Coping With Postpartum Anxiety

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sweet-little-baby

I had a difficult labor (30 hours ending in a c-section), followed by breastfeeding issues (my daughter had a tongue tie), and colic. It’s been tough. I say all this because I still feel the need to defend my postpartum anxiety.

Somewhere around the six-week mark after Mae’s birth, everything caught up to me. The sleep deprivation, the crying, the worry. I would wake up in the morning with a sense of dread and anxiety that is hard to explain. It felt like my body was simultaneously being held down by a cement block as well as stretched in a thousand directions. I wanted to crawl out of my skin. Walking to the shower felt like running a marathon.

People make you think those first days, weeks, and months of your child’s life should be the happiest of your life. And yes, I was overwhelmed with love for Mae, but I was also paralyzed by anxiety and worry. I was able to take care of Mae, but I couldn’t do a thing for myself. I wasn’t eating or sleeping. Food tasted like cardboard and sleep wouldn’t come. It was like my body buzzed with worry. I would get up, feed Mae, change diapers, sing to her, but my mind was constantly looking into the future at the next possible catastrophe. My body was going through the necessary motions for Mae, but that was all I could muster.

I didn’t want to see anyone because I knew they’d expect me to be a new, glowing mother, and I was far from that.

I kept telling myself this was just the baby blues and it would pass. But it didn’t pass. It got worse. I was a bad mother. I couldn’t cut it. I was so ashamed. A low point that I can clearly remember is my mom spoon-feeding me yogurt and I wasn’t physically able to swallow.

I “woke up” one morning and literally thought I might die from lack of sleeping and eating. My heart was racing and my head was fuzzy. I’d forgotten to eat for 24 hours.

I hit rock bottom. I wanted to feel better for my family, my husband, and most importantly, my daughter, but I just couldn’t do it on my own. My family and husband decided I needed help. They were in pain just watching me.I was in agony.

I saw my midwife. I got on medication that’s safe for breastfeeding. I joined a support group. I took baby steps. It took two weeks for the medication to start working and those were the longest two weeks of my life. Bit by bit, I started feeling a little better. But it’s still tough some days. I still get worried about the future or trying new things with Mae, but I force myself.

I wish I hadn’t let myself struggle for so long. I wish I’d known more about the anxiety-side of postpartum. I’d always heard about depression, and I wasn’t really depressed. I was overwhelmed with worry, a worry so intense that I could barely move. What if she started crying and never stopped? What if I couldn’t soothe her? What if my breasts weren’t producing enough milk? What if her intestines were twisted? My mind was racing and never rested.

I want other women to know they aren’t alone; that you aren’t less of a mother because of postpartum anxiety or depression. (I am still having to tell myself this daily.) But, I am strong. I never stopped mothering Mae. I’m still breastfeeding her even if it is from a bottle. And I’ve kissed her and loved her every day in spite of my anxiety.

Related post: My Journey with Postpartum Depression

26 Reasons I’ve Cried Since Having a Baby

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Baby crying, mother in background

I didn’t always buy into the clichés about women being emotional roller coasters due to pregnancy or postpartum hormones. After all, I was still myself during my pregnancies, albeit with a shorter temper and a fuzzier memory. Really, I thought the stereotype was one more way for people to joke about a woman’s mental state without exploring the real reason for her hurt feelings or emotional outburst. A pregnant woman’s PMS, if you will.

But after my second child was born, I couldn’t deny that I had become what I previously thought was merely a sitcom-created mothering myth: a postpartum crier.

Of course, it’s hard when you’re getting up several times a night with an infant (plus an early-rising preschooler) but really, did I need to cry about everything? Certainly, there were overwhelming, real reasons I cried. But I’m not talking about the “why is no one sleeping,” “have I ruined my life,” “what is the greater meaning of dedicating myself to a child who is only going to hate me in 10 years and never call me in 20″ kind of existential parenting crises. I’m talking about the silly, unnecessary, definitely hormone-related reasons I’ve cried or gotten teary since having a new baby. Here are just a few of those reasons…

1. When my husband told me I needed to throw away the package of hot dogs after I left them out of the refrigerator all day long.

2. Describing the epilogue for Knuffle Bunny Free. (In my defense, the epilogue is beautiful and sad in a Cat’s-In-The-Cradle way and made my husband cry the first time he read it.)

3. Reading an online article about a cat that had run away from home. (Hell, reading pretty much any article about parenting, children or animals.)

4. Watching the Google commercial where the tween overcomes glossophobia, the fear of public speaking. (Hell, watching pretty much any Google commercial. Or any sappy commercial.)

5. When I went to buy an iced coffee and realized the $5 I put in my pocket specifically for that purpose was gone.

6. When the baby laughed while I changed him. (The cuteness was overwhelming.)

7. When my preschooler told me I wasn’t allowed to play with him.

8. Because I missed watching “In The Papers” on NY1 (a segment in which the anchor literally tells you what is in the papers. Before I got addicted to it, I thoroughly made fun of this concept).

9. When I woke up.

10. When the guy at the deli put too much mustard on my sandwich, thus ruining the sandwich. RUINING IT!

11. Watching the video where the baby cries at her mother’s singing. (Hell, watching pretty much any online video about children. Or animals. Or anything sappy, inspiring, or heartwarming. OK, fine, any online video about anything.)

12. No reason at all.

13. Looking at my son’s drawing.

14. Thinking about the song “Landslide.” (In my defense, that is a really good song. And sad. And beautiful. Oh God, here I go again.)

15. When I picked my son up at school.

16. When my son got a bad haircut.

17. When I didn’t like my hair color (which is the exact same color that I have been dyeing my hair for the past 12 years).

