The Endless What-Ifs of Postpartum Anxiety

The Endless What-Ifs of Postpartum Anxiety

Dr. John Grohol at Psych Central offers up an explanation of anxiety in his discussion of a recent article in the New York Times Magazine. What is it, he asks, then quoting from the Times piece:

“Anxiety is not fear, exactly, because fear is focused on something right in front of you, a real and objective danger. It is instead a kind of fear gone wild, a generalized sense of dread about something out there that seems menacing — but that in truth is not menacing, and may not even be out there. If you’re anxious, you will find it difficult to talk yourself out of this foreboding; you become trapped in an endless loop of what-ifs.”

Oh, have I been there with postpartum anxiety.

What if my son never loves me? What if I don’t know how to be a mom? What if I never stop crying? What if I harm him by ________? (Fill in the blank with the many terrifying ways I wondered about hurting my son which I won’t list here so that I don’t make you start thinking the same damn things.) What if he doesn’t wake up? What if my husband doesn’t come home from his trip? What if I can’t get my baby to eat? What if I’m not who I thought I was? What if I stay this way forever? This was me during postpartum anxiety and OCD.

I wonder if I was more exhausted from the lack of sleep or the constant mental gymnastics going on between my ears. My mind never stopped with the worrying and the thinking and the being scared of the thoughts I was thinking. It wouldn’t stop. Why won’t it stop? MAKE IT STOP.

That’s when you want to quit. To run away or give up or maybe something worse. Because the noise in your head is loud and unbearable and hateful and exhausting. It was torture and I couldn’t quiet it no matter what I did.

For some reason I didn’t quit. I think it was that roly-poly-baby-faced boy looking up at me. I decided I’d try and reach out for help.

There must be somebody somewhere who can help me fix this. Who can cure my postpartum anxiety and OCD. This can’t be all there is.

There was. And it isn’t.

If you have postpartum anxiety, call your doctor. Get some help. It’s going to be okay.

For more stories on postpartum anxiety, I think you’ll like:

Getting Postpartum Anxiety to Back Off

The Unrelenting Self-Doubt & Second Guessing of Postpartum Depression & Anxiety

Have I Wrecked My Child’s Life? Parenting After Postpartum Depression & Anxiety

A Toolkit for Postpartum Anxiety & Panic Symptoms

About Katherine Stone

is the founder of Postpartum Progress. She has been named a WebMD Health Hero, one of the fiercest women in America by More magazine, and one of the top 20 Social Media Moms by Working Mother magazine. She is a survivor of postpartum OCD.

Tell Us What You Think


  1. Amen

  2. Excellent. Been there with PPD with anxiety. I have learned to watch the anxious thought when it arises, thanks to a loving therapist, cognitive behavior therapy an good DR. and ME!

  3. OMG, that's exactly how I felt!! Sometimes it shocks me when others speak the words that were/are stumbling through my head. Sometimes my thoughts would be so random and confusing that I'd actually laugh out loud because they made no sense at all! Probably just made me seem loonier than I really was but sometimes you just have to laugh your way through the tears, put one foot in front of the other and ask for, beg for, demand help!

  4. I'm with Paula. It's amazing that ANYONE else out there can understand the sheer madness I feel going on inside my head.
    It's been a rough week over here, and I've been wondering if I will ever get over those damn "what if" thoughts that circle every time I get stressed. Just last night, my husband didn't answer his phone, and instead of the rational, "oh, he's busy with the baby," or "he's on the other line" thoughts, I immediately went to, "what if someone broke into the house and is holding them hostage and he can't answer the phone, and my calling tipped the thugs off that I'm on my way home and I just put them in more danger!?! Should I call the police and have them meet me at the door, just in case?"
    Seriously. I can't tell you how reassuring it is to hear someone say that it does get better than this, because while I can't figure out how to believe you today, on a better day, it offers a ray of hope for my future, telling me I won't always have to live like this.

  5. same here… I always have that feeling!

