Transcript: Living With Postpartum Anxiety and Depression
This is a text transcript from The First Time Mum’s Chat podcast. The episode is called Living With Postpartum Anxiety and Depression and you can click on the link to view the full episode page, listen to the episode and view the show notes.
Helen Thompson: Moms certainly face a challenging time when faced with postpartum, depression and anxiety. At a time in their lives when they are at their most vulnerable and stressed and overwhelmed, they need support and understanding. However, when they turn to others, the reaction often is get yourself together and toughen up!
This week’s guest Suzanne Yatim Aslam went through this journey with her two kids and her personal experience with postpartum depression and anxiety left her feeling alone and confused. She has put her personal experience into a book “Post Pardon Me”, which is written in the form of journal entries. You get to go inside Suzanne’s head and she addresses the dark thoughts that so many mothers have, but are too scared to say out loud.
So if you are struggling with postpartum, depression and anxiety, then don’t miss out on this episode.
Hi Suzanne and welcome to First Time Mum’s Chat. It’s a pleasure to have you and I’m looking forward to hearing about your postpartum depression and anxiety journey and your wonderful much needed book, “Post Pardon Me”. So let’s kick off with you telling us a bit about your background.
Suzanne Yatim Aslam: So my name is Suzanne and I live in Arizona and I was an actress before I was a writer and then I had children and acting became a bit more difficult. You have night shoots and overnight shoots and auditions at the last minute and childcare was hard, so I took a step back from acting and I was still desperately in need of a creative outlet and my husband and I have a creative pastime of writing scripts for films, just for fun. And sometimes we had made movies out of them, but sometimes it was, you know, just something that we did together and it’s wonderful.
So I sort of took to writing early on, but it was just for me. And then I was kind of coming out of my postpartum depression and frustrated that the type of depression that I was dealing with was a type of depression that people weren’t really discussing. So I decided to use my creative outlets that I needed to write a book that could still be somewhat creative for me and fun for me, but also something that would be beneficial to mothers. And honestly, I’ve reached out to a lot of men, too, a lot of fathers, who’ve been interested, in order to get in the minds of young mothers who are dealing with postpartum depression and anxiety, and it’s written in the form of journal entries.
You get to really go inside of my head. It’s very unfiltered because essentially I’m just writing to my journal. So I’m allowed to say whatever it is that I wanted to say. So if I have dark thoughts, you get to hear them. And it’s kind of all over the place. You watch as I spiral and then sort of try to come back out of it. It doesn’t offer medical advice or anything like that. It’s just sort of a way to raise awareness, bring attention to it, maybe stop and think, wait, are these, some of the things that I’m going through as well and hope to really just kind of hold your hand on this crazy journey that is motherhood.
Helen Thompson: You just mentioned that you reached out to men. How did you go with reaching out to men? I think it’s important that when husbands or partners see how their wife or partner are going, if they’ve got postnatal, depression, how supportive they are.
Suzanne Yatim Aslam: It was really interesting. Some of the men that I talked to that, their kids are a little bit older and their wives are already out of it. They would say things like I tell ’em a story and they would say, oh my gosh, if you took out your name and put in my wife, the exact same thing happened but you just don’t really recognize it when you’re in the thick of it. So it was really, really interesting that they connected with it so much.
And it made me sad, of course, cuz you just hope that people don’t go through this, but at the same time it made me really happy, just kind of confirmed that this is stuff that we’re all going through and dads don’t know what to do and their role seems very strange because they feel like, most men after they have children, they throw themselves in their work because now they have to provide for a baby and it’s really scary. And here’s this one thing that they can do really well. You know, men, their identity is their work. And so they wanna just do what they can for the baby. Well, that leaves the mom home alone, desperate needing a connection and not having it. It’s not their fault.
It’s just, if you don’t know, you don’t know. So with my own husband, he just didn’t know. And he threw himself in his work, he owns his own company. It’s not like he could just check out or take paternity leave or whatever it is. So he didn’t know that I was floundering. I just thought that being a mom was really hard. I didn’t know it was depression at first and he just thought, man, she’s really not taking to this motherhood thing very well. And I think he sort of couldn’t see me anymore, if that makes sense. He’d look for me, we knew each other really well, but the person he knew, really wasn’t there anymore and that was really hard. So if we had known early on, oh, this isn’t her, she’s dealing with a mental health issue, that would’ve been really useful.
