Starting group therapy was the best thing that could have happened to me. Although I was hesitant, I ended up a part of this little community that met up every Tuesday morning to talk about our highs and lows of the week. This was a safe place for all of us who had such different lives but all connected through our journey of motherhood.
My first therapy session ended up being the first of many other moms as well. We also had a resident student doctor sitting in our our session. He sat in because that month he was in the behavioral health department and wanted to learn what moms going through postpartum depression go through first hand. Since this was the case we all went around and shared our story. I listened as other moms shared their NICU stories and I became hesitant to tell mine. How can I sit here and cry about my son being in the NICU for two days while this mom just shared about her month long NICU stay?
It was my turn and I couldn’t get passed introducing myself without crying. I told them my entire story and how I felt that the way my son had been admitted was a traumatic experience and now I’m just dealing with the effects from that. Once everyone had the chance to tell their story, group was almost over. We had time for our therapist and the student doctor to talk to us.
The student doctor appreciated that we all agreed to let him sit in. He stated that he learned a lot not only for his profession but for when he becomes a father. He started saying that one of our stories struck him the hardest and he looked at me! He told me that the way they took my son was almost like I was robbed of him. He couldn’t have explained it any better. I finally started feeling like my feelings were valid and although others have gone through rougher times with their newborns, my experience is no less important.
I continued therapy every Tuesday for two months. I only stopped because I had to go back to work. Going to therapy was my outlet and I looked forward to going every week. I had a great group of moms who understood and empowered each other. We had an amazing therapist who specified in postpartum care.
Attending group helped me see that I also had postpartum anxiety. I had this debilitating fear that my son would be taken from me. This caused me to be afraid to drive anywhere by myself with him. The first month my husband had to call off of work to take me to my appointments. I shared how I feared that someone would take my son if I was out shopping. I also never used those baby on board signs for my car because I feared that someone with bad intentions would see that and follow me to take my son. This caused me to stay home for the first 3 months of his life, only leaving when necessary and only with my husband. It took me a while to realize that my anxiety of having my son taken from me came from his NICU stay. It’s obvious now and may be obvious to others right away but when you’re going through depression and anxiety your brain is in this constant cloud that doesn’t let you think rationally.
Staying home like this was not good for my health mentally or physically. Mentally because I would sit at home all day reliving the bad and physically because I was not active. A week after I had my son I had lost all of my baby weight, two weeks after I was thinner than I was before I got pregnant. But as time passed and my anxiety and depression got worse I gained it all back and now I’m struggling with finding a balance so that I can focus on my health. Although it was amazing to lose all the weight so quick, I know I lost it because of stress. When I would eat I would have small portions for my meals because I had no appetite. When my husband went back to work I probably only had one meal per day.
Therapy helped me get over my anxiety by having me create positive experiences. My therapist recommended I drive on my own somewhere with my son. After a month I did, and only because my husband had to work. As I started doing it more it was less scary and a relief to not have that fear as strong as I had it before.
Once I felt like I had my fears under control my anxiety came back with more to worry about. I knew I had to go back to work and it was coming up soon. I never spent a day without my son and I started to get separation anxiety. It got worse when I realized that he hasn’t spent a day without me either and that I may have set him up for failure as well. My therapist recommended that I practice in my mind what it would be like to drop my son off. I had to think positive and get rid of irrational thought such as him crying for me all day, not eating enough, having an accident, etc. My therapist always stressed the importance of knowing when we had irrational thoughts because it’s what fed into our anxiety. My fears of leaving him and my fear of having him kidnapped from me were irrational thoughts. Sure, it may happen but it was a slim chance.
Before I knew it, it was time for me to go back to work. I’m lucky enough that my mother in law watches my son for me and I’m only 5 minutes away. Dropping him off that first morning was really hard, but seeing him so happy with his grandma put my mind at ease. I was able to get through my day easier than I thought I would. I still wish I could stay home with him but also love that I have my career and I’m able to provide for my family.
Overall, therapy saved my mental health. It pushed me to think differently and it pushed me to face my fears. I would have never done the things I did without therapy. Going back to work also helped me get out of my rut. My days consisted of sitting around all day and I was deep in my thoughts. Now our days are structured and I rarely have time to go back to that bad place. I feel like I still do have unresolved feelings and may benefit from going back to do some one on one therapy. But for the time being I’m happy with where I’m currently at with my life.