My mom and I talk EVERY SINGLE DAY and yesterday she asked me how I managed to get nine days in a week. And it’s because y’all are so awesome. I know I’ve said thank you a dozen times, but I can’t NOT say thank you to everyone who has come here and read the stories of these amazing moms and friends. And I can’t NOT say thank you to the women who have been brave enough to write their stories down and share them with the universe.
Today’s story deals solely with the effects of Post-partum Anxiety.
Lee (@BrownOwlTwins) reached out to me when I sent out my original tweet asking for guest bloggers. Y’all. She has FOUR children under FIVE. OMG. Two boys and two girls. Her story is one that shows that there is HOPE for future pregnancies for those of us who have experienced PPD or PPA with our first, and part of that hope comes in the form of a support group of family, doctors, and friends who are proactive.
Here’s Lee’s story:
I was 30 when I had my first daughter. It was a picture perfect pregnancy and easy delivery. The recovery was a little rough but I had been prepared for it and expected it to feel like it did – like I was cut wide open. During my pregnancy I had been faithfully taking Prozac for anxiety. I was one of those oddballs who had anxiety without the depression. I did not experience periods of anxiety or panic attacks while I was pregnant. I suppose I had the normal worries that a first time Mom has but nothing really more than that.
Looking back my first mistake was abruptly quitting the Prozac out of fear for my daughter as I was breastfeeding. Plus, I had all those “feel good” hormones raging through my body and I honestly thought I was going to be fine. I paid no attention to the insomnia that took over during my hospital stay. I could not sleep, even with the pain medications and Ambien.
My in-laws graciously hired a “baby nurse” to stay with us for the first week we were home. Flora, the nurse, was like a live in grandmother and a pure dream. She was older, in her 80’s, when she came to us. She had wisdom and freely shared with us. I’ll always remember Flora telling me her favorite meal in the morning was hot coffee and cold pizza. Flora was great in that she had “been around so long” that she had all kinds of ideas as to how to care for an infant.
Anyway, as soon as I was home I raced around the house, as much as you can after a c-section, and tried to do all the things I did before my delivery. I wanted to run the washer and dryer, wash the dishes, and sweep the floor. I suppose I was a touch manic. I absolutely could not sit still. My family urged me to relax and take a shower. When the warm water hit my body I began to sob uncontrollably. This pattern of running to the shower and sobbing continued throughout Flora’s stay (and of course after). Sweet Flora would be waiting in the family room for me and would say in her East Texas accent, “Now honey, I have had lots of my new mommies cry. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, try to rest, it will pass.”
What didn’t make any sense to me were the new feelings I was having. I remember trying to put it to words to a girlfriend and telling her it felt like my heart had split open, like I had felt after the dissolution of my first grown up relationship. I felt happy (I thought), but sad, energetic, but tired, and still I continued to cry in the shower.
When it was time for Flora to leave I was a little suspicious that I was in trouble. I sobbed and sobbed in my front yard, clinging to her like she was my own mother that I would never see again. My husband had to take the baby from me and I went inside to lie down. I could not speak to my girlfriends, my parents, my sister, nobody. I felt that nobody would understand.
When my husband went back to work the serious anxiety set in. After he left for the day I would think of things I needed to do, like get out and walk, get some fresh air, but as soon as I left the house I felt an overwhelming choking sensation, claustrophobic almost. At times I would have to go over to my sister’s house and hand her the baby and go lay in the bed. But while I was laying there I was for certain that I was having a heart attack, a stroke, breathing problems, all kinds of things.
I made an appointment to see my regular GP since I was for certain that I was having some kind of heart arrhythmia. I will always remember that morning and trying to get to the appointment. I had my daughter in her car seat and I would try to drive a few blocks away from the house only to panic and begin to hyperventilate. I must have driven in the immediate neighborhood for at least 2 hours. I absolutely could not bear getting on to the highway to drive there. I was shaking and completely out of control.
Of course once a family member took me there my GP determined I was fine. He suggested that I might want to go back on my Prozac but I flat refused on the grounds that I was nursing.
About 4 weeks later it was our wedding anniversary and my husband had arranged for us to stay in a very nice hotel and to relax, have a nice dinner, massage, etc. His parents were going to keep our daughter overnight. You would have thought I had left my heart right there in the driveway. I cried all the way to the hotel and upon check-in I called and checked on her. The next morning when I was getting my massage I jumped up from the table in the middle of the session and told the masseuse that I could not breathe. I told her I needed to get back to my room and lay down immediately. She escorted me back and gently asked my husband if I was suffering from Post Partum. When he told me this I flipped. How dare she? She did not know me or my situation! I thought she was crazy!
A few days later I began to imagine how it would feel to jump out of the car while being driven down the highway. I stared at the handle, wishing it to open and suck me right out. A trip to the supermarket resulted in my hiding in the bathroom stall with my daughter, sobbing and hyperventilating, waiting for my husband to rush over to pick us up. Forget the car in the parking lot, I could not drive. I was not safe to be out with my daughter.
Every night at sundown my anxiety would increase at the thought of another day alone, fearing more breakdowns.
Then came Christmas Eve church service and I knew I had reached a bad place. I could not sit through the service; I ran to the Sacristy and completely broke down. We had to leave the service early and I called my psychiatrist, who thankfully is Jewish, and was taking calls on Christmas Eve. I went straight to his office for an appointment.
He convinced me to resume taking my antidepressants, and in addition, prescribed me to take half of a Valium every 6 hours for a week. You can only imagine what kind of shape I was in for a doctor to prescribe something so strong. He told me that I was not doing my daughter a disservice by quitting nursing – that I could not function in the situation that I was in and I had to change. Period.
In a nutshell, it took months to come out of my “funk.” I still hesitate to go to large grocery stores during peak hours because I will always remember my feelings of helplessness and loss of control. I try to go easy on myself and just think of my anxiety as a part of me and something that I have to work with.
I did go on to have more children, and with careful planning and help from my psychiatrist and OB, did not experience another bout of post partum anxiety. My second child was born with a congenital birth defect that we were unaware of, and even dealing with that, the uncertainty, the NICU, was easier than the first time around.
Five months ago I had boy-girl twins. I spent 16 weeks in the hospital on strict bed rest due to incompetent cervix and preterm labor. Although it was extremely hard being away from my family, I made it, we all did, and even though I was anxious and very worried about the twins arrival, I did fine.
People always ask me, “My God, you have 4 kids under the age of 5. Twins! It is just terrible? How do you handle it?” And I always tell them that actually dealing with the newborn twins, my 3 year old boy, and my 5 year old girl, is still easier than what I experienced the first time around.
I guess what I am getting at is this: don’t let your fear of another round of post partum change your decision on whether or not to have another child. I was very open with my doctors about my necessity to take medicine throughout my pregnancy and breastfeeding, and they were very accommodating. We all made sure to agree on a medication that is safe during both pregnancy and after. There are many, many medicines that are.
And most importantly – remembering to reach out to family, friends, and doctors was my key. It might be yours too.