Baby, I'm Coming Back is a series during which we follow Train Like a Mother Coach MK Fleming as she returns to running shape from having her fourth kid in six years.
Weeks 19-24: We're all about foot health + strength, which sounds crazy unsexy, but is also crazy important since they absorb all your weight when you run. Check out Foot Exercises on the BOSU.
Also crazy important? Postpartum Depression, which is the focus of the post below.
By this point, most of us are back from maternity leave....but many of us are still in maternity clothes. Many of us are not yet sleeping through the night. We are TIRED. We have adulting to do. We need to feel normal again; for many of us, feeling normal starts with a run.
This is a mixed blessing. It’s hard to be in familiar environments and not do familiar things. Like showing up to the gym and lifting lighter weights than you usually lift, or hitting your favorite trail to run more slowly than you usually go.
When you do familiar activities in an unfamiliar body, it’s easy to become terrified that this is your new 'normal'. You may not be wearing the clothes you want to wear, your body may not be deflating at the rate it did last time, you may feel overwhelmed and frustrated...and ashamed or guilty for having these feelings at all. Which is part of the reason why this period is considered to be THE most vulnerable for post-partum women.
It's easy to see when these totally normal feelings in other new moms cross the line into PPD territory, but it's much harder to see when it is happening to you. Most people will want to make you feel better by telling you that you are fine. But what if you aren't fine?
I want to share a story of a private client of mine, Dove, a first-time mom who has generously allowed us to share it here in case another new mother recognizes herself in Dove’s story.
My husband Brad and I read the books on what to expect throughout pregnancy and the few paragraphs about what to expect after regarding postpartum depression. We thought we knew what to look for; we even knew that men can suffer from depression after the birth of their child. Our plan of action was that I'd watch him and he'd watch me. We'd tell each other if we thought we had symptoms or noticed anything in the other person.
Still, months went by before I knew I wasn't ok. When I look back on it, it seems obvious now. I kept telling myself it was all normal. People told me it was all normal. Normal hormones, normal baby brain. The forgetfulness, impaired speech, the feeling of being overwhelmed. It was all normal.
My doctor was probably the first person to know I was struggling. A week after my C-section I went to my scheduled appointment with my ob/gyn. The staff checked to see how I was healing and gave me the postpartum depression test. I circled my answers and wrote notes on the side when I knew an answer would score high. “I'm always hard on myself,” I wrote, “It's normal for me to blame myself when something goes wrote. On and on I went. I told my doctor that I have been a runner since I was 12 and that I'm competitive not only with others, but myself as well. She told me I scored high and to be on the lookout for postpartum depression. She told me to give myself a break. I laughed and told her that wasn't really my style.
I thought the symptoms would be things like not wanting to hold or nurse my daughter. If those were the symptoms, no, I didn't have PPD. I loved my daughter. I'm a huge baby hog and I wanted nothing more than to be with Sophia all the time. Also, if I’m being honest,, I thought if PPD wasn't present the first few weeks I probably didn't have it. Brad and I laughed at my crying....it's just normal hormones. I grew increasingly frustrated at my forgetfulness, but that's just baby brain I'd say. Other people would laugh and agree. I wasn't sure what was going on with my speech—or lack thereof, but again I blamed baby brain.
I’d be talking one moment and the next I couldn't figure out what I was saying, I would be stuck mid-sentence trying to figure out a simple word such as "patient" or "TMJ disorder: words I use daily. I started stuttering. Surely, I thought this had to be normal. I found myself not wanting to talk because I knew what I wanted to say wouldn't come out the way I needed it to.
had a newborn and so much on my mind now. I kept the scary stuff to myself. The thoughts of cutting off my stomach, then of not being sure if I had actually done so. People were tired of me complaining about my weight. I had a rough pregnancy and not being my "normal" skinny self was a hard issue to overcome. I knew going into my pregnancy that I would embrace the weight or I wouldn't....I didn't embrace the weight. I complained the whole time about the nearly 70 lbs I gained.
My brain was constantly fighting itself, asking Why wasn't I losing the weight as fast as others? Why couldn't I run further? Why wasn't I faster already? Those questions all translated into one message I heard clearly: GO FASTER, GO FURTHER, GET SKINNY.
Once in a while, my brain would sneak in the thought that I had just had a baby and I was doing just fine. That side didn't come out as frequently, but I'm so glad it did when I really needed it to.
