What It Feels Like to Live with Postpartum Anxiety

What It Feels Like to Live with Postpartum Anxiety -postpartumprogress.com

Sometimes when you take the stairs and get distracted your foot slips and you miss a step. Or you feel the lip of the stop on the heel of your foot and catch yourself before you stumble downwards. The second you either slip or recover, there is a quick moment when your heart leaps to your throat, you realize you’re sweating, and your chest is pounding. Then you stabilize, go a little slower, and make it down fine. The feeling passes.

Having anxiety is slipping down the stairs and having that feeling replay on an instant feedback loop. The feeling never passes. Instead of a world of calm, interrupted by brief moments of slipping down the stairs, it’s reversed. It is a world of near misses with the occasional moment of calm. With postpartum anxiety it’s heightened. Travelling down the stairs is stressful enough. Travelling down the stairs with the child is signing the death certificate of peace.

My daughter is over three years old, and I have been living with postpartum anxiety since. With a second daughter due in just a month and a half, this has been something lingering in my mind and I want to share with you the things I have learned since being diagnosed. Not because I have the key to fixing or understanding it (wouldn’t that be nice?), but because I was entirely alone when I had it hardest and it almost swept me under, child in tow. I wish I had been told these things.

Not everything, but many small things can be a huge, larger-than-life deal.

I sometimes don’t just cry over spilled milk; on my darkest days I sob to Amy Winehouse because of it and let it undo my entire day. Postpartum anxiety is not necessarily a reaction to what just happened, but a reaction to what could have and probably will later because of it. The responsibility for my daughter can be crippling when I make stupid mistakes. Great, I knocked my coffee over while she was a foot away and now it will ruin the rug and I have to make more and my daughter could have been sitting right where I spilled it and she could have had her skin burn and scarred permanently and why wasn’t I more careful? It focuses more on what could have happened, and also takes everything as a sign for doom later on. You cannot relax at all. Everything leads back to how you messed with your kids and life, and these annoying thoughts are also great contributors to insomnia.

You sometimes feel like you are failing as a parent.

This is something I struggle with every day, even worse while pregnant. My pregnancy has been a roller coaster and every hiccup sends me into guilt wondering what I could have done to prevent the hiccup. I see other moms post photos with their kids at the park, while mine is watching reruns of Tom and Jerry and eating leftover macaroni and cheese from the night before, and the shame doubles down. Rather than just looking at her and realizing she’s happy and content, and that not every day can be a packed day with tons of crafts and fun projects, it’s an automatic reflection of who I am as a parent. I don’t just feel guilty; I feel that the photograph is valid proof that I’m not giving my daughter the tools she needs for a happy, healthy childhood and that I am ruining her future development. Then the panic attack hits and I need to buy more crafts right now and start making a calendar of fun, educational day, or go on a huge cleaning frenzy in order to calm down. I have to do something or else this intense feeling of unease will not pass.

It affects your marriage, too.

There are days when I completely misread my husband’s tone, or verbal and body language. I sometimes take very surface things as a direct insult to my capabilities as a wife and mother, and one misunderstanding can lead to major sulking, an argument, or an hour of him trying to reassure me that I’m doing a great job. If the day has been particular garbage, all it takes is “I think the milk went bad” to be translated as “you didn’t use the milk in time and now it’s ruined because it’s all your fault.” Or when he’s just really tired, I’ll think it’s because I did something. It couldn’t possibly be because he worked nine hours of manual labor in 95 degree weather.

But, anxiety can have some advantages.

It isn’t an all doom and gloom though. Having anxiety helps me become a more compassionate person. Because I don’t want my daughter to ever feel the burden of anxiety, or PPA with her own children, I’m more analytical of my actions and try seeking alternative methods for conflict resolution. “No” is definitely a word we use in this house, but how we use it makes all the difference between my experience and hopefully hers. It also helps me approach friendships and my marriage with eyes and ears open more, and I am a better communicator because I approach almost everyone as if they have anxiety. I make my feelings and thoughts as clear as possible, and the worst phrase in the history of the English language to everyone anxiety, “we need to talk,” is one I do not use.

There isn’t really “life after postpartum anxiety,” but instead, “life with postpartum anxiety in remission.”

