If you say "postpartum," to most people, then next thought that pops into their head is "depression." In some ways this is great: word is getting out that PPD is common and treatable and not anyone's fault. And yet, many parents don't present with symptoms that we consider common to depression. Instead they are experiencing postpartum anxiety, which I've got to say is incredibly common, and waaay underdiagnosed. Ever hear something like this: "Oh, you're just a first time mom, it's normal to be worrying about the baby"? Well it's common but not normal to be constantly ruminating that something terrible is going to happen, or to be staring at the baby monitor all night to see if the baby is still breathing when you're desperately tired and need to sleep. So people who need help aren't getting it. Let's change that.
When we think of postpartum depression, perhaps we have visions of moms with crying spells, diving into a carton of Ben and Jerry's. While there are moms (and dads!) who present with these types of symptoms, there are an awful lot that do not. How do moms and dads with postpartum anxiety feel? Here are some of the signs of postpartum anxiety--note that you may not have all of these symptoms:
- Angry. Irritated. Agitated. Nothing anyone does is right, including you.
- Constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. Unable to relax. A sense of dread and foreboding.
- Having the same scary thoughts about something terrible happening, and doing everything you can to keep it together while "dying on the inside," as one client recently told me.
- Scared to be alone with the baby.
- Difficulty falling and staying asleep despite feeling exhausted.
- Having the sense that there's always something you should be doing--laundry, cleaning, thank you notes, etc.
- Feeling crazy and scared that you'll never feel normal again.
- Zooming off into the future on a tide of pessimistic or negative "what ifs."
Wait, so that's anxiety? Yup. Often, well meaning partners and friends will have the sense that something is wrong but can't really put a finger on what it is. They just know that their loved one is on edge or very controlling and that they are on the receiving end of a lot of irritable or even angry comments. It's easy for both partners to feel helpless and hopeless. And yet...and you knew where I was going with this...there is hope. Postpartum anxiety is truly treatable. Using a mix of cognitive behavioral therapy and supportive techniques, you can absolutely feel better and shrug off that oppressive sense that something bad is going to happen. There's no reason to "white-knuckle" it.
Next up, what you can do about postpartum anxiety.