Warrior Mom Alyssa R. reached out to share her story of why no one believed she was suffering when she had postpartum anxiety and postpartum PTSD. It’s a common problem, since most of us who’ve had it (including me) take a look at the short lists of postpartum depression symptoms most websites and books provide and quickly conclude we don’t have PPD, so nothing must be wrong. Alyssa had a strong bond with her baby, so she was very confused by the symptoms she was experiencing.
Hiding in the quiet of a dark room, alone, I brought up a Google search. I typed in, “signs of postpartum depression.” The list read, “…insomnia, intense irritability and anger, overwhelming fatigue, lack of joy in life, feelings of shame, guilt or inadequacy, severe mood swings, difficulty bonding with the baby, withdrawal from family and friends, thoughts of harming yourself or the baby … it’s important to call your doctor if the signs and symptoms of depression: make it hard for you to care for your baby, make it hard to complete everyday tasks, include thoughts of harming yourself or your baby.”
I hastily clicked the red x, my mind already made up. I mistakenly assumed that because my symptoms didn’t look like that list, nothing was wrong. My symptoms were not there. Not the big ones—the anxiety, the compulsion, the flashbacks.
It was easy to believe it. The bond I shared with my baby was strong, unbreakable even. I’d never dream of hurting her. I loved every second I spent with her, and loved my life overall. My house was clean, dinners were cooked. I was showered and put together. I enjoyed being a mother. I was more sociable than ever in my life!
As time passed, and my intrusive thoughts didn’t fade, I used her. I used my baby. My husband, or friends, would ask if everything was ok. I would reply, “Our relationship is so strong. I don’t melt down when she cries. I love to be with her and can care for her easily! Clearly there’s nothing wrong.”
But on the inside, I worried. I stayed up wondering what might hurt her and how I could prevent it. I had terrifying visions of her being hurt, in pain, without me. I could see them, sometimes, in the dark, rocking her. I could see black widows crawling on her, or her little head splattering open like an egg. It was also very hard for me to focus. I was always on the move. Her room wasn’t neat enough, the laundry wasn’t washed enough. I was always thinking about what to do next. At work, I would melt down when daycare called or texted because something terrible WAS going to happen, wasn’t it? I felt compelled to plan my day in ritualistic fashion. Everything had to happen at just the right time. I did things in the same order and would have a huge crying spell otherwise.
The flashbacks were worst of all. I had a traumatic c-section. After 24 hours of labor and nearly five hours of hard pushing, the baby wasn’t coming. During the surgery, I felt the cutting. The pulling. The stitching. I felt pain, not pressure. Frantic to knock me out, they pumped me with drugs that would work temporarily, only for me to wake a few minutes later, screaming. In recovery, I didn’t recognize her. The first precious moments I laid eyes on my daughter, I was confused and terrified. I still feel a huge amount of guilt for that. The constant flashbacks caused night sweats, and panic attacks. I was effectively afraid of everything.
All of this told me that something was wrong. I knew it. But I ignored it, and I used her. If things were fine between us, if I could happily care for her, everything was fine, right? I wasn’t depressed.
And I wasn’t depressed. Instead, I was suffering at the hands of PTSD following my birth. And pretty severe postpartum anxiety and a touch of postpartum OCD. Yet few people talk about these. The hospitals and the OBs only talked about depression. After a particularly absurd fight with my husband over the vacuum of all things, I finally agreed to talk to someone. My primary care physician seemed flippant and said “anxiety isn’t a postpartum concern.”
Thankfully, the OB social worker she referred me to and I shared a deep conversation where she validated me, and I went on to find a great therapist. I have done one session of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), a common treatment for PTSD, and am already feeling better about my birth. But the other things? They’re still there. Maybe even stronger, as now that we have tamed my brain of its trauma, the other emotions are pouring out. The anger, the fear, the guilt, the compulsion, and oh, the postpartum anxiety. And now we are working on taming those.
It was easy to use my baby. It was the perfect façade—a strong bond, and a flourishing relationship. Postpartum mood and anxiety disorders like postpartum anxiety can manifest in so many ways and I wish that there was more information out there. I wish I hadn’t been so quick to disregard my own emotions, and had trusted my instincts. Regardless of a strong bond, don’t ignore the voice that says there is something wrong. Don’t hide in the dark.
~ Alyssa R., Everyday Isha
Photo credit: © kentoh – Fotolia.com