Danni from the Mummy Social team recently spoke to Sam, mum to two boys, aged four and two. She recently posted online that she had suffered from postpartum rage. Until this point we’d never even heard of it, so wanted to have a chat with her to find out more.
Thank you so much for talking to us. Can you explain to us what postpartum rage is?
Most of us have heard of postpartum depression and anxiety as it’s widely talked about, quite rightly, but postpartum rage is rarely discussed. Postpartum rage is when you get overwhelmed by a feeling of anger which stops you focussing on anything else. You might be slightly annoyed by something one minute but all of a sudden the rage rushes over you and what seemed like something small one minute becomes all-consuming or sometimes the rage might come out of nowhere.
Can you talk us through what did it feel like for you? How did it make you feel afterwards?
For me, it felt like a white-hot rage that would bubble to the surface almost instantly and I had no control over it. I would scream and shout, normally at my husband. It didn’t matter where we were, I clearly remember we were stood in the street one day when it happened. The rage would be so bad that to try to get back some control I would hurt myself by pinching or hitting myself. I guess as a way to reground myself. Afterwards, the guilt was horrific. I’d be sat sobbing as I had said such horrible things. Also because of been hurting myself, I’d have bruises on my legs or my stomach for days afterwards.
I should imagine it takes some strength to openly admit that you have suffered with this. Can you talk us through what the key triggers were for you?
It took me a while to talk to anyone about it, and even then it was only to a few select people. For me, the key triggers were a combination of having a toddler and a newborn baby, sleep deprivation, my hormones, and stress. Looking back the last three were totally interlinked. Naively I had assumed that the wee one would be similar to our eldest so I had totally underestimated the change going from one child to two would be. Whilst our eldest was a very good sleeper and liked his Moses basket the wee one would only sleep on us for the first few months of his life. He wanted to be held all the time and wouldn’t take a bottle, which meant that I never had a break.
Ten days after the wee one was born my job, and our eldest’s nursery place, were put at risk due to a restructure at work, it felt like the rug had been pulled from underneath me. Looking back I suspect the wee one was feeding off the stress that I was feeling and that’s why he always wanted to be held. I was just totally overwhelmed. Fortunately, our eldest never saw me when I totally lost it. I genuinely think it would have frightened him.
At what point did you realise there was a condition/name for this rage you were feeling? How did you find out? Did it help to know that it was recognised and not just you losing-your-you-know-what?
I always knew it wasn’t just regular rage because it just felt different from when I’ve felt angry in the past. I spent quite a lot of time online looking to see whether others had experienced what I was going through. It was such a relief to find out it was actually something others had gone through as well. There wasn’t loads of information out there when I was looking, which to be honest, it’s the reason I wanted to chat with you. I think it’s important to raise awareness so mums out there know they are not on their own. I also had a very open conversation with a friend who told me she had felt the same way as well, which definitely made me feel less on my own.
I think the challenge with postpartum rage, in particular, is that no one really talks about it. Rage in women is seen as a big no no by society so it leads us to bottle it up inside. The problem with that is it actually makes it worse as it can lead you to believe that if you feel like this you can’t possibly be normal, whatever normal is.
How did you learn to cope with it? Were there things you could do to try and relieve the feeling?
I never sought help from my health visitor or doctor when I was struggling, I wish in hindsight I had. There was plenty of opportunities for me to reach out but I didn’t because I was worried people would think I couldn’t cope or try to put me on medication. Whenever I saw my health visitor she always asked if I was ok and I’d always say I was fine. I had made them aware of the situation with work but hadn’t been honest about the effect it was having on me, alongside the sleep deprivation and everything else. I am very lucky to have an incredibly supportive husband. I never felt he judged me when I was going through a rage episode.
Fortunately, my sister was studying Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) at university at the time. After talking to her, she sent me through some useful information to help me when I was starting to get stressed. There was one key strategy that worked for me was to ask myself ‘How is this thought helping me?’ The workbook suggested that if it wasn’t helping then to try to think about something else to distract my thoughts.
The other thing that worked for me is exercise. I made the effort to get out of the house every day for a walk. I find that I am far less stressed when I exercise. Exercising outside specifically works for me. I went to a Buggyfit class twice a week, which was amazing as if the wee one got upset whoever was leading the class would rock the buggy so I could carry on. I also started back running, initially on my own. I ran a lot before both my pregnancies. I love the feeling of being out in the fresh air, rain or shine. It’s a great stress buster for me and helps me manage my moods and take back control over my body. I now belong to a running community called This Mum Runs, who encourage mums to get together to run and get to know each other. The Cardiff branch I run with is fairly new, but it’s been an amazing way of making new friends, talking through the challenges of motherhood and staying fit at the same time.
What would be your advice to anyone who is experiencing feeling like this? Where can they go to get help or find out more?
Good question, without a doubt I would say don’t do what I did and try to hide from it as it doesn’t make it go away. Talk to your doctor or health visitor as they will be able to point you in the right direction for support. Also, talk to people you trust to explain how you feel. Most of all give yourself a break, you are not alone.
Sam writes a blog called The Running Mumma https://therunningmumma.co.uk/ about parenting and running.
Interview by Danni, Mummy Social Team