Postpartum Anxiety

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Disclaimer- I’m not a doctor, I don’t even play one on TV. Nothing in this post should be taken as medical advice. The most important thing for anyone who thinks they might be suffering from postpartum anxiety or depression is to talk to their medical practitioner.

This is one of those more difficult posts to write, as it always is when I open my personal life up more than I’m typically comfortable with. I’m going to share with you something that I’ve only told a very few people directly, very few meaning: my husband, my doctor, my best friend, and my mother. I have postpartum anxiety and OCD. There. I said it, I just put it right out there like ripping off a band aid.

I’ll be honest, I considered not mentioning it at all. Unlike when I was working through depression a few years ago, it would be completely easy to just continue normally. I could post all the usual things, and pretend that this anxiety isn’t happening rather than opening up and making myself vulnerable. Because really, I seem normal. I’m posting all the cutesy pictures, I’m doing all the things I normally do, if you saw me on the street you would never know. Unlike depression there’s nothing missing. It’s just those extra things that say I have a problem.

  • The excessive worrying about Happy Baby
  • The inability to sleep, even when I’m exhausted, even when the baby is sleeping (especially when the baby is sleeping, even when everything says I SHOULD be sleeping.
  • The constant irritability with everything, and everyone. It’s especially painful to find myself irritated with the Geekling who has done nothing to deserve it aside from being a normal six-year-old boy.
  • The intrusive thoughts. The horrible, awful thoughts that start with “what if…” and from there you can pretty much fill in the blank with any horrible, awful thing that could potentially in the whole wide world befall a member of my family. Everything from “What if someone breaks into the house while Happy Daddy is at work?” all the way to “What if one of the boys gets cancer?”. These thoughts happen occasionally with everyone, but usually they go away. With postpartum anxiety and OCD they don’t just away. They keep going around, and around, piling on top of one another. They cause me to stay up for hours after I should have been asleep, checking door locks, checking on the kids, hearing noises, thinking out contingency plans for every awful possibility.

Wow, those things were hard to write out. It’s so very hard to admit these things, even to ourselves. I considered not sharing it with the whole wide world, but then frankly, I got pissed off. I got really, really, completely angry. Do you know why? BECAUSE NOBODY TALKS ABOUT THIS. Nobody mentions postpartum anxiety when they’re talking to soon to be moms, or new moms. Well, not nobody, I randomly stumbled across an article that mentioned it, and because it struck a chord I went looking for more information. But I never should have had to go looking for that information. It should have been right there in my little “welcome to new mommy-hood” packet that I got, along with how to take care of my stitches and who to call if my baby wouldn’t latch properly.

Do you know what was in my packet? All the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression. Having had a recent bout of depression I was on the lookout for those. I was eagle eyeing every thought, checking in with myself daily to make sure I was a-ok. When I was starting to get a little more weepy than normal I texted the Bestie and checked in with HER. I totally, completely DID NOT have postpartum depression, so obviously I was just fine, right? All this other stuff was a normal new mom thing.

Except I’m not just fine. I have a problem, and it is a problem that interferes with my ability to enjoy new motherhood to the fullest. Postpartum anxiety interferes with my ability to enjoy my family, be happy, and be healthy. It’s a problem that can be fixed, but only if I know how to recognize that it’s something that needs to be talked about. In hindsight I realize that I had much more severe anxiety with Geekling. I woke up to check on him in the night for 4 years. Four. Years. For four years I didn’t trust that he would continue to breath while I was asleep. Luckily, for one reason or another I came out of it, and thank all the powers that be it didn’t escalate to a level where I couldn’t function as a mother. But despite the fact that now, in hindsight I can say that sitting up beside him for hours every night as an infant was a big fat red flag, back then I thought it must be normal for new moms. Surely with all the talk about SIDS, and every other horrible thing that can happen to your baby, new moms were supposed to worry all the time?

