February 11, 2020

Postpartum Anxiety

We’ve all heard of “the baby blues,” but what happens when it’s not sadness you feel? What happens when all you feel is debilitating anxiety? Maybe it hits you in the hospital, maybe as soon as you get home, or (as in my case) many weeks into your postpartum journey. It’s scary, all-consuming, and quite frankly it can make you feel helpless. 

Postpartum Anxiety … yes, it’s a thing

We’ve all heard of “the baby blues,” but what happens when it’s not sadness you feel? What happens when all you feel is debilitating anxiety? Maybe it hits you in the hospital, maybe as soon as you get home, or (as in my case) many weeks into your postpartum journey. It’s scary, all-consuming, and quite frankly, it can make you feel helpless.

Feeling great

After my second was born, I felt great! Or so I told myself. His labor was quick (2.5 hours from start to finish), he was born on his due date, and we were only in the hospital for 2 days. As we settled into our new life as a family of 4, I was very mindful and proactive about addressing any postpartum depression that might come along. I prioritized things that helped me decompress, asked for help when needed, and started exercising again (WAY too early). I thought I was doing well. Then a week later, I got mastitis.

Mastitis hits

No big deal. Lots of people get mastitis. I called my OB and started antibiotics, but then my milk supply basically dried up overnight in my infected breast. After that I was constantly agonizing over producing enough breast milk to ensure he was gaining weight, trying desperately to regain my supply on that side, and spending far too much time on Facebook groups geared toward breastfeeding, child rearing, and natural remedies for increased milk production. Somewhere along the line, this snowballed into me diving down a rabbit hole of information about all the substances in our environment that are potentially harmful to our children. And then it happened. I went nuts. Legit nuts.

Going nuts

My anxiety got so bad that one day my husband came home to find me throwing away every cosmetic and cleaning supply we owned because “it was poisoning our children.” Somewhere in the recesses of my brain I knew this was irrational but in that hormonally charged and sleep deprived state, no one could convince me that I was wrong. I started making my own cleaning supplies, laundry detergent, and deodorant. I refused to use candles, would only use homemade soap from my grandmother to bathe my kids, and only bought organic foods. I even spent $400 on a Berkey water filtration system for drinking and cooking water because “our tap water is toxic.” My anxiety spiraled so out of control that I second guessed every single decision I made as a parent. I would lie awake for hours wondering if I should have let my 2 year old have that one M&M … because you know … dye.

Getting help for physical trauma

When my husband found me one evening, credit card in hand, ready to purchase a $12,000 mattress from Australia because it was flame retardant free and “organic,” he lovingly encouraged me to get some help. So, slowly I began talking openly about my anxiety. I asked my OB for a referral to therapy and started the discussion about taking anti-anxiety medication. I also began seeing Sara (The Vagina Whisperer) for pelvic floor PT. You see, my son’s delivery was physically traumatic for me, but I had blocked that out. I told myself, “This is fine. Pain with sex is fine. Peeing on myself when I sneeze is normal. Feeling like my insides are going to fall out of my vagina is common after two vaginal deliveries.” It wasn’t until I saw Sara that I realized how much this physical trauma had affected me on a mental and emotional level. And as scary as it was to admit that I was debilitated by my anxiety, it was also freeing.

Managing it

It’s been a long road and I’m not out of the woods yet. I am now four years postpartum from my second and I still have to manage my anxiety daily, but it no longer controls me. I consistently go to therapy, still see Sara for a tune up here and there, have added some relaxation and healing practices to my exercise routine, and I share my story. That’s truly been the best part. Sharing my story has allowed me to meet other women who have had similar experiences, and it takes the isolation out of the anxiety. Ultimately, that also helps with the shame. I have learned to avoid triggers. You know, all those FB groups I was in. I realized that (while they no doubt help many other people), they were not helping me.

I will likely always struggle with anxiety.  I know that I will need to consistently “treat” it and that’s ok. Thankfully, I have a wonderfully supportive partner, a fabulous therapist, the one and only Vagina Whisperer as my PT, and a village of strong women to lift me up when I am in the trenches.

You are not alone

So if you are experiencing postpartum anxiety, know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE! There is help. I encourage you to speak to your healthcare provider to find a plan that works for you. That might include therapy, meds, treatment for physical ailments, support groups, or a combination of these things. That’s OK! At the end of the day, remember that loving your children is the most important thing. Not the dye free food, washable diapers, homemade soap, etc. It’s the love! So I hope that today you can just allow yourself to love on your kiddos, and love yourself. You’re doing GREAT momma. Keep it up!

Additional resources

Below I have listed some links for information of postpartum anxiety, and resources to find help managing it.

  1. Postpartum Support International

  2. Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

  3. MGH Center for Women’s Mental Health

  4. Bryce Reddy LMHC I Mom Support

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