It's no secret that life as a new mom can be challenging. You’re left dealing with the exhaustion and hormonal shifts associated with birth, tending to another human being every hour of every day while simultaneously trying to heal. Add anxiety to the mix, and it's easy to feel like your world is unmanageable. With everything going on, however, you might not even realize you have anxiety. I mean, I didn’t. My body was trying to tell me I had postpartum anxiety, though. I just didn't really know how to listen.
When my son was born, I had very little time to stop and think about myself or my feelings. He was whisked away to the neonatal intensive care unite (NICU) right after he came into the world, and then to a different hospital’s NICU 30 minutes away. As you might imagine, anxiety (along with a slew of other awful feelings) overwhelmed me. But even after my son got better, and even after he came home from the hospital, there was still this horrible anxious feeling I just couldn’t shake. And while I’ve always battled with anxiety on and off throughout the course of my life, I hadn’t really given it much thought in my postpartum life. After all, worrying is just what a new mom does, right?
Sadly, it took a while for me to realize that some of the symptoms I was experiencing weren’t necessarily “normal.” It took me a while to understand that in order to take care of my son to the best of my ability, I had to take care of myself first. That meant taking the time to listen to my body, especially when it was trying to tell me I had postpartum anxiety in the following ways:
It Was Hard To Sleep For Long Periods Of Time
While it’s always hard for new moms to find the time to sleep, it was especially difficult when I knew my little one would be asleep for a few hours. I would frequently get up to check on him, so I couldn't get myself to actual sleep for even a few hours at a time. If I managed to keep myself from checking to make sure he was breathing, I’d toss and turn and experience terrible, intrusive thoughts that left me even more sleep deprived than I needed to be.
It Was Pretty Obvious I Wasn’t Sleeping
I quickly developed dark circles under my eyes. Granted, most new moms probably look tired, but this went on for much longer than most moms I knew. Postpartum anxiety isn’t just something that hangs around for a couple of months.
I’d Feel Nauseous
There were moments when I didn’t feel like I could push through the anxiety. My stomach would tighten and I’d feel sick. While I never threw up, it certainly wasn’t fun.
I Was Extremely Jumpy
God forbid someone try to surprise me in those days. I was extremely jittery thanks to my anxiety and severe lack of sleep. Any little thing would make me jump out of my skin.
My Mind Was Constantly Racing
It was frequently difficult to focus on any one thought, and the thoughts I did have were often terrifying. I often found myself imagining my son was in distress because he couldn’t breathe, or he’d gotten hurt somehow, and there wasn't anything I could do about it. Intrusive thoughts like these can also be a sign of postpartum depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), two things that can frequently be interrelated to postpartum anxiety.
My Heartbeat Was Always Fast
One of the fun (read: terrible) parts of anxiety is its ability to cause you to go into a momentary panic. These panic attacks can strike at any time, make you feel powerless, and make your heart feel like it's going to pop out of your chest. While my heartbeat wasn’t always elevated, it did happen with some frequency.
I Was Afraid To Be Alone With My Son
Thanks to those vicious intrusive thoughts, I was often afraid of being alone with my baby. For some reason, I thought that I would be the one to accidentally drop him (or worse.)
I Worried Way More Than I Needed To
Some folks don’t see the point in worrying about anything. But in those days, I was all about worrying and over-worrying about anything. If I sent my husband out for groceries and he took more than 20 minutes, I would think that he’d been in a car accident. If my son was sleeping a little longer than usual, I would panic and think something terrible happened to him in his sleep. None of it made sense, but I worried anyway.
If you're experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression and/or postpartum anxiety, please seek professional help or call 1-800-PPD-MOMS for Postpartum Depression Resources.