I had never heard of Postpartum Anxiety, or Postpartum OCD or Psychosis. I had heard of Postpartum Depression, but figured because I had never experienced depression, I would likely be in the clear after having the baby. Well, it turns out that if you have a history of anxiety or panic, you are at a higher risk of experiencing anxiety or panic postpartum. Just like depression. I had no idea. Had I known, I’d like to think I would have done something about it while I was pregnant.
Due to chance circumstances during labor and delivery, and then some very steep learning curves while learning to breastfeed, my history with anxiety started to creep back up. I had suffered through a small bought of panic attacks when I was at the end of college- there was a lot of change in my life at that time, both with me and within my family. They lasted maybe 3/4 months. I never medicated, I just kind of remember growing out of them as spring came and everything bloomed and blossomed.
I had my first postpartum panic attack when our baby was 23 days old. I started Zoloft when he was 31 days old. It was a challenge navigating the mental health system. I eventually, with the support of some amazing colleagues, ended up in the office of an incredible psychiatrist who treated me with care, compassion and provided exactly the education that I needed to normalize my experience and stop placing myself in blame. I cried the entire first appointment. She prescribed additional medication to help me sleep, all the time keeping in mind that I was nursing and wanted to be on medications that would be safe for the baby. My last panic attack was when our baby was 45 days old.
It’s hard for me to remember all of the specifics now, mostly because I’m feeling back to myself. I can say, with confidence, my husband took many days off of work within those 22 days mostly because I was terrified of being alone. I was completely able to take loving care of our baby, but I wanted my mom around, and I wanted my husband around because I didn’t want to be alone. After starting medications, the first thing that went away was the obsessive cyclical thinking. Then the cyclic panic attacks. Then the occasional panic attacks. My sleep improved, my fear went away. Nursing became more normal, I processed my birth story, I asked for and received the psychiatric support that I needed.
I didn’t talk about it much while I was in it. I can see how it would be easy for new moms to suffer in silence. And it is suffering. Feeling out of body, like you don’t recognize yourself and can’t remember what you felt like previous to this anxiety. I was very reassured when a psychiatrist told me that it was hormonal, and biological and that my hormones would settle and I would return to recognizing who I am. And I did. While I was in it, it felt like forever, and like it would be never-ending, but it wasn’t. In the end, it was one month. I know for some women the experience is much longer.
And now I recognize and appreciate the new me. The new mom me, the new professional me, the new medicine maker, snuggle giver, ok with surrender, better for having been through it me.