Struggling Mother

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    I’m a DO medical student (just finished 3rd year), and just really need some encouragement and advice right now. I had my baby on March 9th this year and had to return to rotations on March 27th. As you can imagine, this was so difficult. I cried and cried that first day back, and mostly every day since then. My husband didn’t understand, and kept saying, “you’ll see him tonight,” which of course made me cry even more. On rotations, I’d go see patients, then go pump in a bathroom stall and cry, and then go back and see a few more, and the cycle continued for the next several months.

    I think I’ve had some pp depression, and a preceptor approached me and asked me about it, of course I denied I was struggling. My Ob doctor asked me about it, and I said I was fine, nothing I couldn’t handle. I guess I was embarrassed that I couldn’t handle being a mother and medical student.

    I am still very overwhelmed, and basically life isn’t fun, or enjoyable. My baby is the world’s worst sleeper; sleep has been non-existent. I don’t remember most of the last few months. I did have a breakdown one night where I screamed at my husband to leave the room, all in front of my crying baby. This is very unlike me, and I am embarrassed I acted this way toward him. My husband got really upset, ended up calling my mom for advice. Behaving that way in front of my baby and toward my husband, well that was probably the lowest point of my life. And I don’t think I can forgive myself for all of this.

    My parents actually took my baby home with them until boards are over, and thankfully I had a lot of frozen milk for him. I feel like the world’s worst parent, because my baby is happy and sleeps well for my parents. I guess I just stress him out too much. But since he’s been gone, I’ve caught up on some sleep, so I finally feel like I can function again to some degree. And I hate saying this, but I am less stressed with him gone; I know this makes me an absolutely horrible horrible mother. I still cry at least once per day; is any of this normal?? When will I feel better, or “normal” again? Its been 4 months of this. I am taking a 2 week vacation before 4th year starts, and I am hopeful I’ll feel better with a break. I am looking forward to this, and looking forward to spending time with my baby and husband. Which makes me think maybe I don’t have postpartum depression?

    I should be better at handling stress. I feel like I’m being weak right now. And I feel so bad for my child, like all this stress is going to impact him negatively in the future. Please, someone tell me he will be ok? I absolutely love him, and while I am less stressed with him gone, of course I miss him so much; it breaks my heart not being with him.

    My parents have been supportive, but my in-laws basically only care for my husband and my son. My father-in-law told me to make sure my husband got some sleep, this after I had an extremely long labor, and 72 hours with zero sleep, 6 hours after having my baby. I think my mother-in-law believes I’m a terrible mother; she is upset I sent my baby home with my parents, and thinks it is too hard on my husband to be away from the baby for 2 weeks (even though it was my husband’s idea for my parents to keep him…). She doesn’t speak to me, but she messages my husband daily, but never ever asks about me or even acknowledges that I exist. So now, I don’t even really want her around my child. I’ve even had irrational thoughts that she’d be happier if I weren’t living, and then she could have her son and my son all to herself (I realize these are irrational, but I’m basically menopausal right now…no one tells you breastfeeding leaves you with so little estrogen…). I hate these negative feelings, but sometimes it is difficult to avoid them.

    I have a few close friends with children, but none of them are in medical school, and they either are stay at home moms or had at least 3 months maternity leave. None of them breastfeed because they said it was too hard (which I agree, its extremely hard, and no one tells you this prior to breastfeeding…so no judgements from me, I totally understand women who don’t want to breastfeed). Anyways, when they ask why I’m stressed, I try to explain things, but I feel like maybe they don’t completely “get it.” So then I feel more isolated.

    On top of all of that, I just took the COMLEX PE; I feel like I didn’t pass. I guess I was too anxious to get a milk letdown that morning, and as a result I had clogged milk ducts, and was in so much pain. Finally got to pump during lunch while I ate, but wasn’t able to get the knots out. And then they told me I had 1 minute of break left, and I was so anxious and stressed trying to pull myself together, I actually cried; well, I was flustered, the exam proctor could tell I was flustered, so I’m sure the standardized patient could tell something was off; I tried to be calm, but I felt like a wreck. And now COMLEX level 2 CE is in a few days, and I’m anxious about that as well. Level 1 went very well, so I am praying I can pull level 2 off. My COMAT exam grades have been good, even without sleep and not studying…which is a miracle. I am applying EM via the ACGME only, which scares me. I don’t feel like I know enough to be a resident in 1 year, much less a doctor. Can you be a doctor and be this terrified and feel this unprepared?

    So sorry for all the rambling in this post. Basically it is a huge pity party, and I realize that. All of these choices were made by me; I am the one who got pregnant and had a child in medical school, so I cannot blame anyone but myself. I just need to know I’m not the only one with these feelings. And someone please tell me I’m not as bad a mother as I feel like I am right now?

