Intrusive thoughts and postpartum anxiety aren’t discussed nearly as often as postpartum depression is.
In a lot of cases, mothers can suffer from both anxiety and depression in the postpartum period. Sometimes one causes or contributes to the other, and other times they work independently. Either way, it can cause a lot of stress, negative thoughts and self doubt, especially in a young mother.
Kristina knows what it’s like to be young and not quite prepared for motherhood. But dealing with intrusive thoughts and postpartum anxiety following her baby’s birth led her to think, feel and do things she never expected.
This is Kristina’s story.
*This post may contain affiliate links. This is a guest post and all opinions are those of the author. Due to the nature of the topic, this post may contain graphic details that some may find disturbing.
The day my life changed forever, I was freshly 20 years old. I missed my period by a day and I just felt something was different. I took a test and surely enough I was pregnant. My husband and I stood in our one bedroom apartment bathroom, hugging and crying while our Chick-fil-A got cold on the table. Neither of us had planned to become parents so young, we were hoping to start our family between the ages of 24-26, not quite then but we knew that if it happened that we would be happy since we both wanted a family.
I cried out of happiness, after all, my dream had always been to become a mother. But also out of fear of the uncertain. How was I going to be a mother when I was really just starting out in life? How would my parents (who disapproved of me getting married so young) react? I worked through those worries pretty quick and my family ended up being a lot more accepting and excited about the pregnancy than I thought.
I loved being pregnant, aside from the constant morning sickness that lasted into the third trimester all the way up to the end, it was wonderful! I was constantly happy and when I wasn’t working, I spent my days drawing up little nursery plans (our nursery was just a corner of our master bedroom in our apartment) and researching baby and pregnancy advice. I would not touch anything that I thought could hurt my baby. I was a florist and worried about lifting heavy boxes at work. I heeded the warnings of eating cold deli meat and sushi. I ate healthy, exercised an appropriate amount. I wanted the perfect pregnancy, and I couldn’t wait to meet my baby.
Fast forward to after 21 hours of all night labor and they place that sweet baby on my chest. After the initial overwhelming happiness and joy I felt of meeting my son, and feeling the exact little back I felt in my belly outside of my belly, I got hit with the first worry. “What if I don’t love him?” It came out a lot harsher than that in my mind, and it scared me in a way I never had been before. The worries flowed from there, as he cried I tried to breastfeed him, “what if I’m not doing this right?”
We take our sweet baby home, a moment I had imagined for so long. And the worries keep coming. They got worse and worse, and a few nights later I lock myself in the bathroom googling postpartum depression.
Number one tip, by the way, for surviving postpartum anxiety, don’t google postpartum anxiety.
I came out and told my husband, I have been having bad worries and I think I had postpartum. We decided it was probably just the baby blues. My husband really went with that diagnosis, knowing that hyping it up too much would make it worse for me.
But six weeks passed and I was even worse.
I started to get panic attacks. I remember waking up feeling paralyzed with fear in the mornings. Not wanting to get up. But getting up anyways and feeding my son. I needed a break desperately and I had so much help at my fingertips, we lived by both families and all our long-time friends, but I would not take it. I felt like I had to do everything to make up for the bad worries and thoughts that came into my mind. To make sure no one could see I was struggling. To make myself feel like I deserved to be a mother, because the anxiety was wearing me down so badly that I felt like a failure.
The moment we knew it was time I really needed help was when I had my very first panic attack. We were sleeping in after a night of catching up with friends and my parents were watching my son. I woke up and tried to fall back asleep, which I felt guilty about since I felt I should be with my baby at all times. I felt much guiltier for even having him spend the night at Grandma’s so I could see friends, even though seeing them helped me to feel more normal.
I couldn’t fall back asleep though, my mind was racing faster than it had ever before. Worries, thoughts, songs, voices of those I loved flew through my brain. I had this feeling of doom impending, my heart raced, I somehow managed to feel dizzy laying down, I sat up and cried and told my husband to take me to the hospital right away, that I was going crazy. I begged him to, but he held me and calmed me down, helped me work though it and we decided together that since I didn’t feel I was in any immediate danger, to set up an appointment to get me therapy and medicine.
The medicine helped instantly to relieve the feelings of depression.
The anxiety took a little longer and to this day I still struggle with it, but not to the extent I did then. Since having postpartum, I have had nearly every type of anxiety under the sun. The therapy helped and I only needed it for so long.
One thing the therapist said stuck with me: “Mental health healing is not linear.” I also asked her if I would always struggle with this anxiety and panic attacks, which I unfortunately would have more of after that first one, and she said since I had anxiety beforehand I would probably deal with it long term.
