I remember the first time I had an anxiety attack. I was around 35 weeks pregnant and working as a teacher at a child development center. I was in the infant room that day. As the day was winding down and there were only 2 babies left, I sat on the floor with another teacher. I remember becoming hotter and hotter, like a wave of heat hit me. I was burning up and it was making me feel nauseous. I asked the other teacher if I could go to the restroom. I walked down the hall, into the restroom and locked the door. I looked down at myself and my skin was bright pink, my stomach was in a knot. I went to the sink and splashed some water on my face and looked up at my reflection in the mirror. Right at the base of my neck, I could physically see my pulse pounding. I put my fingers there and felt my heartbeat racing. As I did so, I began feeling my heart beating violently. I tried to breathe deeply to help it slow down. As I tried to form purposeful breaths, I felt like my chest was being crushed and my airways closing in. I couldn’t take a deep breath. I was beginning to panic. What is wrong with me? Am I going to pass out? Am I having a heart attack? Am I about to die? My mind was racing and my body was in overdrive. I knew something wasn’t right and I was scared. I left the bathroom and started down the hallway when my director saw me. She had one look at me and yelled for me to come sit down. She asked me what was going on and I started bawling. Tears streaming down my face, I told her it was hard to breathe, that my heart was racing and wouldn’t slow down, and that I didn’t know what was wrong with me. She got me water and sat in front of me talking to me and getting me to calm down. I slowly started feeling a little better. She wanted me to go to the doctor, but I just wanted to go home. When I got home (earlier than I should have been), Matt was confused because it wasn’t my normal time. I walk in the door with tears still pouring down my face. In a worried voice he ran up to me and asked what was wrong. I couldn’t talk and so he just hugged me. I’m pretty sure he was about to go grab the hospital bags and put me in the car because he assumed the baby was coming! After the incident was over and upon doing some research, I realized that I had experienced an anxiety attack. I don’t know if it was the stress of working, being in college full-time, and being largely pregnant, but apparently I just couldn’t deal. I went on maternity leave 2 weeks after that. It was my first and only anxiety attack while I was pregnant.
After Avary was born, I was blissfully happy. I was on cloud-9. I felt like life couldn’t get any sweeter. Even though I had to have an induction and her birth didn’t go as I had “planned”-you can read my birth story, here-every moment of labor, delivery, and taking our baby home felt like perfection. I was on a high! I had just had a vaginal birth, pushed my 1st baby out in 15 minutes, and those endorphins had me feeling like a super hero! You mamas know what I mean!
The days and weeks following Avary’s birth were nothing short of incredible. So when I went in for my 6 weeks postpartum appointment, and they had me fill out that questionnaire about how I was feeling-if I had any negative thoughts about myself or my baby, if I was feeling hopeless/anxious/depressed, etc.-I found it so odd! Of course I didn’t feel any of those things, I thought. Everything is perfect! I handed in my questionnaire, and they didn’t ask me a single question about it. Looking back, they didn’t even discuss postpartum depression/anxiety (PPD/PPA) with me at all. And so I thought everything would be fine, and I no longer had to think about PPD again. Fast forward several months and things began to change. . .
For me, around the time Avary was 5-6 months old, things began changing. It felt like my hormones were on a rollercoaster ride. My body was still trying to adjust to no longer housing a human being, my baby was well out of the “newborn phase” and changing dramatically, my family was 1,000 miles away, my husband had a job that took him from home on a regular basis. . .I began experiencing anxiety. I’ve talked about in a previous post how I have always been and a somewhat anxious/fearful person, but this was on a level I had never known. The anxiety made me feel like bad things were imminent. Like, what if we get in a car accident on the way to the grocery store, what if Avary’s cough is really some deadly disease, maybe my breastmilk is terrible and not good enough, maybe I am a terrible mom, what if someone breaks into the house and tries to steal Avary. . . I was experiencing irrational fears and anxiety and it was affecting my mood.
The truth is, more women than you might think struggle with postpartum anxiety or postpartum depression. Postpartumprogress.org estimates that close to 20% of mothers experience mood or anxiety disorders-that is nearly 1.3 million women annually. When I was having my anxious thoughts, I didn’t understand what was wrong with me. I kept trying to just “snap out of it” and stop worrying. . . Until I did research into PPA did I realize that this wasn’t a problem I just developed on my own, but one that was affected by pregnancy and postpartum. PPA and PPD can occur up to a year after birth, not just a few days or weeks. I’m not an expert on this topic, just sharing my personal experience, but if you need help, seek help! I wish there was more follow-up care for mothers after birth so that so many women wouldn’t suffer in silence and confusion.
My anxiety was mild compared to what so many face and has begun correcting itself, but every woman is different and every experience with postpartum anxiety or depression is different. Do not be afraid to talk to your doctor and get help! It is nothing to be ashamed of. And do your research! While most all new mamas experience some degree of “baby blues,” anxiety and depression should be taken seriously. Reach out to your spouse, your friends, your family, anyone you need to so you can get the support you need. For me personally, it did wonders for me to talk through what I was feeling.
I write this post to tell you that you are not alone in your feelings of stress, anxiety, or depression. It happens. But you don’t have to be alone in your struggle and their IS help and support.
Also, I hope you never forget that in the midst of your most anxious days, when you in are in the thick of your fears, when stress seems like it will crush your spirit, you have a God to turn to. You have a Father that wants to give you freedom over fear and power over anxiety. Never underestimate how much He cares for you.
Let’s break the “taboo” that postpartum depression and anxiety has surrounding it, and share our stories. Let’s encourage fellow mamas to get help. And let’s support one another on this crazy, rewarding venture called motherhood.