Editor’s Note: This original piece is one in a series of two athlete letters to be published in May — Mental Health Awareness Month — to bring more awareness to the topic of mental health and the real-life struggles athletes of all shapes and sizes go through, often unseen, as they’re coming in and out of their gyms each day. It’s our hope that by sharing intimate stories like these, coaches and affiliate owners will be inspired to reach out to their own gym communities to support others.
After I had Freyja, I had my highest high and my lowest low.
After the adrenaline had disappeared and the uncontrollable emotional rollercoaster had settled, my world seemed less colorful than usual whenever Freyja wasn’t in my arms.
Yes, happy, smiley, bubbly, energetic, always in love with life Annie, suffering from postpartum depression.
I didn’t want to go outside. I didn’t want to eat. I couldn’t sleep.
As I looked in the mirror, I didn’t recognize what I saw.
Maybe some of you know what I’m talking about here.
A big, soft, fleshy, empty vessel of a belly.
I’m an elite athlete. This is not my body.
During my pregnancy, I embraced my belly because I was growing something. I was proud to represent that belly and could not wait to meet my baby girl. But now it was there for no reason. It had no function. It was just empty.
I looked in the mirror.
I’ve spent my whole life making myself stronger, fitter, ready for whatever physical test I could imagine. I expected birth to be another workout or challenge that my body would be able to shoulder, but it didn’t. My body let me down.
I looked in the mirror and thought about my labor.
Three days of agony. Watching my own blood push back into the IV. Pushing and pushing, but still no end in sight. Getting rushed into the emergency surgery suite after hours of pushing.
A room full of doctors.
The sound of the vacuum.
The release when Freyja finally emerged, quiet.
The minutes of dreadful silence, except for the frantic subtle conversation between the doctors standing over my little girl. And then the cry.
I looked in the mirror. My belly. My empty belly. My weakened, separated abs that might never come back together again.
I’ll probably never train properly again. I’ll probably never be me again.
Why am I being so selfish worrying about my belly, about myself? I have this precious little baby and I need to protect her.
I looked in the mirror. Tired. Delirious. Anemic. I hadn’t slept in days, and when I did sleep it was for ten minutes only. The moment Freyja made a sound, I became scared and anxious, crippled. All I could think about was protecting this little baby I would do anything for.
Why don’t I have an appetite? Not even for candy or pizza?
I looked in the mirror. My belly was empty. I was empty.
Five days after delivery, I decided to pump and let Frederik feed Freyja, and after three-and-a-half hours of sleep I saw colors again. Maybe I was going to be OK?
Until it happened to me
I never really believed in depression. Well, it’s not that I didn’t believe in it. It’s just that it was so foreign to me. I just didn’t understand it.
And when I became pregnant with my baby girl, I especially didn’t understand how women could end up with postpartum depression.
How could you have this new little person that you created, and be depressed?
It was just so far from being anything real to me.
Then it happened to me.
I don’t think I have ever gone that far down in my life. It’s a feeling I didn’t even know I could feel. The only thing that made me happy was holding Freyja and being with her.
I kept having flashbacks to my traumatic delivery. That made it worse, I think. My midwives told me a natural delivery would be best for the baby so that’s what we did. I kept pushing and pushing and pushing. I’m not sure why the doctors let me keep trying, and maybe they shouldn’t have, but nothing is going to change what happened.
When Freyja came out and she wasn’t breathing, I panicked.
Had I made the wrong decision to push so hard? Did I do damage to her?
I didn’t know how else to approach it. I trusted myself and my body to bring my baby out healthy and safe. At that moment, I was sure I had failed.
We have to talk about it
I was terrified to leave Freyja even for a moment. But I knew I had to.
My mom was there with her as I left the house for the first time since she was born. All I did was go for a walk with Frederik. It was terrifying, but so freeing.
There’s still a whole world out here. People walking their dogs, doing their groceries.
All of a sudden, the colors started coming back.
I feel incredibly lucky.
Lucky that I have people in my life I could talk to, lucky I felt comfortable talking about what I was feeling in the days that followed giving birth to my baby girl.
Even though I felt guilty and ashamed of what I was feeling, I decided to talk.
And the more I talked — the more I shared to Frederik, to my mom, on social media — the more support I received and the easier it got. And every time I shared a tidbit of what I experienced, it seemed to help someone. I started to make even deeper connections with my friends and followers, and that helped me.
Sharing what I went through took a weight off my shoulders. The anxiety, guilt and shame started losing its power over me. I had nothing to be ashamed of anymore.
Nothing to hide.
And as I talked about it, I started to feel more comfortable getting out of the house. Started to feel ready to re-establish a routine again, to start using my body again.
The first steps were small. A walk, taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Five weeks after giving birth I sat on a bike for the first time, and I cannot explain in words how freeing that experience was.
It might seem small, but it’s often the smallest of things that can have the biggest impact, and help turn things around. I had taken the first step to find myself again. To start my life with Frederik and OUR baby.
I feel so lucky.
It could have been so much worse. It is for so many women, who stay trapped with those feelings, who suffer alone.
We are not our thoughts; we are our actions. So it’s not something we should be hiding. It’s not something to be ashamed about. It’s not something we should avoid talking about.
We need to talk about it.
Talking about it is what helped me get through what I experienced after my first pregnancy, and I know it’s what will help me get through another pregnancy because I’m absolutely going to have more kids.
Having Freyja was the most amazing feeling. Even though I sunk lower than I ever have before, I also had the highest high I have felt before. I never, not even for a moment, would have said she wasn’t worth it. Even if it had been worse for me, even if I wasn’t ever able to compete again, it was worth it.
So worth it.