Friday, October 20, 2017

Postpartum Anxiety

One of the things you'll hear a lot about regarding pregnancy, is Postpartum Depression or PPD. It's definitely a buzzword of the now, and there is a lot of awareness drawn toward it. A lot of women, even those without previous mental health struggles, find they suffer from Postpartum Depression for a variety of reasons. For some, it's the transition that is so difficult. It seems like you know what will happen with a baby and then it turns out to be a much larger struggle and becomes PPD. For some, it's a traumatic or difficult birth experience. Even having a relatively smooth birth that happens to end in an unplanned c-section can be enough to trigger PPD in women. In particular, women who really wanted a natural vaginal birth and weren't able to achieve that, may feel a lot of residual guilt...even though it's not their fault. There are myriad other reasons why women might suffer from Postpartum Depression and there is currently a lot of awareness about the issue, trying to make sure women are aware, that they understand they are not alone, and that they understand they can get help and not have to suffer for months.

However, PPD isn't the only mental health issue that affects women postpartum. Some women, of course, already experience mental health disorders and might find that the postpartum period exacerbates those issues. This isn't always addressed, I think because people assume that those women already have care providers and can get the health they need. Two other issues that are starting to come to light in the postpartum period are Postpartum Anxiety and Postpartum PTSD (which I think might have a different name). In particular for the PTSD, men and women partners of pregnant women can experience this too. (In fact, the partners of pregnant women can experience any of these issues as well, because they are affected by the changes following birth and can be deeply affected by anything that happens to their partners or their child.) Unfortunately, fewer people are talking about postpartum anxiety or PTSD...in part because it's just totally ignored. The medical community and our culture do a great disservice to women by dismissing whatever they experience. Because of this, the very idea that giving birth in our current culture could cause any sort of trauma is not really recognized as valid...which just highlights the sexism inherent in our culture and in care for women.

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When it comes to the various postpartum mental health issues, I'm personally at high risk for PPD, and that is really what was the focus of all of the flyers and lectures I received. But what I've really been suffering from is heightened anxiety, to the point of being debilitating. (And honestly, I think also PTSD, but that's unconfirmed.) During my pregnancy, I suffered from heightened anxiety, but I didn't have any triggers for it. I knew this was due to hormone fluctuations which can have a HUGE impact on mental health...though no one really wants to talk about it. (So many issues with healthcare for pregnant ladies.) Even though my OB told me that there would be hormonal fluctuations after birth and while breastfeeding, it didn't really sink in until I was in the thick of it.

I wish I had been able to step outside of the throes of postpartum anxiety, because I think it might've saved my breastfeeding relationship. But I couldn't, because I couldn't even leave my house...actually, I couldn't even leave my living room. For six weeks after the birth of my son, I didn't enter my bedroom for more than a few seconds at a time. I set myself up in the living room, on the recliner, with a bassinet next to me, and that is where I stayed for almost 24 hours a day. I went to the bathroom and I sometimes went to the kitchen (but sometimes didn't) and I did leave the house for walks...because I was ordered to do so to recover from my cesarean section without catastrophic consequences. I managed to walk around the block three times a day, for the most part, for the first three weeks. And then I did start having longer walks. And eventually, I ran a few errands, even attended a two yoga classes. It took everything in me, and five weeks of constant anxiety, to get to the point of being able to leave my house FOR AN HOUR AT A TIME.

Finally, after about six weeks, Adam's housing on Put--in-Bay changed and he was moved to the hotel where he works. I came up here to be with him, because I wanted to get up here. I love this island and I have friends here. But also because I wanted to be with Adam and to have help. I THOUGHT I was ready for this, but I think I was wrong. I've been struggling with panic attacks and they've gotten worse. I'm considering going home early, because I just want to be back in the safety of that recliner.

I don't know what I'll do and I don't know when I'll feel better (and yes, I know I have resources for doctors and stuff, but I don't know how to get to them). But I just needed to write it down and put it out in the world.

Writing is the best way I've ever found to process my feelings and my struggles with mental health (and now autism). I've been writing online in some way since the late 90s, and regular writing is always more helpful than not. I have no solution and I have not conclusions and I haven't even fully processed what I've experienced, but I had to write it down.

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