This is a guest post from Ashley Lavoie.
Fears of dying, fearing my infant son getting hurt, dreams of my husband not coming home. I was constantly worried about something, usually related to losing my husband or my newborn son. I was not especially sad or depressed – I was completely, head-over-heels in love with my newborn son. But I couldn’t leave my house. I was terrified of what could happen to my baby while we were out in public alone. What if he cried and would not stop? Or what if I got hurt, who would take care of him? I did not want to visit friends or family, becoming anxious at the thought of anyone else holding him. What if they dropped him by accident? They couldn’t possibly watch him alone without me, what if he got hungry and they didn’t recognize his “hungry cry”?
I’d heard of postpartum depression, of course. There were signs hung all over my OBGYN’s office with numbers to call and people to talk to regarding depression shortly after giving birth. I knew the symptoms like the back of my hand and told my husband how I was feeling daily to help combat PPD. What the doctor’s office failed to mention, however, was postpartum anxiety. So when symptoms popped up that didn’t fit the bill for PPD, I felt completely isolated and confused. I thought for sure something was wrong with me but I did not know what. All because I’d never been versed on symptoms of postpartum anxiety.
We tend to think of postpartum anxiety and general anxiety in their most extreme cases, including thoughts of harming oneself or their child or having a panic attack over a personal fear while in public. However, these symptoms are only scratch the surface of a life with general anxiety and/or postpartum anxiety.
General anxiety presents itself in many different ways and triggers vary from one person to the next. General anxiety symptoms can include:
- Muscle aches
- Difficulty sleeping
- Trouble concentrating.
Similarly, postpartum anxiety includes the same symptoms as general anxiety but occurs after the birth of a baby. Further symptoms can include:
- Racing thoughts
- Impending fear
- Change in appetite
- Difficulty going to or staying asleep
- Constant worry
- Physical symptoms such as:
- Hot flashes
Finally, at my six-week checkup, my OBGYN asked me how I was feeling, mentally. I cried right then and there and explained I wasn’t sure why I was feeling all of these things. I told her about how I woke up covered in sweat from nightmares about my husband getting hurt on one of their construction sites. I told her how I went through my house and double-checked all the smoke alarms, terrified that we’d have a house fire one night and we wouldn’t make it out alive. I told her my constant fears of something happening to my newborn son while in my care or with someone else. Honestly, I told her I was a complete mess.
But I am so glad I did. We talked further and longer about my emotional state of mind at that time, but also what life was like before I had my firstborn son. I told her of my obsessive-compulsive habits in some aspects of my life, my worry about things I couldn’t always control and my fears of being left alone in this life following some type of made-up tragic event. She diagnosed me not only with postpartum anxiety but also general anxiety disorder and together we moved forward with a plan to make me feel better.
Treatment options for Anxiety
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) teaches relaxation methods, stress relief techniques, problem-solving skills and helps to arrange desirable outings and events.
This type of therapy involves looking at the inner working relationships in one’s life. Therapists help the individual strengthen or repair relationships in their lives such as those with their spouse, parents, or close friends. Having a solid support system is imperative to a new mom and so by working on these types of relationships, the individual will hopefully feel less burdened by the stress and responsibility that comes with being a new parent.
Medications such as SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, typically have low risk to breastfed infants and help a suffering individual by blocking the reabsorption of serotonin by distinguished nerve cells in the brain. Mood is typically enhanced as there is more serotonin present to enhance pleasant feelings. Side effects include insomnia or sleepiness, sexual dysfunction, and weight gain. Commonly prescribed SSRIs include citalopram, escitalopram, fluoxetine, paroxetine, and sertraline.
I was concerned at first about the medication filtering into my breast milk and affecting the baby. It took a fair bit of convincing and research to decide to give it a go. Counseling was also suggested, but I was so tightly wound at that point that the thought of bringing my baby and myself to group therapy scared the daylights out of me. Instead, I joined a few online support groups for new moms with anxiety and/or postpartum anxiety. I took my new medicine, talked to new online friends and forced myself to leave the house and face my irrational fears.
Fast forward several years to the birth of my second child. I’d stayed on a long-term anxiety medication following my son’s birth and felt far more calm and collected when taking care of my baby this time around. I got myself out of the house frequently. We walked the floors at the mall, we took walks around the neighborhood and we went and visited friends and family. I let myself feel supported by those who loved me and generally took better care of my mental health.
My experience of becoming a mom of two was significantly different from being a first-time mom. Not only was I more confident of my abilities to take care of such a tiny human on my own, but I knew what to look for regarding symptoms of mental distress. Having a diagnosis of GAD – general anxiety disorder – and PPA – postpartum anxiety, changed my parenting for the better. It is my hope that PPA will start being discussed far more frequently, especially in places like the OBGYN office where new and to-be new moms frequent. These amazing women should know that depression and feelings of sadness and/or isolation are not the ONLY symptoms associated with postpartum disorders and what resources are available for them postpartum.
Did you know that 10-15% of postpartum moms experience postpartum depression? Similarly, postpartum anxiety affects nearly 10% of new moms! So tell us, did you or someone you know have either PPD or PPA? How did you cope?
Resources used in this article
About the Author:
Ashley Lavoie is a mother of three and freelance writer from NH. She is a stay at home mom and full time “substitute pancreas” for her youngest son (age 2) who has Neonatal Diabetes. In her free time, she enjoys walking, reading, and kickboxing.