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New Mom: My battle with postpartum anxiety

Posted January 16, 2011

As we begin a new year and reflect on the last, I realize how much of my time was spent battling my mind these first eight months of motherhood. It kind of surprises me that women don't talk more about postpartum depression, anxiety or emotional battles. We all hear about the "baby blues," but in reality it's far more than just the blues.

I have chosen to tell my story here so that maybe it will help someone else. I also think it will be an overdue explanation to many loved ones in my life who wonder why I sometimes do (or don't do) the things I do. I hope that as I continue to fight this battle that having the awareness and support of those around me will continue to encourage me.

When I was about ten or so, I was diagnosed with OCD - obsessive compulsive disorder. It was bad. I was not sleeping at night. I would wake up and check the doors, the appliances, my parents breathing. Then, I went through a phase where I was compulsively confessing every thought that came through my mind aloud to my mother - day and night. I couldn't help it. I felt so trapped.

For those with OCD, you know how horrifying it can feel. Locked in your own brain, unable to get out. For those who don't fully understand OCD, it's basically when compulsions and obsessions reach a point where they are debilitating in your life. It varies in its severity. And for me, it comes and goes in my life. It rears its ugly head usually when there's a big life change I'm facing.

So, when I went to high school, college, had a tumultuous relationship, graduated from college, went through a rough break up, got married - all of these times my OCD would flare up. Along with the flare ups, I was often times diagnosed with depression. Being locked inside my own messy mind would bring me down. Oh so down.

All of this to say, I don't know why on earth it didn't cross my mind to speak to my OB about this. It made perfect sense that I was a prime candidate for postpartum depression. Even without the likelihood of postpartum issues, the big life change of having a kid was certain to send me into a tailspin.

And it was instant. The anxiety came over me like a big dark cloud. I was on the lookout for postpartum depression, but I never felt depressed. I never felt sad or harbored any negative feelings towards Asher (other than wishing he'd sleep!). But I did feel panic. I couldn't sleep. I wanted to protect my child from all the germs swarming around me. You know that feeling where you feel like your heart may come out of your chest because you are so nervous about something? That's how I felt day in and day out. I was on edge. I cried a lot. I yelled a lot. I made my husband miserable. I am sure Asher could feel my tension.

I kept telling myself that it was just a new mom thing. You worried about your baby. You made people wash their hands. You lost sleep and a little bit of your mind with it. I didn't feel depressed, so I still didn't think it was postpartum depression.

I remember flipping out on Rusty one night for sleeping with a tissue in his hand (his allergies were acting up) because what if it landed in Asher's bed and he choked on it? I remember calling my mom and sister countless times to be talked off the ledge. I remember being obsessed with SIDS. I remember arguing with Rusty and my mom about the proper way to blanket Asher. I remember crying. A lot. I would lie awake at night contemplating his swaddle, his grunting, his sleeping habits, the future. There are so many ridiculous examples to list. I'm sure if you'd ask Rusty he could give you a list off the top of his head. And some of this probably sounds normal to other mommies out there, and I think some of it is. But for me, it was all consuming.

It was never ending panic. I was not enjoying this baby like I should. After months of this misery, I decided to reach out to a psychiatrist. I've been on melds in the past and knew how helpful they could be with my OCD and depression. I thought, maybe this is more than just mommy worry.

My suspicions were validated. I was battling postpartum anxiety. It was a real thing. And I could be helped. So, I began taking Zoloft, and I was able to keep nursing while on it. My dosage was upped a couple of times until I reached a point where I truly could feel an improvement.

So now, about four months in, I feel better. Do I feel great? No. Do I still battle my worries and my mind? Every day. Do I still drive Rusty crazy? I'm sure. Those close to me know that it's a serious matter. They understand that when I start to spiral into panic mode that I cannot help it. They know that taking my baby to a big family reunion and having people passing him around literally makes me panic. They know that when I ask you to wash your hands, I mean really wash them for 20 seconds or else it's not really cleaning off the germs. They know when we are out and about, I want to wipe down our dinner table and pass around my hand sanitizer. They know that every day is a challenge for me.

This year I want to move forward trying even harder to beat this crap. I don't want worries to replace happy thoughts with Asher. And I'm getting better. But I've got a ways to go, still.

If you or someone you know is having similar issues, please know that postpartum stress and depression and anxiety is very real.

Being a mommy is so hard. It's all consuming. It's exhausting. It's 24/7. Having any sort of extra stress on your heart or mind can push you over the edge. It's so understandable. Women need extra support and they need to know it's OK to admit that something doesn't feel quite right. There's help out there.

All of this rambling to say, I love my kid. I love my husband. I love my family and friends. And I love that I'm feeling better. And I'm so thankful for each of those things.

