Avery Furlong is a strong woman. If you were to interact with her on social media, you would never guess that she suffered from PPD/PPA. Avery feels like a leader, and often, that isn’t associated with depression or anxiety, but Avery is the living embodiment.
Avery wrote to me that her depression’s onset came only a few days after each of her two pregnancies.
“It was like being trapped in a dark pit in the corner of my mind that I didn’t even know existed. The harder I tried to climb out the higher the walls seemed to get, and after a while it seemed pointless to try. Everything was foggy. All of my other mom friends were easing into motherhood so gracefully, and I just couldn’t seem to get myself together. I became convinced that my husband and son were better off without me.”
Like Noelle, Avery also felt that her depression isolated her: “I was very isolated in the friend department. My other mom friends were just blossoming in motherhood and I always felt like less of a mother because something was wrong with me. It made me feel worse to be around them.”
Often women report that anxiety changes everyday so deeply that all functionality is decreased, or at the least, greatly hindered because PPD/PPA is exhausting: “It was like my mind was constantly foggy. I was so tired I felt like a literal zombie and when I finally had a moment to myself during nap time, I always chose to try to sleep instead of taking care of my other needs, like showering and eating, but I’d end up just crying or scrolling through Facebook—which made me feel more awful. I had no interest in doing what I used to love.”
Avery said, “I’d wake up completely exhausted. Between pumping breastmilk and feeding my baby every 3 hours, and insomnia (a common PPD symptom), I only got 2-3 hours of broken up sleep every night. Pumping and breastfeeding seemed to be a huge trigger for me. I dreaded feeding my own baby, and even resented him a little for it. I wouldn’t look at him when I fed him. But as a new mom, the internet had me convinced formula equaled failure, and I felt like giving him breastmilk was the only thing I was doing right.”
And just like me, Avery said that her husband often would be the metaphorical punching bag for the difficulties of PPD/PPA.
“I was very angry toward my husband. I still feel badly about how I treated him. I blamed him for a lot of things. It caused so much tension between us, and it almost shattered our marriage. He begged me to get help, but I felt so ashamed at what was happening to me, and I was terrified of medication or that they’d judge me and take my son away.”
On top of a strained relationship, she was overwhelmed.
“In fact, most things stressed me out…It got worse when I had to go back to work 6 weeks postpartum. I couldn’t nap or anything at work, and then I was up all night. My mom sent me videos of him rolling over and sitting up for the first time and it broke my heart I wasn’t there, and when I was there I was too tired and numb to do much with him. I constantly felt like I was failing. Like I wasn’t cut out for motherhood. I tried to ‘snap out of it’ but the harder I tried to fight it on my own, the worse I seemed to get.”
Intrusive thoughts are usually the first sign of PPD that mothers notice in themselves. Avery stated that “every time I walked near stairs I graphically pictured dropping my baby down the stairs. When we were in the car on the freeway I kept picturing opening the door and jumping out. I knew I’d never do these things, but the images haunted me daily, and I was terrified if I told anyone about them that they would take my baby away.” These intrusive thoughts are not abnormal and many other women participating in this project voiced the exact same thoughts.
I asked Avery if she recognized if that she had PPD in the beginning.
“I didn’t at first. All I knew of PPD was the moms (that I now know had postpartum psychosis and not PPD) that you’d see on the news that hurt their children and themselves. I knew baby blues were common the first two weeks postpartum, so I thought thats just what it was. But that two week mark came and went and I still wasn’t better. Before I left the hospital they just said if I didn’t feel myself after two weeks to see my doctor, but they never told me what was normal new mom exhaustion and what was symptoms of PPD. I had no idea that things like insomnia, rage, anxiety, and intrusive thoughts were common symptoms of PPD/PPA. I just thought I was having a hard time adjusting. I did some googling and discovered I had PPD, but I was so determined to beat it on my own. I grew up in a family where medication was weakness, and I thought I could just snap out of it. But the second time, I knew all the symptoms. I knew exactly what to look for and had a treatment plan already in place to avoid everything that happened the first time, and it made such a big difference!”
