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One of the many things I wish I would have read up on before having babies was postpartum anxiety and depression & how it affects new moms.
I recently had an amazing opportunity to discuss with my friend, Kim, her experience with postpartum anxiety and she is offering SO much insight for you all.
I’ve wanted to do a series like this for a while, where we really dive into maternal mental illness, but it honestly feels weird to just get up and ask someone “hey, I know you struggled with PPA, do you want to share your story with my tens of thousands of readers??”
I’m used to putting my whole life out there for everyone to see, but asking that of a friend just doesn’t feel right. But when I shared all that I did over #maternalmentalhealthweek, Kim actually reached out to me thanking me for talking about PPD, opened up about her struggle with PPA, and mentioned that she would love to share her story as well.
Right then, I knew this is something we had to do! I am huge on openly discussing the many struggles we face in motherhood and truly hope that by Kim sharing her story with postpartum anxiety, we are able to reach even one woman struggling with it herself.
Disclosure: I am not a medical professional. All thoughts and opinions made on twinsandcoffee.com are based on my life experiences and personal research
A Story About Postpartum Anxiety
Let me introduce you to my friend, Kim.
“We are a family of four, including our fur baby. We are from a small town and we will probably never leave the country. Our work is based in the big cities & it’s always so pleasant to return to our quiet hometown. We look forward to becoming more involved in our local community as our daughter grows & we hope to raise her in one place!
Just before our daughter was born in 2017, my husband decided to get his contractors license and begin his own small business. Initially I worked part-time outside the home. Then, in January 2019, we decided it would be best if I became a part of his company & worked from home. This all sounded great at the time, but it was also super scary as I knew nothing about business.
I believe working from home while raising our daughter had a huge push on my postpartum anxiety.
Once I started recognizing it as PPA, I was able to start trying to work on it on my own. It just wasn’t enough. Seeking help through the Couples Clinic of Portland helped me to take charge of my life again & I haven’t looked back since. I will occasionally reach out to my therapist to have a check-in appointment if I’m starting to feel my anxiety becoming too much. It is so amazing to have this resource on hand.
I think most everyone experiences anxiety at some point in their lives, some perhaps more than others. I think some people choose to acknowledge it, accept it & treat it. Then there are those who don’t know how to recognize it or they become classified as depressed. Which then causes more of an issue because these labels can make some people feel like there is something wrong with them, when really we all have ebbs & flows of our emotions. It’s just learning to navigate them in a healthy manner, with supportive family & friends, that we may begin to heal our minds, body & spirit.”
What to Know About Postpartum Anxiety (PPA)
The number one thing you need to know about PPA is that it is NOT your fault! It can simply be an outcome of pregnancy and nothing more. Obviously with a new baby, especially as a first time mom, comes a lot of worry. There are so many risks that come with a new baby that are drilled into our heads but sometimes, those worries become more and unbearable.
What PPA Looks Like & What it is
Postpartum anxiety is often described as feeling constantly on edge with a side of inability to sleep. Constant worry keeps you up 24/7 with fear that the worst of the worst might happen.
Causes of PPA
Like I mentioned above, it is quite literally an outcome of pregnancy. Now that does not mean everyone experiences it, that part is a big mystery as to why some do and some don’t. But it has been found that if you’ve experienced mild anxiety in the past, like Kim, it can be more common to experience extreme anxiety postpartum.
Symptoms of PPA
A few common symptoms of PPA include;
- Constant fear of what could/might happen
- Along with the inability to sleep
- Racing thoughts
- Constant worry that does not go away
Of course, those are the most common symptoms. If you want to read up on an extensive list of symptoms, click here.
Postpartum Depression vs. Postpartum Anxiety
While PPD and PPA are both mental health disorders you can struggle with postpartum, they are not one in the same.
Postpartum anxiety is more of a constant worry, where postpartum depression is more of an overwhelming sadness. With PPA, you might worry about all of the horrible things that could happen to your baby, but then with PPD you’d flip to the other side and experience scary thoughts about causing harm to your baby or self.
Coping with PPA
There are so many ways to cope and work through PPA. My biggest suggestion? Start with therapy. Search for someone who understands maternal mental health. Talk to them. Take notes of everything you feel while you’re feeling it and then bring that list up in therapy. Be open to trying new things that they suggest, along with what you find on the internet (within reason, don’t go crazy here).
There are SO many advocates now working towards breaking the stigma of mental health in motherhood. Search some hashtags on Instagram like #1in5, #maternalmentalhealth, and #postpartumanxiety.
Aside from those, I suggest:
- talking to one friend. Confide in them. Allow yourself to open up to them.
- get outside, or at least open up the windows or the backdoor
- finding something just for you that allows you a break from the new motherhood struggles
- & ask for help. Help does not make you a failure. Help at home, help for a shower, help with getting into therapy. Any kind of help helps
- Had you ever experienced anxiety before birth? Yes, on occasion but nothing to cause a severe interference with my day to day living.
- Were you knowledgeable on PPA prior to experiencing it? I had no clue it was a thing! I felt so mad that no one had discussion much about post partum in general. The main focus during my post partum visits was identifying if it was PPD or baby blues.
- When did you first notice it? I would say I noticed it shortly after returning to work from maternity leave. Recognizing it was causing a huge impact on my life & ability to be happy wasn’t until around 18 months PP.
- What did you first notice? Repetitive thoughts, unable to focus & constantly feeling on edge. I particularly suffered with severe anxiety around mortality. Which would cause me to just get stuck in my head, in this dark place with no escape. Yet, you don’t want to admit those things out loud all the time for the sake of sounding crazy or depressed. Looking back, I can physically tell the difference between how tense I kept my body then, versus now.
- How were those things impacting your life? It made it difficult to focus on a single task. I constantly felt overwhelmed trying to keep up on daily chores, working from home, self care, all while adapting to this new role of being a mom to a tiny human. Especially battling with the constant fear of mortality- you fear losing this little human that you grew inside you so much, which then sent me on a spiral of what if something happened to her, her dad, my mom, my grandparents or me? It was horrible to have this constantly running through my mind while trying to carry on with life.
- How far along PP were you when you sought help? Two years! Initially my doctor had re-prescribed my emergency anxiety medications & asked me to come back if I felt I needed them all the time, but I knew that if I went back, she would just want to go over other medications, which just doesn’t fit my lifestyle.
- What was your experience asking for help? I was sooo ready to take my life back, to be happy again. I was excited to go see a therapist! I did a few google searches after recommendations & calling around only to find waitlists. Eventually I stumbled across The Couples Clinic of Portland. They made it such a comfortable, safe place to be during this process of self help & discovery.
- Did you try medication? Nope. I personally don’t believe in taking meds on the daily. I have my emergency pills, but have maybe taken 5 in the past two years. I have always been open to alternative medicines/therapies & find they generally have less side effects.
- Did you try therapy? Yes, once a week for two months.
- What about self-remedies? Exercise & Diet primarily. I find certain foods to have a significant impact on my emotional well being as well as physical. Exercise is like a release for me, it gives me that much needed rush of feeling alive. It also helped me get back into that mindset of Mind over Matter. I do also really enjoy using aromatherapy as well as a handful of other stress management techniques.
- How has acknowledging your PPA impacted your life since? It’s been so enlightening. My significant other & I argue less. He has a better understanding of what it is that I have experienced & has made a great effort to help me thru the tough times when I have reached out to him directly for support. I have more energy to take care of my family & feel like I get less stuck in my anxiety when I am having a bout. I finally feel that I am working back to being the person I was prior to getting lost in all my pregnancy hormones. I feel empowered & able to set a better example for my daughter on how to live life.
- What is it like living with PPA now? It can be hard at times. It’s definitely easier for me to work through my PPA after having been to therapy & understanding my thoughts & emotions more. I find the most difficult thing is trying to explain my PPA to someone who has never experienced severe anxiety. Many of those closest to me have taken the time to read up on it, understand it more or just listen to me when I am trying to work through a bout of anxiety.
- Are you worried about future pregnancies and experiencing PPA again? Not really, primarily because I think I am done having kids. I had a great pregnancy, birth & the most amazing daughter, but it’s been hard work. It’s taken a toll on not just my body & mind, but it took a great deal of adjustment for my hubby & I. He’s from a very old fashioned family where the mom does the majority of the child rearing & dad works. It’s been quite a journey of growth for our family. But if it were to happen one day, I think I would go into it more prepared for the fourth trimester. Now that I have all these tools in my tool box, I would definitely try my best to use them!
- What would you tell another mom struggling with PPA? Don’t wait to get help! Find someone that listens to you & is willing to work with you in whichever manner it is that you wish-whether it be through therapy, medicine or a combination. If you don’t feel comfortable seeing someone, there are tons of great books out there to help you understand your brain if you’re willing to learn & try it on your own. Personally, I don’t think anyone should have to experience it alone & they need to know that!
- What do you wish you would have known? I wish I would have known how easy it was to get help. I look back and think of all those things I could have accomplished if my anxiety hadn’t left me crippled at the time. Or the disagreements or misunderstandings that could have easily been avoided.
I hope my explanation of Postpartum Anxiety help’s you better understand exactly what it is, and allows you to speak up should you be experiencing any of the symptoms. You are not alone, mama. You are not alone.
If you are at the point of wanting to discuss your situation with a therapist, I highly recommend BetterHelp.com.