I never questioned that my behavior was normal, because NOBODY TOLD ME IT WASN’T. Nobody ever said “hey, if you worry excessively about your baby, you should probably mention that to your doctor.” They told me I should mention to my doctor if I wasn’t bonding with my baby, if I was sad all the time, if I was having trouble eating, none of which were problems I had in my wonderful euphoria of “I love my baby so much I can’t stand the thought of anything happening to him, so I’m going to freak out about every possibility, and never sleep again because, OMG BABY!”

They should have told me though. Somebody, in all those checkups, in all those pamphlets, in all those books, should have taken the time to say: “It’s not normal to be worried ALL THE TIME about ALL THE THINGS. Somebody should have at least said the words “postpartum” and “anxiety” together. There should have been a little checklist right next to the one about depression.

So I’m going to say it. I’m going to say it over, and over, and over. I’m hashtagging it on twitter, I’m talking about it on here, and on instagram, and anywhere else I have something relevant to say. I want every new mom to know that she doesn’t HAVE to worry all the time. That mostly babies turn out to be just fine. That while we should of course take reasonable precautions like using car seats, and not using bumper pads, her baby will be just fine if she puts him down for a few minutes to take a shower. That it’s ok to go to sleep at night. And that if she feels like it isn’t, then she should get help.

And of course we should continue the discussion about postpartum depression, but it’s so important that we add to that discussion by talking about postpartum anxiety and OCD as well. These are talks we need to be having with new moms, these are both things we need to make sure all new moms, and those that love them know about. If you’re struggling in any way after having a baby, PLEASE let someone know. Talk to your partner, your doctor, or your best friend. If you don’t have anyone you feel comfortable talking to, then talk to me. Email me, post a comment, direct message me on Twitter or Facebook. I’ll answer, I promise, and I’ll talk through things with you. I know it might feel like you’re alone in this. You might be ashamed to talk about it, but you’re not alone, and you have no reason to be ashamed. So get help, make a plan, and take back your mommy-hood.

As for my plan, this is what I’m doing so far:

  • Goodbye Facebook. Turns out Facebook is full of really great food for intrusive thoughts. Most of the content was well-meaning and “helpful”, but putting ideas into my head about MORE bad things that could potentially happen was not working for me. I deleted the app from my phone, and I asked Happy Daddy to change the password. He logs me in once a day to my blog page to check on it and schedule posts if I have something to share. I also linked my twitter account to Facebook so my followers can still see what I’m up to.  I don’t check my news feed, I don’t get notifications, and I’m not sure when I’ll start doing those things again.
  • Vitamin D – this was recommended to me by my nurse practitioner as part of our treatment plan. Talk with your own doctor about supplements that might help you.
  • Exercise, fresh air, and sunshine. Another part of my treatment plan as we work through this.
  • Proper diet – lots of protein based meals and snacks, plus making sure I get a variety of fruits, veggies, and other good for me stuff.
  • Sleep –  now this has been the hardest change to make, not only because of the anxiety, but because of logistics. I’m nursing, and until this week wasn’t pumping. Also, Happy Daddy works very long days. However I was given very strict orders to get 8 full hours of sleep at least once within the seven days between appointments. So I pumped a bottle with my hand pump, handed the baby to his daddy, and made my way up the stairs while they slept in the living room. I’m not saying this was easy, I had a complete melt down just before heading up the stairs, but it happened, and I definitely saw an improvement. I’m working on being able to sleep more, and keeping milk in the freezer for when we need it.

These are just a few parts of my current treatment plan. I’m not saying that this plan will be the one that works, and we haven’t ruled out the need for further therapy or medication yet. If those things are what my NP recommends when I go for my follow-up, then that will be the next step. It’s so crucial that you see your practitioner and make your own treatment plan specific to your needs.

If you would like to read more information on postpartum anxiety or postpartum depression, here are some links I found helpful. Please remember though, that nothing on the internet can substitute for actual professional care. Talk with your doctor, midwife, nurse practitioner, or even your pediatrician. They will put you in contact with people who can help YOUR specific need.