Helen Thompson: Yeah, I think that’s important for men to connect with it as well. I know with post natal depression, I haven’t got any experience myself, but from what I’ve learnt and understood from moms is that they find that they just get so overwhelmed, so exhausted and they just are going, oh, I don’t want this baby. I just don’t. So I know you’ve written a book, but can you tell us a little bit about what you went through and how you overcame some of your issues?
Suzanne Yatim Aslam: Yeah. I was so, so horribly shocked. My body was in shock, my mind was in shock. I don’t know why, but I expected none of what I felt. None of it. People say, oh, being a mom is hard and you’re tired, but then when you feel that physical exhaustion and the way it messes with your head, especially if you’re dealing with postpartum depression and anxiety, it really, really messes with you.
First of all, I remember being really, really angry because I had taken birth classes on how to push the baby out but there’s a midwife there and a birthing assistant and my mom and all these people who have done this before, but then I take the baby home and it’s just me and my husband and he’s never done this before, and I’ve never done this before. And I remember being really angry that we spent so much time figuring out how to push out the baby, but no time at all on, okay, what is this weird red, dusty stuff in their diaper? What is that? Or why are they look like they’re spasming when really, you just don’t know, you don’t know that their nerves just do that.
You just don’t know and nobody told me. And so I remember getting really, really angry that I had very little knowledge of actually what happens when you come home with the baby and people say that all the time, they’re like, you’re really gonna let me go home with this child. Are you crazy? I don’t know what I’m doing.
So anyway, I got really upset and my body ached constantly and my bones, when I would wake up, I’d actually have a hard time picking up the baby because my joints hurt. And with baby blues, that last for a few weeks, maybe two to three weeks, you’ll be suffering through that. And it’s just your body sort of trying to bounce back from pregnancy and labor, but then it didn’t go away.
The thing is I never dealt with depression before. So I didn’t know that that was depression. So at the same time I became depressed, was the same time I became a mother. So to me, correlation was causation. So I thought, oh, this is what it’s like to be a mom, this is terrible. You know what I mean? I didn’t really stop and think oh, there’s something wrong. It just doesn’t occur to you. So I remembered, of course you burst into tears all the time at the beginning for no reason at all and all that happened, but then it just never went away and then it got worse.
So I was sad a lot, I felt heavy a lot, my anxiety flared up. Like you wouldn’t believe, I got really sensitive to not having lights in my house. I needed constant sunlight. For some reason, my body was just craving, craving sunlight. I couldn’t stand it if it was ever just me and the baby, I would get really scared.
And like I told you before I was an actor, I had a really, really fun life and I traveled a lot and I did some really cool stuff and then I was stuck at home with a baby and I came to resent him a lot. I felt that he had ruined my life. I felt that he’s the reason I wasn’t out doing all those cool things anymore and I put all of that blame on him and then you’re home alone and you’re stewing and you’re miserable and your thoughts just pull you down this terrible rabbit hole and then immediately the tiny little logical part of my brain that still functioned would say, are you crazy? Why are you getting mad at a child? You asked for this, you wanted a baby.
We purposely tried to get pregnant, so the fact that I’m angry at this child makes no sense, but it didn’t stop me from feeling all the things that I feel, this internal war within me, the logical part of me and this ridiculously emotional part of me that couldn’t sustain and it was like that for a really, really long time. And the reason I wrote the book, well, one of the reasons is because people are like, okay, so what did you do to get out of it? And that was my problem. My problem is, is I didn’t have the tools to figure out how to get out of. And if I had, then I wouldn’t have struggled as much as I did, and I probably wouldn’t have written the book actually because I would’ve been in a better place.
So for me, a lot of it was time, just time moved on. I kind of figured things out. I learned that I was depressed and sort of identifying that was really, really helpful because then I knew, okay, this is temporary. I won’t always feel this way. And it’s a strange comfort, but it is a bit of a comfort.
Helen Thompson: Yeah, you mentioned you didn’t have the tools to know how to get out of it. What did you learn from when you went through it and what tools would you recommend to a mom who’s going through it ?
