When I was pregnant with my first child I was surrounded by information regarding Postpartum Depression or PPD. There were posters at my OB/GYNs office and articles in magazines alerting me to the signs and symptoms of PPD. After I had my son I watched myself carefully for any of the symptoms typically associated with PPD but because I didn’t notice any, I considered myself to have been one of the lucky one who wouldn’t have to experience PPD.
What no one ever told me, though, was to also be on the lookout for Postpartum Anxiety. Had I known that what I was going through in the first few weeks home from the hospital was not the typical nerves and stress associated with new motherhood, I would have saved myself so much frustration and tears. I would have understood that what I was going through wasn’t normal. I would have sought the help that I so desperately needed. Four years later, I am able to see my experience for what it was, Postpartum Anxiety, and I hope to shed more light on this condition so that other women don’t have to suffer unaware as I did.
Loss of Appetite - The First Sign
The first sign that should have been a red flag for me was my loss of appetite. After I came home from the hospital, I couldn’t bear to eat anything other than the sugar cookies from the cookie bouquet that my sister-in-law had sent me in he hospital. I distinctly remember forcing myself to eat each bite of the delicious homemade meal that my mother made for my husband and I for our first night home as a family. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings by not eating but my appetite was completely gone.
In addition to the loss of appetite I was utterly overwhelmed with my new role. I couldn’t imagine how I would be able to do this thing called ‘mothering’ for the next eighteen years and I wondered why anyone would have a second or third child if this was how difficult parenting was going to be. Those first few weeks at home, I would hole up in my bedroom to nurse my son, take a nap, or escape from everyone while I read and re-read the stack of parenting books on my nightstand in hopes that somewhere I would find the answers for what to do with these thoughts and feelings that consumed me. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anyone in real life or in literature who seemed to be as overwhelmed as I was. The parenting books were really a double-edged sword for me. Instead of being a source of helpful information, they were constantly making me feel as if I was doing things wrong because my baby wasn’t responding the way that their glowing anecdotes made it sound he would if I just followed their instructions on sleeping, feeding, schedules, etc. I had so much information at my fingertips and yet none of it was was helpful with what I was going through.
I also felt like a prisoner in my own home. I was paralyzed with fear at the thought of going out to run errands and so I stayed home wondering if my life would always be like this; never feeling like I could take a leisurely trip to the bookstore or the coffee shop or if I would always be a slave to this new life. In hindsight these fears were obviously irrational but at the time they held my mind captive with constant worry. I worried about the baby crying in public and what I would do if I couldn’t calm him. I worried about timing my errands with the schedule that I was trying to create for both of us. I stressed about finding the time to get a haircut, paint my toenails, take a bubble bath. I was too wound up to relax and enjoy my time with my infant son. When I did get out of the house to go for a walk in the neighborhood, the irrational fears would come in the form of worry over his safety. I had these scenarios in my head of what I would do if someone were to try to come up and grab him while I was on a walk or in the store. Now that I’ve done some reading I realize that these “What if” fears are a symptom of Postpartum Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
These anxieties and fears so completely consumed me during my first weeks at home that I genuinely did not enjoy the time that I had with my infant son. I regret this terribly and I wish that I had known that what I was going through was not normal new-mom anxiety and that I had sought help from my doctor. If I had been able to receive help, either in the form of counseling or medication, I would have been able to enjoy that precious time. Instead, I look back at that time and remember nothing but intense worry, stress, anxiety and fear gripping my heart and mind as I questioned every move that I made as a new mom and feeling like I was drowning with no one to help me.
