Postpartum Anxiety – My Experience And How I Hope It Can Help Others
We hear a lot about the baby blues, but not as much about postpartum anxiety. In fact, when I was hit with postpartum anxiety I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t know what to do or where to turn. Today I want to share my raw and honest experience with postpartum anxiety, in the hopes that maybe one other mum might not feel as alone as I did.
The Four Day Crash
I had a pretty easy birth, but my daughter was severely growth restricted. She had to spend a few nights in the NICU, and we had to stay in hospital for a week for monitoring. She needed to be fed every 3 hours immediately after birth so that she didn’t drop any weight. The first few days I felt absolutely beyond sleep deprived but I was still riding the adrenaline wave, so I was ok.
I had heard of the four day crash before – that crash of hormones and adrenaline that happens about four days after birth. I was prepared to feel a little cranky, maybe even a bit depressed. However, four days after the birth things took a turn for the worse.
The hospital I was staying at didn’t allow anyone (including partners) to stay when visiting hours were up. This left me every night to cope with our new baby without the support of my fiancé. Don’t get me wrong, the midwives were amazing and so supportive, but being without Gabe was a very daunting prospect after we had just brought new life into the world.
As the sun went down every evening, I began having a very strong physical reaction. I would start to physically shake and feel sick to the stomach. I would feel pure dread and fear, as if something terrible was about to happen. My perception started to change as if I was looking through a filter. I would cry and beg the midwives to let Gabe stay. Of course they felt for me and comforted me in every way they could, but it was hospital policy and they had to ask him to leave.
I felt absolutely terrified
I felt absolutely terrified – trapped in my own body. Panic attacks are the worst feeling in the world. There was nothing I could do to make this feeling go away, and nothing I could take because I was breastfeeding. I just had to lay back down in my hospital bed in the dark, and wait for my baby to need feeding or changing.
I Thought Things Would Get Better After We Went Home
A week after I gave birth, we were finally allowed to go home. My daughter was feeding well and her blood sugars were stable. I thought once we were at home and I had Gabe to support me, my anxiety would subside. It didn’t work out that way.
I would wake up in the morning trembling
The anxiety persisted and sure enough, every evening as the sun went down I would feel a pit in my stomach. Before long, the anxiety was constant. I would wake up in the morning trembling.
My daughter wasn’t feeding properly and would scream constantly. I was exhausted, like any new mum, but something just wasn’t right.
It started to stop me from bonding with her. Every cry or grizzle or squirm would send my heart racing. My palms would start sweating, I would feel dizzy and absolutely sick with anxiety. I know that it’s normal to have a response to your baby’s cries, but mine were on overdrive!
Back to Hospital
After about a week at home, I called my midwife to tell her that I just wasn’t coping. I was at breaking point and was considering just walking out the door and not coming back. The anxiety was crippling and I didn’t know what else to do.
She came to my house and quickly decided that my mental health was at the point of crisis, so she called the hospital and asked that I be put back on the maternity ward. I was apprehensive to go back to the hospital. But I knew something needed to change, and this time they were going to let Gabe stay.
Although my midwife had organized for me to come back, I still ended up in the emergency department for two hours while they assessed me. The communication at the hospital was terrible and everything took so long to process. Meanwhile I was beside myself. I was shaking and I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t even want to hold my baby because I was so incredibly anxious.
Finally, they put me in a room on the maternity ward and organized for a team of Psychologists to assess me. By this point I had hardly slept in days and I just wanted some relief from this relentless anxiety. I wanted some medication. But they don’t give out benzodiazepines (anxiety medication) very easily, especially not to breastfeeding mothers. They are highly addictive and not safe for babies.
Finally, Some Relief
My daughter was not feeding properly (we later discovered she is tongue-tied) which was contributing to my anxiety, so I decided to switch to formula. I begged the psychologists to give me something to relieve the anxiety, and after a lot of consulting and going back and forth, they finally agreed.
I was prescribed benzodiazepines and after taking them, I finally felt some relief and was able to fall asleep. One of my irrational thoughts was that my fiancé would leave us. Because of this I didn’t let him get up through the night and I wanted to do everything myself. That night he did all the feeds and let me rest. This showed me that it was ok to let someone else help me out, and that he wasn’t just going to leave us.
After a few nights rest and with the support of the psychologists and midwives at the hospital, I was able to go home again. Having the medication was a reassurance because I knew that I could take it if things got really really bad again. Although, I hardly needed it at all!
Things DID Get Better
After a few more weeks, the anxiety subsided. I wasn’t having panic attacks anymore and I was managing. Looking back, things didn’t go back to normal for another 6 months. I would stay up past midnight mopping the floors and making sure the house was spotless, which is not normal behavior for me! I was still getting used to my ‘new’ normal.
My daughter is now 3 years old and although I will always be prone to anxiety, I have never felt better. I have done a lot of self development, and learned a lot about mindfulness meditation and other tools to help reduce my anxiety.
I have never shared the details of my experience with postpartum anxiety with any one else apart from my close friends and family. But I hope that by sharing this, someone out there might feel a little less alone.
Things will get better and there are so many people out there who want to help you. Don’t be afraid to reach out and don’t be afraid to ask for help!
If you or someone you love is struggling with their mental health, you can visit www.beyondblue.org.au (Australia) OR
For online counseling services you can try:
Or reach out to your family doctor or local health service!
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