Postpartum Anxiety: The Beast No One Talks About
Anxiety is something we hear about often, and in the majority of cases it is being used improperly as it seems to have become a trendy thing to say that you have. Anxiety isn’t something to be ashamed of, but it also isn’t a diagnosis to try on for a while if you don’t truly have it. I have anxiety. I was properly diagnosed with anxiety in 2009, and for the most part it has been easily manageable, until this past year.
Most days before this year, anxiety was like a silent passenger. Maybe not even as present as a passenger. Anxiety was like the bag of clothes marked for donation that you keep forgetting is in your trunk until you open it to load groceries and are suddenly reminded of it’s presence. It was there, but it didn’t bother me much, until it did. My anxiety very rarely impeded my parenting or my daily living. On occasion it would give me pause. It was always a constant presence in the back of my mind that would make me worry the field trip bus would get hit by a train, but it was easily surmountable with some quick self talk about the odds of something like that happening.
In 2018 my mild to moderate anxiety went from being the donation bag ever present in my trunk, to being a bear sitting next to me trying to eat my face while I drive down the road and the road is on fire. I know, I know. Extreme metaphor. I just wanted to give you guys the most accurate description possible.
No two people that have anxiety will show it in the same way. Anxiety will even feel different for different people. My anxiety feels like my heart is rolling around in my chest. It feels like I have balls of rubber bands in my knees and I need to move. I feel like I have a giant lump in my throat that just won’t go away. It feels like random aches, pains, and stomach issues. For me, after the birth of my last child in 2018, I was the lucky recipient of postpartum anxiety. I assume I was more likely to develop it due to me already having anxiety. Postpartum anxiety is no joke. I thought it was annoying to occasionally fear that my kids would choke on a hot dog if they didn’t eat it in front of me, but this beast cranked it up to a level I didn’t even know could exist.
It started very shortly after giving birth. My brain tried to convince me that I had internal bleeding that they missed. Then I thought my incision would pop open and my kids would be scrambling to collect my entrails and shove them back inside of me. Once my cesarean incision healed, my severely anxiety driven thoughts shifted to my newborn. He had a lumpy head due to the way he was laying pressing against my hip bones, so my brain insisted he had to have undiagnosed skull cancer and every pediatrician missed it. They missed it and my baby was going to die. Or I would struggle with thinking I, or someone else would drop the baby and his head would explode like a grenade in a watermelon. I feel like I should mention that I never said any of these things out loud. I simply thought them. Thought how stupidly unlikely they were, and immediately thought it didn’t matter because it was still true, but I didn’t want to sound crazy so I kept it to myself. All of my methods I learned through years of therapy and going to school to become a therapist myself, were not working. I couldn’t self talk my way out of these irrational thoughts. I became stuck in this endless loop of terrifying thought processes.
I spent months afraid to speak up. I suffered in silence because I didn’t wan’t people to think I was losing my mind and take my children away. I was nursing and too afraid to ask for medication because it might be transferred to my milk. I was determined to use mindfulness, self talk and exercise to tackle this unrelenting bear that wouldn’t get the eff out of my car.
My OBGYN assessed for postpartum depression, and noted my elevated anxiety. My son’s pediatrician assessed for postpartum depression at every visit until his six month visit, and noted my increased anxiety. I talked to a few friends, whom also happen to be therapists that suggested medication and therapy. I searched for a therapist, and we discussed medication, but talk therapy helped decrease my anxiety to a more manageable level. Medication is still on my radar, and since my son has stopped nursing, it is more than likely going to be incorporated in my treatment, especially since my dad passed away and my anxiety level spiked again. This is not something to be ashamed of. It just happens to be my current truth, and that’s OK, because if sharing my truth helps another mom feel less alone, I’m here for it.
Why didn’t anyone talk about this? Why did I have to go through this with no guidance, no plethora of Google articles about this terrifying condition? Why didn’t the OBGYN assess for this? Why didn’t the pediatrician’s office test for this? Postpartum anxiety can render you almost incapable of caring for your newborn. If it had not been for my career choice and previous exposure to therapy, I’m not sure I wouldn’t have wound up losing my mind and being observed for 7 days in the neighborhood psychiatric ward. That was rough. That level of crippling anxiety was almost insurmountable for me, a mental health professional. We need to talk about this more. We need more research. We need to be heard.
If you think you are suffering from postpartum anxiety, talk to your OBGYN and don’t be shy about the level of anxiety you feel. Learn from my mistakes. There are safe anxiety medications you can take while nursing. There are therapists that can help. Be honest with your partner and family. There is help out there.