What You Should Know About Postpartum Anxiety

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The days and weeks after my twins were born were a blur. Visitors, a bris, sleepless nights and days (sleep when they sleep, yeah, OK), a constant rotation of pumping, feedings, changings, forgetting to feed, change and bathe ourselves…and then my post-partum check-up with my OB-GYN. They take me into the back office and slide me a quiz', I'm supposed to read these statements and answer honestly. On a scale of 1 (never) to 5 (often)

I have been able to laugh and see the funny side of things….

I have blamed myself unnecessarily when things went wrong….

I have felt scared or panicky for no good reason….

Through blurry and tired eyes, I gave the paper back to the nurse. She graded me and I was on the border of the depression line. She shrugged and said, It's expected, you just had twins! Don't worry, things will get easier”. And that was that.

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But that wasn't it. Everyone says the first year is the hardest, but deep down I think I always knew things weren't quite right. I loved my sons and wanted everything to be perfect for them. I NEEDED to be the perfect mother, and when I failed, I crashed hard. When they only ate 2oz instead of the 2.5 they had been eating, or were crying in my arms for no discernable reason when they were supposed to be napping, or peed through their diaper for the 10th time that day, I felt a dark pit in my stomach of fear and fury.

Fury. There's no other word for it, as hard as I wish there was. I wasn't sad, I wasn't numb, or any of the symptoms I read that post-partum depression came with. I was angry. I lashed out at my husband, myself, and, worst of all, my babies. I've never been an angry person, I didn't know how to deal with what I was feeling. Hot anger boiling over my head; I had no control. And every time I lost control, I felt worse and worse about myself, about my abilities as a mother. My entire body would shake, I would scream, slam my hands against the wall, grab and squeeze pillows, and leave myself breathless, crying and terrified. I never hurt my children, but I hated the person I had become. I questioned whether I should have ever had children; if they would be better off without me around.

After a year, I sat down with my (saint of a) husband and said: I need to talk to someone”. The first therapist I saw specialized in post-partum depression. I talked to her about how I was feeling briefly, but she asked me more about my situation than myself. I was a full-time working mother, my parents and in-laws switched off babysitting duty all week. My husband was supportive, involved and loving. Her response to me was that I was lucky' to have so much support and that maybe I should try drinking some herbal tea. I left thinking, She's right. I am lucky. I have what most people dream about… so why do I still feel so horrible?”.

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Things didn’t change, except it was clearer that my children preferred my husband to me, preferred basically anyone they knew over me. That when I flew off the handle they recoiled. I wasn't their safe place, I was scary. I couldn't take it. I found another therapist who I truly believe saved my life. She finally opened my eyes, showing me that it wasn't depression I was suffering from, it was post-partum anxiety. I'd never heard of this. It never came up in my Dr. Google searches. She showed me how I had a very type-A personality, always was in control, and planned my life to be exactly how I always wanted. But babies are not plannable'. They are unpredictable and messy and things I never had the patience for. I loved them but these feelings of being out of control consumed me and manifested in rage.

I continued seeing this therapist consistently for about a year, then on and off when I felt myself getting out of control again (usually around difficult transition ages). I'm so grateful I found the help I needed and I work every day to build a strong, safe bond with my boys who are now three years old. I am not cured', I never will be. I will have to deal with this the rest of my life, but I am dealing with it, not brushing it under the rug, or pretending nothing is wrong.

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For moms struggling, here are three things I’ve learned over these three years of being a mom living with post-partum anxiety.

YOU ARE NOT ALONE. This is so important, especially for first-time moms. Nothing you're feeling is unique to you. There are many others out there who have felt the same things. Your world has been turned upside-down; of course you will feel different. But you know yourself best. If you feel that something is truly off

Get Help. There is absolutely no shame in seeking professional help. Talk to your obstetrician or primary care physician to get started. I was embarrassed that my anxiety had gotten so bad that I needed to get help from a mental health professional. I didn't want to tell anyone what I was doing, because of this stupid stigma attached to mental health conditions. Seeking help isn't dumb; dumb was not being honest with myself and others about what I was going through, so I decided to

Talk About It. I've always considered myself a brutally honest person. My friends know that I'm the mom who doesn't sugar coat parenthood, and (I hope) they love me for it. Honestly, after telling more people about how I see a therapist, I'm learning that a lot of people close to me have also gotten treatment. I had no idea. How would I? No one talks about it. Find your tribe, and be open with them. You never know who is barely treading water in the same sinking boat that you are.

If you are reading this and connect to it, you've already taken the most important first step. I hope that by sharing my story, others will find the strength they need to get through this struggle.

More Facts on Postpartum Anxiety from Postpartum Support International

Approximately 6% of pregnant women and 10% of postpartum women develop anxiety. Sometimes they experience anxiety alone, and sometimes they experience it in addition to depression.

The symptoms of anxiety during pregnancy or postpartum might include:

  • Constant worry
  • Feeling that something bad is going to happen
  • Racing thoughts
  • Disturbances of sleep and appetite
  • Inability to sit still
  • Physical symptoms like dizziness, hot flashes, and nausea

Risk factors for perinatal anxiety and panic include a personal or family history of anxiety, previous perinatal depression or anxiety, or thyroid imbalance.

In addition to generalized anxiety, there are some specific forms of anxiety that you should know about. One is Postpartum Panic Disorder. This is a form of anxiety with which the sufferer feels very nervous and has recurring panic attacks. During a panic attack, she may experience shortness of breath, chest pain, claustrophobia, dizziness, heart palpitations, and numbness and tingling in the extremities. Panic attacks seem to go in waves, but it is important to know that they will pass and will not hurt you.

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Another form of anxiety is Postpartum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Postpartum and antepartum anxiety are temporary and treatable with professional help. If you feel you may be suffering from one of these illnesses, know that it is not your fault and you are not to blame. You can reach out to Postpartum Support International now. They understand what you are going through and will connect you with people who understand and can help.

All content on this Web site, including medical opinion and any other health-related information, is for informational purposes only and should not be considered to be a specific diagnosis or treatment plan for any individual situation. Use of this site and the information contained herein does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

What You Should Know About Postpartum AnxietyMallory Kerley is a first time mom to three-year-old identical twin boys. No, twins do not run in her family, yes she’s sure they are identical, yes her hands are full. She lives on Long Island with her husband, works full-time as a public relations professional for a non-profit organization and volunteers with homeless animals with all of her spare time.


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