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This story is a part of our Raw Motherhood series, a collection of true accounts from real moms. We hope these stories will help shed light on real issues, but we are not medical professionals and are not offering medical advice. If you are in need of immediate help or feel you could be a harm to yourself or others, please call 911.
Postpartum anxiety hit me like a truck.
My twin boys were born 6 weeks prematurely and spent two weeks in the NICU. The time in the hospital gave me a bit of anxiety, but life was good after bringing my babies home. They slept four hours at a time and I began to relax more.
At my 6 weeks postpartum checkup, I was given anxiety medication because I was feeling a bit of cabin fever. Then when my babies were two months old, the Navy relocated us from our home in Mississippi to Virginia, where we’d been previously.
The move was overwhelming and taking care of my family became so much harder. I felt like a deer in the headlights as postpartum anxiety rammed into me. I felt out of control, and like I should be able to handle it so much better.
Anxiety can manifest in many ways.
I experienced a high functioning form of anxiety that involved extreme OCD (perinatal obsessive-compulsive disorder), to the degree where it almost destroyed my marriage. At one point I was even slurring my words and stuttering.
My mom (and greatest source of help) thought I was having a mental breakdown. It definitely felt that way to me. My brain had so much to communicate, but there was a disconnect with my mouth, and I couldn’t form words. I felt paralyzed from speaking.
When my husband would come home from work, I would be cleaning compulsively. I pushed myself to keep up with the dusting, mopping, sweeping, vacuuming, and laundry. My sons’ diapers were changed frequently, even if they were only a little wet and had been changed just 15 minutes before. I felt that if they were in wet diapers, that I wasn’t doing a good job of being a stay at home mom.
My hygiene and my sons’ hygiene became a second job! I had to shower and put makeup on every single day. If I didn’t, I’d bite my nails or pick at my cuticles until they bled. I had to do these things to fight the constant anxiety.
At this point, things began to get even more difficult.
I felt guilty if my husband came home to a dirty house or a wife without makeup on. It was a daily battle to accomplish anything and everything.
I finally shared all of this with my doctor. I was hesitant and scared of being sent to a mental facility. Thankfully he realized that the anxiety medication I had been put on previously was an ‘upper,’ or stimulant medication. This medicine can work for someone who has anxiety that causes them to feel sluggish or sad, preferring to stay in bed and trying to hide from the world.
But for me, this medicine sent me into high gear. I was ‘on’ 24/7. Every day it felt as though I’d had 5 energy drinks. Sleep was awful and the thoughts in my brain never slowed. Thoughts of failure consistently plagued me.
My husband was frustrated, it felt like my home and babies were never clean, and I felt like I wasn’t enough. At times I even felt guilty for getting pregnant with twins.
I know – as if I had any control over that!
But I felt like maybe if I’d only had one baby, then maybe I would handle motherhood better. Maybe I wouldn’t feel so overwhelmed.
The doctor changed my medication, but I still struggled.
I saw a few different doctors and they adjusted my dosages. After 4 months, I finally met with a doctor who seemed to actually understand what I was going through. I had tried so hard to express my feelings, but I was always scared of the judgment. Luckily, this doctor saw symptoms the previous doctors had missed and saw that the medicine I was taking wasn’t helping my OCD.
This doctor knew how to talk to me and not make me feel ‘crazy.’
It took a few weeks for the new medicine to kick in. During that time my husband didn’t understand my compulsions, guilt, or irrational fears of dropping one of my sons down the stairs while carrying them to bed. He didn’t understand why I would lash out at him, telling him not to touch the sleeping babies. My brain fought for control and a consistent schedule.
I pushed him the furthest away. My husband, like many men, was ill-informed, and he didn’t understand why these emotions hit me when the boys were two months old, rather than sooner after giving birth. He couldn’t understand why I would behave a different way than I wanted to, and he had no idea how to care for me or talk to me about my anxiety.
It took a few doctor visits and phone conversations with my mom for my husband to really understand what I was going through. This wasn’t some excuse to act out; I felt broken and overwhelmed with guilt, and I had no control over my OCD.
This was one of the hardest times of my life.
I thank God that my husband stuck it out with me and that I finally found the right medication.
I’m doing much better now. I’m more relaxed about the boys’ schedules, and I don’t have to clean every day or put makeup on. My husband understands when I’m upset and he has learned to give me space or talk me down on the tough days.
There is a silver lining for anyone suffering! The clouds do part and no one should ever be ashamed to ask for help. This blog is here so that you know you’re not alone, and to give you the confidence to ask for help. The next time you’re struggling or stressed, reach out. Talk to your doctor, your husband, a friend, or any of us.
It does get better.
If you feel that you could be suffering from postpartum anxiety or perinatal OCD, please speak with your doctor. If you need more information on terms used in this article or resources, please refer to our Glossary, and if you need to make some mom friends, please join the Facebook group Raw Motherhood.
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