Coping With Postpartum Anxiety

106 Comments

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.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

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.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

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

The Postpartum Monster In My Head

61 Comments
baby-holding-mother's-hand Image via Shutterstock

Pregnancy is hard for me. The morning sickness is debilitating, the squishing of my internal organs as baby grows uncomfortable, the third trimester aches and pains and pre-labor contractions nearly insufferable, and the c-section delivery second only to a Criminal Minds torture scene. To say I look forward to the day baby comes into the world is an understatement.

When asked at hospital admittance if I suffer from postpartum depression, my answer is always no. It’s not depression. It’s elation. Elation at the fact that I no longer have to undergo the misery of pregnancy. Elation at baby and I having made it through surgery alive. Elation at getting to see and hold and know this new person I’ve grown inside me for nine months.

Depression, no. Elation, yes. But also something in-between.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below


I wouldn’t characterize this in-between feeling as sadness. It’s more one of fear, regret, and nostalgia. I attribute it to my anxiety, which I was diagnosed as having four years ago after my son’s traumatic birth but which, after a couple therapy sessions and careful introspection, I realize I’ve had my entire life.

This fear and regret and nostalgia manifests itself in any number of ways, but usually as extreme fantasies, the roots of which always involve something bad happening to my baby or family, me obsessing about the abrupt transition from being pregnant to not, and me reminiscing about the parts of pregnancy that I think I miss. To be clear, these fantasies don’t involve me doing anything bad to my baby or family or me regretting bringing my baby into the world. Instead, they involve plausible yet completely out-of-left-field scenarios in which harm comes our way and me longing for and regretting that I will no longer feel my baby kicking inside me or daydream about the day I hear his first cries despite the physical and emotional toll pregnancy always has on me.

This in-between feeling, this postpartum monster in my head, strikes when I am feeling particularly vulnerable or alone: at bedtime; when the visitors have dispersed and my husband has returned to work, leaving me to be the sole caretaker of baby for as long as maternity leave extends; when baby naps, relinquishing me briefly from my responsibilities as mother and permitting me to be alone with my hormone-fueled thoughts.

This postpartum monster plants visions of me accidentally dropping baby as I carry him to his changing table or attempt to feed him. It embeds nightmares of baby aspirating on spit-up during the night while I lay unaware beside him, slumbering peacefully. It makes me question every twitch of baby’s eyes and smack of baby’s lips, certain baby is suffering from the very same brain-injury-related seizures his brother before him suffered at birth as a result of his stroke in utero. It tortures me with thoughts of disease and accident and tragedy befalling the ones I love most.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below


This postpartum monster reminds me that I will never again experience the miracle that is growing a human inside me — that I alone solidified this fate for myself when I chose to have a tubal ligation during this last c-section (never mind that the doctor confirmed this was the right decision after determining another c-section would be out of the question thanks to the severe scar tissue problems that made delivering this last baby one sliver shy of impossible). It reminds me that never again will I feel tiny baby kicks or hiccups. It makes me miss the times when I would talk to my swollen midsection and know someone on the inside was listening. It makes me remember with fondness the first time I heard baby’s first cries and makes me regret that I will never again be overcome with an emotion so raw and joyful as that of knowing this new life will thrive. It makes me regret all I took for granted during pregnancy — makes me wonder if my discomfort and agony wasn’t just a figment of my imagination.

This postpartum monster resides somewhere between depression and elation. It shares living quarters with fear, regret, and nostalgia, lingering for weeks, toying with my feelings, and renting space in my head. This postpartum monster will soon be evicted and no longer able to evoke such primal emotion, but its imprint will remain forever, for though its life span is short-lived and its capacity to take me over entirely nonexistent, it is real nonetheless. This postpartum monster is real.

And it is the reality of this postpartum monster that can make it the scariest monster of all.

Related post: Rage: The Scariest Symptom of PPD

Rage: The Scariest Symptom of PPD

242 Comments

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.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

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.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

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.

My Journey with Postpartum Depression

31 Comments

PPD

“She’s a perfect angel.” That’s what the woman at the grocery store said the first time I brought my baby out to go shopping. She was awake in her carrier, smiling at strangers and cooing already. I wanted to say to that woman that she was wrong. My baby girl was not a perfect angel, especially when she was screaming three centimeters from my face at two in the morning. But then I felt horrible about thinking that, and my stomach knotted, and I wanted to crawl into a small dark place and cry.