That is something I did not mention, I’ve dealt with anxiety from a young age. As a fourth grader, I was told I had Generalized Anxiety Disorder. It was never anything too upsetting, but felt like the world when I was going through it. I mainly dealt with worries about school, making friends, being bullied. I had been on and off medication since 11 years old and before becoming pregnant was off of any antidepressants for 3 years. I was doing better then, I had worked through the small worries and hadn’t faced the big worries then.
Having a baby triggered the big worries for me and triggered the panic attacks which in turn led to depression over having so much anxiety that I tried so desperately to control but couldn’t.
To sum it up, postpartum depression and anxiety feels like this massive dark cloud raining down on you. It encompasses you, eats you up while you are desperately trying to find a way out. Let me guarantee you, there is a way to overcome it. You will feel like yourself again. You will be happy again. You are not any less of a mother because you have it. You are still good enough. You are still a good mom.
My turning point for my postpartum came from a time that I have spoken little about, only my husband, family, and closest friend know about it.
I was three months postpartum, in the thick of it. I was at my parent’s house. My son was crying and crying and would not stop. I was so worried about him and worried I wasn’t able to fix him crying. I was bogged down with intrusive thoughts and worries. I think what set me over the edge was seeing a relative of mine who I have had a complicated relationship with my whole life.
She started in on me as soon as she came in the door to visit that day. It was too much, I felt like I was suffocating. I gave my son back to my mom and snuck outside. It was winter and lightly flurrying. The whole moment felt surreal. I walked the back way to the bike trail. I sat on the bench. I was flooded with internal insults. “You’re not a good enough mom, your family deserves better” “Why can’t you just stop having bad thoughts and worries, why can’t you just be normal and enjoy this”. I walked back to my house, went into my childhood room, and as I tried to calm down the panic hit me harder.
The room felt like the air was sucked out of it. I opened my window. I took out the screen. I had never done that. I told myself I just needed air. It didn’t feel like me but I did it. I took it out. I sat there with my head right in front of the literally wide open window. I breathed in the fresh, cold winter air.
Then I thought about it. Maybe I should just jump. I thought about it more in detail. But then I thought I couldn’t, I knew my son needed me. I loved him and my husband and family and friends too much to do that to them.
Just then my mom knocked on the door. She saw me. She made me put the screen back in. She called my husband up and told him what happened. I had never seen my husband so sad and scared ever. It tore my heart in two. He called our priest, the one who married us and explained to him what happened. We went to Denny’s. We set up a meeting with our priest that day.
Talking to my priest helped, he gave me some books and suggested to continue with the path we were on with the doctors. He had spiritual advice too, I was just so wrapped up in my postpartum world it is hard to remember exactly what he said.
After meeting with him, things started looking up. I realized I could never go back to that mindset no matter how bad it got. My life is valuable, my family need me and loved me. I could never hurt them like that, no matter how bad it got.
The anxiety started to get better the more I prayed.
Yes, I am sure the medication helped and getting on the right dose of it along with therapy. But my faith helped me to shift back to myself. A new version of myself. I thought of all the things I believed as a Catholic, that the Eucharist is really the body and blood of Jesus Christ, that Mary was a virgin, that the Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit are the same person. All that stuff is pretty hard to believe, but I believe it with my whole heart and mind.
So if I believed that, how come I could not believe that Jesus would protect me from my worst fears? That he made me a good person and a good mother, that worries and thoughts are just worries and thoughts and having them doesn’t make me a bad person. I started to pray about things as I worried about them. I read more scripture and reminded myself that Jesus would help me get through my worries if I came to him with them in prayer. That is when I felt like I could let my worries go, that I could forgive myself for having them because they weren’t this huge massive fault.
One thing a different priest told me that helped me a lot though that time, was that it is not me- those worries, it is the postpartum. It helped me to go to church and to pray. My faith saved me from my anxiety tinting my life with its ugly colors.
So to sum it up, some tips for those struggling.
One, realize there will be a light at the end of this tunnel. You will feel like yourself again. Push through, you can do it.
Two, find someone to talk to about what’s worrying you or making you feel down. I always have been able to talk to my husband. I tell him everything and it helps so much. He knows I don’t need him to fix me and that’s not why I am telling him, it simply helps to say it out loud. He just listens and that is what I need. I talk to my dad about the panic since he has dealt with it before and he has given me many tips to help work though panic attacks when they come.
Three, write it down. Draw it out. Sing. Whatever helps you. It helps me to write. Whenever I get a worry I can’t shake or I really don’t like I write it down and after I do, I tell myself I can’t worry about it again. It’s hard at first because you still do for a while, but eventually writing it down helps to get it out. Thought restructuring on paper is what I would call it. Thought restructuring is a real tool a therapist taught me, I just do it on paper when my anxiety is really bad.
Finally, for those with anxiety, DON’T google it. Talk to someone close to you about it, pray about it, talk to your therapist about it, but do not google it! Stay faithful, stay patient, stay positive. In everything in life, believe me, those 3 things will always help you through.