Post Partum Anxiety-My Story
It was Oct. of 2004, and we were joyfully anticipating the birth of a child, a boy, my husband and I couldn’t have been happier!
We are a blended family, when we wed we had 5 girls between us. Three of his and 2 of mine. We wanted to have a child together though and 3 1/2 years before in 2001, I had delivered a healthy happy little boy! He had been the glue for our family, he was a brother and son to all of us and he brought so much joy. The labor and delivery had gone well, and I was physically and mentally strong afterwards. As our son got older, all his big sisters had to go for weeks at a time to visit their other parents, and he was alone. He was very sad and lonely at these times and we knew that he should have his own sibling. One that would always be there with him and shared the two of us as parents. We figured we have 6 kids, what’s one more?
Looking back before I gave birth, now I can see times that I was experiencing anxiety during my pregnancy. I just thought it was stress and the every day anxieties of life. We had a lot going on and extra added pressures that I won’t go into, but I was still feeling very happy and excited about our new baby. I love babies! I love their smell, their soft skin, and the sweet sounds they make. I love breastfeeding, and the time to cuddle and bond with my baby. I was busy making plans for another sweet little boy in our home. I was well-organized and feeling good about the birthing plan. This was my 4th child and felt I knew what to expect, ( this was my first mistake) I wanted to labor at home for as long as I could and then deliver at the hospital.
As we got closer to my due date the Dr. was concerned with the baby not being head down. He seemed to like the transverse position, which is lying sideways across the uterus. We decided at the end to try to turn him the right way and to induce labor and see if we could have him naturally. (NOT part of my birthing plan!) To make a very long story shorter, they did turn him and started my labor, but about 6 hrs. into it, they discovered he had turned back again. This was bitterly disappointing, because it now meant that I needed to have a C-section. They had given me food so I now had to wait 8 hrs. to have my surgery. With my body into forced labor, now I was put on another med to stop the labor. It was a very long day.
When the time came to go into surgery, I was very nervous and scared. I had never had any surgery before. I know that my sweet husband was very nervous as well. As they gave me my spinal block, I had a bad reaction and I felt this overwhelming darkness pulling me down. I felt that I was spinning and falling into a dark pit and of course I started panicking. They gave me drugs and oxygen and kept going. As they reached in to get my little guy he did another flip and the Dr. says, “I’ve never even seen a baby do that before” obviously he had plenty of room and fluid to move a lot. (I guess a sign of things to come, he has always been a busy active kid!) Finally, I got to see my beautiful baby, Blond hair, milky blue eyes, 7lbs and 15oz of perfection. They laid him in my arms, and I was in love. It was all worth it.
The next few days were very interesting, dealing with pain and the fact that I couldn’t even lift my baby myself, my husband was trying to stay at the hospital with me and help, but we were both just getting exhausted! I decided that I had more help at home with my mom and husband than trying to call a nurse all the time. I was discharged and as the days went by at home I started to get worse and go downhill. I was so weak that they were spoon feeding me. I could hold the baby and nurse, but then they would take him away and care for him. I will tell you that to this day, I don’t know all of what was happening to me. Was it hormonal? Was it the shock of a C-section? Was I having a bad reaction to Loritab? Was it that I had major abdominal surgery and this was my body’s way of recovering? Quite frankly it could have been more than one of these things or none of them at all. My thoughts raced as I tried to work out what was wrong with me. My heart was pounding out of my chest most of the time. When I laid down to sleep I could hear it pounding in my ears. I would try to slow my breathing but it didn’t seem to help much. I felt feverish and my body would flush with hot prickles. I could feel no peace, my mind was racing, I couldn’t concentrate on a movie or reading. I was so overstimulated that even music or a children’s show was too much stimulus. I felt almost out-of-body, not recognizing the face in the mirror, I kept saying, “I just want to feel like myself!” I felt a dark cloud over me. It was the worst I had ever felt in my life. What was happening to me? We were all afraid, and my husband and Mother were doing everything they could think of to help me. They talked to the Dr. on the phone. They stopped my Loritab and went to ibuprofen instead. One night the adrenaline and darkness took over me (my first major panic attack I think) and they called the Dr. and took me to the ER. The Dr. thought I might have a blood clot. So into to ER we go with a newborn, take scans of my body and tests. and after a few hrs. a Dr. comes in and says, “No blood clot, you’re fine. Do you ever have anxiety or panic attacks?” I thought about it and said, “well, I guess I have had moments of anxiety in the past, but,” “yep, that’s probably it.” he says and discharges us.
While we were very happy that I didn’t have a blood clot. We were still very confused. I went to my Ob/Gyn and she put me on very small dose of an anti-anxiety med. And then they tell you that it can take up to four weeks for it to begin to work….. so we will see you in a Month! I was very decided that I was going to breast feed my baby, so no Xanax type muscle relaxers for me. It was the hardest time of my life. I wanted to love and cuddle my baby and enjoy every moment of my last little one, for I wasn’t going to have any more, we had decided on a tubal Ligation to be done after my C-section. I felt very confident in that decision, and felt good about it. But I was still going out of my mind. I woke every morning in the worst fit of panic and adrenaline. It felt as if I was standing in the road and a semi truck were bearing down on me. I cried more tears that I think I ever had before. I prayed more prayers than ever before. And yet I felt no relief. It was almost always there. I was afraid that I was going to go crazy. The OB didn’t know what was going on. She would say, “well you just had major surgery, it’s going to take time to feel better.” or “I wish I had a magic wand that could make it all better for you.” She upped my Meds a little. It did nothing. They next time I asked her if we could try more because this wasn’t helping at all, she seemed frustrated and she told me, “I’m not upping your medication again until you go and see a counselor. You have to find out why you are so anxious before you can get any better.”