“Thank you,” I said. I mustered a polite smile and moved on. I learned quickly that munchkin loved people—other people. She loved going out into the world, seeing new faces, hearing new voices. She loved movement. She loved motion. She loved light and noise and chaos. But between learning how to breastfeed, postpartum recovery, and my daily mid-afternoon cry, I couldn’t seem to muster the energy to leave the house. I spent my days sitting on the couch with her screaming at me.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

“What a little cutie.” A waitress wiggled her finger in front of munchkin’s face. It was my first time out at a restaurant with her. She had just woken up from her nap. She smiled wide, her eyebrows raised, and her bright red hair caught the light. She was cute, beautiful even. But every mention of her cuteness made my breasts ache, not only from the endless cycle of engorgement and emptiness, but also from the force of her kicking and hitting my chest at each feeding, from her thrashing on me as I tried to burp her, from her volcanic meltdowns when my milk ran dry.

“Thank you,” I said. I held her tight and squeezed her cheeks. I didn’t know what I was doing. “Maybe this was a mistake.” I repeated those words to myself daily. I learned that breast milk stained my couch cushions, that munchkin’s mood would mirror mine, that there was no time to eat or bathe or sleep between feedings and diaper changes. The first words out of my mouth when I gave birth were “Oh my god, she’s beautiful.” The second words were “I don’t know if I want to do this again.” The second words echoed in my head, and I hated myself for saying them. This wasn’t munchkin’s fault, it was mine.

“If you want my advice,” a woman in the waiting room began. But I didn’t. Everyone had their tricks, their pointers, their hints. None of their words of wisdom told me how to stop crying when nothing was wrong. None of them told me how to feel like a whole person.

I breastfed her and let her sleep on my chest. She used my nipples as pacifiers, and listened to my heartbeat to calm her down. “She loves you,” my husband said. “She wants to be close to you.” I nodded. Every day when he came home from work she would smile wide for him. At home, with me, she would barely crack a grin. He made her happy, he held her without her pushing against him, he changed her diaper without her screaming. He was the good parent.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

“I think I have postpartum depression,” I said.

I repeated those words to my husband, to my mother, to my father, to my friends, to my doctor.

Each time I said them, I felt better. Each week, I cry less. Each day, I feel better.

It took me eight weeks of sobbing to convince myself to say those words. Another two weeks before I let myself call my doctor. I got help. I look at munchkin now and smile, and she smiles back. One day soon, all I’ll remember are the smiles.

Losing Yourself to Motherhood

55 Comments

lost

Losing yourself seems to be part of becoming a mother, almost like a rite of passage. The problem is, following a rite of passage people often expect you to be wiser and acknowledge your readiness for your new role. You’re given access to knowledge or tools you didn’t have before.

When you become a mother, all you get is coupons for diapers, a free can of formula (whether you intend to formula feed or not), and unsolicited advice from people who are a generation or two out of touch. You might get a bunch of pamphlets pointing you to local resources and telling you things like how to bond with your baby and when you can expect certain milestones to happen.

What they don’t tell you is that feeling like you have NO IDEA what you’re doing is normal. Or that the sleep deprivation might feel like it’s going to kill you, but it probably won’t and will (eventually) end. Or that if you don’t feel overwhelmed with love for your baby, that’s okay too, and if it lasts for a while and you really feel like you can’t cope you might want to ask for some help.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

As a matter of fact, none of the pamphlets I skimmed through or the books I read or the prenatal classes I attended told it like it really is. Which is:

You will lose a part of yourself when you become a mother.

You probably won’t be able to do all the things you’re used to doing, at least not at first, and your husband or partner shouldn’t expect to either.

You will likely be transformed by this experience in ways you could never imagine and no one could ever accurately describe to you.

Some of those changes will be great. Wonderful. Magical, even. Some might make you feel like you’ve figured out the meaning of life, even if it’s 3 a.m.

And some of those changes will be hard. Really hard. It doesn’t matter if you’re a cashier or a cook or a CEO, being a mother will be the hardest job you’ve ever had.

That was certainly the case for me. I knew it would be hard, but I had no idea just how hard it would be. Some of the changes were absolutely not okay with me but it’s difficult, I discovered, to convince a newborn who won’t sleep to see reason.

I realize it’s not this hard for everyone. For me, postpartum depression (unrecognized and undiagnosed for 18 months) made it almost impossibly hard. I absolutely lost myself and have battled for almost three years to find myself again. It turns out the person I was is not coming back, and I’m finally learning to be okay with that. To embrace it, even.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

When I started blogging and was trying to choose a name for my blog, I wanted to acknowledge that the crazy, raging, anxiety-ridden person I had become after having a baby was not who I wanted to be. That person was a stranger to me, and to my husband, who took the brunt of a lot of my exhaustion and anger. That stranger was a big part of me for a while, and will always be a part of who I’ve become. But it’s time to say farewell.

As she slowly ceases to be part of who I am, I watch her go. I send her acceptance and gratitude, both for what she’s taught me and for retreating when asked, but I don’t wish to see her again. I’m ready to accept what I’ve lost and embrace what I’ve gained instead.

Farewell, stranger. I wish you well.