Today is my youngest daughter’s first birthday.
As I sit and reflect upon my birth story I am filled with so many emotions. My first reaction is overwhelming feelings of gratitude and joy as I have the privilege of being a mom to two amazing children with beautiful and unique personalities whom I love so dearly.
At the same time, I am also filled with the memories from that day, one year ago today. Memories of the pain, and the gentle support of my husband and midwife. I remember how my body was triggered during labour by my first birth which was traumatic and hard, and the strength and support needed to work through that. I remember the shock and humor – I was about ready to call it quits and go to the hospital when my midwife said well let me just check if there has been any progress from the 3cm you were a bit ago…. “O my goodness, there’s a head! This baby is coming now”. I remember how amazing, strong, and capable my body was at delivering that baby, and the deepest sense of relief and joy the moment that precious baby girl was placed in my arms for the first time. And the tender intimate moment I got to witness as my older daughter met her sister for the first time. Words can’t even described it.
I also remember the sacrifices I had to make. Over the course of this past year I had to work through and accept many of them from body, to career and lifestyle changes. Then I reflected upon the fact that many women (about 10-15%) struggle with postpartum depression and/or anxiety and so I felt called to share my story with you in hopes that it makes you know you are not alone.
Postpartum depression is the most common complication of childbirth, putting families at risk each and every year. (Postpartum Progress website)
Following the birth of my beautiful healthy daughter things were going well. I was happy with my birth story. I was of course dealing with the usual nursing, sleeping, and toddler troubles but overall things were going well. This baby was much easier and more content than my first. We were slowly adjusting back to normal.
Overtime I started becoming more irritable and had less patience when dealing with my toddler and husband. I was yelling more. I always felt on edge. When my new baby cried and wouldn’t settle it just got under my skin- I couldn’t stand it. Then I started having these thoughts of ‘something bad is going to happen’ and would constantly play over in my mind scenarios or what happens if I die? What would happen if my husband died? How would the girls handle it? These thoughts became intrusive to the point that my brain would create these elaborate scenarios and I started to be fearful – thoughts that someone was going to break into my house and hurt my family. I started locking my doors constantly, always watching over my shoulder, and sitting closest to the door/window to protect my children. I would go over a plan in my brain of how I would react and keep my family safe. I would also have horrible vivid nightmares. It became exhausting! I remember I was sitting on the couch one night watching an animal planet episode and there was a scene about a mother bird who was trying to protect her babies from a fox. The fox got a hold of one of the babies and it was squealing for help as the fox carried it away. There was nothing the mother bird could do. I had an emotional melt down! Even now as I sit and reflect upon this story my hippocampus (memory part of the brain) is being triggered and I can still feel those painful emotions. I didn’t feel like me. But why? What was going on?
You would think because I am a social worker and work with people who have anxiety all the time, I would have clued in. I find when you are in the middle ‘of it’, whatever it may be, you are too consumed by the emotions you are unable to examine it logically. It is like a fish and water. These thoughts and feelings were the water I was swimming in; drowning in. It wasn’t until late one night while I was working on some material for work on the topic of anxiety, a light bulb moment occurred and I realized this is me – this is exactly what I am experiencing. I then changed my search to ‘postpartum anxiety’ and cried tears of relief and sadness as I finally realized I had developed a postpartum mental illness.
Thankfully, because I am social worker I knew the steps I needed to take to move to a place of positive mental health. Over the next 6 months I focused on self-care, thought stopping strategies, distraction techniques, sleep routine, exercise, good diet, and support, to name a few. I would like to think I have dealt with it but every once and awhile those intrusive thoughts start, my amygdala takes over (part of the brain responsible for fight, flight, or freeze) and I experience the anxiety. This usually occurs when I am not doing a great job taking care of myself. It is probably never going to go away fully and is just one of those sacrifices I made because of my decision to bringing two beautiful children into this world. I will just have to adjust, adapt, and create a new normal. Those two girls who call me mom are worth it!
I hope you can gain something from my story whether now or in the years to come when you have children. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms below and feel you may be struggling with postpartum depression or anxiety seek support! Until now, I haven’t told many people yet about my story of postpartum anxiety. Many of my friends and family will probably read this for the first time. Postpartum mental illness can feel lonely as everyone expects you to be happy and excited about all these changes and your precious baby. Tell someone – get support! There are so many resources out there.
Symptoms of Postpartum Anxiety
- Constant worry
- Feeling that something bad is going to happen
- Racing or intrusive thoughts
- Disturbance of sleep and appetite
- Inability to sit still
- Physical symptoms like dizziness, hot flashes, and nausea
- Muscle tension
- Difficulty concentrating and focusing
“I am so nervous all the time, I feel so out of control with worries. I don’t even want to leave the house and bump into anyone I know. If I go out I worry about Arman starting to cry – what if I can’t console him, and everyone stares at me and thinks I am a terrible mother?” –Salima
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