The initial difficulty of postpartum anxiety (PPA) is recognizing that you have it. As a first-time mom, the hours, days, and weeks after childbirth are a blur. It was difficult to recognize signs of postpartum anxiety.
During my pregnancy, I was bombarded with so much information by doctors, nurses, family members, coworkers, and the internet. It was all very overwhelming.
I knew that taking care of an infant would be hard but I didn’t realize how hard it would really be. Nothing you do can quite adequately prepare you for real, actual parenthood.
Once you realize that the hospital is actually letting you take a day-old infant home, reality and fear set in. The fear can be common for first-time parents, even for dads.
Early on in my prenatal care, I learned about postpartum depression and all the symptoms I should look out for. It was kind of drilled into my head that it was very common.
In the postpartum period, my biggest struggle was learning about postpartum anxiety. Similar to postpartum depression, women in the postpartum period are experiencing anxiety at high rates. Yet no one really talks about it.
It was difficult for me to understand what I was going through and everything that I was feeling. In focusing on my baby, I ignored a lot of my symptoms.
I kept ignoring my own mental health until I was ready to explode. In seeking treatment, I finally felt relief.
This article is about my experience with signs of postpartum anxiety.
Signs of postpartum anxiety
Generally, signs of postpartum anxiety include intrusive thoughts, feeling on edge, thinking obsessively about the safety of your baby, feeling that you’ll do something to harm your baby, and general irritability. (Source)
Sometimes these symptoms overlap with symptoms of postpartum depression. Sometimes they don’t.
Irrational thinking about my capabilities as a mom
Having doubts regarding my ability to be a decent mother was one of the first signs of postpartum anxiety. Most first-time moms may have this feeling in the beginning but, for me, it continued to persist after many months.
Initially, I didn’t think much of it but the thoughts continued to persist. On the outside, I was doing all the right things, maybe even more. I was attentive to my daughter’s needs, rarely let her cry for too long, and did everything by the book.
On the outside, it might look like I was crushing it. But on the inside, I felt totally inadequate as a mother. Like, no matter how hard I tried, it wasn’t going to click.
I know some mothers feel like they’re not naturally supposed to be mothers but this was different. It was like an inner torment that didn’t make any sense. Coupled with other symptoms I describe below, it was part of the recipe for my postpartum anxiety.
Today, after receiving treatment, I don’t feel this way at all. Today, I generally feel confident in my ability to be a parent. Occasionally, the new stages of toddlerhood can throw a wrench in parenting and cause a little bit of fear but I can get over these feelings rather quickly.
Inability to bond
I didn’t know what or how to feel with this gorgeous, newborn baby in my arms. After going through a pretty painful labor overnight with very little sleep, it was kind of shock more than anything.
My body was completely spent. There were many hours during labor where I was in mind-blowing pain and, all of a sudden, I have this bundle of joy. But I wasn’t happy or overjoyed. Believe me, I wanted to be happy and I wanted that joy.
It just wasn’t happening. I knew that, initially, it can take time for a mother to bond with a child. But hours turned into days, which turned into a few weeks.
I remember when I finally started feeling that bond with my daughter. It was a huge relief. This was a pivotal point in realizing that something was wrong.
Inability to bond is also a common symptom for postpartum depression.
It’s difficult to discern how much worrying is normal when you have this tiny baby that you’re supposed to keep alive. It’s natural to have some level of concern, but it shouldn’t permeate your entire day.
Worrying about my baby’s safety was a big symptom for me. As much as I tried to let the worry go, I just couldn’t.
I worried about everything. Was she still breathing? What if I dropped her? What if I fell asleep while I was holding her? All things that could happen in theory but far from what was actually happening.
My mind was not stopping. It started to become a large problem when it spilled into my sleep.
I started to have nightmares. My nightmares would involve the safety of my baby. In some of them, I would dream that my husband accidentally rolled over the baby.
A couple of times, I would wake up mid-nightmare and would be shaking my husband and asking for the baby. These were scary.
On those occasions, he would have to calm me down and let me know that our baby was safe in her bassinet.
The postpartum anxiety had permeated so deeply that it was affecting all manners of my life. It really sucked.
As part of the postpartum anxiety that was affecting my day-to-day life, the anxiety started to show itself in another areas.
Bruxism is a condition in which you grind or clench your teeth unconsciously during the day or at night. (Source).
On a routine dental visit during my postpartum period, the dentist asked if I was grinding my teeth during the day or at night. I was baffled because I never had this issue before and didn’t know that I was grinding.
There were signs on my teeth that I had been grinding. They weren’t noticeable at first glance but if I looked close enough, I could see the little marks where I was grinding!
Although this isn’t a listed symptom of postpartum anxiety, I fully believe that my sleep bruxism during this period was a symptom of my postpartum anxiety.
Seeking help after signs of postpartum anxiety
At first, I thought I had postpartum depression. But when I started reading about symptoms of postpartum depression, I felt that most of the symptoms did not fit.
I had no clue that postpartum anxiety was real and that it was happening to others. In doing some research on my symptoms (because I knew something was wrong), I stumbled upon an article about postpartum anxiety.
That article on postpartum anxiety was a saving grace for me. It described my feelings and everything that I was going through. It made me realize that I was not alone and that I could and should seek help.
I scheduled an appointment with my doctor to discuss my symptoms. In retrospect, I wish I had done this much earlier than I did.
At my appointment, we discussed my symptoms, my options, and came up with a short-term solution. For me, this involved taking a low dose selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), which is basically an antidepressant.
I had never taken an antidepressant before, so it was all new to me. It turned out to work very well in my case and I was able to get off of the SSRI after my daughter turned a year old.
My recovery started with making that initial call to seek help, and I’m so glad that I did.
Final thoughts – signs of postpartum anxiety
I hope this article helped in your journey. This experience has truly opened my eyes to the postpartum period, anxiety, and the difficulties of being a parent.
It’s given me this next-level respect for mothers and parents who fight through these issues while caring for their children. It’s definitely not easy.
If you are experiencing symptoms of postpartum anxiety, help is only a phone call away. Sometimes, it just helps to open up and talk to someone about what you’re going through.
It also helped me to remember that the postpartum period is temporary and that I wasn’t alone.