An Unexpected Visitor: Postpartum Anxiety

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anxietyLike most first time parents-to-be, my husband and I read the baby books, took a birth prep class and decorated the nursery according to my Pinterest board.

We checked off the checklists and felt confident we were prepared for anything that would be thrown our way. We discussed the “baby blues,” and the warning signs my husband should look for in case it progressed to postpartum depression. It seemed like (and this is a good thing!) I heard a lot about postpartum depression awareness while pregnant.

After our daughter was born, I felt pleasantly surprised that I didn’t experience the baby blues or depression. I was, although exhausted and emotional, the happiest I ever felt in my life.

The first few weeks were a blur, with me falling into a deep and intense sleep in between the countless feedings and changing diapers. But, as my daughter’s schedule started to resemble a 24-hour day, I started to emerge from the fog and felt a bit off.

During the day, I felt wired and tingly, with adrenaline running through me all the time. I couldn’t relax, and felt like I had to be constantly “on.”

Each afternoon, as night neared, I would feel an “impending sense of doom.”

Once evening came, I found myself lying awake, heart pounding, unable to sleep.

During really bad times, I would find myself worrying about all the horrible things that could potentially happen to our family, and I felt nervous when we left the house. My husband works from home and I found myself not wanting him to ever leave. When he would inevitably have to leave, I had a racing heart and stomach ache.

It confused me, because I also felt so, so, so happy. I bonded with my baby and sensed joy with each new day. I enjoyed meeting fellow new moms and showing off our beautiful baby to family. Becoming a mom fulfilled a lifelong dream.

So, I couldn’t tell if my symptoms were simply a normal part of the adjustment period to my new role as mom.

I mean, all of a sudden you are responsible for a tiny human being, who wouldn’t be a bit on edge?! And I’ve always been on the “sensitive side.”

At my postpartum appointment I talked to my doctor about it and that’s when I first heard the words postpartum anxiety. To be honest, it didn’t come as a huge shock as I experienced anxiety before I became pregnant. I just didn’t realize it could be experienced so intensely and that it could be specific to the postpartum period.

She prescribed medication, something that was supposedly safe while I nursed. After two weeks on it, I felt much better…like my old self or at least as much of my old self now that I was a new mom!

And then the guilt set in.

I felt ashamed that I couldn’t control my anxiety on my own, especially since I am a yoga instructor. Why couldn’t I meditate away my worries?

I, of course, felt nervous about possible long-term side effects to my daughter as she ingested this medication through my breast milk.

So began a bit of a cycle: me staying on the medication for a week or two until I felt better, followed by going off of it until the anxiety reared up and I had to take it again.

Finally, my husband helped me realize I didn’t need to feel ashamed or weak for taking the medication.

I also employed my passion and knowledge of wellness and recommitted myself to the healthy lifestyle that previously helped to keep my anxiety at bay. Anyone who has had a newborn knows how all-consuming it is…and how a new moms needs, including her health, is pushed aside.

Sleeping as much as possible (even if that means an early bedtime,) eating healthy, avoiding caffeine/alcohol and working out play a very big factor in keeping my emotions balanced and my anxiety in check.

I’ve also learned one of my “triggers” is when I have too many things to do that day. I am learning the graceful art of saying no.

And, I do use yogic breathing techniques along with affirmations when I feel a bout of anxiety coming. They help me stay in the present moment.

All of these things combined and my 1 year postpartum date allowed me to eliminate medication, although I still have a prescription and will feel no shame if I need to fill it in the future.

I share my story to bring awareness to postpartum anxiety. The more moms I talk to, the more I realize how common it is, although not often talked about. The postpartum period is one of the most challenging and transformational times in a woman’s life, but it also should be one of the most enjoyable!

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