I was always warned about postpartum depression. I was prepped by my midwife. I had the pamphlets. I was ready. Just in case. But what no one ever prepped me for was postpartum anxiety.
When my second was a few months old, I started noticing I was feeling a little more, well, tight. Nervous. Stressed. And then some irrational thoughts started taking over. Every time I heard a train I would begin to obsess over whether it would crash. I would hear a siren and think of all the ways my children could be hurt. The idea of someone coming to kidnap my kids kept me up at night. I didn’t know what was happening or how to name what I was feeling, but I knew something was wrong.
I subconsciously began to stockpile more and more nonperishable foods. I would clutch my children close every time we left the house. And it kept getting worse. I imagined people coming off the trains to take my children from me. I couldn’t cope with the thought of the potential pain and grief I could experience. I could recognize these thoughts were irrational but I couldn’t get them to stop. And I desperately needed them to.
When the thought of getting up in the morning and experiencing a full day of out-of-control thoughts and worries made me never want to wake up again, I realized something was really wrong.
I felt like I was going crazy but was terrified to tell anyone. I never wanted to hurt my children but I was afraid if I told anyone how I was feeling, they would take my kids away. I felt like a terrible mother who so badly needed help, but I also wanted to keep my children with me so I would know they were safe. In my mind, the world around me was crumbling.
And finally one day I broke. I couldn’t cope anymore. It was all too much. My husband forced me to make a doctor’s appointment. My doctor asked me questions relating to postpartum depression. And then she mentioned postpartum anxiety.
Postpartum anxiety? I’d never heard of postpartum anxiety before. Is that different than postpartum depression? Turns out it is.
It was like she was describing me. Everything I was experiencing. When I filled out her questionnaire, I scored in the top categories for anxiety. I wasn’t crazy. I was anxious. Top of the charts anxious. But not crazy.
Why hadn’t anyone told me postpartum anxiety existed before? Why was I only on the lookout for depressive symptoms? Why was my shame so overwhelming that I didn’t get the help I needed sooner?
I can honestly say my doctor saved my life that day. She treated me with kindness and respect and never ever made me feel crazy or stupid. She was firm in the fact that something was wrong, but not something she had never seen before and that wasn’t treatable. This was normal for some postpartum women. Up to 10% of postpartum women experience anxiety. I started medication immediately.
When I did some research on postpartum anxiety I remember seeing so many statements of “you should not feel ashamed or embarrassed.” But how else am I supposed to feel when I literally cannot control my mind anymore? When I tell someone out loud how I feel, I know it doesn’t make any rational sense, but I can’t make it stop.
Within a few days of starting the medication, I noticed a difference. Within a few weeks, I was significantly better. And although the medication was the right decision for me, having a supportive spouse and doctor made all the difference. I was no longer alone. And I wasn’t going crazy.
Now don’t get me wrong, it has taken me years to tell this story without wanting to die of shame. I still struggle with feeling like I’m weak. Like I failed. That I wasn’t strong enough to come out of the birthing experience unscathed and oozing joy. But I’m learning to reject those lies. It’s just a very slow process. And if sharing my story can help you in your postpartum experience, then I’ll continue to do the work and try to share.
If you are experiencing postpartum anxiety or thoughts that seem irrational that you can’t control, please know you aren’t alone. You aren’t crazy. There are people who love you and want to help you. There are treatment options. Please don’t do this alone.