Postpartum Anxiety: The PPD No One Told Me About
After having my second baby in 2015, even though he spent 9 days separated from me in the NICU, I felt different. I felt strong and unstoppable. I had fire. I was the mama bear who would deny her own pain and discomfort and needs, instead focusing on her baby who was trying to live, assisted by machines.
Oh, I had my meltdowns. I had nightmares from which I struggled to wake, swirling in a foggy, drug-induced haze. I cried almost constantly when I wasn’t painfully sitting on my stitches, next to my baby’s isolette, but I still felt strong. I still just KNEW we were all going to be okay.
This was NOT my feeling after having my first baby.
My first pregnancy was difficult to say the least. I suffered pretty severe hyperemesis gravidarum, requiring weekly trips to the hospital for re-hydration therapy after not being able to keep anything—-even water—-down for 3 days.
Lying in bed for weeks on end, all I could do was watch Amazon Prime movies and research pregnancy and babies.
I had Pinterest boards for all of the baby things. Pregnancy calendars, newborn care, nursery designs, but you know what I didn’t really research?
Sure, I’d read and heard about postpartum depression. I knew that if I felt indifferent to my baby or spent hours and hours crying and overly tired, I needed to tell my doctor, but I didn’t research how to care for my recovering body, nor had anyone mentioned other mental health problems I may encounter after having a baby. It was 2013, and PPD was the big, scary thing I needed to monitor at the time.
That pregnancy drug on and on with complication after complication, finally resulting in early delivery to save him from my obstetric cholistasis (if your palms or the soles of your feet ever itch during pregnancy, always tell your doctor. Your liver functions and bile acids need to be checked!)
A difficult labor resulted in a grade-4 tear, as in I had stitches front-to-back.
Nothing had gone according to plan. My pregnancy was a nightmare that gave me horrible PTSD, but that newborn!
I was completely, head-over-heels in love!
I was giddy, gleeful, loved changing diapers in the middle of the night, once I figured out how to use my breast pump, and saw that I had OVERsupply, I was even happy to sit hooked up to that udder-sucker.
I thought, “Maybe I won’t even have the baby blues! How are people sad after having a baby?!”
The early weeks moved on. He was the perfect baby and I was Just. So. In. Love.
I would sit up at night, breathless, because he hadn’t cried to wake me—and my first thought was always, “OH MY GOD, SIDS!”
Rolling over, putting my hand on his belly to see if he was breathing, I’d have a hard time falling back to sleep.
No one was allowed to come to our house the first 2 months, aside from our moms, who helped clean and cook while I was in so much pain, recovering from my horrible tear.
“What if he gets sick?!”
I kept him overly-clean (he kept getting cradle cap, because I was washing all of the oils out of his skin and hair, causing the skin to cake, instead of sluff off).
Weeks turned into months. I had zero interest in my husband and didn’t understand why he wasn’t worried about our baby as much as I was.
At one point, I refused to let him even hold our baby, concerned he’d drop him.
One day, while we took our son for a walk, my husband turned around to get his keys from the front door, and let go of the stroller. It would have rolled off the sidewalk into the landscaping, which had an 8 inch drop.
I couldn’t even speak to my husband the rest of the day, “How could he be so careless!”
I remember thinking,
“Why isn’t he thinking about the baby as much as I am?!”
We had some difficulties our first 8 months as a family. My husband adjusting to the massive upheaval of having a baby in the house, (his own gestational period!) and me, thinking of every possible thing that could hurt or kill my baby—then preventing it.
I only allowed wooden or organic cotton toys from family members. We didn’t have a TV at the time, so no worries about too much screen time. I made my own baby food and nearly punched my brother-in-law in the face when he let my baby naw on a piece of homemade bread at a dinner party—-although he was plenty old enough to start baby-led weaning.
Looking back, my overwhelming emotions were of ecstasy, excitement, and deeply unmoving attachment, but those positive emotions were only partially eclipsing the crippling fear, anxiety, insomnia, anger, and ignorance of anyone and anything but my baby.
When he started sleeping 8 hours straight at 3 months old (he was an amazing baby, remember?), I was getting up every hour to check on him. Ripped from my sleep with lucid, clear nightmares of finding a blue, cold baby became a constant image in my mind’s eye.
Getting back to sleep almost never happened, since my adrenaline was running wild.
Waves of nausea, dizziness, and intense hot flashes were a problem my first 6 months postpartum. All of which pregnancy websites and search engines told me was “normal postpartum hormonal fluctuations”
Although constantly hungry, the waves of nausea turned my appetite sour. Resorting to small snacks throughout the day and one big breakfast, I often forgot to make dinner for myself and my husband.
After the second week postpartum, I was still having issues with pain and healing, but I couldn’t sit still. The nausea seemed to improve if I was moving, so I’d wander the house, cleaning or doing tummy time, organizing baby clothes, organizing toys—-it was like I was still nesting even though the baby had arrived!
I didn’t start sleeping, nor eating normally until he was about a year old.
These are all symptoms of postpartum anxiety.
Obsession with keeping baby clean and safe—-to a maddening point—-in addition to sleep problems, disinterest in personal relationships, difficulties in eating habits, dizziness, nausea, hot flashes, and the inability to sit still.
When I didn’t have the symptoms with my second baby, I began researching what had happened to me. I didn’t “fit” the postpartum depression symptoms. I was OVERJOYED to have a baby. I literally couldn’t think of anything BUT my child, and not that women who suffer PPD don’t, there is lots of overlap with PPA and PPD! I just didn’t fit the symptoms of not being able to get out of bed, constantly crying, disinterest in caring for my baby or myself, or feeling unattached in any way.
The physical symptoms and sleep difficulties of postpartum anxiety, I had attributed to hormonal fluctuations, just like all of my pregnancy complications.
I didn’t know I needed HELP.
Not having PPA with my second baby, meant that my son was allowed to get dirty, playing in the grass once he reached 3 months. I didn’t worry when he started pulling food off my plate to try to finagle into his mouth. I didn’t worry that he wasn’t breathing—-even though he was originally in the NICU for breathing difficulties!
I was able to sleep. Breastfeeding came easier. I was able to shower without moving him into the bathroom with me. I had a hearty appetite and the waves of nausea, hot flashes, and dizziness were non-existent.
I handed our second son to my husband constantly, trying to get some sleep or take a “mom day.”
Postpartum Anxiety is no joke.
If you are suffering any of these things, please talk to your doctor about them! You can read more about the condition here. There are medications and other natural coping mechanisms you can learn, like the ones I use in this article. You’re doing great mama! Take care of yourself.
Disclaimer: I am not an MD or midwife. These are anecdotal and experiential observations and experiences. Please consult with your healthcare professional if you suspect you may have a postpartum mental health condition.