  6. hi,
    i just found this blog today and am thrilled. i have been struggling with PPD on top of previously diagnosed mental health issues.
    i knew that i was a likely candidate for PPD so I stayed on meds even though I planned to nurse, making some dosage changes and weaning myself off neurontin as i could not get reliable info on its safety in breastmilk. i really hoped i could function with the med changes.
    unfortunately, i was suicidal within two weeks of my son's birth.
    in my third trimester i was diagnosed with pre-term contractions and pre-eclampsia and put on bed rest. i went into labor four weeks early and contrary to my wishes not to have Pitocin, my OBs decided to "augment" my labor (which was progressing just fine on its own) and kept dialing up the Pit. After four hours of anguished pushing and feeling like I had no control over the process, I was rushed for an emergency C.
    I did not get to see my son for a few hours as he had breathing difficulties and was on oxygen. 24 hours after that he was put in the NICU for jaundice and a heart murmur.
    When I got him back I had trouble latching him on, although I could pump milk like a champ and could get five ounces in twenty minutes. The lactation consultant yelled at me and told me that my son had lost weight and it was my fault, and that the pacifier (that came with the bassinet was against hospital policy. I felt like a failure because I was trying really hard to feed him. (Later I found out that his weight loss was due to the jaundice).
    That scared the hell out of me. Meanwhile, the docs told me to nurse him for twenty minutes on each side, and to pump after that, and feed him two ounces additionally every 2 hours. He was a very slow eater and could take 30 min to finish a bottle.
    When my partner and I asked how to balance my need for sleep with his eating requirements, the nurse told me that I was "a mother now, and needed to get my priorities in order."
    On top of that, the hospital could not seem to get my meds to me on time and in the right dosages. One time they sent me a dose of buspar three times what I was prescribed.
    Once home things just deteriorated, I was depressed, crying all the time, and terrified that my son was going to die. I wanted to die. Sometimes I would just pray that he didn't wake up to nurse because I couldn't handle being responsible for his little life.
    It was the total opposite of what i thought motherhood would be. Ever since I could remember I wanted to be a mom. I worked as a nanny for several years. I love kids, so why didn't I seem interested in mine?
    After two weeks of that insanity, I went to my psychiatrist and told her what was going on. We decided it was best for me to go back on the old med regiment. This meant that I would have to make the radicial decision (for me) to give up nursing and put my son on formula. I was sad, but also relieved.
    It was the best decision I could make for me and my son. I went through a period of guilt and sadness, mourning the loss of our nursing relationship, but I know that a loving, happy mom holding a bottle is much better than being stuck to the breast of a mom who wants to die.
    When I told my OBs about it, they seemed supportive. But a few weeks later when I went back for my post partum check up, they informed me that they were dismissing me from their practice because of my "emotional issues." They also told me that they were very concerned about me having more children in the future, not because of my hx of pre-eclampsia, but because of my "issues."
    I was devastated, embarrassed, and humiliated. Later, I realized that they were bad doctors. I had done everything I could to take care of myself and my child, and when things went wrong anyway, I did what was necessary to make sure my baby had a functioning mom.
    I still struggle with PPD, but thanks to my meds, therapy, support from my local maternal infant health program, and weekly visits from a therapist at infant mental health, we are doing pretty well.
    Gabriel is 6 months old today and he weighs over 19lbs! He is happy, loved, and is well attached to me and his father. When he wakes up in the morning and sees us he smiles with delight and that is the best thing ever.

    • I’m really hoping you get this sandiebird8. I don’t know how it’s possible to have two identical birth experiences, but evetything that happened to you happened to me. To a T. The only difference is my mental health services have been abysmal, and as a result of my ryn away anxiety, my son now has a very anxious attatchment style. Would you mnd telling me where it is you live? Are you in the US? And also what meds actually WORKED for you? Thanks a million!!!

  7. How to Help Someone says:

    I just found this blog and think it is great and a super tool for anyone suffering from PPD. People need all the help they can get with it.

  8. Thats good news. My wife had a ppd back then, and with all the support, she was able to cope up with it.

  9. I’m so glad I found this. I suffer from post partum anxiety and in the beginning it was really bad. I was always going to the er everytime I felt something thinking something bad is going to happen to me. Sometimes I have thoughts and fears of something bad happening then I start to feel anxious. My baby was a preemie born almost 2 mos early. She was in the nicu for 5 weeks. It was hard for me. My amxiety didn’t start until after i took her home and what really triggered it was when my aunt passed. Sometimes I can’t even go to the store alone because I feel like something might happen to me and no one will help me or call 911 if needed. Does anyone feel like this too? Before I had a baby I was always out amd about amd wasn’t always worried. This is so debilitating sometimes.

    • You went through a lot Melody. Having a baby in NICU is a big risk factor for PPD and anxiety, as is losing a loved one like your aunt. Please don’t feel like you’ve done something wrong. This is an illness. Have you talked to a doctor about your symptoms?

  10. I am 6 weeks postpartum and I can literally count on both hands the number of days that I haven’t either cried, stressed uncontrollably, or asked myself, “Am I being a good mother?” I was too ashamed to say anything to my doctor at my 2 week appointment because I thought it would pass or that it was the “baby blues”. I go for my 6 week check up in 2 days, and I have to say something to my doctor because this is extremely difficult to deal with!


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