. It is us, the ones who know what it is really like, to shed light on the truth of motherhood.
It feels like a big task but each of us doing little things each day makes a big difference. It can be as simple as speaking honestly when a friend asks how you’re doing. It’s okay to say, “I haven’t pooped in days and my nipples are bleeding,” or “I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, the baby is always crying.” It’s okay to keep it real and say how you really feel. Motherhood is really really hard but it is also the best thing you will ever do. We need to create a space where those two realities can exist in tandem. So let’s make sure we keep it real so we can make the transition to motherhood easier for our sisters!
Motherhood is so much harder than I expected. It has made me so much stronger than I ever imagined I could be. It has brought me the deepest joy I have ever felt and brought me more peace than I ever knew possible. That is my reality. It’s a reality I love and wouldn’t change.
Tips for Easing Anxiety – these are immediate actions you can take right now.
Get out: go outside in the fresh air, a simple walk around the block will do wonders.
Reach out: do not sit alone suffering. Call a family member or friend, express how you feel and if you can, ask them to come over.
Breathe out: when I have a panic attack I place both hands over where my neck and chest meet, I breathe deeply in my nose and out my mouth then say the mantra, “I won’t always feel this way, it’s going to be okay.” Repeat. The hands placement physically center me, the mantra and breathe work focus my mind.
Resources – use these resources to seek help at the first sign of any symptoms.
Take the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) Assessment which has universally been the first step in diagnosing cases of PPD for over 30 years
PSI HelpLine call: 1-800-944-4773 or text: 503-894-9453
Postpartum Support International (PSI) is the ultimate resource for any woman who may be experiencing PPD/A
Find a perinatal psychiatric program near you
If you think you may be experiencing postpartum depression and/or anxiety, DO NOT WAIT, please seek help immediately. Thank you for letting me share my story. You can find me by heading over to my blog, click here.