Also, it makes me less crazy. Or it did. I am less crazy now that I'm not a hormonal nightmare.
I had never heard of postpartum anxiety before giving birth. I heard of postpartum depression, because yeah, obviously. But anxiety? Nope.
Now, I've dealt with anxiety in the past. Back in 2007 and 2008, it sort of made my life hell. I got it under control through exercise and therapy, and I've been pretty awesome since then.
Then comes baby. And the subsequent hormones.
Having an anxiety attack in the middle of the night in a hospital just after having a baby cut out of you sucks. Having three anxiety attacks? Sucks even more.
So they gave me the meds. They sent me home. My blood pressure was all catywampus, which made it hard to concentrate on The Kid instead of my own health. I was a good patient, though - I took my blood pressure meds, my antidepressant, my Percocet, my super-strong ibuprofen, my iron pill, my prenatal, and three other meds that I can't remember at this time. 9 pills to start me off. Yeah. It was like that.
I had it under control, I thought, until I started having really creepy thoughts.
WARNING: POSSIBLE TRIGGERS, READ WITH CARE.
"What if I accidentally drop The Kid? What if I drop him on his head? What if I accidentally drown him? What if I blind him? What if I'm getting dinner ready and I accidentally cut him with a knife?"
And then the really scary thoughts happened:
"What if I cut him with knife... on purpose? What if his crying just gets too much and I put the blanket over his head?"
These thoughts scared the shit out of me. I loved my baby, right? If I loved him, how could I think these thoughts, even for a moment? How could I PICTURE them? Why couldn't I stop thinking of hurting this tiny little person that I loved more than my own life?
There was a day that I thought I was going crazy. I couldn't hold The Kid in the same room as a knife.... just in case. What if I snapped? What if I was one of those crazy moms who kills her kid and when they ask what happened, she just sort of shrugs and says, "he was crying." That evening, I was cuddling The Kid and the knife scenario played in my head over and over and over. Finally, I handed The Kid to The Hubs and went into my bedroom and just cried.
I found out that these thoughts happen to a LOT of moms. I wasn't going crazy. These terrible visions are called "intrusive thoughts," and while they aren't normal, they are COMMON. Often, they revolve around a baby being hurt either on accident or on purpose, although they can also manifest as sexual thoughts toward the baby. I took the time to read about intrusive thoughts, and found that many moms experience the same shame, guilt, and fear that I was experiencing. I bought a few books about PPA, and read up about it online. I found out that there is also something called Postpartum OCD, and I had a few of those symptoms as well.
I eventually stopped having regular intrusive thoughts. Once I was on a stable level of Zoloft (for me, it was 100mg a day), the thoughts faded away. While I think the happy pills helped, I also think confronting my fears helped as well. Reading about PPA and PP OCD, as well as reading about the thoughts themselves, taught me that ignoring scary thoughts or suppressing them makes them even worse. Instead, it's best to think, "well, that was a strange thought," and then let it disappear. Know that it's not at all about you - your brain is trying to process a crazy influx of hormones, as well as trying to deal with these new protective instincts. You're imagining every worse case scenario because you love your baby so much that you're on high alert. It sucks, but you're not going crazy. The crazy people are the ones who have these thoughts and AREN'T bothered by them.
I am now taking 25mg of Zoloft a day. I recently tried to go off it completely, but found that it made me an uber-bitch. I hope to be off Zoloft entirely by The Kid's first birthday, but we'll see how it goes. Being on 100mg of Zoloft made me feel a bit fuzzy around the edges, and I felt like I couldn't appreciate the really, really good things in life, because I cared less about the really, really bad things. It also made it almost impossible to have an orgasm, which sort of sucks after 6 weeks of "pelvic rest." Going down to 75mg helped a lot with the sexual side effects, and I felt as if the emotional side effects sort of went away on their own eventually, although decreasing my dosage did help.
I would not recommend decreasing dosage on any meds without talking to your healthcare provider, however. Most people who suffer from PPA or PPD need to be on antidepressants for at least a year, and some studies suggest 18 months to be the shortest time to consider before weening off antidepressants for postpartum issues.
I wish more people talked about their postpartum issues. I wish more people talked about mental illness in general. I spent far too long feeling weak about my anxiety, and it took a while for me to realize that having anxiety is a lot like having high blood pressure - it is a problem for some people, and people can deal with it in different ways. Sometimes diet and exercise help, and sometimes pills help. Sometimes therapy and prayer and mediation and speaking your truth help. Right now, for me, happy pills help, and that's nothing to be ashamed about. By helping myself, I'm helping my family. That makes me a good mom.