This was the most disheartening of all. An OB/GYN that understood nothing about post partum issues. I of course had heard of post partum depression, who hasn’t? But anxiety? I felt totally alone. No one knew what was wrong with me. No one could help. I thought surely if this was post partum problems then my Ob GYN, a woman and mother herself, would know, right? I even asked her, is there such a thing as post partum anxiety? No, she didn’t know of it being this bad, some people have a little but this was different than that… Luckily the ladies from my family, my husband and 2 daughters and friends from my church rallied around me. I was afraid to be alone. Not that I was going to hurt myself or others, I was just literally afraid of being alone, and incapable of caring for my family. I had a hard time bonding with my baby. It was so hard to care for him, so draining, physically exhausting, with sleepless nights up with him. I felt so terrible that I wasn’t just gaga over my beautiful baby. I could see that he was perfect and beautiful, I knew I loved him, but he felt like a hard thing to do at the time. My friends took shifts coming in and sitting with me and helping with the kids and home, they made meals and brought things to try to divert my attentions. I am forever grateful for these women who literally helped save my life.
After 3 months of bitter torment, I gave up on my Ob and went to see an internist. He was a God-send. He told me that he would get to the bottom of this. That he would help me, I was not alone, and he wouldn’t let me suffer, he would not quit until we knew what it was. Even as I write this 12 years later I can’t hold back the tears. I think that I started even feeling a little less anxious just knowing he was there and was going to help. He ran tests, took blood, x-rays and the lot. When it all came back, my husband and I went in, and he said, “Your heart is perfect, your adrenals are working correctly, everything that I have tested has come back normal. We can now safely say that you are having postpartum depression and anxiety.” He changed my medication to one that works better and that I could still nurse my baby while taking. I left his office feeling better. I knew he was there, I was starting a new med, and I finally had a diagnosis!
I did slowly improve from here on out. I could be alone, I could care for my baby and my other children. As I started feeling more like myself again, I could feel the love for my baby and the bond increased. Things that I used to enjoy, I started trying again, and looking forward to. A date with my husband, a school program or dance recital my kids were in, a funny movie or lighthearted book. I starting taking photos of my baby and his big brother and sisters. I could make meals and go to the store. It all took time. It was a process. And even though my husband didn’t totally understand it all, he was loving and supportive. This took months, even once I wasn’t having panic attacks and the constant heart pounding, I felt as if I had a motor running inside me all the time. As if all the nerve endings were zinging. I called this Buzzing. This didn’t go away for over a year, and at times I had more anxiety than others.
I read a book that brought me great insight into what happened to me, It is called Women’s Moods what every woman must know about hormones, the brain and Emotional health by Deborah Sichel MD and Jeanne Watson Driscoll, M.S., R.N., C.S. I would recommend this book to every woman. It explains the correlation between our hormones and brain chemicals and what happens when we have a reproductive event, like child-birth, menopause and such. How family genetics, the hard things that we have gone through in our life, and previous bouts of anxiety and/or depression can be affected by a reproductive event. It helped me to have information, and to understand in detail, what I had gone through and was still going through, WHY it had happened and that it was real! It was really too bad that my OB/GYN didn’t understand any of this. I did suggest the book to her later on. I hope she read it.
I also heard of a counselor, Dr. Christina G Hibbert PSYD, that specialized in perinatal mood disorders, grief and loss, and women’s mental health. I went to see her. She had a support group that met once a week that was really helpful, and she was able to help me work through what I had been through the past year. It was coming up on the year anniversary, and my anxiety was getting worse again. The dark days of Fall, the cold, staying indoors more, the shorter days, it was all things I had to work through. It felt the same as the year before when I was stuck indoors for months and feeling so terrible. Funny to think that my Ob had originally said that I had to go to a counselor to get better. She thought that there must be something in my past or present that was ‘making’ me anxious. But what she failed to see was that my brain chemicals and hormones were in a tailspin that affected both my body and mind. You can be a perfectly healthy happy woman, and get pregnant or give birth and have things go all awry, you don’t have to have some dark problem in your past. I guess I did need a Counselor, but it was to help me with what I was going through and how to cope, rather than dig up the past. Having a Counselor that specialized in post partum problems was so much help! I was happy to have found her when I did, and we still remain friends to this day.
After a few years I was doing great again. I became whole and I took my meds faithfully and they helped me have a happy healthy life. Mentally I was in a great place. I really did get better. I really was able to feel like myself again. My little guy has just been the greatest joy for our family, I can’t even imagine the family without him. We made it through together.
I wanted to write my story in the hopes of helping another woman who is suffering alone. That there IS such a thing as post partum Anxiety, perinatal mood disorders are NOT something that you make up, you can’t just change them with a good attitude and you can get help.
There are others like you, even if you don’t know them. They may be too afraid of being judged or shamed by others to speak out. But I decided that in my life, I would put my story out there in the hopes of helping. I never want anyone to feel as broken and alone as I did. There wasn’t one person that told me during that time, I know how you feel, I’ve been there. I thought I was crazy. There are those that may scorn, even the most well-intentioned loving friend may tell you to suck it up, to try to relax, think you are lazy, they won’t understand that you are in a bottomless pit of darkness with no ladder and no light. You may feel your family would be better off without you and your problems. But that is the devil talking to you. Your family needs you and loves you. They may not be able to know what you are feeling, but luckily there are more resources and outreach programs for you and your family than there was for me in 2004. Maybe reading a story like mine can help them understand.
I promise you that there is help. There IS light. There are people to reach out to and there are resources for you. There are others that have been through it, and have recovered from it! There are Doctors who will listen and will not give up. Don’t stop searching until you find that Dr. or help that you need. Have hope.