I cry as I write this to you, because I know how you feel. Maybe you are wondering what the hell is happening to you right now. Maybe you are so lost you don’t know where to turn. Maybe you are just tired, and sad, and want to love your baby so much, but you think you can’t. You can’t feel “it,” or anything really. I was there, just six months ago when I realized I had postpartum anxiety and obsession-compulsive disorder. I had thoughts. Bad thoughts. Gut-wrenching, horrible, intrusive thoughts about my sweet baby boy. Thoughts that made me think I was going to hurt this innocent, beautiful child.
I did not think I could do much during the worst of it, let alone be a mom. But in this letter, I want to tell you a few things you can do to help yourself. The results from these “can-dos” may take a while to sink in, and you may still feel bad after trying them for the first time, but keep going. Postpartum anxiety does not go away in one day, or one week, as hard as we want it to. But it surely will fade into the background and you will get better. I still complete one or more of my “can-dos” below each day as I continue to recover.
- Keep reading www.postpartumprogress.com. By doing this alone, you are educating yourself on what is happening to you and making progress. I read the website at least once every day. I think I have read almost every article at this point. I also signed up for Katherine’s “daily hope” emails for a year. They are delivered to my inbox at about 4:15am everyday (I know because I have desperately waited for it to arrive during those bad nights). They provide inspiration, hope, and a stable way to start your thought process for the day. Additionally, I joined the Warrior Moms Book Club through this site. To be honest, I had no desire to read anything when I joined, but I needed people. My “people” that were going through similar things as me. I actually met someone from my city through joining. The first book I forced myself to read, Sleepless Days, was insanely brilliant and comforting. Maybe you can read it someday, too.
- Talk to someone. As soon as I realized that I was in a bad place, I got back on my medication and saw my therapist. I did this early on in my postpartum period, but not early enough. I was on anxiety medication for about seven years before I decided to get pregnant and then weaned myself off it a year before conceiving. I was med-free all through pregnancy (and I felt it during the first trimester), and then immediately upon birth. I was convinced I did not need it anymore. Huge mistake and the first mistake of my postpartum experience. I was not fully aware of my risk of postpartum anxiety and OCD based on my past and it got me good. If you do not want to try medications right away, or at all, you can talk to an ob/gyn, doula, midwife, and/or therapist. Someone who knows what is going on and can help you.
- Read the book, Dropping the Baby and Other Scary Thoughts, by Karen Kleiman. This book helped change my life and my perspective on postpartum anxiety. I bought the eBook because I was afraid to order it and have my husband see. It became my go-to reference guide for my scary thoughts. I just read a part of it again yesterday to help through a “moment.”. You can get a new or used copy on amazon.com: Dropping the Baby
- Join some blogs. I started following a bunch through my Facebook page that focus on postpartum illnesses and other parenting topics: Babble.com, My Postpartum Voice, Jason Good – 365, Rage Against the Minivan … and I am always looking for more. These are great because you can be just an observer to many conversations and, maybe eventually, you can join the discussion. I also started my own “group” on Facebook. It is literally me and two of my friends that just had babies. If you don’t have friends going through this at the same time you are, you can even invite another mother, of any age, just to talk to.
- Share information. I started publicly sharing info from postpartumprogresss.com on my Facebook page. This move scared the shit out of me, but at that point, I needed to do something to break the feeling like I was psychotic or alone. I needed to share what I was going through and make it really feel like an illness that required support (and not shame). You may not want to go public, but you can start off by sharing what you are going through with just one person. It helps, a lot.
- Journal. Writing down what is in my head helps to get it out of the rumination cycle. I am now trying to include some good things about my days and about my sweet baby’s “growing up” moments. It can be hard to do that – praise myself or my baby – but I need to try. We can journal together.
- Hang out with people. I aggressively invited myself over to people’s houses, or vice versa. I did not want to be alone with my baby because of the thoughts and if you are not ready to be, don’t be. Not until you are ready. You can ask people to hang out and you don’t have to tell them why necessarily, you could just say, “hey, want to see the baby!?” Everyone wants to hang out with a baby, and you get the side-benefit of them hanging out with them too.
- Join a yoga class or walk, or jog. I had my baby in September and by the time my postpartum anxiety was in full effect, I was battling the sick, twisted world of an upstate New York winter. I did not get out of the house much and that sucked. Also, now that it is warm out, I try to get out and jog. I pretty much walk the whole way, but if I increase my heart rate even for a couple of minutes, I consider what I did a “jog” and I brag about it to anyone that will listen. Maybe you could walk, just down the street, or around the mall.
- Make a play list. During one of these said yoga classes, I discovered a song that is now something of a mantra for me – Kinder by Copper Wimmin. It is an amazing and oh-so-fitting song for the shit we are going through. Other songs I enjoy on my playlist that have helped me get through some bad (lonely, sad, terrifying) moments include:
- Coldplay – Fix You
- Ottis Redding – Try a Little Tenderness
- Sigur Ros – Hoppipolla
- Steelheart – I’ll Never Let You Go (yes, cheesy hair metal, but I honestly think this could be a lullaby, and it has some good, uplifting rifts).
- Copper Wimmin – Kinder (a.k.a. “mantra).
- Adele – Make You Feel My Love
- Etta James – At Last
Perhaps you can create a playlist or find many on YouTube and turn one on when you are having a bad moment. I also mix in some plain-old fun songs – Beastie Boys, No Doubt, and Elvis (anything by Elvis. I love him), etc., because while all of the bulleted above are great, mellow tunes, I needed to force myself to listen to silly songs in order to smile once in a while.
- Turn off the TV. I learned that the TV can cause me to be more anxious. I just did this though a few weeks ago. I was petrified when I did it; my anxious mind thinking that if I sat in silence with my baby something bad would happen. But it didn’t. It was actually relaxing and relieving.
I do not recommend these things because I am now 100% okay. I am not. When my ppa/ocd started, I had no idea that “intrusive thoughts” were even a real thing. I literally thought I was losing my mind and needed to be removed from my home. And today, I still have horrible moments, but they are fewer and fewer, and I am trying to retrain my thinking to be okay with that. Motherhood is a paradox of joy and fear; of unknowing moments; of happy and scary “what-if” moments.
In closing, please know you are not alone. You are going to get better. It may not be easy to get to that “better” place, and it’s annoying and frustrating to have to wait for it, but hang on. Every second you hang on is one more second closer to understanding what this illness is, how you can live with it, and beat it. You can do it.
Abby B. Cantwell is a first-time mom who lives in Rochester, NY with her husband and their 7-month old son, Max. A fan of reading, writing and the NY Mets, Abby is learning about what it takes to be a healthy mom through good times and bad.
* * *Postpartum Progress, the world’s most widely-read blog on all things related to emotional health around pregnancy & childbirth, is a service of Postpartum Progress Inc., a 501c3 nonprofit devoted to raising awareness of postpartum depression and similar illnesses. Please consider making a donation today, Mother’s Day, so we can continue and expand our work supporting maternal mental health. Thank you!