This is a guest post from Antonia over at Bottles and Scrubs. It is her personal story of how she dealt with postpartum anxiety. I feel like many of you can relate to her story, so I wanted to share it.
Hi! My name is Antonia. I am Emergency Room Nurse and Mom to two toddler girls only 14 months apart. I created my blog to help other parents and nurses out there. Here I will be giving you some real life advice, on motherhood and an almost 10-year career as an Emergency Room Registered Nurse. I can be unfiltered and blunt, and am definitely not the perfect mom, wife, or nurse, but I have some really great tips and tricks to share! You can find me at: www.bottlesandscrubs.com
Postpartum Anxiety…My own personal journey and how I learned to fight it.
We need to talk about something that does not seem to be talked about often: postpartum anxiety.
Postpartum anxiety is very real, and it is something that can truly be debilitating to a new mom. I personally battled it a couple of months after giving birth to my second child.
Here is my personal story of what I went through, and how I learned to fight it. You are not Alone!
History of Anxiety
I have dealt with an anxiety disorder most of my life. And once I figured out what was really going on, I’ve had a handle on it. However, during times of high stress in my life, it makes a come back.
It started when my parents were getting an ugly separation and subsequently a divorce. I was only ten when I first experienced what I now know was anxiety because of all the stress and disfunction surrounding me. I felt like I was choking.
Everything I ate, I felt like I was choking on, even though I really wasn’t. It took multiple visits to the Emergency Room, endless testing, and finally a visit to a psychologist to diagnose me.
My Experience with Postpartum Anxiety
Forward to several years later. I am now a mom, with a 14 month-old and a newborn. My marriage was solid and we had the whole baby thing down to a science. We were also blessed with easy and happy babies, but for our second baby, my husband did not get as much paternity leave as with our first.
I was home alone with a toddler and a newborn a lot during several months of my maternity leave. For those of you who don’t know; Firefighter/Paramedics are usually gone for work for 2-3 straights days, sometimes more. Also, due to a loss earlier in my life, I didn’t have a mother, or any family, to help me.
I had almost no help with my two babies, my in-laws would help when they could, but most days it was just me alone with them. My anxiety started creeping in again and it had been years since I had dealt with it.
This time, it hit me, in a much more powerful way than it ever had. I was also planning our wedding at the time, and my days of maternity leave were going to be over soon. So I definitely had a lot of stressors contributing to an already existent chemical and hormonal imbalance.
What Postpartum Anxiety Can Look Like
In the mornings, I would sit in the house alone with both kids in my pajamas and just start panicking. I would have cold sweats and my hands would shake. When I would find activities for us to do outside of the house (being stuck at home would make everything worst), I would find myself going back inside the house multiple times.
Had I left the stove or oven on? I would check several times before getting in the car. Did I forget one of the babies in the house? I would again check the backseat multiple times, to make sure they were both in their carseats. Are they strapped in tightly enough? Again, I would check their car seat straps multiple times before backing out the driveway. It was debilitating.
Tips to Help You Cope with Anxiety
Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed, ASK FOR HELP!
As a medical professional, after a few weeks behaving this way, I decided that it was time to ask for help. Something was very wrong with me and the way I was behaving. I was lucky in that I realized that I needed help. People don’t realize what little work is done to screen new mothers for postpartum depression and anxiety disorder, and offer help.
However, being a medical professional I was embarrassed to ask for help. I am an Emergency Room Nurse, I deal with the craziest and most high stress situations, that most others can’t handle…and yet I couldn’t handle two babies? I felt shame. But I also realized that this wasn’t me, this wasn’t something that I didn’t have any control over.
That same day I called the nurse hotline for my insurance. If anyone was going to understand me and help me, it would be another nurse. We as a profession, just have a way of looking out for each other, even if we are complete strangers.
My phone Nurse was amazing. I explained to her what was going on, the behaviors I was exhibiting, and also that I knew that was not normal, I was a nurse after all. She had such a caring and understanding attitude. She immediately connected me with helpful resources and also suggested I made an appointment to see my primary care provider.
Go see your doctor. If your doctor blows you off, go see a different doctor until you get the help you need!
My primary care doctor was great, she really took her time and listened to me. Not all doctors are like that though, and some may just blow you off. Trust me, I have seen it happen time and time again. If you do not feel as though you are being taken seriously, get another opinion.
My doctor put me on a low dose of Zoloft, and within a few weeks, I started to feel much better. She also suggested I see a counselor for some talk therapy. If medication is something you are not comfortable with, that is ok too. There are many natural ways that can help with your postpartum anxiety, that I will talk about below.
I never felt suicidal, or had any thoughts of harming my babies, which can sometimes happen with postpartum anxiety and/or depression. If you ever experience any of these thoughts or feelings, please call 911 immediately, or have a loved one drive you to the nearest Emergency Room.
When people offer help, accept it!
Having been on my own from the age of eighteen, I have always prided myself on being independent and self-reliant. These are some great qualities to have, however, as a mom and a nurse I have learned that there is nothing wrong with accepting help. In fact, it will make your life a whole lot easier.
If your mother-in-law offers to take the kids for the weekend..take her up on it. If a friend offers to watch your kids, so that you can go to the grocery store alone…again, take her up on it. If a coworker offers to start an IV for you, or medicate your patient…again accept the help.
You can see where I am going with this…learn to say: “yes please that would be great!” You have nothing to gain by trying to do it all yourself, and you have nothing to lose by letting others help you. Just make sure you give those who help you a big thank you, and pay it forward when you can.
Focus on self-care
Medications for Anxiety
I had been prescribed Xanax, several years earlier. Xanax was wonderful. When I took it, nothing bothered me, nothing stressed me out. However as a nurse, I knew that becoming dependent on it would create more problems than solutions. It was simply a band-aid and easily addictive.
So instead, along with taking Zoloft, I started making self-care a priority. I ate better and made sleep a priority (I was working a late shift at the time). Then, I found a great trainer at the gym. I have always felt at my best when working out regularly, and she made me work hard and push through my comfort zone.
Self Care is Important in Helping Anxiety
Those small victories at the gym (“Yay! I lifted an extra five pounds today!”), and better self-care habits, led to a much more self-confident and empowered me, which led to less anxiety. These changes did not happen overnight though, it took weeks of me making my self-care a priority, and working out regularly.
My gym also has a great daycare. So everyday, I was able to get a two hour break from being a mom (that is the daycare time limit, and I am not allowed to leave the premises). Somedays I worked out really hard, and somedays I just walked on the treadmill and listened to a good podcast. It didn’t really matter what I did, it mattered that I took some time just for myself, and that made me a better mom.
The girls that have now watched my kids at the gym, since they were six weeks old, are now regular babysitters that we can count on for date nights, and sometimes conflicting work commitments.
If my husband has been gone a lot for work, and I can see myself losing patience with my girls; I will call on one of our sitters to watch them for a few hours at our house. I will go out and run errands. Or even get a massage or a pedicure. I feel revived and refreshed and again, like I can be a better mom.
If You Are Dealing With Postpartum Anxiety
I hope the this post has helped you, if you are dealing with postpartum anxiety and even depression. Remember, you are not alone. If someone offers you help, take it. And there is nothing to be ashamed of.
Most importantly, take good care of yourself, because you cannot take care of others, when your fuel tank is on low!