Whitney Wednesday:My struggle With Postpartum Anxiety
What an ominous title, eh? It’s actually a little hard for me to write about, honestly, and I’ve been avoiding posting about it even though I have had this written for a few weeks now. But I felt like God has been pushing me to post my story in hopes that this helps another person out there. I had a friend post this verse: “I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” Isaiah 43:19- and it struck a chord in me that talking about what I went through could help make a way for others and bring relief and it confirmed that now is the time. (Also my son’s name is Rivers so how cool is that?) So here’s to you sweet mama out there that needs to read this! This one’s for you!
Don’t worry, my story has a happy ending but picture this: I had no signs of labor, but high blood pressure and some major swelling (my ankles looked like an elephant’s haha!) was reason enough to induce. I was all for it because I wanted nothing more than to get this baby out of me and to meet this sweet little guy. A few hours into labor and no progress, we decided to break my water to see if we could get things going (which was the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced in my life and I’m not being dramatic). An epidural and 2 days of labor later, one of the younger nurses checked me and thought she felt a butt instead of a head. All this sudden, there was a flurry of commotion in my room, and I became slightly panicked. They grabbed a sono and an on-call doctor to confirm and sure enough, little dude was breech. Almost immediately a c-section was scheduled for 9 am that day. I went into shock, and on the verge of tears. I hadn’t read up on c-sections, had no idea what I was in for, if the baby was going to be ok, what questions I should be asking, what recovery was going to be like, and this was most certainly NOT how I had planned for my first ever birthing experience to go.
Fast forward a bit, we were in and out of the operating room in 13 minutes. Baby was perfect, came out butt first like they’d discovered earlier, and I was VERY sick because I was given morphine (which I OK’ed but we solidified I have a sensitivity to). It took me 6 hours to stop throwing up and to finally be able to hold my baby.
To a first-time mom, the list of events above were traumatic, life changing, and sent me on my postpartum journey. But the baby was perfectly fine. That’s all that mattered. But is it? Don’t get me wrong, it’s a complete miracle to give birth to a perfectly healthy baby and I praise Jesus daily for my sweet, healthy munchkins and how I am SO blessed to be their mama, but what about the mother? The days (year) following my firstborn’s birth were very difficult for me. I found I had to keep talking myself down, like “You’re fine. Stop crying. The baby is here and we’re all fine. Cheer up. Stop being crazy.” My brain knew I was being irrational, but my body wasn’t listening. I’d often find myself completely overwhelmed with fear that my baby was going to fall out of his swing even though he was strapped in and couldn’t roll yet, or that I was going to walk down the stairs to the basement (which I never went down there in the first place) while holding him and drop him, or I was terrified he’d stop breathing in the middle of the night so I’d wake up every hour to check on him to make sure he was still breathing or I was even scared someone was going to break in to our house and steal him. This my friends, is MY journey with postpartum anxiety. (I want to emphasize that this was specifically MY journey. Once again, I’m NOT a doctor here and can only speak to what I personally went through and how I was feeling.) So not only was I having irrational thoughts and paralyzed with fear, I had a slew of other things that came with it. I’ve listed those below for you guys so you can get the full picture:
- Everything (getting out of bed, feeding the baby, housework, grocery shopping, showering, my job) seemed very overwhelming and difficult, and because of that, I had a lot of guilt for not being much help for my husband and not being a good mother (even though I was a good mother). I felt like they both deserved better.
- I felt like I had a fog of sadness over me that I just couldn’t shake off. It didn’t feel as serious as a deep depression, but just felt VERY off. (It is possible that it was a high functioning form of depression, or baby blues, but I never got diagnosed so I’m not 100% sure. After my research I feel like postpartum anxiety fit my symptoms more, but I’m not ruling out postpartum depression because they often overlap)
- I had episodes of a racing pulse (which I even got an EKG for and it still went undiagnosed because they were looking for issues with my heart but praise God, there were no issues with my heart!) but turns out that these are my body’s version of panic attacks.
- I had hot flashes which I just assumed were the breaks of the game from having a baby, (which they definitely can be but in my case, it had to do with anxiety too).