Smooth Sailing with Second Child
The good news for anyone who may be going through the same thing is that you do not have to navigate this alone and one experience with Postpartum Anxiety, Depression or OCD does not mean that you will experience it with any subsequent pregnancies. With my second child things were completely different. I was educated and aware of my experiences and I discussed it with my doctor at one of my last appointments. I relayed my experiences with him and told him to be prepared for a phone call from me asking for help if I were to go through the same thing again. The good news, is that either because I was an experienced mother or my hormones were different, the second time around was nothing compared to the first time. With my daughter, my second child, I was relaxed and at ease. She still woke up through the night, nursed erratically at first and in general kept me on my toes but my reactions to all of this were the complete opposite of what they had been with my son. I am thankful that I didn’t have to go through another episode of Postpartum Anxiety and I am determined now to help those who are struggling with it. I am passionate about awareness and education of these conditions so that no other mother has to suffer silently as I did.
Postpartum Anxiety Often Goes Unnoticed
Postpartum Anxiety, and Postpartum OCD are lesser known conditions than Postpartum Depressions but they are just as debilitating. As I stated earlier, I can’t believe that I never came across any information on these conditions while I was pregnant - either the first time or the second time when I was aware of it! It surprises and saddens me that in the year 2011 doctors still don’t discuss these conditions with their patients either due to lack of awareness or time which means that women are suffering in silence with what they think is normal new-mom stress and anxiety instead of getting the help that they need. I believe that one of the reasons Postpartum Anxiety goes unnoticed is that motherhood in and of itself is a time that is very prone to anxiety. Whether it’s a woman’s first venture into motherhood or her fourth, most new moms experience feelings of concern and worry. While pregnant, a woman may be anxious and may worry about the health of her baby, her delivery and what her recovery will be like. After the baby arrives, she may be concerned with doing the best job that she can do to take care of this little person who has been entrusted to her and worry if she is doing things the right way. A certain amount of anxiety is normal for all new moms. So how does someone know when it’s ‘normal’ anxiety associated with motherhood or a more serious form of Postpartum Anxiety? My opinion is, if you have to ask the question, and if you feel like you are drowning and need someone to throw you a lifeline, you probably are experiencing Postpartum Anxiety or another condition similar to it.
Signs of Postpartum Anxiety
To understand Postpartum Anxiety, it is best to understand the symptoms associated with it and how those symptoms differ from Postpartum Depression. Oftentimes, anxiety will be listed as one of the symptoms of Postpartum Depression, but for those experiencing Postpartum Anxiety the associated anxieties are much more substantial and paralyzing. Here are a few of the symptoms typically associated with Postpartum Anxiety. By no means should this be considered a comprehensive list! If you are feeling overwhelmed but don’t see your particular symptoms on this list, I would still highly recommend that you reach out to a health are professional and discuss your experiences with him/her.
Typical symptoms of Postpartum Anxiety include:
Disturbed Sleep (If you CAN'T "sleep when the baby sleeps" because your mind won't slow down)
Loss of Appetite
Irrational Thoughts (What if someone tries to steal my baby while we are on a walk? What happens if my baby cries so much that I can’t console him/her? etc.)
Trying to determine the exact definition of your own experience can be hard - is is Postpartum Anxiety, Postpartum Depression, Postpartum OCD, Baby Blues? I found a very helpful website called Baby Blues Connection which gives an excellent rundown of the different symptoms associated with each of these conditions. (http://www.babybluesconnections.org/about_ppd/symptoms.htm)
If you find any of the listed symptoms describing how you or a loved one seems to be feeling as she navigates the world of new motherhood, please reach out for help. There is nothing shameful about these conditions and you will get the help you need so that this time with your newborn will be a pleasant time and not one of pain and sorrow. I wish someone had recognized that I was drowning in Postpartum Anxiety. I wish they had told me that what I was going through wasn’t normal and that I wouldn’t be a failure as a mother for reaching out for help. My hope is that as mothers, sisters, daughters and friends we learn more about Postpartum Anxiety so that we can help ourselves and those around us. If you recognized your own experience here, please gather as much information as possible and then go talk to your doctor or healthcare provider. Don’t suffer in silence. Get the help you need. You deserve it.
I wrote this as a guest blog for the site Pregnancy Baby 411. This is an excellent source of information on all things related to pregnancy & baby. Check it out for great information!