This post is coming from a place of deep vulnerability. Writing this was far from easy and takes a lot out of me. I'm scared, I'm uncomfortable, but it's what I want to do in order to help even just one mother overcome Postpartum Anxiety. I want to bring all of this to the surface to aid in ending Postpartum Anxiety's bad reputation. Anxiety is not something to be ashamed or embarrassed of. All moms need support. Moms with PPA just need support in ways that need to be addressed a little differently than those without it. Instead of bringing people down, lets lift each other up and help the recovery process in our fellow mothers.
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I Never Expected To Have Postpartum Anxiety
I'm a born mother. I know that this much is true. I never had to think about whether or not I want kids. I've always known I wanted children and I wanted at least a few of them. Names are chosen, bedrooms are saved, and my husband and I have talked about wanting our children to be close together. But something inside me is terrified.
It's not something that's easy to talk about but I had a debilitating case of Postpartum Anxiety (PPA) when my son, Logan, was born.
To be completely honest, before my own experience with it, I didn't know much about postpartum anxiety. Of course, in nursing school we learn about it along with Postpartum Depression and other postpartum mood disorders and we are trained to assess for our patients' risk even before delivery.
I had no risk factors For Postpartum Anxiety
I have a great support system, I felt prepared for pregnancy, and labor and delivery, and I really did feel like I was prepared to be a mother. This was a planned pregnancy, I've never had any prior history of mental health issues, I wasn't on any medications and I felt completely happy with how my labor and delivery went. The list of promising prognoses go on. In my mind, I should not have had to worry about postpartum anxiety.
- Related Read: The Day I Became A Mother: Our Birth Story
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There Were Signs Of Postpartum Anxiety
I Couldn't Sleep
I started to notice that I wasn't having a normal reaction to motherhood at about 3 weeks postpartum. The first thing I started to notice was that I wasn't sleeping. Yeah, I know what you're thinking, no one sleeps when their baby is 3 weeks old. But really. I wasn't sleeping.
I was suffering with terrible insomnia. At night when my son would sleep for a couple of hours at a time, I would literally lay awake staring at him. I never laid in any way other than on my left side so that I could always see him and easily reach over and touch him. My husband sometimes would wake up and catch me on my phone because I couldn't sleep. He tried so hard to help me to sleep but I just couldn't. I was in tears from exhaustion all of the time but I could not relax, close my eyes, and rest my mind.
After some time this way, one day, my mom recognized that I wasn't getting any rest and she came over to let me nap for a couple of hours during the day. I breastfed Logan when she got to the house and then immediately gave him to my mom. She assured me that she would burp him, cuddle him, change his diaper, and take care of him in every way for at least two hours while my husband and I slept upstairs in our room.
I was SO EXCITED. It was seriously like Christmas morning when she took him from me. I was absolutely ready to finally get a couple of good hours of rest. My husband and I disappeared into our room, hit the pillow and…well…he fell asleep and I laid there thinking. But seriously? No! There was no way that I was going to allow myself to lay awake for two hours! I did everything I could to encourage sleep. To help promote sleep, I put on lavender lotion, diffused essential oils, turned on white noise, asked Dean to rub my back until I fell asleep, but nothing worked.
I Was Paranoid
Just as I checked every five minutes in the middle of the night to make sure he was breathing, every five minutes during this “nap” I paused my white noise because I thought I was hearing Logan cry downstairs . “Is he ok? Is he hungry? Does he need me? Did I remember to show my mom where the wipes were? Oh gosh, what if he threw up all over himself again and he needs a change of clothes? Maybe I should just go check really quick to see if they are ok down there?” The ridiculous thoughts didn't end for an hour and a half when I finally gave up and walked downstairs to find my baby peacefully asleep in the Rock N' Play next to my mom who was relaxed on the couch.
You'd think that would calm me and maybe I would be reassured that everything is fine and maybe I should try again. But for reasons that I could not comprehend, my heart was beating out of my chest and I felt panic. I told my mom what I was feeling and she tried to reason with me and tell me that he was easy and everything was fine. She said that he did great for the entire time and that he never cried and there was no way that I was hearing the shrieks that I was describing.
It Only Got Worse
Instances similar to this continued to happen for weeks to come. Instead of improving, it only became more severe. More symptoms started to surface as well. When my husband had to return to work when Logan was 5 weeks old, I experienced intense panic every time he was getting ready to leave. He has a fluctuating schedule so his times at work and times at home where never consistent. Sometimes he had to leave at 4 pm and be gone until 2 am which was the shift I dreaded the most.
I had anxiety all day but the panic came mostly at night, with the anticipation of bedtime. Logan's most difficult times were between 5:30 and 7:30 pm (which is so, very typical of a newborn) so when the sun started to go down and the day was coming to a slow end, my heart would begin to race and I would start staring at the clock at 4pm just anticipating what the next few hours would bring. I am not lying when I tell you that I would start to “get ready” for bed hours early just preparing for the night.
