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My journey recovering from postpartum anxiety

Updated: Feb 17

A day or so after my son was born, I couldn’t sleep. I asked the nurse for assurance that this feeling was normal. Most likely the adrenaline, she said.


In the hospital, as I held my son while he cried, feeling so unsure and awkward in my new identity as a mother, a thought kept intruding into my mind: What if I drop my baby onto the hard tile floor?


As I checked out of the hospital to return home, I abruptly lost all of the professional support - nurses, doctors, and lactation consultants - whom I had come to depend on. Their absence highlighted the reality that this child was my responsibility and no one else’s. I felt the weight of this so profoundly, and in short, I was afraid.


There were some beautiful early moments: eating lunch with my husband on my hospital bed while our son slept, picking blackberries from our tree with my son strapped to my chest. But, they were overwhelmed by the current of anxiety that flowed through my system almost immediately after my son was born.


By my son’s two-week check up with his pediatrician, it was obvious that I had developed postpartum anxiety. I barely slept the night before the appointment because I was anxious, and I grew ever more anxious when I tried to sleep but couldn’t. On and on the cycle went until the morning. Journaling, meditating, and reading didn’t help me relax, so I decided to get professional help.

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Anxiety was nothing new for me. When I was a child, I watched anxiety torment a member of my family until she begged for mercy. It was one of the saddest, most traumatic sights of my life. Knowing that her experience with mental illness put me at greater risk of developing one as well, I put many safeguards in place before and during pregnancy to combat potential perinatal mood disorders, or PMADs. I found a therapist who I loved, and I educated myself about postpartum mental health. Then, in the third trimester, I purchased a Comprehensive Care subscription. In doing so, I added Tanya to my support team. For 16 weeks, Tanya was available seven days a week to answer my questions and dispense advice as needed. She played an instrumental role in my recovery from postpartum anxiety; when I decided that I wanted to try medication, for example, she helped me understand different treatment options. I’m certain that I would have suffered for longer had Tanya not been by my side. About seven weeks after my son was born, the anxiety mercifully lifted and I started to feel like myself again.

 

This picture captures me shortly after I started to feel like myself again. It was such a relief.

 

About 50% of Mother Wit clients have an underlying mental health disorder. As a member of this cohort, I completely understand the appeal of the services that Tanya offers. Mothers are all but abandoned by the healthcare system during the postpartum period even though about “15-20% of women experience…significant symptoms of depression or anxiety.” I am always baffled by the fact that there is no standard for mental health care for mothers and especially new mothers who, by becoming parents, engage in one of the most transformative, disruptive experiences of their lives. In the absence of support from our healthcare system, the burden is on parents and their families to educate themselves on PMADs and find an appropriate mental health provider, if necessary. Neither of these steps is straightforward. Most of us are unaware of the range of medical professionals who are qualified to treat mental illness. Should I see a clinical psychologist? A social worker? Should I look for someone with a Perinatal Mental Health certificate? Imagine trying to find the answers to all of these questions and get help while feeling depressed or anxious while being sleep-deprived while taking care of a baby. And if you’re a single parent? These tasks are all but impossible.


It is my sincere hope that our healthcare system will one day offer all parents the option for regular mental health care, similar in structure to the prenatal visits that pregnant mothers are required to attend. Oh, and all of these mental health visits would be covered by insurance companies. Mental health IS health, and no one should be excluded from treatment because they can’t afford it.


Until that glorious day when mental health care is an integral part of parents’ postpartum experience, we will continue to advocate for ourselves and cobble together support teams on our own. I empower you, dear reader, to prioritize your mental health throughout the perinatal period. Find help, maybe even before you think you’ll need it. And don’t feel guilty for spending time and money on receiving treatment. A happy and healthy parent is a powerful force whose impact resonates for generations.


Sources and further reading:

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Generational impact of mental illness