#202 | From Bliss to Rage: A Mother's Journey with Postpartum Depression

March 1, 2023

When Lauren gave birth to her first baby, everything was seemingly perfect. Breastfeeding was going well, and she was totally in love with her baby girl.  What she didn't see coming was a series of lifestyle changes including moving that set her up for her previously-managed OCD transforming into bouts of postpartum rage. At 9 months postpartum, when her pediatrician told her that her baby was too small, the regularly occurring outbursts that soon followed were classic for the postpartum rage cycle: trigger-outburst-guilt, with much of her rage directed at her husband. We discuss the triggers that exacerbated her postpartum mood disorder and the importance of seeking support and understanding the signs and symptoms of perinatal mood disorders.

Postpartum rage is one of the manifestations of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.  It is a stress-related response, which triggers our "fight" mechanism when we reach a point of overwhelm.  While the outburst brings relief, guilt is quickly ushered in and the cycle continues.  The key to interrupting the cycle is to manage the triggers--for Lauren, this was her baby's sleeping habits.  

In today's episode, Lauren courageously shares her most vulnerable postpartum moments in hopes of helping other mothers realize they are not alone in this common yet significantly under-recognized manifestation of postpartum depression and anxiety.

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View Episode Transcript

Like I would get so angry at Andrew sometimes. And there was nothing inside of me that I could do to stop myself from having this outburst, until I got it all out. And then I would feel like the world's worst wife, like the most evil person on the planet, and I would just break down into tears. I have laundry to do the baby's crying, the TV's too loud. My clothes feel weird. I'm so overstimulated. I looked at him. And I said, I don't want to kill myself. But I wish that something awful would happen to me so that I would die. Like I wish I could just evaporate into this bed right now and die. I feel so trapped in where I am, and I don't know how to get out of it.

I'm Cynthia Overgard, owner of HypnoBirthing of Connecticut, childbirth advocate and postpartum support specialist. And I'm Trisha Ludwig, certified nurse midwife and international board certified lactation consultant. And this is the Down To Birth Podcast. Childbirth is something we're made to do. But how do we have our safest and most satisfying experience in today's medical culture? Let's dispel the myths and get down to birth.

I am Lauren mclees. I'm 23 years old, I have a beautiful 15 month old daughter. And I'm here to talk about my experience with my postpartum depression and how that manifested into rage. I had an absolutely beautiful birth. It was 33 very long hours, I gave birth at the only freestanding birth center in all of South Carolina. There's only one and it is in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, which is just across the bridge from Charleston. So I went into labor early in the morning the day before my due date. So I labored at home all day and all night. And then finally around 11pm That night we went to the birth center, they did a cervical exam, and I was only two centimeters. So it ended up being a very, very long day, very long night. But 33 hours later, we had the most beautiful eight pound little girl wonderful birth experience. It was magical. It was everything that I had hoped it would be. And more so.

So you took this beautiful baby home?

Yeah, we did. So we took her home about five hours later. She, she took to the breasts, like it was the only thing she had ever known in her whole life. Breastfeeding was great. I had a very hearty milk supply. It was really just a matter of figuring out how to get that really deep latch. And after that, I don't think we ever had a problem ever again with breastfeeding after after we met with our ibclc I feel like for a long time, it actually helped with my anxiety because I knew for sure like she is nursing great. You know, there was a little bit of anxiety that went into it just because I was like, you know, is she gaining enough weight? She's very skinny, very tall. And we're gonna have people all the time say, Oh, she's so little. Don't you think she should be bigger. And so around nine months, I think is when our our pediatrician really looked at me and was like, she's really little like she's very skinny. And that's just instantly like, that was a huge trigger for me. And that sent me into a downward spiral for weeks. I mean, like I obsessed about. Every time she nursed every bite of food, she ate everything. It was really hard for me to snap out of that because I thought I had been doing a great job for nine months. And then, you know, for him to say she's really little like you really need to be feeding her purees and doing baby led weaning with table food and breastfeeding and like he wanted us to get her up at six o'clock in the morning to start feeding her purees and then to start breast milk and then a top off the bottle. And so it was way, way too much. And so that really that was one of my biggest triggers. I think my whole postpartum journey was was with her being told that she was too skinny.

So are you saying that the first nine months you coasted and you Really didn't experience any perinatal mood disorder. And then at nine months, this trigger set you onto a whole different trajectory.

So I definitely had signs and symptoms before that. I think at nine months when we were told by the pediatrician that she was too little, that was definitely the biggest trigger that I had experienced and the longest run of postpartum depression that I experienced back to back there when so we had Ainsley in October. And the day before Thanksgiving, we sold our house and moved. I lived in Georgia with Ainsley for six weeks, and my husband commuted back and forth from Georgia to Kentucky for his new job.

