“I can’t do this to our family again,” I sobbed to my husband.
Just mere hours before that my head was in the newborn baby love spell. Everything had been blissful, and now I was in meltdown mode. Confused by my sudden tears, he listened with much tenderness.
It was four days after giving birth to our second born, our sweet daughter. My emotional high came crashing down as my hormone levels were changing.
Our baby had just gone down for a nap, so I tried sneaking in some sleep as well. Laying in bed, my heart started racing, my chest got tight, and I was unable to breathe deeply.
Even though I was completely exhausted, I could not relax even the slightest to fall asleep. It was as if my body was stuck in the fight or flight mode and this was an emergency, except for there was no urgent situation to respond to at that moment.
It wasn’t until this second go around that I was able to realize what was happening. I had postpartum anxiety.
First Birth Experience
For my first postpartum experience, I had convinced myself that all of the symptoms of anxiety following my son’s birth were because of my scary experience with developing HELLP syndrome. My body began retaining a dangerous amount of water that lead to elevated liver enzymes. That wasn’t discovered until my extreme leg swelling sent me to the ER. It was just two days after being discharged.
I spent a weekend back in the hospital on magnesium sulfate to prevent seizures. Thankfully I didn’t have any seizures, but the side effects of that treatment took its toll on my mental functioning. The magnesium sulfate would be like having too many cocktails- but the experience for me was more of being a paranoid drunk.
Meeting With My Nurse Practitioner
A week after the HELLP syndrome diagnosis, I went back into see my Nurse Practitioner to have my liver enzymes checked again.
Our appointment started off with me sobbing uncontrollably. She gave me a tight hug after hearing about my delivery experience. Then she listened with great focus and concern as I explained that I was having trouble sleeping.
My NP explained that there is medication, safe for breastfeeding, that she could prescribe to help my body relax.
She also demonstrated how to put my legs up at a 90-degree angle flush against the wall to calm my body down. I was told to do this for fifteen minutes before bedtime. Much to my surprise, she gave me her personal cell phone number to call at anytime.
The very next day she called to check on me, despite it being the weekend. Overnight, I had managed to fall asleep several times after using the leg strategy. When she called I was at a good point of the day, so I convinced the two of us that there were enough improvements with me.
Six weeks later at my postpartum checkup, I completed a questionnaire with a majority of the questions geared for postpartum depression and passed. I thought that my worry and stress adjusting to having a newborn was only due to having a complicated delivery and a fussy baby.
Between my first and second pregnancy, more information about postpartum anxiety started circulating online. I read a few articles about it. I was surprised by how much I felt connected to the experiences.
In retrospect, I could look back and see just how far off I was from my true self. Anxiety had altered my reaction to motherhood.
There is a lot of literature about postpartum depression, but postpartum anxiety is lesser known. The two often get lumped together, which was part of my challenge the first time around. I knew that my symptoms didn’t match up with depression, but didn’t understand that it implied anxiety.
My Next Experience With it
After my second delivery, my doctor scheduled for me to come back and have my liver enzymes checked again, because they weren’t going to take any chances with the HELLP syndrome this time around.
When I arrived, the nurse wanted to confirm that it was just an appointment for running lab work and checking my vitals. With tears in my eyes and a shaky voice, I said, “I think I have anxiety. I would like to talk about that.”
She handled my request with amazing sensitivity. She returned with the anxiety screening form for me to complete and some tissues. As tears streamed down my face, I found myself checking yes to most items on that list. It wasn’t much of a surprise to find out I have postpartum anxiety.
Moving Forward With a Diagnosis
Getting my diagnosis was such a relief. As a result, I started making modifications to help me cope with the lie that everything was urgent.
After a diagnosis, I was able to start medication right away that was also safe for breastfeeding. My doctor had me take it at nighttime right before bedtime, so I would have help relaxing and being able to fall asleep.
It took about a month for the medication to fully kick in and be effective. It was the help that I needed to survive this beast the second time around and be a better support to my family. A more relaxed mama means a happier family.
The postpartum experience is already a tough readjustment for any woman, let alone a new mama who is dealing with a brand new mental health issue. Your body may have just experienced it’s most traumatic event with the delivery of a baby. To top it all off, you are dealing with huge hormonal fluctuations and lack of sleep while learning the ropes for caring for a newborn.
As I am working on distancing myself from the newborn phase of life and the most intense portion of my anxiety, the gift of time and medication have gifted me the chance to enjoy more of motherhood. How grateful I am for the moments that I get to be present instead of fighting off the racing thoughts.
Working on Ending the Stigma
My hope is to continue circulating information to new mothers and future women who will be impacted by this. Let’s spread the awareness and work on ending the mental health stigma. Tell your stories to encourage those in the thick of it all.
New mamas, if you feel like something is just off in your brain, please do a courageous thing for yourself: start the conversation and ask for help. A supported mother means a supported family. You are worth it.