I am in a much healthier, much better place than I was during my daughter’s first year of life that was when my PPA was at an all-time high. I was still undiagnosed, had not sought treatment, and was navigating life as a single mom. There were some dark times, and I am extremely fortunate that the darkest of those are behind me. I have a loving, compassionate husband and support system. My therapist rocks. I don’t always jump to panic and overreaction when my daughter gets hurt or when we have conflict. I don’t view this progress is being cured, however grateful for it I am. Especially since those hard days still exist. I still have to constantly clean, manage the bills, and be in control of almost every tiny thing in the schedule, lest I want my threads to unravel. Instead, I view my PPA as in remission. The darker times could come back at any time, set off by something beyond my control. I am about to have a second child, and the newborn stage in particular was the hardest for me and I have no idea what will happen next, especially with a toddler in tow. The best thing my husband and I can do is set up conditions that may help lower our chances of it returning. There is no lifelong cure for anxiety itself that I’m aware of, and there are days when the knowledge of that settles in the pit of my stomach.

Postpartum anxiety does not discriminate, and can and does happen to anyone.

I may know the how and why of my condition, but that does not mean that there has to be one. You can have a terrible upbringing, and be entirely alone like I was, or you can have amazing memories growing up, with the loving support group by your side and it can still happen to you. The mind is a terrible, wonderful, and complex thing and everyone experiences things differently. Pain is relative, and there is absolutely no shame in being an otherwise happy individual struck by a painful disorder. Anxiety does not care that your husband is loving. It does not care that you are a single parent. It does not care that you have no financial worries or too many bills to count. It starts at any time, with anyone. While happy, healthy surroundings can and do help with healing, they do not always help; a good place in life is not a reason to ignore your feelings. One of the most dangerous things someone suffering from any perinatal mood disorder can do is treat it as though it isn’t there, or belittle its weight due to surface circumstance. Lung cancer happens to healthy non-smokers at 25 years of age. Postpartum anxiety can happen to happy, active moms surrounded by a great environment.

Every day I wake up, I don’t ask myself if this will be the date comes back in full force. I don’t give myself a mental pep talk that says I can beat it, because I don’t know that I ever will. I don’t want to be in constant fear of that, hiding and trying to find ways around it. Instead, I say that I love myself. Accept myself. I am not my anxiety, but I am tourist with it, not despite it. I repeat these things to myself until I can get out of bed, and I take a deep breath before stepping down the stairs. It feels good when my feet find steady ground.

The Unsupportive Partner During Postpartum Depression

The Unsupportive Partner During Postpartum Depression -postpartumprogress.com

One mama described her husband’s responses to her struggle with postpartum depression and anxiety as angry, impatient, and mean. He made jokes, he scoffed; he told her to get over it.

Another mama piped in, “Me too, it’s the hardest part.”

This conversation brought me back to a comment on one of our blog posts about partners supporting mothers as they endure one of the most traumatizing and exhausting experiences of their lives. This partner explained very honestly how fed up he was. He detailed his wife’s erratic unpredictable behavior. He described feeling alone and fed up and like he could never do anything right. He stated quite bluntly that if he’s being truly honest, he doesn’t believe a person can’t help it. He doesn’t understand why we have to call it an illness. He wanted his wife to make a decision to overcome and then get over it. He wanted his wife to stop blaming him. He wanted her to stop making “excuses” for hurtful behavior.

If PPA or PPD or any other postpartum mental health issues are causing tension and strain in your relationship with your spouse/partner/significant other… you are so very much not alone.

When I was going through it, I could not stand to be touched. I could not stand to make eye contact. And it was as if I was always sure, ahead of time, that the father of my child(ren) was about to screw up. Then when he did the next thing, whatever thing, wrong in my eyes, I pounced. He could not win. He could not understand.

He quietly shrunk. He obediently did everything I asked of him, a bit like a scared child. I’m not proud of this. He still could not get anything right. He could not do enough. He helped with all aspects of baby care, got up in the night, worked full-time, helped with cleaning and laundry, and still it was not enough. I was the suffering one, and I was making him pay. Underneath my angry erratic reactions, I felt horrible for making him feel horrible. I could not stop.

