My Struggle With Postpartum Anxiety

One mom shares her experience with the lesser known postpartum mood disorder, postpartum anxiety

Towards the end of my first pregnancy, a fear that I would suffer from postpartum depression seized me. I began researching mommy groups and activities I could do with our yet-to-be-born child, in an attempt to ward off what I saw as a lurking baddie, PPD.

It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t suffer from postpartum depression. It also never occurred to me that there were other postpartum disorders out there that might be just as scary. I’d never heard of the spectrum of postpartum mood disorders. And it never dawned on me that the anxiety from which I’ve dealt with for most of my life would become unbearable after our daughter was born.

My Experience with Postpartum Anxiety

After sixteen hours of labour, I was exhausted and in a great deal of pain. However, I wasn’t anxious yet. Even when our new daughter was taken to the incubator for a brief period to warm up a bit, I didn’t sweat it. We were in a hospital, surrounded by trained, knowledgeable healthcare professionals. She was going to be fine. I was going to be fine.

I didn’t feel that way on the second evening of our daughter’s life. Already upset because I couldn’t express milk and our daughter wasn’t latching onto my breast properly, I attended a family dinner with my husband, my in-laws, and my mother feeling in a rather sour mood. I found myself irritable and on edge. Was the baby, who was either in her bassinet or being held by a family member, still breathing? Shouldn’t I be holding her, so we could bond? Would my mother, who lives far away, get enough time with the baby? The anxious thoughts rushing through my head ruined our first dinner as a new family.

The situation didn’t improve over the next month. I felt a constant sense of impending doom, no matter where I was or what I was doing. Everything could be going perfectly smoothly—our baby could have been snoring her head off and I was fretting that she had sleep apnea. When she was a couple of weeks old, I lost an earring. For several weeks afterward, I was convinced that when she was old enough to crawl, she would find the lost piece of jewellery and swallow it (as it turns out, it fell off when I was sitting on the couch, and I discovered it a few months later between the cushions).

The Road to Recovery

I’ve been an anxious person from the time I was a small child. And while I’m aware that I suffer from anxiety, I haven’t been successful in managing it.

A few weeks after our daughter was born, I decided that a life full of anxiety wasn’t the kind of life I wanted to lead. And I didn’t want to set a bad example for my daughter. I talked to our family doctor, and he referred me to the Reproductive Life Stages (RLS) program at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto. This program is specially designed to help women experiencing mental health challenges as a result of menopause, pregnancy, life postpartum and the menstrual cycle.

Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long for an appointment. I was able to meet with a psychiatrist quickly. Within a few weeks of starting the program, I also began seeing a therapist, and I began a regimen of anti-anxiety medication. The therapist and I discussed some of the root causes of my anxiety, one of which was the unrealistic expectations I had about breastfeeding. It took me weeks to come to terms with the fact that no matter how much I pumped, no matter how many herbs or Domperidone I ingested and no matter how many lactation consultants we went to, I wasn’t producing enough milk. And no one could correct our daughter’s improper latch.

Therapy enabled me to change my perspective. I put less pressure on myself to forge the perfect relationship with our daughter. I made peace with my difficulties with breastfeeding and we began feeding our baby solely out of a bottle. I strongly believe that therapy was helpful. I’m not going to discount the role that hormones played in my anxiety, though.

Three months after our daughter was born, I realized that the impending sense of doom that had been my constant companion had disappeared. That’s not to say I didn’t feel anxiety after that. It just wasn’t the same intensity.

I’m still working on managing my anxiety, and will be for the rest of my life. Sometimes, I’m more successful than others. I do feel nervous about having another child, because I’m fairly certain I’ll feel the same flood of hormones. I can’t control that, but now I know I can control how I respond to sources of anxiety. 

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