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Anxieties of Motherhood: What is Postpartum Anxiety?

blog post the anxieties of motherhood - what is postpartum anxiety

A letter to you...

Dear mama, 

I see how tired and overwhelmed you are. I also see how hard it is to manage the demands of family, life, and work. And I see that longing in your eyes for rest and rejuvenation. A chance to feel free and at peace again. (#momburnout hashtag – what is postpartum anxiety?)

I remember all those mixed emotions you are struggling to process. I feel the chaos that fills your mind, which you spend each day trying to untangle and make sense of.

And I hear you. I am here to hold space for the life story you have to tell – unique yet familiar.

I love this quote from Brene Brown, “we live messy, imperfect, wild, wonderful, heartbreaking, grace-filled, and joyful lives. We are called to a movement fueled by the freedom that comes when we stop pretending that everything is okay, when it isn’t.”

Everyone needs a little support sometimes, especially when we are going through difficult or unfamiliar experiences.

There is hope.

My desire is that this blog may be a quaint little place you can turn to when you need to find rest, hear encouragement, or be reminded that you are not alone.

I hope to provide you with knowledge, skills, and resources to help you overcome your life challenges. And I strive to provide my readers with a space to hold emotions, a place of safety and calm, and a certainty of the hope that can be found even in the midst of life’s most difficult experiences.

Lastly, I hope you find something here that resonates with you and encourages you to be who you were created to be!

I want to help you get to know me and to trust that the resources, tools, and strategies I share with you come from a place of lived experience and professional expertise. 

Therefore, I am going to share my story with postpartum anxiety so that you are aware that I truly know what it feels like to be an overwhelmed and exhausted mom who is struggling with mom burnout, and a mental illness. 

My story of Postpartum Anxiety

As I sit and reflect upon my birth story I am filled with so many emotions. My first reaction is overwhelming feelings of gratitude and joy as I have the privilege of being a mom to two amazing children with beautiful and unique personalities whom I love so dearly.

At the same time, I am also filled with the memories from that day. Memories of the pain, and of the gentle support of my husband and midwife. I remember how my body was triggered during labour by my first birth which was traumatic and hard, and the strength and support needed to work through that.

I remember the shock and humor – I was about ready to call it quits and go to the hospital when my midwife said, “well let me just check if there has been any progress from the 3 centimeters you were a bit ago”…. “O my goodness, there’s a head! This baby is coming now”.

I remember how amazing, strong, and capable my body was at delivering that baby, and the deepest sense of relief and joy the moment that precious baby girl was placed in my arms for the first time.

And the tender intimate moment I got to witness as my older daughter met her sister for the first time. Words can’t even described it. (see photo near bottom)

I also remember the sacrifices I had to make.

Over the course of this past year I had to work through and accept many of them from body, to career and lifestyle changes.

Then, I reflected upon the fact that many women (about 15-20%) struggle with postpartum depression and/or postpartum anxiety, so I felt called to share my story with you in hopes that it helps you know you are not alone.

Did you know?

Postpartum depression is the most common complication of childbirth, putting families at risk each and every year? (Postpartum Progress website)

what is postpartum anxiety

Following the birth of my beautiful healthy daughter things were going well. I was happy with my birth story.

I was of course dealing with the usual nursing, sleeping, and toddler troubles but overall things were going well. My second baby was much easier and more content than my first. We were slowly adjusting back to normal.

Signs I was experiencing postpartum anxiety

Over time I started becoming more irritable and had less patience when dealing with my toddler and husband. I was yelling more. And I always felt on edge.

I couldn’t stand it when my new baby cried and wouldn’t settle it just got under my skin.

Then I started having fear based thoughts, that something bad was going to happen. I would constantly play scenarios in my mind about death and crime.

I would wonder, what happens if I die? What would happen if my husband died? How would the girls handle it?

These thoughts became intrusive to the point that my brain would create these elaborate scenarios and I started to be fearful – thoughts that someone was going to break into my house and hurt my family.

I started locking my doors constantly, always watching over my shoulder, and sitting closest to the door/window to protect my children.

Constantly, I would go over a plan in my brain for how I would react and keep my family safe. And, I would also have horrible vivid nightmares. It became exhausting!

I remember I was sitting on the couch one night watching an animal planet episode and there was a scene about a mother bird who was trying to protect her babies from a fox. The fox got a hold of one of the babies and it was squealing for help as the fox carried it away. There was nothing the mother bird could do.

I had an emotional melt down! Even now as I sit and reflect upon this story my hippocampus (memory part of the brain) is being triggered. I can still feel those painful emotions. I didn’t feel like me. But why? What was going on?

I finally realized it was postpartum anxiety

You would think because I am a social worker and work with people who have anxiety all the time, I would have clued in.

But, I find when you are in the middle ‘of it’, whatever it may be, you are too consumed by the emotions you are unable to examine it logically.

It is like a fish and water. These thoughts and feelings were the water I was swimming in; drowning in.

It wasn’t until late one night while I was working on some material for work on the topic of anxiety, a light bulb moment occurred and I realized this is me – this is exactly what I am experiencing. I then changed my search to ‘postpartum anxiety’ and cried tears of relief and sadness as I finally realized I had developed a postpartum mental illness.

what I did next...

