This is how the initial phone call typically goes:
Caller: “Yes hi, I was hoping to set up an appointment…I had a baby xx months ago, and had some anxiety here and there, but it’s gotten worse/hasn’t gone away/interfering with my normal functioning…My OB said I probably have “postpartum”, but I’m not sad. I’m not depressed. I’m not, like, crying…”
Mamas…sound familiar? I can’t TELL you how many calls I get like this. Women who are struggling to find answers. Women who are tired of their brains racing all day, worrying about “what-if” scenarios relentlessly. Women who are afraid of their own thoughts because they seem so “out there” or disturbing. Women who can’t seem to sit still or sleep, despite utter exhaustion. Women who are postpartum, but do NOT FEEL DEPRESSED.
Here’s the thing. As a mental health clinician who specializes in perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (more on what THAT mouthful means later), I see more women in my practice who experience pregnancy or postpartum ANXIETY, not DEPRESSION. While I am extremely pleased with more providers recognizing when a mama is struggling, and recommending they “take this Zoloft” or “go talk to this therapist”, I think some women feel misheard or misunderstood when this idea of “postpartum depression” is delivered to them. If it doesn’t fit their symptoms, I’ve had a lot of women wondering what in the WORLD was happening to them. Unsettling, right?
Postpartum Anxiety (PPA) actually occurs in more women than postpartum depression. 1 in 7 women will experience postpartum depression, yet 1 in 10 women experience postpartum anxiety. In many cases, women report beginning to feel “on edge” shortly after giving birth. It is marked with constant worry or racing thoughts that do not diminish. Many times, PPA has physical symptoms including shortness of breath, elevated blood pressure, dizziness, numbness/tingling in your body, rapid heart rate. While some worry after bringing a new life into the world is completely normal, after a couple of weeks, mama should be able to dismiss the worry as irrational or almost like mental noise. If this is not happening, if the thoughts/worries stay “stuck”, mama, REACH OUT. There is help!
Like postpartum depression (PPD), there are recommended outlets for mama to begin to feel better. First, let your “person” know that you are struggling. You do NOT have to go through this alone. Sometimes, even the act of sharing some of your thoughts is enough to alleviate the intensity of the anxiety. You can also reach out to your OB, pediatrician or trusted medical provider. Here is what you say…”Hi I had a baby (blank weeks/months/a year!) ago and I am struggling with what I think is postpartum anxiety. Do you have a list of providers (counselors, chiropractors, support groups, psychiatrists) that deal with this?” See? There you go. There’s a script that is simple, and let’s them know what you NEED. That can take the hesitation to call and try and explain something that doesn’t feel explainable down a notch, a little, right?
I will say, it is often a combination of support, therapy to learn coping skills to manage the distorted thoughts that come with anxiety, and sometimes medication is involved. And guess what guys?? MEDICATION IS OK. Not everyone needs it. Not everyone wants it. But there ARE medications that can be safe during pregnancy and for nursing mamas and babies. And if you begin taking something, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will have to take it forever. If you begin taking something like an SSRI, it also doesn’t mean you are “weak” and “can’t handle” the stresses of motherhood. Mamas. This is MORE than stresses of motherhood. This is biochemical and hormonal in nature. If you need medication for postpartum anxiety, it’s the same as needing insulin for Diabetes…your brain needs help regulating chemicals like serotonin, like your pancreas needs help with insulin production. (Is it your pancreas?? I think so…whatever, you get my point?).
If nothing else, learn more and feel more validated by checking out these 2 great resources: