My experience with PPD rage and how I overcame it.
I knew after having my baby I was at a higher risk for PPD/PPA because of my history, and I tried my best to get ready for it. I had been taking Wellbutrin prior to pregnancy for depression and my OB and I decided it was best for me to stay on it while pregnant. I’m so glad I did. My birth story was not at all what I had dreamed it would be; I was induced at 37 weeks 6 days because of gestational hypertension. My induction was actually fantastic. I was given two rounds of cytotec before my water broke on its own, I got an epidural around 6-7 centimeters and from there I slept until I was 10 centimeters and fully effaced. It took about 20 hours to go from a hard and closed cervix to being ready to push. But after two and a half hours of pushing, baby hadn’t descended at all. I was exhausted and my epidural had started to wear off so I was feeling everything. When presented with the option of a c-section, I happily accepted. My c-section went great and my daughter was born at 6:59pm on January 23rd.
Due to complications with her blood sugar, my baby spent the first week of her life hospitalized and on an IV. That lead to pretty severe jaundice as well so she spent plenty of time under those blue lights. I didn’t sleep more than two hours a day for an entire week. I was allowed to stay at the hospital with my daughter and I had to try to nurse every 3 hours. They made me try for an hour each time but Lydia had very little energy to nurse, so then she would be fed expressed milk through a syringe. After trying to nurse for an hour, I would then have to pump. By the time I was done pumping, it would be time for the nurse to come back in to check on the baby’s IV, which they did hourly. So we were never alone, people were always in and out. I was so afraid for my baby’s well being and I just could not sleep.
Needless to say, once we were able to bring the baby home, my anxiety was terrible. I continued to not sleep because she would wake up every two to three hours to eat, so I would attempt to nurse her, then feed her pumped milk, then pump again. I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t eating. I was so focused on trying to keep my baby fed. Normally my husband would have offered to let me nap and take the baby, but he only got a week off of work when she was born and we had used up that time while she was in the hospital. So I was alone with my two week old for nine to twelve hours a day.
At first I didn’t even realize I was suffering from postpartum depression. I was always told the biggest indicator of PPD was not being able to bond or feel connected to your baby, and I didn’t experience that at all. To start with, I was crying constantly, but I just chalked it up to exhaustion. When I would fall asleep for 20 minutes and she would wake up ready to eat again, I would try to latch her and quietly sob. When she would wake up every few hours over night to eat and I had to be the one to wake up to feed her because I was still trying to nurse, I would wake up in tears when I heard her stirring. I just wanted to sleep. I was also constantly terrified of SIDS, so even in those rare moments of good sleep, I was always reaching over to make sure she was breathing.
Besides the weepies and anxiety, there was one other symptom that no one ever prepared me for: Rage. For the first six weeks, anything and everything could set me off into a serious fit of uncontrollable rage. I was SO angry about everything. Dropping my phone, losing the nipple shield in between feeds, not being able to finish my cup of coffee while it was hot; little insignificant things would make me feel so overcome with anger, I began wanting to hurt myself.
I had never experienced rage like this. It got to the point where I began to scare myself. The anger would wash over me like a tidal wave all at once and in that moment my whole body felt like it was vibrating, getting ready to crack and explode because it couldn’t contain all of it. It would leave me shaking. To quell my rage I began hurting myself in small ways; digging my nails into my arm, pulling my hair, things like that. But when the desire to hurt myself more became overwhelming, I knew I needed to call my doctor before I did something I would regret. I also didn’t talk to anyone close to me about it. I felt like we had such a unique situation when the baby was born, no one could understand the fear and anxiety we went through. Nobody would understand how it felt to try to nurse a baby who was too weak to eat, or watch her get her IV moved three different times, have her tiny feet pricked and squeezed multiple times a day to check her blood sugar levels. That week in the hospital really messed me up.
I just want to say that during all of this, I was loving having my baby. She was perfect, beautiful, amazing. I wore her around the house all day and I loved our daily naps together on the couch, even if they were brief. She was everything I never knew I needed in my life. In that way, I was so happy. So I just couldn’t understand why I was so unbelievably angry all the time. It wasn’t the baby I was angry with, it was literally anything else. I spoke with my husband about it, I cried and confessed that I felt like I was losing my mind and I had been harming myself to manage my anger. I felt overwhelmed by breastfeeding and taking care of the baby by myself for most of the week. I am so grateful for his love and support, because he held me and made me feel safe and understood. We decided I would call the doctor the next day.
At this point the coronavirus pandemic had begun and doctor’s offices were no longer seeing patients in person, so I spoke with my PCP over the phone and tried to explain to her what was going on. I didn’t realize until it was coming out of my mouth how extreme it sounded. I was afraid that maybe something was wrong with me. There was a brief pause after I explained what was happening before she told me that what I was experiencing was postpartum depression. I was definitely in denial at first. It couldn’t be, I’m loving being a mom despite the lack of sleep, my baby is wonderful, I was just angry. But she went on to tell me that rage is a common but less talked about symptom of PPD. So we came up with a plan to make me feel better.
First, we increased my dosage of Wellbutrin. I am still currently taking the max dosage at 6 months postpartum. The next thing was entirely my choice. I decided to end my nursing journey and continue breastfeeding by exclusively pumping for my daughter. I had not realized how badly my inability to get her to latch and nurse was affecting me. I felt like such a failure because I was not having a beautiful, magical breastfeeding experience like so many women told me I would. My mental health was more important than Lydia getting breastmilk by nursing. Once I began exclusively bottle feeding and pumping, I noticed a huge improvement in my mood. By the time I adjusted to the increase in my Wellbutrin, my uncontrollable anger was much more manageable. I was finally calm, and less quick to snap over silly little things. I stopped wanting to hurt myself. It was like the fog was lifted and I could see clearly again.
If you are reading this because you have been experiencing postpartum rage, know that you are not alone. There are so many of us who suffer through this strange PPD symptom and let it go untreated because it doesn’t present like a typical case. And please, be honest with yourself and your doctor. I was experiencing this anger at my 6 week pp checkup and didn’t say anything. Do not be afraid to confront it. If you are thinking about harming yourself, please make an appointment. For the sake of your mental health and for your little one, get ahead of it if you can. You will be okay. It may seem like those symptoms will never end, like you will never feel normal again. But you will, and making those steps toward getting better makes you an amazing mama.
I know it’s scary, and it is strange to feel afraid of yourself. It can be difficult when you have an infant, but you need to take care of you, too. Don’t ignore the signs, speak with your doctor, and remember there are others going through the same thing. There are many amazing PPD support groups on Facebook where you can talk about your experience in a safe space. Medication can also help get you through this time. Just remember you are loved, this is temporary, and you are a wonderful mother❤️