- I felt like I couldn’t handle being a mother and remember even regretting having a baby wishing he could go back to where he came from (some of you may have gasped at that and some of you may have related). I think this one is the hardest for me to talk about because it’s so raw and sad. Being a mother was WAY harder than I imagined it would be and there were times I wished I wasn’t a mom, and I could go back to the easier times before the baby. I want to add that I never had thoughts of harming my child or myself and that’s the telltale sign of postpartum depression in our society, right? Haha goodness. But my thoughts were consumed with how to keep him safe, so I just thought this was what having a baby was supposed to be like; very tough and overcoming hormones. It was easy for me to diminish what was actually going on because I didn’t want to admit I actually had a problem. (yes, I’m stubborn.)
- I felt very hopeless. I didn’t get excited for anything, barely laughed and felt like I had to just cope because this was my life now. Things I used to get joy out of were burdensome for me like making plans with friends, shopping, enjoying time out with my husband, going to church and singing on the worship team. It’s very isolating and it intensifies your situation because you don’t get a break from it.
- I felt very foggy and forgetful. It was hard for me to remember what I was going to do or say. Carrying on a conversation was a little difficult because I’d lose my train of thought. “Oh it’s mom brain.” I thought (diminishing the issue), which it could be in part to that, but this was mom brain on steroids.
- I hardly got any sleep because my brain was always racing and thinking of worrisome irrational thoughts (like I mentioned above). All my thoughts were surrounding how to keep my baby safe and preparing myself mentally if something were to go wrong, so I’d think of anything that could possibly go wrong.
- I had episodes where I would get SUPER angry with my husband for very miniscule things that normally wouldn’t bother me. I just had a very, very short fuse. One time, I remember having to talk myself down because I didn’t think he was driving fast enough. Like I was red in the face furious, and in my head I knew that this was irrational, so thankfully I took deep breaths and tried to chill instead of taking it out on him but it wasn’t always that way and there were times I did take it out on him. (Which he’s a saint by the way, because he had it rough for a while)
- And I didn’t feel bonded to my son. I felt like since I was sick the first 6 hours after his birth that this put us on this perpetual path where we were just never going to connect.
So there you have it. It could have been WAY worse, and I praise God that it wasn’t but it also wasn’t easy. When you go into your 6 week evaluation, it’s not standard practice to do a deep dive into the psychological needs of the mother aside from a questionnaire to make sure you’re not going to harm yourself or your child (I’m by no means bashing my doctor. I’m very grateful for them and their care and for that questionnaire! It serves its purpose too!). However, I didn’t realize that what I was feeling was an issue until about 8 months later when I read a blog (very much like this one) that put words to how I was feeling and told me there’s a name for this: Postpartum Anxiety. I cried. I cried a lot. I had NEVER known that postpartum anxiety was a thing. It totally clicked, and I realized that this state I was in was NOT normal and best of all, it was NOT uncommon or PERMANENT!! It helped to know that I wasn’t crazy, that there were better days ahead, and that I wasn’t alone. What a relief! Seriously, the relief was overwhelming.
My hormones finally stabilized around my baby’s first birthday and I finally started to “snap” out of it. I feel like that’s a horrible way to describe it, but it felt like a fog was being lifted and I could focus again. I could see my son and I were very connected and I loved him more than life. I was able to get back into cleaning and working without feeling overwhelmed, my anxious thoughts subsided (not totally but I started to acknowledge my triggers), I started to sleep better and no longer had irrational, racing thoughts, I started to venture out with friends, and I finally started feeling like myself again. The dark days were gone, and I felt like I was able to enjoy life and being a mother, the way that I had wanted since the baby was born.
BUT had I known or had any indication that what I was feeling wasn’t right, there are a few things I wish I would have done. First, I wish I would have called my mom to help confirm it or get some direction. I’m the type of person that doesn’t like to admit when there’s something wrong with me. I like to think I’ve got it handled. But had I just talked to my mom about what I had been feeling, she would have been able to give me guidance to seek out help because she’s been through it too!
Had I known, I would have discussed this with my doctor first thing to determine if I needed medicinal help or something to help stabilize my hormones. I can’t say this for certain, and I know that medication is not always the best answer, but if I had at least a very low dose of something or at least had a discussion with my doctor (instead of worrying that they’d deem me as an unfit mother), that first year of my son’s life might have been so much happier than my silent suffering.
Had I known, I would have contacted a doula or mid-wife in my area for suggestions of postpartum care. These women are a wealth of information and in my recent experience with them, are not surprised by anything you have to say because they’ve either experienced it or have helped someone with the same things. No judgement was huge, because I was already judging myself enough.