Suzanne Yatim Aslam: So, first of all, there, we have to identify it. We have to know there’s a problem. So, I would tell a mom, if it’s been over two to three weeks and you still feel the way you just did postpartum and you’re crying all the time and you’re body’s still aching and you’re really, really miserable and you’re feeling anxious and you’re feeling depressed and all of those things, and it’s still going. There might be something we need to identify. So first we need to identify it and if that means, talking to your doctor, seeing a therapist, I think those are really great things.
Here in the states they give you a questionnaire. I think it’s maybe six weeks, you take the baby to the pediatrician and then they give you this paper that you fill out that sort of asks you how you’re doing, on a scale of one to blah, blah, blah.
And the questions are geared towards, are you going to hurt yourself or the baby? And so I checked, no, because I had no plans on hurting myself or the baby, but so then nobody paid attention to me after that, because nobody was in any physical danger. So nobody offered any help. And in hindsight at the time I filled it out and I thought nothing of it and then in hindsight, I was thinking this test needs to be corrected. We need to ask deeper questions. So it’s either you’re perfectly fine or you’re suicidal. What about the whole spectrum in the middle of moms who are just drowning and need help?
Helen Thompson: Yes, you might not necessarily be suicidal, but you might just need some help. So, maybe a question, like, is there anything you need or is there anything we can do to help you or questions like that?
Suzanne Yatim Aslam: Yeah, this is where the dad’s or whoever the partner is come in big time. You know, even if I ran into at the grocery store and I was like, oh my gosh, hi, how are you and then you say, oh, I’m great, how are you? Well, maybe you’re not great. We just sort of say those things and I think we’ve just sort of gotten used to in our society, just always being great and for a while my husband, his name is Kasum, he would say, are you okay? He’d see me kind of sad.
Are you okay? And I’d say, yeah, I’m fine. And because it would just be like, oh, I’m just tired. And it was true I was tired, but he was really asking and I wasn’t really giving him an answer. So there needs to be just first of all, radical honesty about, hey, I’m not okay. I’m not okay. And then I needed a lot more help with the baby with having space when I needed space. Just like take the baby and leave me alone was something that I needed and I didn’t get it. I felt a lot heavier because there were no breaks.
I nursed the whole time so I never really got a break and so that’s something that I really needed. I didn’t go and see a therapist until after my second child and I wish I would’ve done that sooner. Cause then you’re in a safe space to say the things that you wanna say that are dark, that you don’t feel comfortable maybe saying to your mom. Here’s the thing you get invalidated a lot. So I would say to my mom, oh, my God, he’s driving me crazy, I’m so tired and she would go, no, thank God, he’s so healthy, enjoy it, it goes by fast and they would say these things and they would invalidate the way that I would feel in the moment. So I just stopped talking.
Helen Thompson: Yeah. That’s not what you want to hear.
Suzanne Yatim Aslam: Nope, it was so frustrating. So I just stopped. I mean, why bother? Nobody wants to really listen and nobody liked the fact that I felt anything negative about motherhood. They just didn’t like it. So they would say constantly enjoy it, it goes by fast. That phrase drove me crazy because I was in no position to enjoy it and it felt wildly dismissive and it just meant that you really didn’t hear me, and I remember telling my father-in-law, I was so genuine about this, please tell me, this is a dream, please, please tell me, cuz I was in this fog. When I said at the beginning of this podcast, I said I was in shock, I was in shock. I could not accept the fact that this was my reality at all and I just kept trying to wake up from this dream and I wasn’t doing it. And I told my father-in-law that and again he was just like, no, thank God, everything’s good, don’t be so silly and it sucked. It just really sucked that nobody could understand what I was feeling or going through, or allowed me to feel that and not judge me for it.
Helen Thompson: Yeah, I think that’s a valid point. Instead of saying, oh everything’s going to be okay, maybe say, I can see you are a little bit stressed right now can I take the baby for you? I’ll take the baby for a walk and go and have a sleep, rather than just saying everything’s gonna be okay. That’s just my experience of what to say, but I don’t know if that’s what moms actually want to hear. I would’ve thought that would be a more practical thing to say to a mom going through that rather than saying, oh, you know, everything’s gonna be okay. They just need that rest or they need that break.
Suzanne Yatim Aslam: Yeah, it’s so strange how hindsight works with parents and this is in the book. I would go to Target to go buy some things, I just wanted to get out of the house and I had ’em in April and the summers here are excruitiating, it’s 117 degrees outside right now. And so they’re horrific. So sometimes I would just wanna go inside of a building to cool off and I’d be in the baby aisle with my little tiny baby and then a mom would walk by me and she would say, enjoy it, it goes by fast and she’d walk away, but she was, she was older.
You could tell she was longing to be back in that time when her child was a baby and oh, I miss it and they were so great and you don’t know what you have until it’s gone and that sort of thing. And you could see, it’s almost like a desperation from one parent to another. I’m telling you, I need you to know, enjoy this. It just kind of fell on deaf ears. It’s well intentioned, I understand but it was just so funny how even strangers are like, you have to know, you have to enjoy this it goes by fast and God, I hated it. I really hated it.
Helen Thompson: So how did you end up actually bonding with your baby once you’d got out of your postnatal depression?
Suzanne Yatim Aslam: It was over a year of depression and then the anxiety was there. The anxiety picked up more after my second child. But I know this kind of sounds weird and I don’t know the validation here, or how the timing worked. Around the time Sammy was one, he could speak, few words, but he could speak. And there was something reassuring about that because if he wanted something he could tell me and it took a little bit of the guesswork out of it and it gave me a little bit of relief. Do you know what I mean? So there was something about that where I just felt like, okay, I can finally start to understand him a little bit more and for some reason that really, really helped. And again, the reason I prefaced it that way is because I don’t know if it’s just a year later I finally sort of settled into motherhood and my depression started to fade and I was getting the hang of it and he could walk and he could talk a little bit.
And so I don’t know if that is the reason, but it was around that time and I remember thinking like, oh my God, at least I know what he wants. Yeah, that seemed to really help. And once we were out of the infant phase and he was just this curious child. So my favorite age is between one and two. They’re so curious and they’re fun and they’re just discovering things, but they’re not mean yet, they don’t say no, they don’t really fight back yet.
Helen Thompson: Yes, that’s true. So when you had your second one, were you less depressed?
Suzanne Yatim Aslam: I was less depressed, but I was more anxious. It’s harder to leave the house with two children. So I stopped and Sammy was two when Ronan was born. So I had a two year old and a newborn and that’s just so hard and again, it’s hot. I had them both at the same time in April.
So it’s so hot and why bother and it’s too hard and so I started to isolate myself and I got really, really lonely and I got really anxious and I would feel like something was wrong and Kasum would ask what’s wrong and I’m like, I don’t know, but something is wrong. Something is wrong and nothing was wrong. It was just in my head and I didn’t get a reprieve from that until, and this is where I put a lot on this and I don’t know if it really is what the answer is, but when Sammy was about two and a half, I sent him to preschool three days a week for just three half days.
I wanted Ronan to have a bit of the same attention that Sammy had, just alone time, one on one. So I sent him there and Ronan was still very, very small, so he napped a lot. So sometime while Sammy was at school, on those half days before I picked him up, Ronan would sleep for about two hours.
The thing is, is this was almost every day. So in those two hours, I would either nap myself or I’d have a cup of coffee and read a book, whatever it was that I decided to do in those two hours and I remember my last panic attack. It happened a little bit after that. And then I sort of settled into this really nice place where I got two hours every day in the middle of the day, not at the end of the day after 14, 15, 16 hours, and just being exhausted and not having slept. It was in the middle of the day. I got to recharge, pick up Sammy and then continue with with my day.
And that for me was a huge part of the solution. It did wonders to give me the opportunity to recharge. I like to be alone. So like today I spent the whole day by myself and I loved it. I’m more of an introvert, so it that’s how I recharge. And it was great and that really, for me was the last time I had a panic attack and I got into a good routine. So when a parent, like a dad’s trying to be sweet and he’s like, hey, for mother’s day, six months from now, you’re gonna go on a trip to visit your sister, have alone time.