Thankfully, because I am social worker I knew the steps I needed to take to move to a place of positive mental health.

Over the next 12 months I focused on self-care, thought stopping strategies, distraction techniques, sleep routine, exercise, good diet, and increased support, to name a few.

daughter meets her sister for the first time - anxieties of motherhood

I would like to think I have dealt with it but every once and awhile those intrusive thoughts start, my amygdala takes over (part of the brain responsible for fight, flight, or freeze) and I experience the anxiety. This usually occurs when I am not doing a great job taking care of myself. 

It is probably never going to go away fully, And is just one of those sacrifices I made because of my decision to bringing two beautiful children into this world. I will just have to adjust, adapt, and create a new normal.

Those two girls who call me mom are worth it!  

Are you experiencing postpartum anxiety?

I hope you can gain something from my story whether now or in the years to come when you have children.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms below and feel you may be struggling with postpartum depression or anxiety seek support!

It took my over a year to tell family and friends about my story of postpartum anxiety.

Postpartum mental illness can feel lonely as everyone expects you to be happy and excited about all the changes and your precious baby. Tell someone – get support! 

What is postpartum anxiety?

First, I want to explain that increased worry and some intrusive thoughts are actually normal after birth. Why is this? It’s because your mama instincts for protection and survival are cranked real high – so you can take care of your new baby and survive the exhaustion and recovery process.

The problem is when this worry and these fears become too much to handle and begin to affect your ability to cope with daily life and motherhood.  

Symptoms of postpartum anxiety

  • Constant or near-constant worry that can’t be eased
  • Feelings of dread – that something bad is going to happen
  • Racing or intrusive thoughts
  • Disturbance of sleep and appetite
  • Fatigue/exhaustion 
  • Inability to sit still
  • Physical symptoms like dizziness, hot flashes, and nausea
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension/Shaky/Trembling
  • Difficulty concentrating and focusing
  • Forgetfulness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Hyperventilation
  • Sweating
  • Low mood (postpartum anxiety and postpartum depression may be connected and lead to the other) 

There are a couple of even more specific types of postpartum anxiety — postpartum panic disorder and postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Their symptoms match those of their non-postpartum counterparts, though may relate more specifically to your role as a new parent.

With postpartum OCD, you may have obsessive, recurring thoughts about harm or even death befalling your baby. With postpartum panic disorder, you can have sudden panic attacks related to similar thoughts. (Healthline Parenthood)

“I am so nervous all the time, I feel so out of control with worries. I don’t even want to leave the house and bump into anyone I know. If I go out I worry about Arman starting to cry – what if I can’t console him, and everyone stares at me and thinks I am a terrible mother?” –Salima

Causes of Postpartum Anxiety

There is no exact causes of postpartum anxiety and some aspects of mental illness will always be a mystery as the brain and body are so complex. 

However, there are a couple factors that can make someone more at risk of postpartum anxiety (PPA). 

  • Family history of mental illness
  • Personal history of mental illness
  • Previous pregnancy loss of death of an infant
  • Significant loss or trauma
  • Traumatic birth
  • Stress overload at just the right time

so why did I get postpartum anxiety? Well I believe I had 2 risk factors stacked against me. One, I believe I have a family history of anxiety. And two, I experienced stress overload at just the right time to create the perfect storm. 

Right before Christmas I had a baby, lost a friend to cancer, and had a traumatic experience with my older daughter. Like I said the perfect storm.

My poor system just couldn’t handle the loss, fear, grief, joy, and hormones – so it crashed.  

Treatment for PPA

Step 1: know that you are not alone or crazy. You are not defined by this postpartum anxiety. And you are a good mom!

Step 2: Get help! Connect with your family doctor/medical professional or counsellor. 

a mother and her child - anxieties of motherhood

PPA can affect your attachment to your child as well as your physical and emotional well being. 

The good news… there is treatment and ways to manage PPA.

4 Components of Postpartum Anxiety Treatment

There are 4 components to postpartum anxiety treatment. 

  1. Counselling (cognitive behaviour therapy is proven to be successful as well as mindset work
  2. Self-care (eating, sleep, exercise, creative outlet, mastery, getting out of the house etc) 
  3. Support – We often feel alone because of our PPA. So, you need to connect with friends and family. Really let them in! 
  4. Delegate – a mom with a new baby cannot be expected to do it all. Find ways to delegate those stressful, non-life-giving and time consuming tasks to friends, family, and professionals. I hired a cleaning lady 1/m for the first couple months and it was a game changer! 

Mama, if you area still with me and have read all the way to this point I am guessing you are struggling. Let me journey with you and help you to get off that hamster wheel so you can start enjoying your motherhood. #inthistogether 

I often find that my anxiety spikes when I am stressed out. So, I encourage you to start here – reading and reflecting on the activities in this blog post “Stressed Out Mom? How to Experience Stress Relief”

Always here for you, 

 xoxo

Sarah (@thewholehearted.mom)

Looking for more information? Checkout Anxiety Canada – they have a new mom section all about postpartum anxiety. 

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Did you know that 15-20% of new moms experience postpartum anxiety?
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signs you may be struggling with postpartum anxiety

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