I will probably never understand the depths we go, psychologically. But I know we can come back.

I will probably never understand exactly why so many relationships end up in this cycle of blame and shame while we are already facing such an ugly mental health monster to overcome.

It is not you. It’s the monster.

So what do we do? What do they do?

If a partner is being unsupportive, they are tired of something they don’t understand. And maybe some of them do not have the ability to educate themselves and shut down their judgments. That’s so painful, but it is NOT about you. It is not about who you are or how worthy you are. If someone in your life, especially someone that close to you, cannot attempt to learn WHY you can’t get up, why you are so sad or angry or unaffectionate, etc., that is not your fault.

If that person ends up believing that you are just not trying hard enough, they are wrong.

When your partner is unsupportive, and won’t go to counseling with you to get the feedback from a professional that would educate them, you are left to keep your chin up, which is really hard to do when you can’t function the way you wish you could in any way.

This means YOU need more counseling and more support from someone other than your partner than ever before. There is no shame in needing that. Remember to think of yourself as a person healing from an illness or a terrible body trauma like a car accident. This is the same. It takes time and help.

With more counseling, with a good practitioner that knows how to lead you, you will find your way to confidence, to not looking for your worth in another person, to not trying to be affirmed by anyone other than YOU. This will be a gift for the rest of your life. It does not feel like it now, but I promise you that if you find your way to the depths of your strength aside from what anyone thinks with their messy incorrect brains, you will find a freedom to carry forward for the rest of your life.

That is a miracle that comes packaged as something ugly. That is grace.

Maybe someday your partner will get it. Maybe they will watch you walk through recovery and they will be humbled by the person that comes through the other side. Maybe they won’t. This is not in your control. Let it go.

This is a dark time and it is hard on everyone. Can two people survive it? Yes. Do some fail? Yes. You are on your own path, and you can certainly find a way to trust yourself and your partner again, as you both heal.

But if your partner has become verbally and/or emotionally abusive in response to your pain, or if you are not sure what you are experiencing is abuse, talk to a professional. Let them help you see things clearly. Let them help you make decisions about what is best for your family. This is not a time to make big decisions alone.

What I tell partners all the time is this:

You may not ever fully understand what is happening to your partner while she struggles, and you are not required to fully understand. BUT, you are required to love her unconditionally.

That doesn’t mean partners should be doormats, receiving all the negative energy that comes from this illness. But if you are getting help and allowing time to heal you, patience is required and trust, though hard to find, needs to be fought for within both of you. Both people need to fight for hope, and to remember that there is so much good still there, rising up, to begin again.

Healing Through C-Section

[Editor’s Note: This is our second post in a two-part series on c-sections today. Contributing Writer Graeme Seabrook shares how her planned c-section helped heal her heart. You can part one of our c-section series here. -Jenna]

Healing Through C-Section -postpartumprogress.com

The birth of our first child, a son born in 2013, scarred me in more ways than one. I went from a routine doctor visit to being told I was seriously ill, through terror that I would lose the baby or my life, and finally into an emergency c-section.

Afterwards I had postpartum depression, anxiety. and I still struggle with PTSD.

And then we got pregnant again. Our daughter wasn’t planned, and my anxiety spiked. What if everything went wrong again? What if I got sick again? Could I handle this? Every time I thought about her birth I could feel the panic chasing me, nipping at my heels. I knew I wanted it to be different, but I didn’t know how to make that happen.

We called a doula. At our first meeting with her she asked if I was planning to have a natural birth or another c-section. The idea stopped me in my tracks. To me c-sections were something horrible that happened to you, not something that you could control. I knew immediately that was what I wanted. I was going to have a do-over.

At one of our last OB appointments our doula, Lin, joined us. She had worked with my doctor before and the two of them walked Adam and I through how everything would happen. When I worried about whether it would all work out, Lin reminded me, “Different baby, different experience.” It became my mantra.

On November 2, 2015 we got to the hospital around five o’clock in the morning and checked in. Lin helped me to keep the anxiety in check, and Adam held my hand and made really bad jokes with all the nurses during my prep. Everything was smooth and easy. It was so easy that I started to feel guilty. What if the baby wasn’t ready to come? Was I being selfish and forcing her out (one week) early? Lin pointed to the monitor where we could see that I had been having contractions the entire time we were getting prepped. My doctor confirmed: This baby was coming today one way or another.