Bonding is another issue that many mothers expect to happen instantaneously, but for many, such as Avery, bonding can take time. She stated, “I didn’t bond with my son until he was almost 6 months old. I loved him, but I didn’t feel that magical mother-child bond everyone talks about. I hated that I felt like I HAD to pump milk for him to be a good mom when it made me so, so miserable! I was terrified I had damaged our relationship for good. He always wanted my mom more than me, and I was sure he deserved a better mom than me. Once we switched to formula it made a world of a difference, and we bonded so much better once I got on medication and started to recover.”
For Avery, PPD initially was something that everyone else noticed, and that she, herself, did not want to admit—because why would anyone want to admit that a life altering mental illness is occurring? Avery stated, “My husband told me multiple times, my mom mentioned it, and my boss at work asked about it. I still didn’t want to believe it and wanted to fix it by myself. I had wanted to be a mom my whole life, and I was finally there, and I was so miserable it broke my heart.”
Treatment brought about mixed emotions for Avery, as it does most patients of PPD.
“Part of me was relieved that I wasn’t alone, that I wasn’t crazy, that it wasn’t my fault, and that they believed me. I was hopeful to get better and be the mom I wanted to be. Yet at the same time, I was terrified the medication would screw me up and make me worse. I worried it wouldn’t work at all and that I was a hopeless case, and I was afraid of the stigma behind being a medicated mother.”
For Avery, breastfeeding and pumping acted as emotional triggers. Breastfeeding releases oxytocin and prolactin; however, when a breastfeeding mother is already experiencing the effects of PPD, having these extra releases of hormones can be difficult. Further, breastfeeding inherently requires a mother to ready to feed a newborn around the clock with an abnormal (for adults) sleep schedule. Lack of sleep can deepen one’s PPD, which is potentially another reason why some mothers with PPD struggle.
Avery noted her struggle with pumping, breastfeeding, and sleeplessness.
“It made me so miserable, I absolutely hated it! It made me angry, but my family is very pro-breastfeeding, and I was already feeling like a failure–I didn’t want to fail at feeding my child, too. Lack of sleep and support was a big trigger, as well. No one offered to help me, and I was too afraid to ask. I felt so alone. I was gross from not showering, I had lost weight from not eating, and I never got ready. I really lacked in self-care, and I hated myself for what I had become.”
Avery was determined to find a remedy for her issues, which is often a very difficult first step.
“I tried natural at first. I started by trying to work out a few times a week. I tried to eat more and stay hydrated. I tried getting outside for walks. I picked up on crafting to give me a new hobby to do. I turned to my religion and prayed so much. I tried essential oils and vitamin supplements. These things did help, but only for short amounts of time. They didn’t cure me, and I slowly got worse until I finally figured I was completely hopeless.”
A througline that many women mention is the concept that they often feel that their families would be “better off” without them. Avery used this exact statement (and so did several others included in this project). Because of these feelings, Avery made a suicide attempt.
“My husband caught me, and immediately took me to a hospital. I was evaluated, and put on medication. I wish I had gone to my doctor sooner! It made a world of a difference, and I felt great once [the medication] had been in my system a few weeks. The second time around I didn’t hesitate to seek professional medical help.”
Still, medication is part of the one-two punch. Loving oneself enough to give yourself some slack is imperative to the recovery process.
“I always reminded myself to be patient and kind to myself. I tried to take the good days when I could and was gentle with myself on the hard days. I also made self-care a priority.”
Looking back, Avery wishes she could tell herself to turn to others.
“Don’t hesitate to go see your doctor. Don’t try to wait it out. They are there to help. Don’t be afraid of formula, he will be just fine no matter how he is fed. No amount of breastmilk could ever replace a happy mom. I’d tell my family to be patient with me and to just be there. To listen to me, help me when I need a few minutes to myself, and I’d thank them for not giving up on me.”
As for advice, Avery recommends self-care, patience, and kindness with oneself.
Name remains unchanged. A big thank you to Avery Furlong for her participation. You can find her Facebook support group here.