In 2009 after the birth of my second son I would wake up and immediately my heart would start to pound and my hands and feet would flare up with sweat. Some days I would be hit with the fight or flight response–y’know, the one that’s supposed to help a mom fight off a tiger from attacking her baby? Only it would be during a toothpaste commercial because I’d find my mind spinning around thoughts of, “Am I using the wrong kind? Does mine have fluoride in it? What if I have a cavity…or worse, what if I need a root canal?? Can breastfeeding moms even take pain killers?!?”
I became germophobic, not even sharing a drink with my toddler son, because I was so paranoid about getting sick (because the thought of having any added stress felt like tossing an anvil to a drowning person).
I’d find myself raging over the smallest things, worrying about worst case scenarios I’d never even considered before and feeling so on edge, it was what I imagined an out of body experience to be like. Normal situations felt overwhelming and simple joys were lost in trying to stay busy to take my mind off how I was feeling. My all-time low was sitting in a parking lot, choking down a Chik-fil-A sandwich just to get some protein because I was too anxious to eat. And the worst part?
I had no idea I had postpartum anxiety.
In fact my new baby is seven months old and I only heard about it sometime since her birth and I consider myself a pretty well-informed mom! If my sharing about my experience helps even one mom feel like she’s not alone and be able to ask for the help she needs, I’m happy.
One thing to note? I only had postpartum anxiety (PPA) with my second baby. The fact that I only had it one in three times means it’s a complicated unpredictable beast and a beast it is.
The hard thing is, PPA and postpartum depression share many common symptoms like feelings of overwhelm, sleep issues (can’t fall asleep or feel sleepy all the time) trouble eating (no appetite or stress eating) and wondering, “Is this my new normal?”
Back in 2009 when I was having panic attacks for the first time in my life, I knew I didn’t have postpartum depression. I was bonded and connected to my baby (he was a rainbow baby and very “easy”), I never thought about leaving my family and I wouldn’t have described my feelings as hopeless or sad. I definitely didn’t feel empty or like I couldn’t focus—I actually felt like my emotions were heightened and I was focused on everything all at once, leaving me wishing I could turn it off (or could jump out of my own skin). PPA is often characterized by racing thoughts, OCD behaviors, feelings of impending doom and physical symptoms like stomach aches and nausea—all of which I experienced.
I eventually went to a naturopathic doctor to address any underlying issues and he told me I’d been skating on thin ice due to stress, poor eating habits and a lack of self care. The pregnancy had just caused the plunge. I imagine that’s the case with a lot of women—they’re already on the edge but pregnancy and birth sends them over, especially when you add sleep deprivation and adjusting to a new baby to the mix.
Here’s the good news. There’s help available, especially if you can talk to a medical professional who is educated about postpartum anxiety. Mine turned out to be physiological and multi-faceted. It took changing my eating habits, learning to prioritize myself again, taking time off to heal from my pregnancy and birth and even exploring my spiritual beliefs before I found relief and that happened slowly over many months. It was years before I won my anxiety battle completely and the tools and techniques I picked up have made me a stronger woman. It actually helped me get well across the mind-body-spirit spectrum which is likely why I didn’t experience any PPA-type symptoms with my newest baby, even at age 40.
If you think you have postpartum anxiety, know you are not alone. It does get better. It’s a real condition and you deserve to ask for help and take care of yourself. And if you don’t have anyone to talk to, feel free to reach out to me personally. We’re in this together!