And you’re like, okay, well that’s six months from now, but what am I gonna do between now and then. What breaks am I gonna have? So I felt for me that having consistent breaks, even small little ones, even going to the grocery store by yourself and coming home. Those really, really add up. Then I come home and I’m excited to see my kids and sometimes I’m like, moms don’t really need that much. And it’s sort of true. Like if you’re running an errand, but you’re doing it alone. And that really helps.
Helen Thompson: Yeah, it’s self care, which is important because if you’re stuck in the house all by yourself, you need that. You need that me time. Even if you say it’s only for two hours, that me time is so important. Whether you choose to sleep, whether you choose to read a book, whether you choose to just sit and watch your favorite TV show or whatever it is, I think that just really helps to diffuse the situation and relaxes you a little bit more so that you can appreciate your kids more.
Suzanne Yatim Aslam: Yeah, it re-centers you in a way. It’s so funny because every single time that my children napped for the entirety of their napping tenure, every single time, I would have to think, what am I gonna do at this time, am I gonna shower, am I gonna clean, am I gonna sit down and have a cup of coffee, or am I gonna get things done? Every single day I had this internal dilemma and it wasn’t like I ever figured it out. I just had to have that conversation with myself every single day. It’s so funny.
Helen Thompson: And did that help you to have that conversation with yourself every day? Would you advise other moms to do that, to have that conversation with yourself every day? What am I going to do to diffuse myself?
Suzanne Yatim Aslam: Well the reason you have to have it is because you don’t get time to do the shower and the coffee and the cleaning up and the napping and you have to choose and so every day I’m like, what’s more important in this moment in time? And so, when they would say sleep when the baby sleeps or whatever that is.
Helen Thompson: But that doesn’t always work. Does it?
Suzanne Yatim Aslam: No, because okay, well fine. I’m sleeping when she’s sleeping, but then who’s gonna clean up and who’s gonna make food and who’s gonna do the laundry? So it’s just so unrealistic and so every single day, you’re in a sort of a different state. Okay, fine the house is clean before the kid went to bed, so now I can just take a shower and rest. Okay, well, the house is a disaster and the kid went to bed so now I have to clean up. So every day it was just kind of contingent upon what was going on that day. So I had to have that conversation with myself every day.
Helen Thompson: It’s just like being in that fog, as you say, you’re in that fog and you just don’t know how to get through it. So if somebody wanted to get in touch with you and find out about your book, how would they go about doing that?
So I’ve got a Instagram, which you can put in the show notes and my website, which is just my name, suzanneyatimaslam.com and you can purchase it on Amazon or you could buy it on Kindle as well.
Is there anything else you wanna add before we close?
Suzanne Yatim Aslam: I think the thing that I just like moms to know is we just put so much shame and guilt on our feelings and we don’t allow our feelings to be validated and we have to find justifications for the way that we feel so, so often.
And I just think if I had more compassion for myself and if other moms could have more compassion for themselves and understand that this is really, really hard and it’s so different than your life before and it’s okay if you’re shocked and confused and we’re not these goddesses who never need help. We need help and it’s okay to ask for help and you don’t have to be a hero, you know. You can take the help if somebody asks for help.
Helen Thompson: Yeah, I think that’s a very valid point because I think a lot of mums don’t do that.
Suzanne Yatim Aslam: Well we’re trying to be superheroes, but you know, they say it takes a village and it’s true.
Helen Thompson: Yeah, I think it does and being supportive of each other, I think really, really helps not only with childbearing but with everything in life. Well thank you Suzanne, it’s been a pleasure talking to you. I’ve learnt a lot from you and I hope that moms who are listening to this will also get some valuable tips and thank you for sharing your book.
Thank you for being on the podcast.
Suzanne Yatim Aslam: Thank you so much.
Helen Thompson: I hope you found Suzanne’s recollection of her journey with postpartum depression and anxiety, as insightful as I did. I liked her openness and honesty, and it certainly gave me a feel for what Suzanne went through. What an ordeal for a mom to go through feeling so alone and not assisted by society’s values and beliefs.
I’ve included links to Suzanne’s website as well as a link to her book, Post Pardon Me on Amazon in the episode show notes, which can be found at MyBabyMassage.net/podcast/078.