These are definite risk factors.

In their first year, since we've had Aynsley, my husband left the Navy, we bought a car and sold a car, bought a house sold a house, moved 500 miles away from all of our friends and family. And my husband started a job where he was working, rotating shift work. So he works 12 hours a day, five days a week, and every other week, he works night shift. So I had never experienced that before. We met when he was in the Navy when he was on shore duty. So we never experienced a deployment together. I grew up in a military family. So I have experienced deployment before, but we never experienced that kind of separation together. And so the whole reason he got out of the Navy was so that we could be together and that he could be present and helping to raise our daughter. And so when we moved here, we thought, okay, like, you'll be home every day, you'll be in bed with us every night, you'll be able to help if you know she's going through a leap, or, you know, anything happens like you'll be here. And that just wasn't what ended up happening at all. And I truly think that our move here and his job was was really the thing that initially triggered my postpartum depression. So we sold our house in Charleston, and I lived with her in Georgia for six weeks until our house here was ready. And then we moved here, the middle of January. And things were great here for a while, we only had one vehicle for a while. So Andrew had to take that to work. And that part was really hard for me it was not being able to leave the house and go places. And I remember when we bought my truck, I would go to Sam's Club four and five times a week just to get out of the house like just to be in the presence of other adults, and have the potential for adult interaction. I would go to Walmart or Target or Sam's Club almost every day for one or two items. And Andrew looked at me one day and said, he said, Why did you go to Sam's Club so often. And I was like, I crave this human interactions so badly because I don't get it. I was like you get to go to work. You have a great time at work. He loves his job. He has so many friends at work every day. He's like, Oh, somebody said something so funny at work. Let me tell you about it. And I looked at him one time and I said, you know that must be really nice, because I talk to a one year old all day. And so I really craved that human interaction with with other adults. So you know if it meant going to Sam's Club four days a week I did it because that was sometimes the only thing that could keep me from truly feeling like I was going insane.

At what point did you start to recognize this as postpartum depression and how did it manifest itself as postpartum rage?

Um, I think in April. That was my first indication that something was amiss. Ainsley had been really often on a sleep schedule. We never did like sleep training or anything like that with her. And we exclusively contact napped for the first 10 months. So every nap that she took, I held her it was easiest for us. And she went through this period where she would either take an extremely long amount of time to fall asleep, or she would fall asleep within minutes and only sleep for 15 or 20 minutes and then wake up and still be extremely tired. So I knew she wanted to go back to sleep, but I didn't know how to support her to do that. And so with him being on my husband being on 12 hour shifts, he gets up at 440 in the morning and doesn't come home until 630 At night, so there was nobody here to help me. And it got to the point one day where I called my mom sobbing and screaming on the phone, I need someone to help me, because I don't know what is happening to me. I don't know what to do. And I feel like I'm going to hurt myself. Only because I could not get her to fall asleep for a nap one day. And so, you know, looking back at that conversation, I was like, What is wrong with me that I broke down so strongly just because I couldn't get her to fall asleep for a nap. And my mom said, that's probably an indication that you have postpartum depression, if you are if you're having such a strong reaction to her not taking a nap. And so that really kind of triggered the conversations going forward to look at all of the things that were truly happening here that were bothering me that I needed, that I needed to address.

Yeah, I think you're exactly right about that. I think your mom was exactly right, that it's easy for you to tell the story and say, Gosh, can you believe I had a reaction like that just because my baby didn't map. But that isn't the story. Most women either were raised to keep it together, we were socialized into keeping it together were high achievers, and we believe we have to give the impression of keeping it together, whatever it is, even in our the privacy and intimacy of our own marriages, we tend to endure a lot and say I can do this. And obviously I love my baby. So nothing is wrong, nothing is wrong. But what was going on was, as you said, like an indescribable amount of life change, losing your entire community exhaustion. And what we need to talk about more is just women aren't getting their needs met. And I don't just mean like, oh, taking a shower is so hard, which is stressful. Eating is so hard I forget to eat. That's a really big deal. But even for the women who get all those little needs met, like they get their shower, they get their food in, they're not having fun anymore. They're not feeling smart anymore. Because they're not having intellectual conversation. They're not laughing anymore, because they're not hanging out with friends. They're feeling disconnected from their previous social circle, perhaps. So then one day comes along the baby doesn't happen. There's this like volcanic explosion. And I want to get into the what postpartum rages a little bit. You, you've set this up perfectly, whether you're aware of it or not. It involves a trigger. It involves an outburst. And there is a third part. And we can talk about that next. The third part is it's the cycle. The third part is guilt.