The Other Postpartum Problem: Anxiety  This was the original first article I stumbled upon. Thank you Stacey Colino for writing this, and Parents for putting it where I could find it.

Recognizing postpartum Anxiety

The Symptoms of Postpartum Depression & Anxiety (in Plain Mama English)

What Postpartum Depression Recover DOES NOT Look Like by Katherine Stone

And even if you don’t need this post, if you’re not a new mom, or you’re not having problems with anxiety – please do me a favor and share it anyway. Share it with your friends, share it on twitter, on Facebook, wherever you can think a new mom might see it. Because no new mom should ever feel alone, and scared, and overwhelmed.

Until next time, Happy Readers, I wish you love, light, and laughter!

Love, the (getting happier) Home Mommy

25 Comments

  1. You sound almost exactly the way I did after my daughter was born. It was so so hard! I tried many of the things you mentioned, and finally ended up on medication for several months. It was amazing; I could actually relax and enjoy my baby instead of constantly being on “RED ALERT RED ALERT” status. I will keep you in my prayers and send lots of healing love your way! This will end and you will feel normal again! Call/email me anytime!

    • Thank you Louise, for reading, sharing your story, and your offer of support. I’m definitely looking forward to feeling normal again! I can tell I’m on the mend, but definitely have a long way to go. I feel like half the battle was just having the struggle recognized, and being able to put a name to it. Sometimes just realizing that what you’re going through is NOT normal makes you feel a hundred times better.

  2. Thank you for your bravery in sharing your experience! This is far too common and not discussed. I work with NICU families and am writing support articles for them that includes post partum anxiety information and was so pleased to come across your post and links to more information. All my best for your brave journey and healing. Jennifer

    • Thank you Jennifer, for reading, and most of all for the work you do! We were fortunate to not have a need of NICU care, but it’s so reassuring when you have a baby to know you awesome workers are there for us if we need you! I’m glad I could help in your goal to provide more information to your families. Keep up the amazing work, I know it’s challenging, but I imagine it must be amazingly rewarding as well!

  3. i suffered with PPA and OCD and still deal with the fallout 2.5 yrs later, i’m due my next baby in Sept and in my recent midwife appt I spoke to her about it and it was labelled as depression NOT anxiety as there is little known about it in the UK.
    Anyway, i will address that with her at my next appt!
    I spoke with my doctor at the time who was great but as i was BF’ing i wasn’t happy to take meds – anyone with a health anxiety issue such as mine manifested will know drugs aren’t the way to go!! – so i went to counselling and it changed my life, i was introduced to mindfullness which helps me control my thoughts, understand where they’re coming from and most importantly stop them spiraling out of control. It was a long road and i’m still walking it but the fog of anxiety is far behind me now and i hope to take control of it this time around. I’m sure i’ll have bad days but thats ok, i won’t beat myself up about it (i might a bit but i’ll stop quickly i promise!) and i’ll work hard to change the way my brain connects and thinks, it can be done, it just takes work. All the very best to you, you’re not alone and will feel better.
    Have a look into mindfullness, it will complement what you’re already doing and it really has changed my life for the better.

  4. Yes! Yes yes yes!!! I suffered for an entire year with PPA and PPOCD, before they devolved into PPD and I finally got the treatment I needed. My providers were only concerned about PPD, and I seemed to get the message that somehow I could just will myself out of the anxiety. But I was completely and utterly miserable and suffered far too long. I am so glad we are now seeing more and more the language of “Perinatal Mood Disorder,” which I hope will stop so many women from slipping through the cracks.

    • Thank you Kelsey, for sharing your story. I’m sorry you slipped through the cracks and had such a long rough go of it. I’m so fortunate that once I knew I SHOULD talk to my doctor about it they were immediately responsive. I’m going to do my very best to keep talking about it, and keep bringing it up, and keep the conversation going.

