Postpartum anxiety hit me hard. And, even as a trained therapist, I didn’t know what it was. Of course I’d heard of postpartum depression, but I thought that was for other moms, moms who didn’t have the resources or support they needed.
Postpartum anxiety was not remotely on my radar. However, looking back, I had so many of the risk factors:
My primary symptom was worrying about EVERYTHING. If there was something to worry about, I worried like there was no tomorrow. If there was nothing to worry about, I found a reason to worry anyway. I researched everything. I read everything. I questioned everything.
Attachment parenting, baby food, toys (I even gave my family lists of things that they were allowed to buy for my kids), sleep, SIDS and anything else that could be fretted over.
In short, I was afraid all the time. And then I started having the most messed up thoughts that I really didn’t understand. I wanted to confide how I was feeling to someone (anyone), but I was afraid that, if I admitted these thoughts out loud, “they” would find me unfit and take away my baby. (I have no idea who I thought “they” were).
So, I stayed quiet. To be honest, I still don’t share these thoughts with the moms I work with, if only to spare them more things to worry about.
How did I find my way home, away from this constant anxiety? My homeopath and my yoga teacher training that was rooted in meditation were my saving grace. My homeopath let me voice my worries, and my yoga training taught me to befriend and then disconnect from my thoughts.
I found safety (and sanity) in yoga and meditation. As I learned to let go of this illusion of control and started to release my worries, my anxiety began to decrease.
I did well with my anxiety until I got pregnant with baby number two. I got off to a very rocky start when my doctor told me I had an “empty sac” and to expect a miscarriage. I was devastated but felt so pregnant that I did not allow for a DNC.
At my 10-week checkup, my baby girl had a heartbeat and was waving her little arms like crazy. I am SO glad that I listened to my gut and not my doctor. However, I was traumatized. I left that doctor and found a midwife I felt safer with.
I learned another huge lesson during this second pregnancy: “postpartum” mood disorders can hit DURING pregnancy. And so, a few weeks later, I started having panic attacks. If you’ve ever had a panic attack you can relate – I couldn’t breathe and I thought I was going crazy. I only confided in my homeopath, who was able to help take the edge off slightly.
This feeling of fear lasted for a few years after the birth of my daughter until I finally found the right homeopathic remedy, saw a counselor and received Brainspotting therapy.
It was three years after the birth of my second that I finally learned that I wasn’t just anxious … I had a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder (PMAD). I stumbled upon this during professional training that I sought out because I wanted to make sure moms I worked with didn’t suffer like I had. I wanted to help pregnant and postpartum moms feel better and enjoy motherhood.
I had a diagnosable, common and treatable condition, not a personal weakness or a lack of courage. I finally had a name for those terrible, scary thoughts I was having: intrusive thoughts.
They’re called “intrusive” because they usually aren’t logical, they seem to come out of nowhere and they feel beyond your control. If I had told someone who was properly trained in PMADs, I would have felt validated instead of crazy or strange (and “they” wouldn’t have reported me to social services!).
Here’s the great news: I’m now much less anxious that I was even before I had kids! I assumed anxiety would remain a life-long struggle.
And here’s what’s amazing: without even trying, our kids help us uncover our old wounds that need to be healed. Our kids can be a gateway to self-discovery and healing.
Lastly, here’s what I know: YOU can feel better. You don’t have to suffer in silence like I did. There are so many more amazing resources available to moms these days. I wish I had tried to find help so those first years of parenting wouldn’t have been filled with worry and anxiety.
If you’re just feeling anxious or just-not-quite-right, talk to your doctor. If that feels scary, start by reading about PMADs at Postpartum Support International. They can help you find a trained therapist. Your kids, and YOU, deserve it!
*Nichole Jones, LPC is a mental health therapist and coach in private practice in Longmont, CO specializing in Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders. She also supports moms in her free Facebook Group, Birthing Joyful Mothers.