My guilt so strong it was it was awful. So I've known from the beginning since I got pregnant that I wanted to do things very differently than how my parents did. I wanted to do the gentle parenting method where you know, you get down on their level and you talk to them when you explain things to them. And when you make a mistake, when you raise your voice at them or snap at them, you apologize to them. Well, you know, I would go through the cycle, right, there's the trigger the outburst, that guilt. And so I would feel I could feel myself getting that momentum to build up to the outburst and not be able to stop. Like I would get so angry at Andrew sometimes. And there was nothing inside of me that I could do to stop myself from having this outburst. Until I got it all out. And then I would feel like the world's worst wife, like the most evil person on the planet, and I would just break down into tears and hug him and apologize to him and say, oh, please forgive me. Like, I did not mean this. This is not how I wanted this to come out. I have laundry to do the baby's crying. The TV's too loud. My clothes feel weird. I'm so overstimulated. And so I would apologize profusely, over and over and over again and beg him to accept my apology. And the same thing with Ainsley. Like, one time I snapped at her and I yelled at her and she cried, and I just instantly sank into this, like, pit of despair where I scooped her up and I was holding her rubbing her back, saying, Oh, I'm so sorry. My love like mommies did not mean to yell at you like that. And I would give her hugs and kisses and like, she would kind of look at me and smile a little bit and then she'd be totally fine and I'm still left feeling this guilt afterwards? Like, you know, it just I didn't feel like my apology was ever enough.

And once the cycle began, you could feel it brewing, there was no stopping it.

Yeah, we were at Sam's Club one time. And we got Ainsley out of the truck and she was asleep. And it was the first time we'd ever put her in the big car seat that you can't take out of the car. And so I was like, Okay, we have to get her out very carefully get her into the sling keeper asleep, cuz she needs to nap. She'd only been asleep for like 10 minutes. And so Andrew puts the sling on because he wanted to wear her. We get her out of the car seat, she's still asleep, we put her in the sling, she wakes up. And so I was like, okay, like pattern, patter booty, and Shush, Jordans thing to her and get her back to sleep. And he couldn't. And I looked at him and I was like, What is wrong with you that you cannot get a five month old baby back to sleep in a matter of 30 seconds like she didn't even fully wake up. And so all through Sam's Club, a guy would just snap at him about something. Or like, he'd walk up and try to hold my hand and I was like, Don't touch me, I don't want you to touch her. And I'm so mad, you don't touch me. And it was like, even though I knew that the way I had spoken to him was hurting him. I couldn't get out of my head until I felt better until I felt like that anger had dissipated. And then the guilt was hidden. And then it was just this repetitive cycle all the time, like, the dishes didn't get done. And I would snap at him and then I'd feel like crap about it. Or the dogs would bark and wake the baby up and he wouldn't get them quiet enough. So then I would get mad at him. And I feel like my postpartum rage really was, was mostly targeted towards my husband, because he was so compassionate the whole time. Like, I don't think once he ever looked at me and was like, Don't talk to me that way or don't, you know, don't take this out on me or and it was almost like, he welcomed that anger and upset onto himself because he could handle it because he knows who I truly am. And he would say to me, this is not who you are, and I know who you are. So when you have these emotional outbursts, when you get upset, I can handle it. Like I can take you being mean to me because I know that you are not a mean person. And you need help you need support in some way. There's something I can do to help you get through this. Before I was pregnant, and you know, like, my anxiety and depression like I had an eating disorder that I got diagnosed with when I was 16. And that went along with my OCD and like how bad my OCD was, while I was pregnant, I tracked everything Ainsley did meticulously, like, the second she had a dirty diaper, I would change her and I would mark it. I just feel like it goes, it plays into some of my triggers, and like how it actually presented, it wasn't always this screaming and yelling so much as like, I had this, you know, OCD, obsessive need to control how things are done. And when those didn't happen, it would cause me to go in into the rage cycle. And so he was he was really a gem through the whole, the whole first year postpartum when I was really struggling. I have diagnosed OCD long before Andrew and I had even met. And so, you know, you see those silly memes on Facebook, where it's like, oh, my husband was so thoughtful and loaded the dishwasher, but then I had to go behind him and reload it because he didn't do it the right way. Even in therapy like my my therapist, I don't feel like I had the right therapist. He was not a postpartum like trained in any postpartum specialties. He didn't really know a ton about perinatal mood disorders. And he was very much like, your role as a woman is to do this and you're in your husband's role as a man is to do this and so every time I would say that it would just visibly cringe at him and be like, well, that's how we do things in this house. And so he you know, even though I was in therapy, and I was actively talking about these things, it wasn't with the right person. And so I wasn't actually doing anything to really treat my rage.

