By: Kristina Dapaah
Trigger Warning: If you have experienced postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety (or) are dealing with any type of anxiety and (or) mood disorders, please note that this piece will describe symptoms while outlining a personal experience of a mother in the postpartum period dealing with anxiety.
The postpartum period can pull you so far away from yourself and the life that you knew , and make you believe that you have no way of moving forward. I shared this sentiment in an Instagram post recently and was met with women who understood exactly what I meant. Sadly, this isn’t surprising given that 23% of women experience feelings of postpartum anxiety (PPA) and/or postpartum depression (PPD) in Canada. Like almost ¼ of Canadian women, I identify as a mom navigating a postpartum period plagued with worry and sadness.
Looking back on my life, I can remember being a relatively anxious child that was scared of sleeping alone and afraid that something was going to happen to me. I expected that with age, these fears would eventually disappear. To a certain extent, they have, but not entirely. Instead, my childhood anxieties have evolved into worrying about what people think about me, and generally fearing for my life without any valid reason or concern. I wouldn’t say that any of this has affected my ability to function daily. To cope, I recharge in solitude after social situations. Worrying constantly wasn't something that had a name in my life. I did not call it anxiety, it was simply the way I lived. I’ve come to realize that risk factors for postpartum anxiety/depression include, but are not limited to: single mother status, unplanned pregnancy and lower socioeconomic status. It is also said that some of the predictors for PPD/PPA include depression prior to pregnancy and/or depression during pregnancy. This was important for me to sort through because although I don’t identify with any of the risk factors, I fell into the category of women who had experienced prenatal depression during my first trimester and did not realize it would put me at greater risk for PPD/PPA. I do find myself wondering if I could have done anything to prevent the experience I am now having. I’ve reflected on my anxieties from childhood and adolescence and wondered if they have wired me for being on edge as a mother.
I want to take you back to my first pregnancy and the birth of my daughter, where I was met with health issues that I am realizing have left me somewhat traumatized. I was 27, a first time mom, equally excited and freaked out by the idea of childbirth. Then, out of left field, an issue arose: I developed preeclampsia, a condition that I didn’t know much about at the time, but that I have since learned is a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure. The preeclampsia left me in and out of hospitals, on medications and extremely exhausted. Fast-forward three years later, I decided to try for baby #2. This time around, I was worried. Not the kind of worry that you can easily brush off, but a worry marked by a racing heart and an inability to get out of bed. I was experiencing frequent and daily panic attacks at the possibility of having another health concern. The nausea was almost the highlight of my first trimester. The panic attacks eventually subsided and I was able to embrace all the changes that came with being pregnant a second time. This pregnancy was physically draining, but otherwise all right. My faith rose and somewhere over the course of those 9 months, I decided to believe that this time postpartum could be different. My OB (aka Obstetrician; a doctor specializing in pregnancy) was working with me to help prevent preeclampsia from setting in a second time.
Five days postpartum, I took a blood pressure reading that began a spiral of fear. The familiarity of high blood pressure readings and hospital stays sent my body to an anxious place I didn’t know existed. I knew immediately that this unshakable fear was beyond my control. What I have experienced in the last 4+ months involves sleepless nights, panic attacks, and a crippling fear of being alone.
As a Ghanaian Canadian, I am typically discouraged from openly sharing this kind of thing but I have decided to take a different approach. I’d like to dismantle that school of thought by identifying myself as someone who has struggled and continues to navigate the scary world of PPA/PPD. I am a self-employed mama, who has continued to work and care for my family amidst this postpartum period and I am slowly persevering. I’ve leaned on the help of a therapist and grandparents that have been the glue that has held our family together.
I have made significant progress, but I am not on the other side entirely. I think there can be power in sharing. I think it is relatable and beneficial to those who are also in the middle of a tough situation. Hope deferred makes the heart sick, so I choose to place my hope in brighter days ahead. I am choosing to feel the feelings and process the pain until I arrive on the other side.
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