18. Because my DVR didn’t record Project Runway: All Stars (which is both terrible and available online).

19. When the cat barfed under the bed.

20. While watching the Mrs. Krabappel dedication on The Simpsons after the voice actress died.

21. Hearing that Amy Robach had breast cancer and that Robin Roberts came out. (Note: while cancer is sad and coming out is laudable, I don’t watch Good Morning America nor do I have any specific love for these particular ladies.)

22. Thinking about my son’s love for his favorite stuffed animal.

23. When I poured salt into my iced tea instead of sugar. (Ok, that legitimately sucked.)

24. When I accidentally deleted an episode of my son’s former favorite TV show, Jack’s Big Music Show, which is no longer aired on Nick Jr. nor is it available online or on DVD so that was THE LAST TIME I WILL EVER SEE IT. (For those curious, it was “Jack’s Super Swell Sing-Along” which is the best episode of the series and even if my son didn’t love it anymore, I still did, dammit.)

25. When I realized I didn’t wash my slipper socks, meaning I had to walk around the cold apartment in regular socks like a HEATHEN.

26. Thinking about how lucky I am.

Rage: The Scariest Symptom of PPD

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ppd-rage

It was the rage that frightened me. I had expected to feel down, sad, and grumpy. Which I did, that’s for sure. But rage? That was not something I expected from postpartum depression. And the rage is what drove me to get help.

About five weeks after my second daughter, Grace, was born, my husband could tell I was not doing well. So he decided to surprise me with a half-day at a local spa. I was thrilled. Nails, facial, massage … and no baby or toddler attached to me for a few blissful hours. Heaven.

But when I came home, I could hear Grace’s crying from the basement. My body tensed immediately and the relaxed feeling was gone. Hubs told me that Grace didn’t eat the entire time I was out. She took a little milk from a bottle but then wouldn’t accept the bottle again.

She didn’t accept a bottle EVER again.

And I could feel the rage start to build from that day.

I felt trapped by my colicky, non-sleeping, no-bottle-taking baby. I was frustrated with my toddler, Anne, who was throwing tantrums constantly. And I was really questioning my decision to leave my full-time writing job for the occasional freelance gig.

I felt overwhelmed, sad, anxious, and angry. Every. Single. Day.

Then one night I really lost it on Anne when she was having a tantrum. I couldn’t control the words flying out of my mouth. I wanted to smack her and make her stop (which thankfully, I didn’t). I wanted to be anywhere but there.

The rage coming out of me was other-worldly. Thankfully Hubs was there and was able to intervene. I feel physically ill when I think about how I acted and what could have happened. It was the most terrifying feeling I had ever experienced.

I called both my primary care and OB docs the next day. Working together, they got me on Zoloft and into therapy right away. And I felt better within days. The sadness, the lack of interest in life, the anxiety … it all got better with the Zoloft.

The rage, though, took more work to get under control. The Zoloft helped. But the therapy was what made it much, much better.

Four years later, I am still managing my depression. The PPD got better, but then morphed into another kind of depression when my dad suddenly died. Who knows what it technically is now — but I’m still dealing with it.

And the rage is still there. It’s the most difficult part to manage and from my experience, the least-talked about symptom of depression.

That’s why I’m writing this post. I want all you moms out there to know that if you deal with PPD, depression, and especially the rage that can accompany it, you are not alone. You are not a bad mom. It can and will get better—if you get help.

Being a mom means doing hard things. And sometimes the hardest thing is asking for the help you need. I know that first phone call was incredibly hard for me to make.

But now I understand that depression happens to regular people. These scary feelings do not make me a bad mother. And with medication, therapy, and healthier life choices, I feel more like me again.

Yes, I’m still fighting the depression, sadness, and rage. But now, finally … finally I feel like I’m winning.

Drowning

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drowning

As I left the grocery store yesterday I saw a woman loading up her car with groceries while juggling her baby.  Such a normal sight, but it immediately reminded me of my postpartum depression days and I felt that uncomfortable feeling you get in the pit of your stomach.

How overwhelming it was to even think of going to the grocery store with my baby.  I had to carry the impossibly heavy car seat, figure out how to get it into the grocery cart properly (which I’m not quite sure I ever did), make sure to keep my son happy and content, remember to get everything I needed, and dodge any neighbors since I hadn’t showered in days.   It was too much for me.  Why? It didn’t seem too much for other people.  I’m not even sure I realized it was the postpartum depression, in combination with the fact that being a new mom is a major transition for any woman.

And it wasn’t just going out.  It was everything.  What if he was screaming and we were in a public place? How would I make sure he was getting enough to eat? How could I take a shower if he cried when I left him? How was I supposed to clean the house when I was busy taking care of a baby and exhausted to boot?  How on earth would I be able to go back to work? What if it was time to pick him up at daycare and I was in a meeting?  When should I call the pediatrician? Why won’t he stop crying?  Why can’t I get this breastfeeding thing?  Why do I have postpartum depression in the first place? What did I do wrong?

I love the many definitions of overwhelm from the American Heritage Dictionary:

1. To surge over and submerge; engulf

2. To defeat completely and decisively

3. To affect deeply in mind or emotion

4. To be present with an excessive amount

I was all of the above.  I was engulfed, drowning in fear and anxiety.  I felt completely and decisively defeated, as if I could never be the mother that I needed to be and that other mothers were able to be so easily.  I was deeply affected by sadness, numbness and anxiety in alternating waves.  And I felt that I wouldn’t ever be able accomplish everything that was in front of me.

Do you know those feelings? Do you feel overwhelmed? I was there. I know how crushing postpartum depression can be. All I can say is I don’t feel that way anymore. What a difference it is to feel capable. As though you can manage.  That you’re not the perfect parent but that you’re trying and your children are okay and they love you and you can handle lots of different things at once.

I can breathe. I’m not drowning anymore.