Kristen Farman and Her Struggle With Postpartum Anxiety (PPA)
I have suffered from periodic paralyzing anxiety for the past 14 years and have had a fear of flying for about 20 years.
After a long road to getting pregnant, I was anxious during the first trimester of my pregnancy with my daughter. The second trimester easy, despite my strong willed little girl scaring us into thinking she was going to arrive at 25 weeks, 28 weeks, 30 weeks etc. I was shockingly calm about this 15 week ordeal and, other than the inconvenience of spending 2-10 hours a week in L&D, it didn't really phase me. (Thankfully L changed her mind and hung in there until my scheduled C-section at 39 weeks). But by the last couple of weeks of my third trimester I was getting nervous. This was new, unknown territory. What if I couldn't make it to the hospital? What if I died? What if I didn't immediately feel the love for her I had heard about? (Don't worry, I did!) What if...what if...?
Given my history, I was concerned about my chance of having postpartum depression. I spoke with my doctor and met with a therapist whose specialty was pregnant and postpartum women. I even went so far as to tell good friends of mine to watch out for signs of depression and say something if they ever had a concern. I had never heard of Postpartum Anxiety.
When L was born my anxiety shot back in like a bullet. I stopped just short of refusing to walk down the hall for the C-section and had a minor panic attack during my surgery, but of course as soon as I saw her I was fine. After L was born is where the anxiety truly set in. I loved her immediately and spent hours just staring at her, basking in the love and wonder that was this tiny little being. My husband is likely cringing as he realizes this is out there for the world to see, but I was convinced there was something "wrong" with her. In the beginning, she did not nurse well and I had to pump as well give her a bottle. Here my normally size A boobs were now a size F (!!) and I couldn't nurse?! My body couldn't do the one thing it was actually supposed to and I freaked out. Did her eyes look okay? Did she sleep too much? Why couldn't she latch? I was convinced she had a genetic mutation. Obsessed. Just writing this and reliving it is causing my heart to race and making me panic, and before you start to think I'm a terrible person, at the time I did not notice/understand that these weren't normal concerns. My husband mentioned to the nurses I was having a hard time. Thankfully a lovely doctor, who specialized in genetic disorders, overheard him and immediately came to visit me. She sat with me for at least an hour going over every detail of my beautiful child, helping me nurse, and assuring me that she was perfectly fine. Her visit sort of knocked me back into my normal self.
Then we went home. On the outside it appeared I had it all together. Overall I was happy, we continued our pre-baby life and went out (bringing her with us), I still got dressed and put on makeup every day. People commented on how amazed they were that I was “so put together” just weeks after having a baby. But that was the outside. On the inside I was unraveling. Once we were home I couldn't leave the room she was in. For the first two weeks I made my mother promise me that she would stay awake and literally stare at L while I took a nap or showered (It was fight to get me to do either of those things). I constantly checked to make sure she was breathing. I was convinced she was going to die. I thought if my husband was late, he'd been in an accident. If one of my parents didn't answer the phone, they had died. I even called the police because I was convinced that someone was in our basement. Our pediatrician chalked it up to sleep deprivation and suggested that I put her in her nursery so that I could get some sleep, which I reluctantly did. About a month in, I remember looking at L and calling my mom and saying "what am I supposed to do now? She's just awake, and looking at me, and I'm all alone." I broke down crying asking why I felt SO confused and so alone with this little person I had prayed, begged and fought so hard for. My mother's response was kind, but firm, and something along the lines of "Take a breath and enjoy her. You are her everything."
The anxiety slowly subsided and life went on. She slept in her nursery at 7 weeks (and yes, I panicked for a month), we had babysitters and went out, we traveled, she crawled, walked, tripped and got back up, ate dirt off the floor and didn't die. She was (and still is) perfect.
Foolishly, I did not seek help. Honestly, I just assumed this was normal behavior for a new mom. It wasn't until 11 months later, pregnant with my second child, that I happened upon an article on Postpartum Anxiety. Every single detail of it was ME during the first few months with our daughter. I pulled my husband from the shower and read it to him, and he agreed. Although the thoughts and fears that had consumed my life seemed so distant at that moment, I felt a huge wave of relief pass over me. Like with the struggles to get pregnant I’ve previously written about, I realized that I, again, was not alone.
I wish I had known to seek help. I wish I had known that I wasn’t alone and that not everyone (probably no one!) thought the whole “baby thing” was easy. I was less anxious immediately after the birth of my second child, but we came very close to losing him at 14 weeks and my anxiety came back full force and it was debilitating. Now, I am little over three years out of my second (and final) postpartum phase and exactly three years next week (but who’s counting?!) after our son’s almost fatal diagnosis. I still don’t have it together all of the time, but the good times outweigh the anxious times. I’ve seen a therapist, I talk openly to close friends and my husband when I’m overwhelmed and, most importantly, I know that I am not alone.
A Real Estate Agent in the greater DC area, Kristen Farman is a former case manager in special education and learning specialist who is loving motherhood more than anything else. Raised in Texas and a New Englander at heart, she currently resides in Chevy Chase, Maryland with her husband and two children (4 and 2 1/2). Sometimes Kristen cannot believe she traded the fast-paced city life for a house in the 'burbs'. Being in the ‘burbs’ means more space to create fun, delicious and (mostly) healthy gluten free meals as she and her daughter suffer from Celiac Disease. Follow her on her blog SuckitCeliac.