It is so painful to hear about women needing help and ending up with the wrong therapist. Every time a client tells me they're gonna get a therapist, I said, Good, please, and be sure to meet a few and find the right one. Because I can't even tell you how often women are hurting more because their therapist says something that doesn't align makes them feel guilty. Gives them complete misinformation about postpartum depression. It's such an underserved field with so few people who understand. So did you leave that therapist? How I did? Yeah, it sounds like you were aware he was I mean, first of all, he was a man. So the honestly, the odds of him really understanding this, he would need an extraordinary amount of education, and experience and empathy, just worldly empathy, to really be able to support a woman through this stage. And I don't think there's anything wrong with recognizing that. What did you do? How long did you see him? And what did you do about that?

I think I saw him for it was a bout three months. So there was once in back in April, when Ainsley wouldn't go to sleep, and I had that really big blow up on the phone with my mom. She got on a plane and she flew here. The next morning, she called my husband and said, I need to talk to you in privately away from Lawrence. So he went to the other side of the house, they had a conversation, I still don't know if they talked about, he came back in our bedroom, as Eddie, your mom will be here tomorrow, she's going to come and she's going to stay for a few days with you while I'm at work. And she's she's going to be here and we're going to get you into therapy, we're going to help you establish some kind of routine with the baby. And we're going to find you something to do with your time, so that you're not just sitting here at the house with her. And so when we got off the phone with her, I looked at him and I said, I don't want to kill myself. But I wished that something awful would happen to me so that I would die. Like I didn't have any thoughts of wanting to harm myself. Like I wasn't thinking like, oh, I can do this and die. But I just looked at him and I said, I just really want to die. Like I wish I could just evaporate into this bed right now and die. I feel so trapped in where I am and I don't know how to get out of it. So I never had thoughts about about wanting to hurt Ainsley are wanting to hurt myself, there were never any, any plans or anything like that. That really, really, I mean, when I told Andrew that I wanted to die, he was very concerned. But it wasn't like, I need to go, you know, lock up the medicine cabinet and all these other things that you can't hurt yourself. But there were definitely moments where I really needed help. And I didn't know how to ask for it. Because I didn't know that what I was experiencing wasn't normal. Because I have friends who they're like, oh, yeah, I feel the same way. And so I'm like, okay, like she's experiencing it too. And she's a great mom. So there really must not be something terribly wrong with me. And that's the complete opposite from the truth. Like, you can be a wonderful mother, you could be a subpar mother and you can still experience the same things. And it's, it doesn't make it normal.

So the problem with believing it was normal is that you thought so this is really it. Like I can't get better from this. And this is my lifestyle. And these thoughts are real.

Exactly, yeah. When I would, when I would cry and say, oh, I want to die, I would think well, there's no one that can really help me there's no there's not any magic word that someone's going to say. That's going to make everything better. There's no magic pill that someone can give me that's gonna make me not feel this way. And so I didn't ask for help, because I didn't think there was help.

There's not a lot of help, unfortunately. And I just want to reiterate that there is no correlation between experiencing postpartum depression, rage, anxiety, any of it and what type of Mother you are, or will be or will be next time. That's, there's there's no correlation there. Exactly. How did you ultimately get past it?

I don't think that I have. I know that you can experience postpartum depression and how it manifests for each person may be different. I know that you can experience that up to a year postpartum. But I truly believe that if you don't On Earth, the root causes of your postpartum depression or your anxiety or your rage. I feel like if you don't start to work on that, that it can go it can span over the years. Like it's it doesn't just cut and dry in the day or baby turned one.

I don't know who told you it can extend past a year It most certainly can.

Okay, my my doctors who said that you could only be diagnosed with it up to 12 months.

Of course, it doesn't end at 12 months. No, of course not. The two things to understand the two takeaways that everyone really would benefit from knowing especially health care professionals, is a a woman can develop any perinatal mood disorder anytime in the first 12 months. So she can coast for eight or nine months and feel fine. And then she could get hit very hard with postpartum OCD, postpartum rage, postpartum anxiety, they often come with a trigger or life change and other life change. But they may not, then we don't know how long it will last. But the most important thing for everyone to know is it is always temporary. So that some constellation, right I mean, we don't want to think, oh, gosh, I can't live my whole life like this. However, even in hearing, it's temporary, sometimes we feel like well, I don't know how I'm gonna get through today. Because every day is so much suffering. When it comes to postpartum rage. The most important thing for you and your family to recognize is the trigger. And so far, in all of your examples, it was tied to sleep. Now, you might have other triggers. You agree with that? Oh, absolutely.