I Anticipated That The Worst Was Yet To Come
To be clear, Logan didn't have colic and didn't cry for these hours that I mentioned. Mostly, he was just very overtired, wanted to be held and bounced and nursed pretty constantly during this time. Often times I just wore him in my baby carrier for these hours and paced the house for the rest of the night until my last feeding of the evening followed by bedtime. This kept Logan calm, but I can't say the same for myself. I would cry for absolutely no reason. If Logan had a hard time eating or falling asleep, my heart would pound, I would start sweating, and my mind would race with thoughts of “What's going to happen next?”.
My emotions had gone haywire. It was hard to be optimistic, it was hard to accept that things were good when they were good, and I feared the future so much that it was hard to enjoy the present.
I Didn't Know What Was Happening To Me
There were symptoms that were hard to explain. Like, when it felt like my insides were shivering. Or when I would be completely unable to understand my own thoughts and if someone would ask me what I was thinking about it would cause panic because I didn't know. OR I would have so many answers running through my mind and I just felt like I wanted to burst but instead, I would keep it in and say that everything was fine.
During this time in my life, I never wanted to be alone. I didn't want to be the only one in the room, even if my husband was just across the house. I felt like if I was alone, it was going to remain that way forever. Irrational, I know, but I couldn't stand the thought of not having someone to talk to at all hours of the day and night. I didn't necessarily know what to talk about or know what I needed. I just knew that I needed someone there.
When Logan struggled to get back to sleep after waking in the night I would cry and I hated it if I looked over and saw my husband sleeping. I felt like I needed more and more help all the time. As if I was inadequate and I could not do anything without someone present with me.
I would wake my husband, but I couldn't tell him why. I couldn't explain what I needed or how he could help. It was like I just wanted supervision. I just needed eyes on me at all times.
It Wasn't How Other People Had Described It
Postpartum anxiety didn't hit me like a ton of bricks like how some women describe. It was gradual. Some days were better than others and I would mention to Dean, “I have anxiety about [insert one of about a million options here]” or “My heart is beating so fast…”. He validated my feelings but we never went anywhere with it. He mostly just tried to snap me out of it.
But then my mentions were more along the lines of “I think there is something wrong” or “I feel like I'm going crazy” or even “Babe, I swear I'm not crazy but I feel like…” After many conversations starting this way, eventually it started with “I think I have postpartum anxiety”.
Props to Dean because he was such a trooper. He was working crazy hours, being a great Dad to Logan and an absolutely amazing, supportive husband in some of the hardest days of my life so far.
How I Exacerbated The Problem
I Constantly Worried About My Baby
I really think that the combination of struggling with breastfeeding and Logan's acid reflux symptoms made my anxiety so much worse. If I would have just taken the advice from my pediatrician and accepted the reflux more and stopped worrying about if Logan was O.K constantly, I would have at least felt a little better. Even though he was landing perfectly on his growth curve, growing and developing right on track, I still was terrified that throwing up as much as he did was going to harm him and it was going to be my fault.
I cried every time Logan threw up for the first two months of his life. It was physically painful to watch my breastmilk land all over me or the floor when I worked so hard too keep breastfeeding him. I swear if I had just let it go as something I could not control, my anxiety could have been minimized.
I Had A Breastfeeding Obsession
Reflux or not, I struggled with being an exclusively breastfeeding mother. I felt like it was so much pressure! I absolutely could not fathom the thought of giving my child formula even one single time to let myself sleep or to take a little bit of pressure off of myself.
The idea that formula feeding my baby would instantly negate all of my hard work in being a breastfeeding mom was drilled into my brain and it was awful. It felt like if I slept through a feed or chose to be apart from my baby for any period of time, I was going to be a failed breastfeeder. I swear, it's ridiculous but it's how I felt.
I felt so adamant that I would not relieve myself of the duty to feed my child at any cost that it caused probably some of my worst experiences of the newborn stage.
The Breaking Point
This is so much harder to write than all of the rest of it. Even just this paragraph is giving me the sweats. I don't want to admit it, but there were a number of nights that I had complete mental breakdowns, burst into tears and told Dean, “I can't! I can't do this anymore!” and I would hand him the baby and walk into the spare bedroom, cover my head with the blankets and sob.
The anxiety was taking over my life and I wanted to give up and just press skip. My husband would sometimes ask me “You can't what?”, or “How can I make it better?” but I couldn't answer. My only thought in these horrible breaking point moments were that I was “trapped”. No one could take this feeling away from me, and no one could make it better. I literally felt trapped.