Kira is the mom of eight-month-old Asher and writes regularly for Go Ask Mom. Read the full post on her bog Grits, Grins and Gripes. She'd love to hear from others who have gone through the same thing.

11 Comments

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  • newhouseapex Jan 19, 2011

    I know I am a little late commenting on this, but I am so grateful that you wrote about your experience. I have always had a very "happy go lucky" personality, very low key. I had my first child in July and I suffered in silence until late November. I thought the feelings I had would pass and that what I was experiencing was what everyone experiences after they have a baby. Boy was I wrong! I thought when I went back to work it would get better, etc, etc. I kept making excuses. Finally I went to my family doctor and told him all about what I was feeling. He did the best thing ever, he listened, offered me options, and now 2 1/2 months later I am just about back to normal. I can't thank him enough for giving me my life back. If you have the symptoms of PPD please, I beg you to go get help. I am regretful now that it took me so long to ask for help, because I think I would have enjoyed my time with my daughter much more if I had addressed the issues right away. Thanks Kira!

  • JAT Jan 17, 2011

    It's like my doctor told me - if you were told you had high blood pressure or high cholesterol or diabetes, you wouldn't hesitate to get medical care or take the necessary medicine. PPD should be viewed the same way.

  • JAT Jan 17, 2011

    While your experience may be more severe than most due to your preexisting conditions, it's SO important that new moms don't hesitate one second to ask for help. PPD is very real and can zap every bit of mothering love you have; and it's not your fault. Asking for help and getting it, even if it's in form of medication, does not mean it's a forever problem or that you're crazy. You can't help what your hormones do to you and there's no reason to suffer in silence, just hoping it might get better.

  • Kira Jan 16, 2011

    @kleegam2 What a great idea, volunteering with SafeChild. Did you see a lot of other moms with PPD? I've been trying to think of ways that I can truly be a resource for others going through similar things. Not that I have any answers or miracle cure, but I can certainly be a shoulder to lean on. And would welcome that opportunity.

    @colliesr You're right. The thought of adoptive parents struggling with these issues didn't cross my mind. But it makes sense. The whole act of becoming parents is mind boggling. It changes everything, and I felt like a lot of the time there was no one to really tell you what to expect. The only way I really recognized my symptoms as being out of the ordinary was because of my past struggles with the disorder.

    I wish each of you the best. God bless!

  • kleegam2 Jan 16, 2011

    If you are having problems coping, new moms, PLEASE seek help. Kira, my experience was similar to yours (not the OCD, but the other stuff). No one in my family knew how messed up I was - but my poor husband! ohmygoodness, how he suffered. After 2 years (years!) I finally sought help. It took a decade before we had another child because I was so afraid this would happen again. The 2nd time I was very up-front with my OB about the struggles with the post-partum. The great news was that the PPD did not repeat, thank goodness. (I even volunteered with SafeChild because I knew I'd recognize the signs in another mom....)
    God bless you, Kira - thank you for sharing your story.
    Moms, if you are struggling - get help! This won't get better on its own.

  • colliesr Jan 16, 2011

    I have been going through all of this since we brought our son home from Vietnam in 2008. People don't think about adoptive parents going through these things, but we do. I battle ADHD/Depression and who knows what else. Being a new mom after being married for 13 years was extremely hard, and add being a teacher to that and all h@!$ breaks loose. Thanks for sharing and being honest. He is now three and on a daily basis the guilt and anxiety can send me to my knees.

  • Kira Jan 16, 2011

    @kpeele You have your hands full! I really want a house full of kids, but I'm so terrified of how my OCD will be able to handle more than one. I don't want it to prevent me from growing our family, I'm just not sure how to know I'm officially ready enough to tackle that. I wish you a nice, long, restful nap tomorrow from both of those little ones. :)

  • kpeele Jan 16, 2011

    My second child is 6 weeks old now (I also have a 17-month old)and today was a more emotional day for me so I appreciate the honesty of your post. I haven't had your OCD experience but I have found that once these little guys entered my life anxiety also came for so many reasons. Some reasons are understandable and some more attributable to the crazy life of a mom with a new baby. I think loving our children so much leaves us vulnerable to that anxiety. It's important to find a source of peace and security to help us when taking care of these little ones can feel so overwhelming. I too hope that things continue to get better for you this year!

  • Kira Jan 16, 2011

    Thanks for the kind words. And yes, every day is a little bit better. The outpouring of support I'm receiving from this post has been overwhelming - in an awesome way. I do hope that it in some small way helps bring postpartum issues out of the dark and into the open where we can all help each other.

  • StrollinMama Jan 16, 2011

    Thanks for sharing so openly! I'm going to share this post with my Stroller Strides moms in hopes that it helps someone to seek out help or realize they're not alone if they're feeling this way too. I appreciate your vulnerability and hope you feel a little bit more like your ol' self every day.

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