A few days ago I briefly posted on my Instagram stories (@molassesandbread) about postpartum anxiety and the response to that post was huge! Many of you related in some way, and/or wanted to know more so here we go.
It started as baby blues, crying, anxiety, mood swings, but… I was told this was all very normal in the first few weeks postpartum. So, I waited it out. But it didn’t stop. “Well, we also just bought a house and are moving” I told myself. We closed the deal the same week I delivered. We moved when Addie was 3 months. And yet, it continued. I screamed when I was in the car because I imagined car accidents. I froze at the top of the stairs because I “saw” us falling. I stayed glued to the monitor ALL NIGHT watching her breathe. I described those intrusive thoughts as a nightmare while awake.
I screamed when I was in the car because I imagined car accidents. I froze at the top of the stairs because I “saw” us falling. I stayed glued to the monitor ALL NIGHT watching her breathe.
But I explained it away. I had anxiety about the anxiety (meta anxiety my therapist calls it). What did it mean about my parenting? I didn’t want people to think I didn’t LOVE being a mom – because I did. That was the problem. I was obsessed. Obsessed with things I couldn’t control. But if I could control something, I did. Did I check the railings on the stairs today to make sure they’re secure? Hmm. Better check again. Is she in her car seat right? Better pull over and check again. These thoughts and feelings can really steal the joy from the otherwise beautiful moments (and added to the stress of the hard moments).
At my 6-week follow-up appointment with my OB, I was given a screening tool for postpartum mood disorders, but having a background in standardized tests, I knew how to fudge the numbers to make it look like things weren’t a breeze, but well within the normal range (why is the scoring key right on the front of the test?! C’mon people!). I was asked by a nurse at one of Addie’s well visits about my moods but it was phrased “you don’t have (*whispering*) *postpartum* do you?” so, of course I didn’t feel comfortable admitting to what I was feeling. She made it feel even more shameful, like it couldn’t be said out loud. (side note: this is exactly why it’s important we talk about PPA/PPD and normalize it!)
It wasn’t until Addie was 9 months that I finally said something to my doctor (with my husband’s help and encouragement), and believe me… he tried to get me to say something plenty of times sooner. I couldn’t. I felt so much shame about having anxiety because I knew my thoughts were “crazy”, I KNEW these events were unlikely, and I KNEW worrying about them couldn’t change the outcome. But, anxiety isn’t rational. My doctor was great. It was a relief just saying it out loud. She normalized it and referred me to a women’s reproductive mental health clinic (how fortunate that I could access this via our government services!), Covid hit at the same time so the wait was longer than usual but I was finally receiving services before Addie’s first birthday.
I’d be lying if I said the wait was easy, even once I received the screening and was deemed eligible for services, my anxiety told me I was stupid, that I was taking someone else’s spot, that I wasn’t WORTHY of help. Thankfully, after my first appointment, these feelings quickly faded, I felt understood, I felt heard, and that initial anxiety started melting away. I finally felt like I was worth the time and effort.
I felt so much shame about having anxiety because I knew my thoughts were “crazy”, I KNEW these events were unlikely, and I KNEW worrying about them couldn’t change the outcome. But, anxiety isn’t rational.
Postpartum anxiety is so much more common than people think (approximately 15% of mothers being affected – keeping in mind, this is only based on those actually reporting symptoms). Postpartum depression is finally getting some attention now, but there’s still a long way to go in bringing awareness to ALL postpartum mood disorders. Also, worthy to note: men also get mood disorders after the birth of a child – and I think A LOT more attention needs to go there too. But, women’s health in general is greatly under-represented in research and general knowledge/awareness. So, the more we talk about it the better.
So please, if you’re struggling with postpartum or any mental health issues, speak up. The more we do, the more it’s normalized. The more it’s normalized, the more support we can access. And PLEASE… don’t wait as long as I did, but if you have, know that it’s not too late! There’s always time to make your life just a little bit better.
**photo by: April McColeman Photography
How to get help if you need it:
- If you are worried or feel like you may harm yourself or your child, please, call 9-11 or attend your local emergency services immediately
- Talk to your doctor, they should be able to refer you to the appropriate mental health services
- Contact your local mental health agency. For mental health services in Ontario, call 1-866-531-2600 (toll-free).
- The pregnancy and postpartum workbook (linked in article above – available on amazon)
- Talk to a trusted friend or family member, it’s amazing how much sharing can help (and they can help with baby steps, like going with you when you leave the house at first)