Post Partum Anxiety: A Mother’s Experience With Maternal Mental Health
In honour of Bell Let’s Talk I am republishing this honest post on maternal mental health. While it is easy to share the joyful moments of motherhood and a new baby it is equally important to recognise the painful and raw parts too.
Check out Raw Beauty Talks for seven inspiring unfiltered stories about motherhood, sharing stories of post partum anxiety and depression.
The first person to ever ask me if I had ever had any issue with post partum depression or anxiety was my hairdresser. It’s seems kind of unbelievable really, especially considering she asked me this question just this past weekend and my youngest is already two years old. How can it be that no one ever checked in or flat out asked me this before?
All of us know just how taboo mental health topics can be. Especially talking openly about mental health, too often we feel a bit uncomfortable asking people in our lives how they are actually coping. It’s easy to assume our friends and family would feel comfortable reaching out and asking for help. However, in real life, this is far from the truth.
My Experience With Post Partum Anxiety
Right after I had baby number three I sunk into a weird unexpected cycle of feeling anxious. I never had any post partum depression or anxiety with the other two babies. I had a healthy baby in my arms and I was a seasoned mother, so why was I feeling this way?
This third baby was a high risk pregnancy, a wild delivery and our families first NICU experience. In retrospect that all played a role in the post partum anxiety but it was never red flagged by anyone.
As soon as I got home from the hospital a hot prickly feeling of anxiety crept into my daily life. I should have been relieved that the high risk pregnancy was over and I was finally home with my new baby. Instead, the happiness and relief was not enough to carry me through all of the feelings of anxiousness.
Coping With Post Partum Anxiety
One of the ways that I felt more in control and safe was being with the baby in my bedroom. We set up camp in my bed and I could actually feel tiny moments of bliss and happiness, it was definitely how I coped and survived this time in my life. However, if you asked me to do something that required getting out of the apartment I turned into an uncertain sweaty anxious person with a whirlwind of spiralling thoughts.
When the baby was about five weeks old my sister took my older kids over to Victoria to see extended family. It was all great until it was time to arrange how to bring the kids back home. The plan was for me to meet up about 45 minutes from home so I could go get them and drive them back.
At first I faked it and thought if I pushed myself enough I would get over the fear of leaving my bedroom, leaving the city and driving with the tiny baby to go and pick up the other kids. It was about not a long drive but the thought of having to do it made me feel physically sick.
It’s a drive I’ve done many times before and logically it did not make sense why it made me feel as upset as it did. That’s anxiety for you, it is totally an illogical process. I was worried about putting our very tiny baby into a car seat. I was worried about driving while feeling so tired. I was worried she might cry the whole drive.
I convinced myself that she could stop breathing in her car seat and I even let myself ‘go there’ and envisioned getting out of the car and finding that she had stopped breathing while I was on the highway.
Eventually my sister offered to bring the kids back home to me and I went from feeling totally ridiculous with all of my thoughts to feeling a sense of calm. I could stay in my bedroom, on my bed, with my tiny baby and we would be okay.
I could stop having to constantly process the ‘what ifs’ that were totally illogical but still swarmed my mind. Things that I had done with my other kids when they were babies just felt like too much this time around. Everything felt scary.
It was even too much for me to make the six week post partum check up with my obstetrician. Instead, I just kept telling myself that I’d eventually book it. Months went by and I could never bring myself to make that appointment.
The thought of going to the appointment felt like like this huge amount of energy. So I let myself decide that there was no way I could go. As expected, there was no call to check up on me or see if I was okay. Eventually I was totally off the office radar but not going didn’t help my feelings of anxiety. Instead, I’m sure it made it worse.
Support Through Post Partum Anxiety
Anxiety is a complex beast, it is completely controlling of your daily life. It steals your joy and your sense of self. The idea that something bad is about to happen all the time is utterly exhausting. Things that used to make you feel happy and satisfied were now coated with a new layer of uncertainty.
I wish that someone had flat out asked me if I was having any problems coping when I had this third baby. Just having someone to talk about these weird feelings would have been beneficial to my mental health.
Over time I started to feel less and less anxious. As my baby grew and I felt more in control of my daily life I had more anxiety free moments. It was not an over night transformation but a gradual continuous shift into feeling more steady. For me the feelings were the most intense for the first 3 to 4 months post partum and slowly eased off over the rest of the first year.