A Postpartum Discussion with Kelly Mitchem

In 2018, Kelly launched the Postpartum Journal from a very personal place. Struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety after the birth of her son, Kelly began to share her story and challenges.

She soon realized she was not alone.

— The Basics

Early motherhood is already a whirlwind of emotions.
How do you even know if you are experiencing postpartum depression and/or postpartum anxiety? What did it feel like for you?

It is estimated that nearly 80% of new mothers will experience mood swings and intense emotions after giving birth, or what is commonly referred to as ‘baby blues’. If those feelings are still looming over you several weeks after giving birth then it’s something you need to keep an eye on.

In hindsight, one of the first symptoms for me was not eating. It wasn’t because I was too busy, it was simply because I had absolutely no appetite. I knew it was unhealthy for me, especially because I was breastfeeding, and yet couldn’t seem to make myself eat dinner most nights.

I didn’t feel like I was connecting with my son; I was just going through the motions. I would have extreme mood swings out of nowhere and get so angry or hurt at something my husband would say. Things that normally wouldn’t have bothered me put me on the floor sobbing.

The anxiety that I felt almost crippled me.

Every time we left the house I was worried, over everything. We would be at a restaurant and I could hear my heart pounding in my ears. My hands would be shaking, and I would feel like I couldn’t breathe. I started doing things that were out of character for me like sitting as close to exits as possible in case I needed to rush out.

I tried really hard to put a smile on my face but it felt hard. Afterward, I would feel intense exhaustion from all the effort. I spent so much time laying in bed crying, in the shower crying, sometimes it felt like all I did was cry.

What would an ideal first step to get moving through this difficult time?

Tell someone. Say out loud that you are having a hard time. Telling someone can be really hard and really scary but once you have said it, the weight begins to lift—even just a little.

The person that you tell doesn’t have to be someone close to you either, not if you don’t feel ready.

I was very open with my husband and my two best friends about the hard time I was having but the first person that I said “I think I might need help” out loud to was the physical therapist that was treating my son at the time.

Sometimes I don’t even know what I need help with.
How did you ask for help? How do you talk to your partner about what you’re going through?

In the early days, I wasn’t very good at asking for help. Not because I didn’t want it or need it but because I had no idea what would have actually helped me. It took me months to get a handle on my feelings and triggers.

Once I told someone that I needed help, I was recommended to a therapist that specializes in pregnancy and postpartum. The first tangible thing I asked for from my husband was to take care of our son one night a week so that I could go to therapy. It was in therapy that I began to identify more of my needs and where my anxiety and sadness was coming from. Once I had that information I would go home and talk with my husband about it. From there we started putting practices into place.

If we knew that we were having visitors over, I would always carve time to go on a walk before they arrived to give myself some breathing space and relax my mind. Before we would leave the house, we would discuss together what was worrying me about this particular outing and what we would do if any of those things happened. For example, if we were meeting friends at a brewery, some of my worries might be that our son would cry, that he would need to eat or it would overlap with what would normally be a nap. We would come up with a plan for each one of those things and then agree that if anything got bad enough we could just leave.

Going through all of the what-ifs together always helped me. Knowing that, no matter what, if things got hard for me or for our son that we could just pack up and leave and that my husband was fine with that gave me the greatest relief.

— Resources

What was the one thing that helped you most during your postpartum period?

My support system, which for me was my husband and my two best friends. Neither of my best friends live nearby, but being able to send them a random text in the afternoon to tell them I was having a bad day or that I was crying uncontrollably helped. They would check in with me regularly to ask how I was doing.

Knowing that someone was thinking of me mattered.

Another thing that helped was walking. I went walking every day. My son cried a lot during the day but being outside was one place that calmed us both. So no matter what, even when it was cold outside, we would go walking after work each day.

Are there online resources for a new mother going through this experience?

Yes! I think a great place to start is Postpartum Support International. They have a hotline if you want to talk with someone, resources to connect you with professional or local groups in your area, as well as information on various postpartum mental health disorders. You can visit their website here.

Knowing you had struggled with postpartum depression and anxiety already, what did you do differently (if anything) when preparing for baby Nº2?

Great question. I feel like I could write pages and pages on this subject. When I found out that I was pregnant the second time around I had just started climbing out of my postpartum anxiety and depression; my son was not quite one yet.

I was still seeing my therapist and stayed in therapy throughout my entire second pregnancy, until I was about ten months postpartum the second time around. My husband and I also did a few joint therapy sessions before the birth to discuss what things we would do differently and what our plan was should I start to show symptoms of depression or anxiety.

An example of something we did differently the second time around was visitors. We didn’t let anyone come to visit until one week after I had given birth and we made everyone from both sides of the family come together on the same day. We had food and let everyone stay for a few hours before leaving.

I think it’s important to be aware of the things that trigger you so that the next time you are faced with those same things you can set yourself up for success.

— The Journal

Why does journaling help with these hard feelings?

For me, journaling is therapy. It’s a way to get all of my thoughts and feelings out of my head and begin processing them. Journaling isn’t for everyone, but I think it can be really helpful if you have a lot going on and don’t necessarily want to talk about it. I have days where I’m struggling with but not in the right frame of mind to share out loud. On those days, I can sit down and write it out. I don’t have to worry about whether I’m saying the right words or expressing myself in the best way.

Do I have to use the journal in chronological order?

Not necessarily, but I did put the sections in an order of sorts. The early sections are on things you will be going through sooner after giving birth, like postpartum pain, visitors, resting, etc. As you continue through the journal, the subjects become less specific and more general.

My baby is already 9 months old.
Is the journal useful beyond a year?

The journal was designed to be used for a one-year period post-birth, and something you could start at any time. The majority of the sections are relevant for all mothers but I would say that there are at least ten sections that are geared specifically towards the early days and months after giving birth.

How do you envision the Postpartum Journal existing beyond the first year?
Would this be something you pass down to your daughter?

The Postpartum Journal was the first journal I created but I have a vision for several others, including a motherhood journal that would be useful regardless of what stage of motherhood you are in.

I think the Postpartum Journal would make an amazing keepsake to hold on to for your children, not just a daughter. Generally speaking when we journal, we are more honest and raw than we would be in normal conversation. What a gift to be able to share with your children when they are older and possibly becoming a parent themselves.

It would help to give a very real picture of what life was like for you after giving birth and throughout that first year. It could help your children to prepare for what life could look like after they have children as well. I always love reading and hearing other people’s stories. It helps me feel more connected to them and less alone.

Get Kelly's Postpartum Journal here
Follow @togetherwemother on Instagram

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