I’ve experienced a lot of symptoms over the past several months. Sometimes it’s confusing whether what I’m feeling is due to having just had a baby or having just lost a baby. I end up playing a quiz game – Is it postpartum or grief?
Some symptoms are pretty straight forward: milk coming in – postpartum, thoughts of heaven – grief.
Most of the symptoms are confusing: brain fog/memory loss, physical pain/achiness, crying frequently, hair loss, feeling isolated, fatigue. Those could be symptoms of either or both.
Then I have those symptoms that feed off of one another. Postpartum instincts make me feel the urge to hold, feed, and check on my baby, which in turn is a cruel reminder my baby is gone. Then my grief symptoms get worse.
If you’ve had a baby, you probably remember the surveys the doctors give you. These surveys are to check for postpartum depression. You take a little questionnaire about how much you cry and how you are coping throughout pregnancy and then after you give birth. Doctors use the results to determine if you may be experiencing some of the signs of postpartum depression or anxiety.
I pitifully took the final installment of the survey at my 6-week check-up after my stillbirth. This isn’t looking good, I thought to myself as I was checking boxes. I cry all the time. My doctor looked at my sheet and said she thought what I was feeling was normal grief symptoms. She told me to let her know if I ever feel like I can’t function to do the daily tasks I need to as a part of normal life. That may be a sign of postpartum depression. I’m sure my survey would’ve raised some serious red flags had I had a normal birth, but I didn’t. I was healthy in grief.
Postpartum depression was one of my biggest worries during pregnancy. I was so afraid it would steal some of the joy of having a newborn. I knew it was pretty common, and I have friends who have experienced it. It’s another dark heavy aspect of motherhood that people don’t like to talk about. It is much more common than we know (in fact, 10% of dads also experience postpartum depression). I have such sympathy to those who are going through that.
But thankfully I wasn’t. Even in all my tears and pain and sorrow after losing Ginny, I knew I didn’t have postpartum depression or anxiety. I knew because I knew what it felt like not to feel myself. I had anxiety during the first trimester of pregnancy. I felt like I was about to give a big important presentation to 100 people…all. the. time. I felt so nervous that I had to force myself to eat and I had trouble sleeping. I knew my job was stressful, but I had handled more stressful projects with ease in the past. When friends asked me how I was feeling, I’d say, “Thankfully I don’t have much nausea, but man these pregnancy hormones are kicking my butt. haha!” Then inside I’d be thinking I don’t think I can do this. I’ve never felt this way before. What am I going to do? I would go to the bathroom at work and cry. I was not my normal joyful self, even though I was so happy to be pregnant. Those hormones mess with your brain chemistry, and it is really tough. I’m so glad that that anxiety went away after the first trimester. I felt so much better from then on out in my pregnancy.
And in my grief, I still felt like myself. I still feel that joy deep in my heart, through all the sadness. I’m so grateful for that because I know stillbirth can be a perfect storm for depression and anxiety. Then you have an even harder quiz: postpartum, grief, or depression. So many overlapping symptoms!
The further I get from Ginny’s birth, the less and less I experience the postpartum and grief symptoms. I’m still grieving and always will be, but the grief symptoms have changed. I don’t break down quite as easily, I’m not as tired all the time, and I’m no longer afraid to be alone. I do still think about Ginny all the time and cry pretty often.
My postpartum symptoms, for the most part, have all gone away. I lost A LOT of hair between 3 and 6 months postpartum, but that was the last major change.
This may sound crazy, but I know other Loss Moms have shared the same thing… It is actually comforting to experience postpartum or grief symptoms now, several months out. Every once in a while, my hip with ache like it did before and after birth. I’ll smile to myself and think, Yeah that really did happen. I didn’t dream it. I really am a mom. And when another hard wave of grief hits me, and I’ll feel a little comfort in that pain. I’m reminded that my heart still knows Ginny; I haven’t forgotten.
I don’t know how long these symptoms will last, but I know there is one that will never go away – my increased LOVE. I love so much more now. I’m not sure if that is due to having a baby or losing a baby, but either way, it is here for good.