“Are you ready to have your baby?”

“YES.”

And everything went as planned. I walked into the OR and the nurse said, “Just hop on up here, hon”, while patting the table and we both laughed because no way was I hopping anywhere. I was never alone; I was never afraid. Lin stood at my head talking me through everything that was happening, reminding me that everyone was following my plan. Adam sat by my side, holding my hand and kissing my forehead.

In between updates on what they were doing, the doctors asked me about my son, talked about their children, and we even talked about Jane the Virgin, which I’d been watching throughout my pregnancy. I was surrounded by women who were taking care of me and helping me bring my baby into the world. If a operating room could feel both relaxed and sacred at the same time, this one did.

“You’re going to feel a pull, she’s coming now.”

And then there she was. Held up so that I could see her, brought to me so that I could touch her before being whisked away for the Apgar tests (during which she pooped profusely on the nurse and the room erupted in laughter). As they were closing me up everyone talked about how beautiful she was. Adam stood by the nurse and was able to carry her back to me and lay her on my chest. I can’t tell you much of what happened after that as my world had narrowed down to the most beautiful baby girl in the world.

At the end of her first home visit with us, Lin said she needed to get something off of her chest. She didn’t usually like to work c-sections, she said, because they were clinical. She wanted to thank us for choosing her, for allowing her to be there. She said my c-section had changed her mind about what they could be.

I might always have to work through everything that happened to me on the night my son was born. I can’t change it, only learn to live with it.

I will never regret, or be anything other than thankful, for everything that happened on the morning I gave birth to my daughter. I wouldn’t change a minute of it for the world.

I Didn’t Want My Baby

[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from Jessica LaBonte. She bravely admits what many mothers only think in their darkest moments. -Jenna]

I Didn't Want My Baby -postpartumprogress.com

Sleep when the baby sleeps. The advice given to women around the world since the beginning of time. So I did. Or at least I tried. I would lie there in bed. My heart racing in my chest. Breathing as deeply as I could, trying to slow it down.

Then I would hear my child crying.

My head would pop up to listen. But he was not crying. He was asleep in the other room. All I could hear in my head were his screams. So I would sing to myself. Only one song. Only the chorus. “I don‘t want to be lonely no more…” those were the only words I knew, but I would sing it over and over in my head like a broken record player. Finally, I gave up.

I could not sleep.

I could not sleep. I could not eat. I couldn’t physically swallow. It was as if there was a wad of cotton stuck in the back of my throat. Food was so dry. And the waves of nausea that would ebb and flow only made it worse.

The advice given to women when breastfeeding? You need an EXTRA 500 calories a day to help your body produce milk. I was lucky if I could nibble my way through 500 calories total in a day. I couldn’t eat. Dizziness ensued. I wouldn’t stand while holding my child, for the fear of falling over lingered in the back of my sleepy head. Talking on the phone and watching TV only made my head spin more. I spent most of my day with my eyes closed.

Calls to the doctor were made. Try vitamin this or that. Maybe ginger ale? How about the BRAT diet? No. This wasn’t my equilibrium giving me problems. This wasn’t an ear infection. I COULD NOT SLEEP. I COULD NOT EAT. I could not take care of this newborn who was placed in my arms only a few days ago. But, I tried these remedies. Nothing helped.

Finally, after a week, I went to the doctor. In a tearful sleepy daze, I remember asking her if this was all self-inflicted. Was I just nervous? I didn’t know what was going on. At the time, I had only been educated on postpartum depression. I had never even heard of postpartum anxiety. But, that is what it was.

Anxiety. Now what?

Zoloft. Oh, how it pained me to hear the word antidepressant. The stigma of antidepressants weighed ever so heavily on me. Only weak people took pills to make themselves feel better right? But, if they helped with the anxiety. Okay. What ever you say, doc.

But I wasn’t depressed… yet. A few days later, those “I don’t want to hold my baby” feelings kicked in. Even looking at him would make my stomach flip over. He was the cause of all of this. He was why I felt like a zombie in someone else’s body. I wouldn’t share those thoughts with anyone, but you could see it on my face.