I hated that I was hurting Dean, I hated that I was acting this way, and I hated the mom that I was in those moments. This isn't at all what I pictured motherhood to be and I was so disappointed in myself. I just needed a break that I refused to give myself. I would say “You can't help me. No one can help me. I'm trapped and there is no way out.” These memories haunt me.
I Didn't Love My Son Any Less
But do you want to know how long the moments lasted? All of five minutes. I would run into the other room, cover my head and cry, yes. But then I would almost immediately stand back up, go to my husband, take my baby back into my arms, and nurse him. The love never ended. Through all of the stress and the tears and the heartbreak that came with postpartum anxiety, I still wanted the absolute best for my son and I refused to give up on him.
I know now that some of this could have been prevented if I hadn't made breastfeeding exclusively my ONLY OPTION. I took my desire to be exclusively breastfeeding to a level that was dangerous to myself. If I were to go through it again, I would absolutely strive to exclusively breastfeed my baby, BUT if there was a point in time when I thought maybe I couldn't do it 100% perfectly, I would be O.K with that. I wouldn't beat myself up about it.
I'm not even saying that being O.K with formula would have even lead to actually giving the formula. It would just allow me to believe that there was another option if I needed it. As opposed to believing that there was no “out” at all for me.
What Not To Do When You Have Postpartum Anxiety
I Hardly Went Out In Public
I felt so alone, so isolated from the world; but, even when given the opportunity, I never wanted to leave my house.
Going out in public was really hard for me sometimes. When I say public, I mean that even a walk around my neighborhood was a struggle for me. I had the irrational fear that my baby would cry and everyone one would hear him and think that I didn't have it all under control and that I wasn't a good mother. I just wanted to be at home with my husband and my baby. The idea of someone seeing me fall apart because I couldn't handle the stress of my own baby crying was a nightmare for me. I didn't feel like I was a good enough mother to do it in front of the rest of the world.
Even having people over at the house was stress inducing because I was paranoid about judgement. I cancelled plans on people so many times because I was unwilling to get ready that day. I felt incapable of pulling myself together for visitors.
Usually something would trigger my unwillingness to get ready or go out. For example, if Logan slept exceptionally bad the night before or was throwing up exceptionally more that morning then I would not be motivated to pull myself together and face the world. Any time I felt this way, I would cancel all of my plans and put my needs off so that I didn't have to confront my issues in front of my friends or family…or the strangers at the grocery store.
This was a huge mistake that hurt me more than it helped me. If I would have just taken time to get ready, put some clothes on that made me feel good, and surrounded myself with people that lifted me up, I think that it would have made a huge difference for me.
I Wasn't Taking Care Of Myself
Good eating habits and regular exercise can do wonders on your mental health. I was concerned with neither. I was hardly eating anything for two reasons 1.) Because Logan had terrible acid reflux and I was trying the Elimination Diet and 2.) Because I didn't have the time or the energy to make food for myself.
I was so anxious all of the time that making food was something that I chose not to bother myself with because it was just another thing to put on my list. I didn't have time to make myself food or go grocery shopping or think about what I want to eat. Before starting the elimination diet to find what was irritating Logan's tummy, most nights for dinner I would just have yogurt with blueberries and blackberries. No slicing, no cooking, no measuring. Perfect. In hindsight, I can see that this habit only made the anxiety worse.
Is it surprising that one of the number one treatments for postpartum mental health disorders is sleep and rest? Not at all. It's critical. As you already know, I wasn't sleeping at all. It was a viscous cycle. The anxiety wasn't letting me sleep and the lack of sleep was causing my anxiety. It was brutal and I thought it was never going to end. (Spoiler alert: it totally ended)
I Didn't Speak Up Soon Enough
I wanted to hide my feelings as much as possible at first. My husband got the brunt of it because I just couldn't open up to anyone else for a long time; but at home, it would all just come out. My poor husband handled it well, and took care of me like no one else could. But at no fault to him, it wasn't enough.
Eventually my mom and my dad started coming over a few times a week to just sit and talk with me and it helped soooooooo much. I feel like, is this how therapy feels? It was amazing and completely therapeutic. I needed them so much and I am forever grateful for how amazing they are to me. But again, it just wasn't enough.
The hardest people to open up with and yet, probably the most important people to open up with (other than my doctor) were my fellow mom friends. Some of my absolute dearest and closest friends that I love and cherish are moms and I couldn't even bring it up to them at first. Guess what? When I finally laid it all out there and told them that I was struggling and this is hard and I'm anxious, they were completely supportive and always there for me. Why didn't I do this sooner?
