MY BATTLE WITH POSTPARTUM ANXIETY (PPA)
How does one begin to discuss a topic that is so taboo, and often incredibly personal? Well, if you’re like me… you just dive right in. Cold water? who cares! After the initial shock, you come out feeling rather refreshed… am I right?
Anxiety… it’s a scary mother f’n monster!! According to statistics Canada, “one in four (25%) Canadians will have at least one anxiety disorder in their lifetime”. If you want my humble opinion, I am guessing that number is actually much higher. However, it probably goes unreported or untreated for many people. Why? Well, because it’s socially unacceptable to admit to, or acknowledge that you suffer from this beast!
It wasn’t until I had my first child that I really came face to face with this ugly and debilitating disorder. I remember coming home with K, and feeling so numb… and not from the epidural (because this was 24+ hours later that we arrived home). Every footstep and emotion is a complete blur. I expected to be on cloud 9, over the moon, beaming with delight. I wasn’t. Instead, I thought to myself, “holy crap…what do I do now?” Days and weeks passed, and the numbness didn’t really fade. Autopilot was ignited, and I suppose the whole “mother’s intuition” jumped in place of what used to be my brain. We went about our days, now as a family of 3. While I KNOW I was delighted to finally be a Mom, I couldn’t help but feel tremendous guilt over the fact that I was not shouting my excitement from the rooftop.
THUS BEGAN THE ROAD OF POSTPARTUM ANXIETY….
I am a self proclaimed control freak. If I could see ahead into my future just 6 months at a time, I would absolutely navigate every single minute detail of my life. As much as I try to live in the moment, it’s something that I genuinely struggle with and have to consciously remind myself of regularly. Here’s the dilemma with becoming a Mom, and being a control freak. Those two things CANNOT function collectively. Babies do not give a flying rats ass what you want them to do… they just do what they do!! Your instincts tell you to love them, cuddle them, hold them and protect them against everything evil in the world. YOU are their momma bear. So when the Scary Monster starts creeping up on you and your biggest fears only make him stronger, it feels almost impossible to fight back. You are weakened.
The first few months of being a Mom were incredibly challenging for me. (I spoke more about this in my post here.) By day 3 or 4 of being home, the “baby blues”hit me. I would literally cry for absolutely no reason. If you’ve ever read “On the Night You were Born” you know that it’s a really sweet book to read to your newborn. Sweet, yes. Sob worthy? I wouldn’t think so; but good lord, I read that book to K about a week or two after she was born and I was sobbing. Like “Life as a House” or “Notebook” worthy sobs pouring down my face. They were mostly happy tears, but who cries that much when they are HAPPY? Postpartum hormones are serious business.
Breastfeeding was incredibly challenging, and so many times I wanted to give up, even though I had set a target of 6 months exclusivity for nursing K. I truly did not want to give up on something that I felt so strongly about. Throughout my life, when I set a goal for myself, I do everything possible to make sure I achieve it. Ultimately, I nursed for nearly 8 months with K, but I knew that the hormones generated from breastfeeding, along with the cracked nipples and constant concern over supply issues was causing me way more anxiety than it should have been.
In addition to figuring out how to breastfeed, I was learning how to become a Mom. I tried to educate myself on everything there was to know about having a baby. Nothing could have prepared me for this, and the amount of information (conflicting might I add) out there is incredibly overwhelming! Truth be told, I wanted to do things “right”. I wanted to feed the right foods at the right time, avoid sugar and make sure that my baby slept a solid 14+ hours a day to avoid future attention disorders. I had no clue what I was doing, and nobody I asked could really offer me much help. “Just let her cry”, “don’t hold her too much, she’ll get dependent”, “don’t worry about breastfeeding – we didn’t do it and ___ turned out just fine”, “you should feed only organic food”, “don’t let them have too much screen time”…etc, etc, etc. This craziness of information was way too much to handle.
THE PEAK OF MY POSTPARTUM ANXIETY…..