Had I known, I would have joined a mom’s group to eliminate my feelings of isolation or even eliminate the feeling like I’d be judged or looked at as a bad mom for what I was feeling. These groups are great just to be around other women who are more than likely in the same boat and have their own experiences that you may be able to glean knowledge from.
If I could go back and talk to myself during that time, I would tell her that acting like everything is ok doesn’t mean that everything is OK. That admitting there is an issue doesn’t make you a bad mother. It takes a very strong person to seek out help and to talk about their struggles not the other way around. If you’re experiencing anything like what I described, just know that you’re not alone, you’re not abnormal, you’re NOT a bad mother, don’t be afraid to seek out help or talk to someone about it because there are people out there than can help. Don’t diminish your situation like I did. I’ll be praying for you and just know that there are better days ahead! I promise! And maybe one day, God will use those dark days and experience to help other women going through it too, like writing a blog post about it. J
I will be talking about what I decided to differently with my second baby next week, so stay tuned. Thank you guys for listening!
Hey Whit! I just wanted to say how much I appreciate your post talking about your struggle with post partum anxiety. Your story has many similarities to mine which is so refreshing considering I don’t personally know anyone who experienced anything like this. We are expecting our second baby in about 6 weeks and I have been concerned that the postpartum anxiety I had with my first will be an issue again.
I am so grateful that my story, too, has a happy ending.
I had a planned c section due to my daughter being breech, but it was not what I had hoped for an I was incredibly anxious and uncomfortable before, during and after. My daughter had hip dysplasia and was put in a pavlik harness just a few hours after birth. To top it all off, her low blood sugar caused her to end up in the special care nursery later that day and for the next 4 days. There she was hooked to an IV and a bunch of wires. My only real interaction with her the first several days was me trying to work around the cords and harness to nurse, which usually ended when one of us was crying too hard to continue on.
My overwhelming anxiety started around day 3 in the hospital and continued on when we got home. In the meantime, my incision got a pretty nasty infection which took weeks of daily care and regular doc appts to heal. I also had irrational anxiety and paralyzing fears (all in regards to baby) that I recognized were somewhat unreasonable, but I couldnt control. I didn’t talk to anyone of the specifics because it was upsetting and weird and yucky. When I spoke generally to my mom or close friends about feeling anxious and worrying, everyone reassuringly told me it was normal. Like you, I didn’t feel overly depressed, but I didn’t feel right either. I was convinced something terrible was going to happen to our baby and that it would ruin my husband and myself and everything we had built together. I hoped after I went back to work it would go away, and it was helpful when I had that distraction, but it didn’t go away.Around 4months post partum- and after some serious prayer- I came across an article about post partum anxiety. It was similar to what I was experiencing and after reading a little more I decided I needed to talk to my doctor ( my doctor, who I was not particularly fond of, never asked me about my mood/feelings postpartum; maybe because of all the commotion with my infection?). I went in and saw the nurse practitioner who was super supportive and reassuring. I was hesitant to start a medication but after discussing my issues with her I felt like it was the right thing to do. I felt so relieved to be reassured that I hadn’t just ruined everything and that this could be dealt with and would eventually subside. The medication helped in just a few weeks and I ended up staying on it for about 8 months. I was able to come off then and was so thrilled to feel back to myself even without the medication! Just a few months later we got pregnant with this little guy. I am hopeful that this time around will go more smoothly :).
Thank you again for sharing your story and allowing me to share mine! Writing it all out like this is something I’ve never done and is somewhat theraputic in itself. :)
Wow I had no idea! Glad you’re feeling better and know this will help others. Such an important subject.
Aww Whitney! It takes so much courage to write about such a personal experience like this! I can relate on a few levels and it’s always comforting to know I’m not alone or a bad mom for how things happened. My first labor and delivery experience was with our twin girls. I had pre eclampsia and was induced like you. Baby A wasn’t ready to come though so after 26 hours of labor and 4 (yes 4!) hours of pushing I ended up having a c section. My body reacted poorly to any and all meds they pumped into me (and I was just reminded of this during my second c section 1.5 weeks ago with our 4th) and was so sick before, during, and after surgery. There were other issues involved that led me to have something like PTSD. Can’t wait to read your second birth story next week!! I hope there was sweet redemption in it like there was for me in my 2nd!!