Pregnancy, birth, and the fourth trimester are perhaps the most tumultuous time in a woman’s life. You have hormones, major life changes, sleep deprivation, and exhaustion all combined into one very short period in time. While nine months can feel like an eternity, really it is a very short period of time to experience such intense change. Naturally, women will experience some degree of anxiety in the postpartum period, but when is it “normal” and when it is something more?
When my first daughter was born, I had no idea what to expect. I had a very difficult pregnancy and delivery and anticipated some emotional changes. Bringing a baby into our family was nerve wracking. For the first 2 weeks after her birth I cried frequently. I was anxious about many things. I checked on her breathing 20 times a night. I wanted everything to be just right for her. I had flashes of anger for no real logical reason. But I still went out. I saw friends. I took the baby in public and attended social functions. I felt out of sorts but able to function. I had a desire to return to life and didn’t fear doing so. After the first few weeks I felt a lot more like myself and had no lasting effects. This was a classic case of the “baby blues”.
Fast forward to my third child. Her birth was also difficult. Traumatic. To this day, 15 months later, I am gripped by anxiety when I think of the last 48 hours of my pregnancy with her. Immediately after her birth I felt afraid. Afraid something terrible would happen to her. Afraid to drive for fear another driver would hit us and take my children from me. Afraid to go in public. The fear was crippling. It felt like a 300 pound monster gripping my neck. I wasn’t able to function. I had no desire to see friends. No desire to attend social functions. Because I was afraid. Taking the baby out was a feat. Getting behind the wheel of a car required mental preparation. I couldn’t sleep because I was so afraid for her safety. I showered 5 times a day to ensure I was clean enough to be around my own baby. I lashed out at my older children because I was so afraid that their every move might hurt her. This was, and still is, postpartum anxiety.
People know about postpartum depression. Your medical provider screens for it. People ask how you are doing constantly after having a baby. In my case, I always felt like they were asking if I was sad. Having crying spells. Felt hopeless. I had none of this. I rarely cried, I had hope for the future, and I wanted to go out and do things but I was too afraid to. I knew I had some form of anxiety but didn’t feel as if it was recognized. I had no clue if it was normal or not until I finally had my 6 week check up with my OB who assured me that while what I was experiencing was normal in that many women experience it, it wasn’t normal and could be treated. I began therapy and medication and it helped me tremendously. I still have anxiety but it no longer stops me from living my life. It no longer feels like something tugging at me all the time. It creeps up from time to time but I now have the tools to cope and the awareness that it can be overcome.
I am lucky in that I had a fantastic provider who spotted the potential for severe anxiety based on my birth experience. She knew the right questions to ask and helped me get help immediately. I do wish women were seen sooner after birth. I suffered for 6 weeks longer than I had to and I’m certain my anxiety effected my older children and their transition to having a newborn in the home.
The baby blues were difficult. I am not minimizing the experience. Bringing a baby home is so very difficult. The range of emotions can be terrifying. You may wonder if what you are experiencing is normal and if it will ever end. The answer is probably yes, to both questions. When it doesn’t end; when it prevents you from living your life; when it stops you from doing things you want to be doing; or when it effects those around you its time to seek help. There is no shame in admitting that your anxiety or depression has gone beyond what you can handle alone. The fourth trimester is so very hard. Hormones, lacking sleep, and lifestyle changes can trigger anxiety or depression in any woman. Some have a tendency towards it already but anyone is at risk. Make sure you are open and honest with your provider with what you are feeling and experiencing. Help is available. Medication, therapy, and talking with others who have walked similar paths can all be part of healing. Postpartum anxiety and depression are real, they are painful, and they can be managed. If you are wondering if your experience is typical or if its something more, reach out to a trusted provider.
Stay strong mamas, we got this.