In the early days and weeks after having a new baby, there are lots of warnings about postpartum depression. Online quizzes, concerned inquiries from your OB-GYN, and lots and lots of internet articles. Noticeably missing from that lineup is the anxiety that can either go hand in hand with the depression or shows up uninvited all on its own.
You can find information on postpartum anxiety if you go looking for it with Google searches and WebMD self diagnoses, but it’s not grabbing the headlines of every blog post like PPD. Even when I did find articles and checklists on anxiety, it did not look like what I was experiencing.
I did not have constant worry or fear of something happening to my baby. I was not repeating the same activities or routines over and over. I was not a late-night worrier. I was not going over lists in my mind at 2:00 A.M.—I was too damn tired for that. I did not constantly feel worried or on edge. These are the typical symptoms and signs of postpartum anxiety. If you are feeling or noticing these things, please do reach out to your doctor!
However, for me, postpartum anxiety was regular generalized anxiety on steroids. I was frozen into complete inactivity because I was overwhelmed. In retrospect, in true keeping with my personality, I thought of all the one million things I was “supposed” to be doing during maternity leave or that I “could” be doing—and of course should be doing perfectly—which resulted in complete paralysis and me doing NOTHING.
Now I did feed and take care of my babies—and myself, as much as can be expected of a new mom. But I could not leave the house to go to Target. I would have help with the baby and was supposed to be running to Target or Babies”R”Us (RIP) to buy baby essentials and ultimately couldn’t leave the house. I found myself on more than one occasion sitting on a chair in my living room, fully dressed and ready to go, scrolling on my phone. This was not out of concern about the well-being of my baby while I was gone or how I would miss her in that quick 30 minutes. This was inexplicable, irrational frozenness.
That’s when I knew I needed to start taking my anxiety meds. With my first baby I regretted that I had “wasted” six weeks of my maternity leave not recognizing the power of hormones over my regular anxiety. There is a long list of people to whom I never sent thank you notes for baby gifts after my first baby. The simple task of writing a quick and simple note, which I otherwise love to do, was too overwhelming. I still have in a box in our guest room the list of gifts and the note cards on which I was going to write the thank yous. It’s probably time to let that go and hope that they have forgiven me for my lapse in manners.
When the second baby came along not long afterward, and the postpartum anxiety along with it, I recognized it immediately and was on top of it. What a world of difference.
It is my hope that we mothers continue to talk and share about all of our postpartum experiences, whether that be depression or anxiety, and in whatever forms we find them (or they find us, I should say). It’s just so important that we reach out and find someone who has a similar experience.
Here are a few additional postpartum resources: