Postpartum Anxiety: One Year Later
My daughter’s first birthday rapidly approaching and naturally,
I’ve been reflecting on my first year as a mom.
I can’t stop looking at infant pictures of her and I cannot believe how much she’s grown already. My baby doesn’t seem like such a baby anymore. She’s toddling around and it is so precious, but at the same time I can’t help but want to cry. She rarely falls asleep in my arms anymore and prefers to feed herself rather than let me spoon feed her.
I didn’t expect new motherhood to be such a wild wave of emotions. The juxtaposition of the short months, but never ending nights. The high highs, and low lows. The sweet newborn bliss and the intense sleep deprivation. Feeling exhilarated and exhausted all at once. Wondering how she’s so small, but so much bigger than she was just a month ago. The intoxicating love, but intense loneliness that only new motherhood can bring. It’s more overwhelming than I ever could have expected.
But after one year, 12 short (but somehow long) months of motherhood - I’m finally feeling more like myself.
Four months ago, on my 27th birthday, I finally got treatment for my postpartum anxiety (I posted that story here), and looking back to to the earlier days of motherhood, I think I probably had postpartum depression (PPD) too. But the thing about postpartum depression is, it can be different for everyone, and even though I was aware of some of the signs, I wasn’t aware there were so many.
"I didn’t know it could effect 5 different mothers in 5 drastically different ways."
Fortunately, as the months have passed, the fog has begun to lift. I feel like my old self is coming back. I was never a woman who worried about “losing myself” to motherhood, mostly because I wanted to be a mom so badly. However, I didn’t expect that I could ever feel so disconnected from myself. There were some days I felt like a stranger in my own body. I didn’t recognize my physical body or my sudden mindset change.
After experiencing the wild changes that happen early on in motherhood, I am dying to know why more women aren’t talking about postpartum mental health. I’m frustrated that other moms weren’t warning me (or at the very least posting articles on social media). Why is postpartum depression such a taboo topic if so many are affected by it?
I expected the baby blues. I knew that the hormone fluctuations would cause intense mood changes, but I didn’t realize how common it was to have longer lasting issues like anxiety and depression.
Approximately 15% of mothers experience a postpartum mood disorder. In the United States alone that is 600,000 women per year! (source) Postpartum depression and anxiety are most common, but some women get Obsessive Compulsive disorder (OCD) or postpartum psychosis.
It’s so common, and yet I didn’t really know or understand all of the symptoms.
Sure I received info about PPD from my OBGYN and my birthing class, as well as when I left the hospital, but for some reason, I had the perception that PPD meant two things. In my mind, based on what I had heard or read, PPD symptoms were that you weren’t bonding with your baby and if you are going to have it, you’ll feel the effects within weeks or it will just be a continuation of the baby blues. Neither of these assumptions is correct though.
Like any first time mom, I felt like I was constantly reading and researching about pregnancy and birth and what to expect and various parenting techniques. If I came across an article about PPD it seemed intense. For whatever reason, I thought that if you had postpartum depression it meant that you weren’t bonding with the baby and you felt like you couldn’t take care of the baby or yourself. I imagined the way PPD presented itself was that if I got it, I would just want to lay in bed, unable to get dressed or eat.
But the thing is, I always felt like I could take care of both of us. I was quick to get us both dressed in the morning (her: perfectly coordinated baby Gap outfits and me: another pair of black leggings). I would meticulously pack the diaper bag, and I would take the dog for walks in the morning. I felt bonded with my baby since the moment she was placed in my arms. I never resented her or felt like I couldn’t handle being a mom. It was what I always wanted. Sure it was difficult, but I was doing it. Every day I was up and even if I didn’t go anywhere I was always busy. Always another load of laundry to do, a diaper to change, or it was time to nurse once again.
I thought I was in the clear. I thought I was fine. Sure I was anxious, but my OB assured me it was normal to feel that way and to come back if the symptoms got worse.
About two months after my daughter was born (and 2 weeks after my postpartum appointment), I had a sense of dread and anxiety within my soul. It wasn’t just the normal worry that comes with being a new mom. If I thought about having more kids, I would suddenly think “I can’t start over with a new baby again...and then again”. Which was strange to me because I always wanted a big family. Sometimes I felt numb. Often my thoughts were racing and I was worried about things like getting in a car accident. I would seriously worry about a car accident every single day. I never wanted to leave my baby’s side. Plus, the thought of trying to hire a babysitter was too much to think about.
Sometimes I would cry. I remember after one hard day with a fussy baby and no sleep, my husband got home from work and I sobbed. I chalked it up to lack of sleep, and crazy breastfeeding hormones and the isolation of being home all day.
But months went by and I knew I was suffering from anxiety. I finally went made an appointment to see a doctor when my baby was 7 months. I think my doctor knew it wasn’t just anxiety though. I couldn’t hold back my tears in our brief 10-minute appointment.
About two months later though, I looked back and it felt like a cloud was being lifted. It was as if I could see clearer. The numbness was wearing off, and I wasn’t panicking about things that were out of my control. I stopped worrying about car accidents. The looping thoughts stopped. When I layed in bed at night, with my baby sound asleep in her crib, I was finally able to fall asleep peacefully too.
I did some more research on PPD and it turns out there are a whole host of symptoms, and they aren’t the same for every woman, and can even be different for the same woman after each child.
Postpartum depression symptoms can include feelings of anger, overwhelm, guilt, loss of appetite, inability to sleep (even when the baby sleeps), lack of concentration, hopelessness, to not bonding with the baby.
Postpartum mood disorders can begin any time during the first year of your baby’s life. You aren’t going crazy if you suddenly feel like something has shifted at 4 months or 6 months or even 8 months postpartum.
Now, at almost one year later, I’m feeling like myself again.
I’m sleeping, I have an appetite, and I’m not paralyzed by fear or worry. I take my medication every day, and I’m feeling better than I have in a long time. I feel good in my body, and I am excited about each day with my daughter.
Looking back, I wish I knew what to expect, which is why I wanted to share my story here. I wish I gave myself more grace and didn’t put so much pressure on myself. I don’t know why I felt I had to take care of my daughter and make sure my house was perfect and husband and dog were happy. It wasn’t realistic and it caused unnecessary stress.
I absolutely love being a mom and having anxiety or depression isn’t some sort of character flaw. It doesn’t mean I can’t handle motherhood. It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have more babies. It’s a medical condition that needs treatment. I’m a better mom because I can now truly be present with my daughter without having a million worries running through my brain at any given time.
Of course I still worry, but it isn’t the same. It’s not the paralyzing worry that is so overpowering that I feel I can’t leave the house. There is nothing to be ashamed of if you are experiencing postpartum anxiety or depression (or OCD or psychosis). Having any sort of mental health issue doesn’t make you weak. It doesn’t make you less of a mom. Remember, 600,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with a postpartum condition every single year. You are not alone.
The best thing you can do for yourself and your baby is get the help you need.
Whether it’s a babysitter for a few hours, help with making dinner or cleaning, working out for 30 minutes or going to therapy…only you know what you need to feel your best and be your best.
It can seem overwhelming to even make a doctor appointment when you aren’t in a healthy frame of mind, but making that 2-minute phone call was probably the best thing I did for myself this whole year. I honestly never felt more vulnerable than when I scheduled that appointment. But it was 110% worth it.
As a nutrition coach who focuses on helping moms with their nutrition, the message I strive to share with moms every day is that it is always worth it to invest in your own health. I know first hand that I’m a much better mom and wife when I invest in my own health and wellbeing. We aren’t doing anyone any favors by barely holding it together day in and day out.
Cassandra Padgett is a nutrition coach who loves helping new moms feel amazing in their postpartum bodies. She spends her days with her daughter Elle and Bulldog Buddha. If you ever meet her in real life, there’s a 99% chance she will be wearing leggings. You can find out about her coaching programs on her website at Vivi Fit or follow along on social media for simple nutrition tips.