Before I got pregnant with my second child, I had never experienced an anxiety disorder. Sure I’d been through really stressful situations, and even had nightmares after a particularly rough day at the hospital, but it all dissipated in a short time and I was able to process the emotions and move on. That all changed, however, when I was about 8 months pregnant.
It started pretty innocently – I was very worried about going into labour when I was supposed to be picking my older son up from school. I made a contingency plan after the contingency plan, and the worry was still gnawing away. Then it morphed into intrusive thoughts – these are thoughts that pop into your head and are very difficult to ignore. They’re also usually quite dark or morbid. In my case, it was always when I was in the shower and I would imagine someone breaking into the house. Most people have these thoughts from time to time – it was the fact that it created an actual physical response in my body. I felt actual fear. This wasn’t a passing thought, this was a feeling that this scenario was imminent. It was around this time that I mentioned to my husband to make sure he checks in on me a lot postpartum because I think I’ve got some anxiety and it will probably get worse after the baby is here. Spoiler alert: it did.
After a baby is born, around 80% of women will experience what is known as the Baby Blues – this is a normal response to the sudden change in hormones and causes weepiness, some anxiety, and just a general feeling of not being yourself. It doesn’t stick around for longer than a couple of weeks, and it doesn’t impact your day to day life. For some women, however, it doesn’t go away. We hear a lot more talk nowadays about postpartum depression, which is awesome. What we don’t talk enough about is PPD’s annoying sibling, postpartum anxiety. And I think it’s because as moms, we all kind of expect to feel anxious with our newborns.
Being handed a brand new baby and sent home with a follow-up over a month and a half later is a lot to take in as a new mom -or to a mom who is bringing home baby to older siblings! It’s never an easy task to add a new person to a household. So being nervous and worrying about your day to day life, how the baby is growing, whether she’s sleeping and feeding OK? All normal. You’re supposed to worry about those things – you’re a parent! Add in a global pandemic and we’ve really got reasons to be nervous. There is a point, however, where it can become a problem. If you find that you can’t relax even when the baby is asleep or is safe in someone else’s arms, or if you’re too nervous to leave the house, even for simple walks or a trip to the store, you might have postpartum anxiety. It’s also possible to be so worried about everything that you avoid caring for the baby, and don’t feel (or allow yourself to feel) as bonded to her.
There’s a good chance that more women experience postpartum anxiety than we think because so few of us admit it. Sure, I told my husband to keep an eye on me, but what did I say when my family doctor asked about feelings of depression or anxiety? “No, I’m fine.” Why did I say that? I don’t know! Maybe I was embarrassed, or thought that I could deal with it on my own? Well, here’s another spoiler: I couldn’t. Anxiety is a beast that doesn’t go away just because you ignore it. It is, however, very treatable if you seek out help.
Ways to Deal with Postpartum Anxiety:
- Reach out. Talk to someone – anyone – about how you’re feeling. Having anxiety does not mean that you’re not a good mom – it just means that your brain is firing on all cylinders and can’t figure out how to take a break.
- Get help. Find a therapist who specializes in postpartum care – many are offering virtual sessions right now so you don’t even have to shower first! A therapist will help you to identify what you’re feeling, and work with you to change the way you process those feelings. I waited a long time to see someone, and I regret not going sooner. It made such a positive difference in my life. If you don’t know where to look, ask your family doctor, your Mama Coach, or post anonymously in a local mom group. There will always be supportive Mamas who can point you in the right direction. If cost is a concern when it comes to therapy, there are therapy apps that allow you to connect to live therapists for a fraction of the cost of regular therapy sessions. Talkspace, BetterHelp, and 7Cups are all great apps that you can use on your phone or desktop to talk to a certified therapist on your own time
- Connect. Talking to other parents is often a real eye-opener that a) you’re not alone and b) you’re doing a great job. Other moms worry too, and postpartum depression and anxiety are not uncommon. Once you start connecting with other mamas, you may find some who are in the same boat and have some great advice. You can also connect online via virtual support groups like the one run by Women’s College Hospital in Toronto. Many Mama Coaches also offer virtual or in-person mom groups where we talk about all things mom-life.
- Avoid Dr. Google. No matter what extreme thing our brains tell us to worry about, there’s almost always someone who has experienced it and posted on the internet. This is not helpful and only feeds your anxiety. If you find yourself constantly Googling about every little scenario where the baby could possibly get sick or hurt, it’s time to take a step back and find a better source of information. Ask your doctor, call your local health line, or contact a Mama Coach!
- Get enough rest. Ok, so that’s easier said than done but the more tired we are, the more our anxiety rears its ugly head. If you’re struggling with your baby’s sleep, we can help! And once the baby is sleeping well, you need to make sure you get a good night’s sleep, too.
Struggling with postpartum anxiety may seem like a lonely path, but I can assure you that you’re not alone in this, Mama. There are thousands of other Mamas dealing with the very same thing every day. There is no shame in finding help, either. It takes a village, and that village isn’t just here to help with the baby.