Luckily, after a week or so, I was feeling better. So much better. I was sleeping. Eating. Loving my baby. The meds helped, but made me feel a little off. So I decided to stop taking them after three weeks… never taking a whole dose of the medication.

About a month later, we let my mother keep our child overnight. For no reason, only because she wanted to. I felt very awkward about it, which I assumed was completely normal considering it was the first night away from my little one. But, something felt awkwardly familiar. I hardly slept that night. Was rather panicky. Not hungry.

When the time came to pick up our little boy, I didn’t want to. I wanted to leave him there. I told my parents I did not want this responsibility. Knowing full well that was not me. And it was not how I really felt. But I could not help having those thoughts.

I still remember the look of dismay on their faces. How do you explain to someone how you feel, when you don’t understand it yourself? I did not want my child. I wished I had had a miscarriage. Wished none of this had ever happened.

I cried every day. Went through the motions of life with so much anger and confusion. My anxiety level was at an all time high. Panic attacks every time I tried to sleep. My temper was short. Especially with this being that I wanted nothing to do with.

I couldn’t eat, again. And because I could not eat, my body would not produce enough milk to sustain my child. So I pumped as much as my non-caring brain would allow me to. But soon enough, even the thought of having to pump caused me much grief. My breasts just hurt. I would cry at the thought of pumping one more time.

I felt so alone and in such a dark, dark place. “How DARE YOU feel that way about your child.” “Suck it up and deal with it.” “Oh, it’s all in your head.” All of this floating around my head like some cartoon character in deep contemplation.

And then one day while at my parents house, I tried taking a nap. I laid on the bed and closed my eyes. The longer I lay there, the faster and harder my heart would beat. I tried taking deep breaths. In. Out. My heart was racing. Soon enough, I found myself close to hyperventilating. I got out of bed. Short of breath. My heart felt as if it would just jump out of my chest and run away.

As I walked out of the room I saw my mother holding this sleeping child. MY sleeping child. My child who I wanted nothing to do with. But there he was. And I loved him. But, I could not bring myself to take him from her. I burst into tears. Rambling apologies through gut wrenching sobs. And I knew right then and there, this had to stop. I had a job to do. I had a child to take care of. He relied on me. And I could not continue going day to day feeling like this.

I was done. I knew what this was. I knew that THIS was not me. And I could not deny it, fight it, or hide from it. It was staring at me in the mirror every day. Postpartum Depression and Anxiety. I wanted it gone. I wanted to feel somewhat normal. I wanted to be able to enjoy at least a flicker of time with my child.

So, back on the medication I went. And this time, I took the correct dose, knowing that I was in fact not weak. And if I needed this medication to help me get through my suffering, then so be it. I also started taking birth control to help regulate my hormones. Anything to get my brain and body back in working, functioning order.

But, in order to take birth control, I had to make a very difficult decision. I had to stop breastfeeding as it was going to negatively affect my milk supply. A decision that broke my heart into a million pieces. My body had failed me. Because of all of the mental interruptions, my physical body could not do what it was meant to do. Feed my child. Something I wanted so badly and still pains me to this day. But, I knew it was best for my child and my mental health. Antidepressants, birth control and formula. Three things that would be my life savers.

Then, I waited. Waited for those pills to start working. A week went by. I was still not sleeping well. Waking way too early, thinking my heart was going to bounce out of my chest and walk away. Food was a little more palatable. But, I couldn’t eat while in the presence of my child. He still made my stomach flip. So I would sneak off into the bedroom to attempt to eat.

But soon enough, one day, I slept. All night long. And it felt like I had slept for days. A small victory. But what it did for my mental state was immeasurable. Food began to have a little more flavor. Swallowing became a little more easier. I started feeling a resemblance of my former self. I began to see the light after a long struggle in the dark.

A few weeks later, I sat in my rocking chair feeding my child. The child who, only a month ago, I wanted nothing to do with. Wished his existence to cease. This being in my arms with a head full of blonde hair and big blue eyes. A sole dimple on his right cheek. This wonder I had created, with a whole life ahead of him. He was mine. His presence no longer made my stomach flip in agony. He made my heart jump. But in a way I never could imagine.

~Jessica LaBonte