When our first child, a daughter, was born, she was perfectly healthy and beautiful. My husband and I were in total awe of her. The love I felt for her was so strong that my stomach would ache when I thought about how much I loved her and wanted to protect her. The unconditional love I felt for my new baby daughter quickly included relentless fear involving her safety and health.
The fears of my daughter in harm’s way became worse over the first six months of her life. I had horrible, scary, intrusive thoughts regarding the safety and well-being of my daughter on a regular basis. The thoughts were so intrusive that it was hard for me to leave the house with or without her and not feel overwhelming fear. When she started sleeping through the night, I didn’t. I would lay awake paralyzed in my own thoughts and fearing the worst. I was confused. As a first-time mom, I was having trouble reconciling what was a rational fear versus obsessive fear.
Something Wasn’t Right
It was at six months postpartum when I started to believe that something wasn’t quite right. I started to think back and remembered being asked a serious of questions related to postpartum depression at our daughter’s first pediatrician visit. A similar set of questions were asked when I went in for my eight-week postpartum check-up at my OBGYN’s office. None of the symptoms of postpartum depression fit what I was experiencing. I was even more confused. So much discussion and readily available information on postpartum depression in the baby books and online, but none of it was helping me.
I was scared to seek help with postpartum anxiety, in fear of being judged as a mother. Ultimately, I knew I couldn’t sustain living in my own intrusive thoughts and wanted to seek out help. My online research led me to the OSU Medical Center’s psychologists specializing in women’s care. After a call, I was told none of the therapists were accepting new patients at the time. Next, I tried calling my OBGYN’s office for a referral specializing in postpartum mental health. The nurse I spoke to told me that they usually, “just write a script for that”, or, “send you to the hospital for help.” I quickly hung up the phone and nearly entered a panic attack.
It took me another week or so to have the courage to finally break down in tears to my husband. I hadn’t spoken a word about postpartum anxiety how I was feeling to anyone before and I was terrified in the moment. He gently encouraged me to start my search again for a therapist. His understanding and encouragement led me to a practice I had previous experience with years prior, for relationship counseling. There, I found a therapist that was knowledgeable in anxiety disorders and quickly gave me a diagnosis I could work with.
The Journey of Postpartum Anxiety Hasn’t Been Easy
Over the past four years, my journey to feeling better has not been simple or easy. I have seen five different therapists with accreditations, Ph.D.’s and MD’s to help me understand postpartum anxiety and anxiety disorders. I tried cognitive behavioral therapy and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy. After my son was born two years ago, I made the joint decision with my OBGYN and therapist to go on medication to help with the anxiety. Medication was something I wrestled with for several years. I saw a psychiatrist that gave me several options years before that I wasn’t comfortable with at the time. I did a lot of medical research and I read blog posts, like this one, that led me to a drug that I felt comfortable with and that my OBGYN could prescribe for me. Though the medication has side effects, it has been life-changing for me and my family. For the first time in my adult life, I feel like I can think clearly and live in the moment. The anxiety is still there, but it is much more manageable than it ever has been, allowing me to live happier.
When I reflect on my journey with postpartum anxiety, I wonder how many other women have suffered like I have and not been able to find the resources they needed to feel better. So much emphasis is placed on postpartum depression after having a baby that it almost seems as though postpartum anxiety does not exist. Making it that much harder for first-time moms, like me, to understand what may be happening inside their own mind and feel comfortable to ask for help. Based on my own experience, I’d love to see postpartum best practices change, making it easier and more personalized for women to seek specific help. In the meantime, my hope is that someone suffering may read my story and gain enough confidence and courage to be their own advocate and begin the conversation with a spouse, a family member, trusted medical professional or even an insurance company representative to begin a specialized journey of relief.