So once I started talking about it and I realized that airing my dirty laundry was therapeutic for me, I started talking about it and opening up a lot more. I admitted that I was struggling and asked for help, listened to advice, and probably bothered most people close to me because I wanted to talk about my anxiety quite a lot. It made me feel so much better to get it out of my brain and onto the table. (think I would have benefitted from therapy much? I think, yes)
I Never Reached Out To A Professional
Here's the thing. I really wanted to speak to my doctor about it and see if we could just kick this thing once and for all. Six weeks postpartum came very slowly. I thought I would never reach this milestone. I already wanted to speak to my doctor about my anxiety at that time but for whatever reason, I didn't want to make an appointment. Instead, I just decided to go into the office for my regularly scheduled visit to get my postpartum checkup and nonchalantly mention the anxiety at that time.
When you show up to your 6 week postpartum checkup with your OBGYN, typically you have to fill out a questionnaire, a tool used by health care professionals to assess the risk of depression in women who've just had a baby.
I was happy to fill out the questionnaire, but truly, it was still hard to be completely honest because I felt scared about what she might think of me. Still, she mentioned it, “You scored kind of high on the Postpartum Depression Quiz. Do you feel depressed?”. My thoughts darted back and forth in my mind. I didn't know what to say. I wanted her to ask me a different question. That wasn't the question I needed her to ask. “umm, No.” And then we moved on. MOVED ON. Never to be mentioned again.
I didn't take initiative
Logan was in the room with me and he started to cry. She seemed like having him in the room was an inconvenience so I asked my mom to take him into the waiting room with her. The entire time my doctor was doing her assessment on me all I could think about was that I needed her to ask me more questions. My mind was on over drive thinking about my crying baby, about what I wanted to talk about, about what we were actually talking about, should I bring it up again? Should I just get over it? What was she going to think of me?
Well, I didn't say anything. I hesitantly walked out of her office and never returned. Yes, in hindsight I know that I should have brought it up. I know that I should have taken charge of my own health. But I just couldn't. I just wanted her to bring it up and for me to just answer questions. That seemed like the easiest way.
Driving away from the office was kind of scary for me. Part of me thought that that was my chance to get better and I passed it up. I know that that isn't the truth and I could have sought help in many ways at any time but when I was in it, all logical thought just went out the window.
There Is Hope With Postpartum Anxiety
I had to battle the voice in my head constantly telling me that things would never get better, but with a lot of prayer, a lot of talking to people who care about me, and a lot of talking to moms who've gone through something similar, I recovered. I was mostly better by the time Logan was 4 months old and I think I was completely better by the time he was 6 months old.
A lot of factors went into my recovery. I learned that it wasn't my fault, it's not shameful to talk about it, I needed help and that is O.K, and I went back to work which forced me to get ready and get out of the house and interact with adults.
It was a slow process to get through and it was really tough when I was in the depths of it. It scares me to death to think that now I am more prone to suffer with it again with any future children. I'm afraid but I'm capable. I can do this. I have learned many lessons along the way and I have an incredible support system to back me up.
Postpartum Anxiety More Common Than You Think
No one expects this to happen to them. We think finally becoming a mom and taking care of our new babies would be fulfilling and joyful – but instead you find yourself scared of the future and feeling inadequate and hopeless. You are not alone. The more you talk about it, the more you will realize that people you never expected to struggle, actually had a lot of experiences similar to yours.
Mama, if you or anyone you know is having symptoms of postpartum anxiety or depression, speak up. Don't be afraid or ashamed. Talking about it could possibly be all that you need to start the recovery process. As you start to talk about it and be open about it, you will quickly find that you are SO NORMAL.
Talking about postpartum anxiety is easier now that I've done it and I want people to be aware that this happens and it's “normal” and its O.K. I want you to know that you are not the black sheep because you feel anxious or depressed. You are not a bad or inadequate mother because it's hard for you. And to be honest, no one needs to feel sorry for postpartum mamas because we just need support, not sympathy.
One last, very important thing. Everyone, please, please, please, please listen to this podcast by the girls at The Mom Hour. This is not sponsored AT ALL, but when I heard this podcast (because I listen to their podcast all of the time) I burst into tears. The raw honesty in this episode is refreshing, and it's so stinking informative. If you have had a postpartum mood disorder, or are pregnant and want to find out more about them, you MUST listen to this episode of The Mom Hour. It will change your heart for postpartum mommies. Ready….GO.
Did you have postpartum anxiety? How did you cope with it? Tell me about it in the comments! I would love to hear from you.
What To Read Next:
- The Day That I Became A Mother: Our Birth Story
- Breastfeeding 101: How To Feed Your Newborn
- Understanding The Fourth Trimester- Before You Let It Slip Away
- Expect The Unexpected: Preparing Moms For The Newborn Stage
- I Thought That Co-Sleeping Wasn't For Me…And I Was So Wrong!
- Life With Infant Reflux: What Your Reflux Baby Is Trying To Tell You