Today, my friend A’Driane Nieves is sharing a bit about postpartum anxiety, which hits home for me because I, too, experienced it.
I’m entering the 6 month postpartum mark after having my third child, my first after having PPD and later being diagnosed with rapid cycling bipolar disorder II. Overall, thanks to medication, support from family and friends both online and off, and consistent screening from my care team, I’ve been handling things MUCH better than I did 4 years ago.
Seven weeks ago, however, I started feeling … off. I started noticing that I was struggling more than usual with my baby’s often-intense bouts of crying. Noise, particularly crying, has been a major trigger for my postpartum anxiety since having my second child. Crying sets off alarm bells in my brain and sends my body into fight or flight mode. It paralyzes me and leaves me disoriented, struggling to focus. My thoughts become scrambled, and it often feels as though I’m being swallowed up by it and can’t escape. This sometimes leads to panic attacks, but not very often. After the crying has subsided and my anxiety has ebbed, I’m usually exhausted and have to sit and do nothing for an hour or two, or possibly the rest of the day, depending on the severity of it.
I had been hoping that with this baby, the postpartum anxiety wouldn’t resurface as intensely as it did before, but this baby’s cries are far more shrill and piercing than my 4 year old’s were, often venturing into the PURPLE Crying zone. For the first 8 weeks, I would feel anxiety gripping me when he would fuss and scream, but I was able to get through it 95% of the time without completely falling apart and wanting to escape. But 7 weeks ago I noticed that I would break out in a full body sweats the minute he’d start to scream. Even just the thought of him crying, say for instance at the pediatrician’s office, would cause me to start sweating profusely. It was embarrassing to be trying to discuss my infant’s development and reflux problems with his doctor while sweat poured down my back, and over my face, steaming up my glasses. When they needed to do a second blood draw during a particular visit, the screaming was so intense it took everything in me not to run full speed out of that office just to get away from it. I remember fighting like hell to hold back tears as I gathered the baby and my older two boys and tried to calmly walk out of the office.
Also contributing to the problem was the fact that he wasn’t taking a bottle. I was breastfeeding him but was also hoping he’d take what I expressed from a bottle so my husband could feed him from time to time and I could have a break. That didn’t happen. I tried at least 9 different kinds of bottles and nipples. My husband tried feeding him. Friends tried feeding him with me out of the room, all to no avail. He would instantly realize that it wasn’t my breast and rage inconsolably until I’d cave and breastfeed him.
I couldn’t go anywhere without him. I attempted once to make a run to the post office to ship something and my husband called me before I even got there, begging me to come back because our son was screaming. We went through a 10-day period where he wouldn’t let my husband hold him without screaming. Putting him down to go to the bathroom, shower, breathe even? Some days I couldn’t do any of them without hearing him scream from his crib. It was torture for both of us.
Then I noticed I was waking up with dread and going to sleep after putting the baby down some nights with the same dread sitting like a brick in my stomach. I noticed my skin would start to feel like fire whenever he’d start to cry and I’d want OUT of it immediately.
When I started feeling anger flash through me during his crying episodes, that’s when I knew I was struggling. I’d experienced postpartum rage last time, so I was able to recognize it as such immediately and know I needed to find a better way to cope with it this time around.
I talked with my husband and we both agreed I should wean as soon as I could find a nipple the baby would take. When I finally did, I started to feel better immediately. I didn’t feel as consumed.
I talked again with my new psychiatrist at the VA mental health clinic, who (due to being admittedly uninformed on medications and breastfeeding) had refused to adjust my medications until I had weaned. Once I did, we came up with a new treatment plan, agreeing that I should go back to my pre-pregnancy doses of my mood stabilizer and antidepressant. She also suggested I try a new medication for anxiety, so I did.
It’s been a little over a week since I started my new doses. I’m slowly starting to feel better. Weaning intensified a mild depressive episode I was in for a couple of weeks, but I can feel my medications working to pull me out of it. Other things that have helped: practicing deep belly breathing several times a day, babywearing (when he’ll tolerate it), talking and singing to my baby even when he’s crying, and allowing myself to be honest about when I’ve had enough and I need to just step away for a few minutes to catch my breath.
The last 7 weeks have been rough. Postpartum anxiety is brutal. I hate that I’m back here again, sweating it out and wanting to scream when my skin crawls from the intensity of the hard moments. But unlike before, I’m aware and equipped to handle it this time, and that is making all the difference for me and my family.