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.
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