  5. The one other thing I’d add to your list of recovery tools is support. Along with sleep and medication it was the one very important element that I was missing for the longest time. You are very, very fortunate to have a spouse that supports you. Because of marital dynamics I was cut off from my family when my PPA was at its zenith, so I had no one, until I found support through the Postpartum Progress community. I tried to make connections through new mum groups, but it was so hard to battle anxiety and feelings of failure, as well as function around new people that I just gave up. Plus you know that meant leaving the house, which put my baby in danger, duh.

    Very happy to say that through a lot of counseling, a little medication, removing myself from a toxic marriage, being open and sharing what I was going through, which allowed me to access tons of support, I’ve found a happy place. I’m still anxious – it’s part of who I am – I’m still Vitamin D deficient – also part of who I am -, but I’m so much happier than I was. I’m now a mum who can let her five year old boy take (reasonable) risks and go to sleep at night (well most nights).

    Thank you so much for sharing your story…another nail in the coffin of stigma!

    • Thank you Jennalucy, for your story! You are right, I am SO fortunate to have the amazing amount of support I do. I have my husband, my friends, my mom, and very importantly a doctor’s office that has my complete trust (and the fact that they staff a Nurse Practitioner specializing in mental health helps a lot). I want to reiterate that I am here to support ANYBODY that does not feel they have someone to support them.

      Again, thank you for YOUR story, I’m so glad you’ve found your happy place.

  6. Hi – this is great. I agree. The past year I have been searching for articles/blogs..any info on PP anxiety. But, in my case, my son was almost 2 when it hit me full force.

    • Nickole, thank you for taking the time to write, I’m sorry the comment box was giving you problems! Thank you also for doing your part to spread the news, anxiety can be so debilitating! Please keep up the good work!

  7. Oops cut me off- my dughter was 3.5 also. It was so bad I rarely went any where with them by myself. Unless it was my parents house or the grocery car with the two seater cart with staraps

  8. Errrr I just wrote a hole paragraph. This thing isn’t letting me correct typos and kicked me out. Anxiety is awful. Thanks for writing. I’m passionate about it and tell all moms. For me I didn’t get anxiety terribly until skm was 2 and daughter was 3.5!

  9. Sometimes I think people don’t talk about this is because “OH you’re having a baby and it’s AMAZING AND SO HAPPY AND WONDERFUL.” And it is, but nobody wants to be the one to tell mom about the hard stuff that happens after. But people need to. People (doctors, grandmas, friends) need to talk about the hard and the icky afterwards. Because it’s not always a cookie bake-fest after delivery. I’ve been there. It hurts and it’s scary. And no mother should have to suffer needlessly for weeks or months on end. We all desperately want to be the best we can for our babies and being honest about the very real struggle is a good start.

    • Haha, trust me, I love me some baking, but I had zero desire for cookie bake-fest following delivery, and I’ll be totally honest with everyone about that! Thank you for taking the time to reply, and I totally agree, we don’t do new moms any favors by spoon feeding them just the diaper commercial/hallmark card version of babies. The act of being responsible for every waking moment of a new human is often overwhelming, icky, emotional (and let’s not talk about new baby smell vs. umbilical cord smell… )

      Looking forward to getting to know you better, and continuing this campaign of truthfulness!

  10. Oh dear, you are so brave! I have been through it too, and I blogged through it, and I’m sorry you didn’t find my words when you needed them (further proof that my mother was the only person on the planet reading my blog).

    To add to your list – COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPY. It is the only thing that has worked for me. I did pre- and post-partum anxiety with all three pregnancies (I am SO MUCH FUN) and I’m working on a healthy dose of it with my sister’s complicated pregnancy as we speak. I have made the leap from perinatal anxiety and mood disorder to straight up generalized anxiety disorder, which is fine with me, because XANAX. (And Zoloft, and Lexapro once the baby’s weaned, because better living through pharmaceuticals! Yay!)