The night before I knew something was really wrong I was texting a co-worker, also a new mom, probably about breastfeeding and pumping. We both had nursing troubles and we probably compared how much we had pumped or had stored in the freezer. While I swayed my crying daughter to sleep, I thought about hanging myself. I saw myself hanging and thought it would be easy. I thought about what my daughter needed. She didn't have enough milk and she wouldn't be ok.
Then—just like that—the thought passed. I'm guessing it lasted less than 30 seconds. I told my co-worker that I wasn't feeling well and it was probably just stress from work. That I needed to run the next morning and I'd feel better. That whole situation didn’t feel like PPD to me. I love Sophia and would never hurt her.
The next morning I set out for my run of 5-6 miles. I got about 800 meters before anxiety overcame me. I felt paralyzed, I couldn't move, I was crying uncontrollably. Once I got moving again, I knew I had to get home, but I couldn't run, I was barely breathing from crying so hard. I got my phone out and left a message with my OB/GYN. Through the sobs I said that I wasn't sure what was wrong, but I’d like to make an appointment.
I walked a quarter mile before anxiety overcame me again. I sat on a curb just a couple blocks from my house crying. It was 5 am, and nobody was awake but I texted a few people. I texted my coworker from the night before, I texted a friend and I texted Coach MK. It said something like I'm sitting on a curb crying, I can't stop. I got back up and got myself home. I went up to the bassinet where Sophia was sleeping and checked in on her. She was ok.
I felt relief, but not ok. Brad woke up and told me I was scaring him and asked if I was ok. I said "I'm ok, don't worry. I called my doctor. I'm going to be ok," then I told him to go back to sleep. I went into my daughter's room sat in the rocker and cried. I told myself that I'd go to work and keep my mind busy and I'd be fine.
Coach MK texted back: Where are you? Stay right there. I'm coming to get you. I texted that I was home, everything was fine and sent a photo of Sophia sleeping. She must have felt my BS and tried calling. I didn't pick up, but texted that I couldn't talk at that moment. We continued to text as I went to work.
MK continued "Do you have an appointment?" "What time?" "Can I meet you there?" I told her I was fine and answered everything she wanted to know. My doctor saw me at 11 and gave me the postpartum depression test again. We talked about what I was experiencing, and she said with my symptoms she wanted me evaluated. We talked about it and what to expect. She told me about a possible 72-hour psychiatric hold and I told her my objections. She told me that would all be considered. She asked if I could drive to the ER myself. I said I could.
As I left the office I texted MK that I was headed to the ER. She said she could meet me there if I wanted. I texted Brad, home with Sophia, to tell him that he should just stay home as it shouldn't take too long. As I drove back to work, I grew more worried and afraid. I texted MK to meet me at the hospital.
In the ER, MK reminded me that it's ok to not be ok and kept me honest about what I was going through. But mostly she was there so I wasn't alone. When Brad and Sophia came later, I opened up to him about what I was going through and reminded him Brad that the PPD wasn't caused by him, but by an imbalance in my hormones. There wasn't anything he did wrong or anything else he could have done to be more helpful. When I told my family, they had no idea that I was struggling. I guess I'm better at hiding my feelings than I thought. I had to remind them the same thing I had to remind Brad: That even if they called and we talked about something other than Sophia, I would have said I was ok and made a joke about my hormones. Again, I thought I was ok and I thought what I was feeling was normal.
I'm currently on a medication. I feel great. I feel like a misconception is that once you're on medication, you’ll walk around like a zombie. I still have feelings. I still get upset, frustrated, and sad, but those feelings no longer consume me. I don't hold on to them for days, weeks, or even hours. They pass. I'm happy—and that's a wonderful feeling to have once again.s
Coach MK here again: This period (weeks 19-24) can be the hardest. You are almost there. The light is at the end of the tunnel, and you may need a prescription to get through it. It's okay not to be okay, and the drugs available for PPD are incredible! Dove was back to her old self within a few days and I haven't been worried about her since—but I will always be watching. She is #coachedandloved.
If this sounds like you or someone you love, please take that gut feeling seriously. Here’s a helpful article on what to say; in addition, reach out to Postpartum Support International (1-800-944-4773 ) for assistance for yourself or for a loved one.
FOCUS ON YOUR FEET
Now for a lighter topic—and three foot exercises on the BOSU to focus on for the next five weeks. Your feet will become stronger—and, as such, benefit your whole body.