Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Postpartum Anxiety. My Story.

I wrote this to be shared with Momma Trauma. I'm not sure how much of it she'll use there, or in what form, and I know I get different readership here anyway so I wanted to share the story here as well. I just discovered MT's site last week as part of The Amethyst Network's networking. Momma Trauma addresses pregnancy and birth-related traumas of all sorts, from loss to traumatic births to postpartum psychoses.

Regular readers here will know that I had been through several miscarriages prior to my first live birth. I experienced a lot of depression during and after those, and credited it to grief, although I knew that there could be chemical components to it too. When I did realize I was going to carry to term with this one, I was shocked to find that I was still depressed. I was depressed for most of my pregnancy, in spite of being extremely excited that I was finally going to have a baby. I anticipated that I might have postpartum depression, and tried to have a support network in place just in case.
I have a family background of depression, bipolar, anxiety attacks, and even severe panic-induced breakdowns. But aside from the depression I mentioned here, I had never experienced any of those things myself. I'd never had an anxiety attack let alone chronic anxiety.

When my baby was born, I was jubilant. Our circumstances were actually really bad, my husband was working two jobs because we were broke, and it was the middle of winter. But I was not depressed. I was delighted to have a baby.

But I was terrified of hurting him. I have eight younger siblings and had been helping with babies for two decades before I had my own baby. I knew how to handle diapers and baths and feedings and all those things, and yet I still found myself feeling scared all the time. I was afraid that he would stop breathing in his sleep. I was afraid that as I laid him on the bed that his arm would twist under him and break as I set him down. When I had him in the sling as I made dinner, I was afraid that he would reach out and touch a pan or get cut on a knife or something before I could prevent it. I was terrified that he would get badly hurt and that it would be my fault. Not an accidental kind of fault, but a totally preventable kind of fault. None of these were rational fears, but they all ran around in my head on a daily basis.

I never told anyone. I assumed that I was paranoid about this baby because of the years of miscarriages and the waiting for him. Of course I was hyper-protective of this baby! And I could tell that they were irrational fears, so I didn't tell anyone because I felt stupid for having them. By the time he was about 6 months old they went away.

Three years later I had a second baby. I had not had difficulty conceiving or carrying him. The delivery had been straightforward and good. But I had experienced pregnancy depression again, and I had the postpartum fears again. This time I couldn't justify it to myself, because I didn't have the same set of circumstances coming in. I had HAD a baby before and everything had been fine with him. I couldn't think of why I would feel paranoid this time around, but I did. And it was the same things...stopping breathing, breaking his arm...knives in the kitchen...

Sometimes real things did happen. Like when he was 3 months old but had gotten strong enough that he kicked so hard that he tipped his bouncer over. He had been on the floor and was scared but not hurt. I was not much distressed by this, I comforted him, and just accepted that he had gotten too big for the bouncer and didn't use it anymore. But I was still scared that I would hurt him somehow.

Again, when he was a few months old it faded.

That baby was two when I listened to a podcast where a woman talked about having had postpartum anxiety. I had never even heard of such a thing. Her case had been so serious that she was institutionalized for several weeks (away from her baby). I was grateful that my anxiety was not that severe, but I also felt so validated in my experiences. I wished I had told someone. I wished I had known what it was. Now that I know (and it's only been a year that I've known) I have started telling people. Nobody should have to deal with this kind alone. It's scary and unnerving and it would have been nice to know that I wasn't crazy.


Cheryl said...

Oh Jenni,
I'm so sorry this happened! Is it caused by hormones, or does anybody know?

Stacy said...

I had some pretty significant anxiety after my fourth was born. It was probably hormones combined with a bit of leftover trauma from having such a medically needy third baby. Looking back on it now, there's a period of time where I probably should have sought treatment.

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