Although the anxiety began very early on, it ultimately peaked around the 4-5 month mark when true sleep deprivation kicked in. Even though K was a champion sleeper, she went through the 4 month sleep regression, and from that point on my anxiety was at an all time high. I could no longer sleep, even if I was exhausted. I spent 3 days awake. At night time, I would toss and turn ALL NIGHT. K would sleep blissfully through the night and I was awake. My body ached for days, and I could barely hold my daughter because my arms were so weak from not sleeping. My patience was non existent and my husband had to stay home from work because I was legitimately afraid of being left to care for our baby alone. These were my lowest days, and I remember wishing I could somehow get really sick and be sedated at the hospital just to get some sleep. It was at this point that I knew I had to seek help. My Dr hooked me up, and slowly but surely things started to improve. It’s remarkable what a full night’s sleep can do after having so little for so long. It’s like seeing blue skies after months of rain.
HOW I PUSHED BACK AGAINST THE ANXIETY…..
Eventually, once I started to face the monster head on, and get back on track with my sleep, things really started to improve. For the first time since becoming a Mom I was truly enjoying my new role. I am sad when I think back to that time in my life because I feel like I missed out on a lot. I wish I could go back and find the joys, and grasp my little girl so tight knowing the tides would clear soon enough. Smile more, and be at peace. If I knew then, what I know now about postpartum anxiety I could have been a better Mom during those months. However, life is not about changing what has happened, but learning from your experiences. With B, although I have had bouts of anxiety, I’ve learned ways to cope. I faced some demons, sought help immediately, and put that monster in his place long before he has a chance to break me again. I don’t think this disorder will ever fully go away, and I think I can accept that. It’s something I will live with forever, but I will manage it, and adjust my expectations.
I once asked a fellow Mom friend if having children changed her. She said that “being a Mom made me a better version of myself”. Shoutout to you H if you are reading this… because that statement could not be more true! Although I’ve been challenged in ways I never thought possible, I’ve also met a side of myself that has unearthed raw feelings, beat down on me relentlessly and shown me that overcoming mental illness is something I absolutely can control. In the deepest and darkest moments you feel weak, powerless, numb, and often crazy. You feel like you are a failure, and at times you want to give up. These days have beckoned me more often than I’d like to admit.
There is an incredible amount of help out there if you are willing to seek it, and I think it’s important that we break the stigma surrounding postpartum depression and anxiety. It is not necessarily something that goes away on its own, or something we should feel ashamed of. I found that medication and therapy helped tremendously, and would HIGHLY recommend cognitive behaviour therapy. If you have a close support system, then lean on them. Truthfully, I didn’t have a ton of support, but that may be because I didn’t seek it from friends or family. This had a lot to do with my own insecurities, and fear that nobody would really understand what I was going through. My husband and I really battled this beast ourselves, and he will forever be my saving grace. I have no idea how I would have gotten through this without him! An online resource that I found to be a huge help, and my inspiration for referring to anxiety as a Monster can be found here. This very simple, and to the point read on postpartum anxiety was among one of the most helpful pieces because it really breaks it all down. Through seeking help, I was able to identify the root cause of my anxiety and to come to terms with the reality that it is OK to feel anxious. While not the root, I found that I cared way too much what others thought about me and my parenting. What I learned however is that we don’t have to be perfect, and it’s normal to feel like you are failing. However, we cannot let the anxious feelings get the best of us. For me, I can actually acknowledge those feelings now. I can recognize when I’m flying off the handle, and can talk myself back down to earth. It takes time and effort, and admittedly I still struggle – often.
Becoming a Mom has without a doubt been the most challenging experience of my life – physically, emotionally and mentally. It’s exhausting, and scary, and I have made many mistakes along the way. I’ve also done a lot of things right, and have found a way to address my own illness. My children have given me a reason to learn, to grow, and to see the light when there is only darkness. I accept what I cannot change, and I am stronger now than I have ever been.