    Also, most of the passion I had for medicine doesn’t seem to be there as much as it was…I still enjoy it, and am looking forward to 4th year rotations, but not as much as I did…does this come back? Should I just quit and give up? Will I ever feel better? Again, I feel like the world’s worst mother, and like I am going to be the world’s worst doctor. All the confidence I used to have is pretty much non-existent. Will the confidence come back? Or will I live feeling like this forever?

    Thanks in advance to anyone who reads my pity party…please no super harsh words right now, I don’t think I can handle it…


    Struggling First Time Mom


    Hi LizzieB, I’m so sorry you are having such a hard time right now. (((hugs))) I am not in psych, so I am in no way qualified to tell you what is normal (given all the stressors you have right now) or if you have a particular diagnosis, but it is very clear to me that you are in distress. :'( I understand that you did not want to admit to people that you have been struggling, but what about the preceptor and the OB who went out of their way to ask you about it? Did it seem like they were sincerely concerned about you? Do you trust either of them enough to go back and have a conversation about how things are going? Your OB especially will probably have a lot of experience with people’s adjustment during the postpartum period, and he/she is bound by confidentiality, too. It seems like your husband and your parents are very supportive and helpful, which is really great…but even with their help, you are still struggling, so that is why I mention the two physicians who have reached out to you already.

    It is obvious that you want what is best for your baby, even if that means that your baby has to stay with your parents for a little while. It sounds like that is actually working out best for everybody right now. You will have years and years to build a relationship with your son, and of course he will not remember this time at all. And remember that medical education and training is so long for a reason: it takes a lot of studying and hard work and experience with different patients to become a good doctor. Please know that there is hope.

    I wish you the best. (((hugs)))

    Ash MAsh M

    Hi Lizzie,

    I wrote a long answer to this but posted it wrong and it didn’t show, so hopefully this answer will still be good 🙂 And hopefully they don’t both end up showing… I’m a mom of two little boys, and have been a stay at home mom for 3 years. I am currently applying to medical school. I graduated from college about 3 weeks after the birth of my first baby. And I’ve dealt with bad postpartum depression. So those are my qualifications.

    First of all, I want you to know that your baby will absolutely be ok. He needs you to take care of yourself. And as sahmd said, you will have many years to grow your relationship with him. It seems like an eternity now, but if you take this time to get back up on your feet, these two weeks or however long you need him to be with your parents will end up being one of the best things you ever do for your child.

    I also want you to know that you are a wonderful mom. It’s a hard thing to admit that you are struggling and it’s heartwrenching to send your new little one to stay with someone else. It takes a lot of maturity and strength to do it anyway, and I’m glad your husband has been able to support you through this.

    From my experience, it definitely sounds like you have postpartum depression. I would highly recommend going back to your OB or another doctor and talking about this and getting medication for it. When my midwife asked me about postpartum depression after my baby was born, I did the same thing – said yeah, I was feeling down, but nothing I couldn’t handle. A few weeks later, my husband convinced me to go back in. I got medication and my doctor told me that I would never regret being able to be present for this time in my baby’s life. And I never have.

    It’s physically impossible for you to be happy right now. That’s ok – it’s not your fault – but it’s devastating. The months after my son’s birth were the darkest of my life. It’s hard to be a first time mom and hard to be a med student, and to throw those both together and then postpartum depression on top of it – you are a very courageous woman, and you can make it through this. Medication won’t fix your thoughts (that’s what counseling helps with, and it might be helpful to look into that too!) but it will let your body be able to feel happiness again, and that’s a huge first step.

    I know how you feel. You aren’t alone. I remember feeling always sad, always terrified, and always empty. I thought I would have to live forever in this colorless world that I’d never before known existed. Although I knew it was not the answer and was illogical, suicide was on my mind. And that’s a dark, scary place to be.

    But I’m better now. I still struggle with depression sometimes, but I know how to handle it. My confidence is back, I love to do things again, my two year old and I have a great relationship despite my dark time and the weeks we spent at my parents, and almost most importantly, I sleep again. You will sleep again and one day your baby will sleep through the night, even regularly!

    Be kind to yourself. You are doing amazing. Take some steps to help yourself, and you will feel happy again. You will be able to travel to greater heights now that you have dropped so low. Two resources I would recommend: The Emily Effect, a relatively new website with a collection of postpartum mental health resources, and Crisis Text Line at 741741. You can text into them during particularly awful times, and they will help you make an immediate plan to get to a better place.

    I’d be happy to talk to you more about this if you want. I’m sending hope your way.


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