    But listen, seriously, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is the thing, and there are no pesky side effects for your little one. it’s the only thing that works. For real. And CBT, combined with meds, and combined with all the other stuff on your list, that’s a home run prescription for getting your head back on straight.

    There’s a book called Feeling Good by David Burns which is a good place to start. Get yourself an appointment with a therapist who specializes in CBT and perinatal mood disorders, if such a unicorn exists in your area, ASAP.

    If you email me, I will email you back my cell phone number and text or chat with you any time, because no one should go through what you’re going through alone. My kids are 9, 7, and 4 now, and there is nothing you could possibly say that would shock me – I’ve had every intrusive thought, and I have done a hell of a lot of research.

    Also, the new Podcast from NPR called Invisibilia: their first episode was about intrusive thoughts and had some great stuff that might help you.

    No matter what, remember that you’re not alone, ok? Other moms have been through the hell you’re living, and we’ve come out of it stronger. We’ve come out of it awesome, ok? You’re going to kick this thing’s ass.

    I’m adding you to my Feedly so I can keep track of you. Take care.

    • Thank you so much for your kind words! Seeing the response I’m getting had really reaffirmed my decision to post this, and share with everyone. I’m so fortunate to have an excellent support system, when so many new moms don’t, and the NP at my OBGYN office actually specializes in mental health. I think it’s so wonderful that you reached out to me as a veteran from the trenches, and I promise if I ever have need I will definitely take you up on your offer.

      And thank you for the suggestions, I’ll be looking into those as well!

  11. Great article! I just wish you had mentioned getting some support from professional counsellors …. Too many people run to a medical person to treat issues that are often primarily mental health issues. A medical person should be consulted to rule out medical issues, but after that— get some therapy to learn new resilience skills. Psychotropic meds have their place (especially in a short term crisis) but for long term resilience “pills don’t teach skills.” In counseling one learns the cognitive, emotional and social skills needed to avoid anxiety/depression in the future. As a young depressed mom, somebody taught me these important tools and for the past 20 years I’ve been super happy.

    • Thank you for your comment! Actually my Nurse Practitioner is a licensed mental health counselor as well as a family health nurse practitioner, so I’m getting the best of both worlds. The reason that I recommend that new moms talk with a medical practitioner is because that is who they are already in front of. They see their doctor or midwife at least once post baby, and they see the pediatrician frequently as well. These people are the first line of defense, not the be all end all in treatment. Recovery, as I’m sure you learned, is not a one stop shop. I’m so glad you were able to learn those coping skills and that they’ve worked so well for you! Again, thank you for reading and for your comment!

  12. Thank you for posting this. With my first son I had an emergency c-section, and after constant interruption in the recovery room for days, were released from the hospital on a Friday morning. I had very little sleep during our stay, which as you know exacerbates anxiety. By that evening, I was in the ER with a full-blown anxiety attack. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t think, I was afraid to put the baby down because something bad might happen to him. I was a HOT MESS. No one had ever mentioned post partum anxiety…like you I had only heard of depression. Depressed I was not. Completely amped with fear was more like it. With my 2nd baby, I was able to tell my doctor…”Hey guess what? You’re going to have to hook a girlfriend up with some anti-anxiety meds because here’s what’s about to happen…” With your post, maybe some mommies will get to avoid the unpleasantries of not knowing what the hell is going on. Thank you for sharing your story.

    • Good for you being able to communicate your needs to your doctor and advocate for yourself the second time around! Thank you for taking the time to read, and I hope I can help more moms get this information when they need it!

  13. Great post and very brave. I had this too so completely relate. I’ve written about it too if you want to take a look. It does get easier but I’ve done alot of it myself without gps help etc. Keep doing what you’re doing, it’s great x

  14. Thank you for talking about it! It’s so important… Here is another text I read on the subject: http://www.scarymommy.com/articles/postpartum-anxiety?section=postpartum-depression&u=PEZe8vZbja

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