My biggest trigger has always been sleep and not not sleep for myself, but sleep for my baby.

So the best way to protect you from the rage, and to protect you from the guilt that ensues, is to address the sleep or get someone else involved in the sleep process, either a professional or your husband taking on another role. But simply the awareness is also very helpful, like, Okay, this is my trigger. And this is how I'm going to talk to myself when I get through this changing your expectations of sleep. But we try to disrupt any part of that cycle, whether it's the trigger, whether it's the guilt, whether it's the outbursts, that's the best way to break free of this, because again, this is a very cyclical perinatal mood disorder, unlike some of the other ones.

So actually, I want to go back and amend something that I said, I said that I don't feel like I have made any, you know, big headway with with with treating my postpartum rage. Actually, I think that we have, for me, particularly her sleeping better at night has definitely, definitely improved my quality of life.

I mean, it sounds like if you're not having intrusive thoughts anymore, that's a huge improvement. And fewer, fewer episodes of rage, it's all moving in the right direction.

So in looking back, do you feel like there's anything along the way where you could have prevented this? Or improved the situation? Anything you would have done differently? What have you learned? What would you do differently the next time? What do you think women should take away from the experience you had?

I don't think there was much I could have done to prevent myself from feeling this way. Because there are just some things that you can't learn before you're in that experience. And so for me, I had never had issues with, you know, feeling like she was underweight or there were problems with her until someone just randomly looked at me and said, she's too skinny. I think had I had a better therapist in the beginning that might have that might have helped a little bit. But definitely identifying your triggers, like I've always known for me, sleep is a huge one. And so when my husband would be gone at night, and it was just me, I would say to myself, like, okay, it's it is okay, if it takes her a long time to fall asleep. She's not doing it on purpose. I think giving yourself the grace and understanding of this is my trigger, I might not always know how to work through it. But at least I can tell, you know, you can tell your partner or your support system. This is something that really, really hurts me or really triggers me and I need you to help me identify that in the moment when it's happening. And Andrew to that did that a lot for me? Like if I would text him she's still like, I don't know what to do. He would say Okay, have you tried singing to her? No. Have you tried this? No. Do you need me to come in and take over? Yes. It's okay to ask for help. It's okay to say I need to step away. I need to take a few minutes for myself. I have gaps in my memory where where I feel like I didn't do enough with Ainsley when she was little. And then I think back on and I'm like, I feel like I didn't hold her enough when she was little. And Andrew will say, you held her every time she slept for 10 months during the day you exclusively contact nap with her. You held her every day. But because I was so in the throes of postpartum depression, there are chunks missing from my memory. We're all looking at photos and don't even remember what happened while we scan our brains for regret, unfortunately, so there's so much that we are really ready to regret and feel guilty about. But I want to thank you for sharing this. I know it took you some time to decide whether to do it. And this is not an easy thing for women to share. We a lot of women wrote to us on Instagram with really incredible, shares themselves of throwing things, breaking things. One woman shared a story of her husband, intentionally not helping her exactly when she needed help and asked for help with the baby. And he went in the bedroom for me time and locked the door and she kicked the door down. So it's such rightfully so a blessing that rightfully so as Tricia said, it's just we're very grateful that women like you are willing to share we know you're doing it. It's one thing to share a story that you're proud of and that you want everyone to hear about and feel inspired but it's such another level of compassion and love for humanity that you're willing to come and share something that's very difficult to share. Just so that it might help someone else who's in a similar situation and I assure you millions of women are and 1000s will hear your story. So just thank you so much to you and to your husband Andrew know that you you are willing to share your family's story.

Thank you for joining us at the Down To Birth Show. You can reach us @downtobirthshow on Instagram or email us at Contact@DownToBirthShow.com. All of Cynthia’s classes and Trisha’s breastfeeding services are offered live online, serving women and couples everywhere. Please remember this information is made available to you for educational and informational purposes only. It is in no way a substitute for medical advice. For our full disclaimer visit downtobirthshow.com/disclaimer. Thanks for tuning in, and as always, hear everyone and listen to yourself.

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About Cynthia Overgard

Cynthia is a published writer, advocate, childbirth educator and postpartum support specialist in prenatal/postpartum healthcare and has served thousands of clients since 2007. 

About Trisha Ludwig

Trisha is a Yale-educated Certified Nurse Midwife and International Board Certified Lactation Counselor. She has worked in women's health for more than 15 years.

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