I thought I was prepared for my daughter’s birth this past August. Everything was set up, classes taken, loose ends tied up at work.
She arrived healthy, just seven hours after being admitted to the hospital. I was exhausted, of course, but I felt pretty good. She didn’t latch well and the constant stream of nurses and visitors meant little rest, but I felt ready to go home with her.
Over the next few days things shifted. I was frustrated by low milk production and struggling with sleep deprivation, although I was unable to nap when she was sleeping. I completely lost my appetite. Friends and family surrounded me, encouraging me, but my anxiety seemed to worsen and I became less consolable. Friends offered to stay over and let me sleep; my parents wanted us to stay with them for a few weeks. I rebuffed their offers, feeling even more anxious.
Nineteen days after our daughter was born, I woke to her crying and felt unable to move. I asked my husband to get her and give her a bottle. For two hours I was unable to slow my racing heart and shallow breathing, unable to sleep, wracked with a fear I didn’t understand. I couldn’t get out of bed. I reached for my phone and texted my mom: I need help. Something is very wrong.
We moved to my parents’ house that night; a few days later I went to see a counselor at the Lytle Center at Swedish First Hill.
I didn’t think they could help me and I told the therapist as much. She said that the extreme anxiousness, worry and panic attacks were symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety (PPD), and that while it may feel like I won’t get better, she sees moms get better all the time, and that I would, too. I didn’t believe her, but I agreed to see a psychiatrist who started me on medication.
I stuck to my medication and therapy. We stayed with my parents on and off for almost six weeks, and I started to get my appetite back and to have conversations with friends about things beyond just me. I started to go on walks with my mom and my daughter, and then with my daughter alone. My confidence was returning. It took a while, but by the time my maternity leave was up, I felt more like myself. I didn’t flinch when she cried at night; in fact, I looked forward to what was now only a once-a-night feeding so I could snuggle her. And I could fall back asleep afterward. It felt like a miracle. To me, it was.
My daughter is 8 months now, and while I’m still tired and occasionally frustrated, I feel love, happiness, and relative confidence as a mom. I’m slowly weaning off one of my medications with my doctor’s help.
Looking back, I wish I’d been more prepared for the fact that postpartum anxiety and depression could happen to me. I’d been prepared to anticipate our baby’s needs, but I hadn’t anticipated what could physically or emotionally happen to me. I wish I’d discussed the possibility with my husband and family and established what we would do if it did happen. And I wish I’d accepted help earlier.
What is postpartum depression and anxiety?
PPD can affect new mothers during pregnancy, right after birth, or any time up to a year after the birth of a baby. According to the CDC, 11 to 20 percent of women who give birth each year have PPD symptoms. Women with a history of depression, anxiety, a lack of a support system, previous miscarriage(s) or still birth(s) may be more likely to experience PPD, but it can happen to anyone. It is possible to experience PPD with one pregnancy but not another. Symptoms can include inability to relax or sleep even when the baby is sleeping, withdrawing from family and friends, low appetite, uncontrolled anxiety or panic attacks, and thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby.
Swedish Medical Group has behavioral health specialists focused exclusively on the needs of new moms at the First Hill, Ballard and Issaquah locations. swedish.org/services/behavioral-health or 206-320-7288
Perinatal Support Washington provides referrals to professionals, free support groups and peer support line. perinatalsupport.org or 1-888-404-7763