Many women struggle with relentless worry after having a baby. Here’s what they wish their loved ones understood about the disorder.
May is Maternal Mental Health Month, so HuffPost Parenting and Wellness are shining a light on postpartum well-being. From how new moms handle those early days as parents while struggling with their own mental health to how to be there for friends and family, we’ve created a space for moms and their loved ones to feel seen and heard in those first trying months of parenthood. See the full series here.
The ups and downs of the postpartum period can be tough for any couple to navigate. But when the mother is dealing with debilitating anxiety, these challenges are intensified.
It’s estimated that 10% of women struggle with postpartum anxiety, according to Postpartum Support International. Other studies have suggested that number may be even higher at 20% to 25%.
Symptoms of PPA, as it’s sometimes referred to, may include constant and excessive worry (especially about the baby’s health and safety), obsessive or intrusive thoughts, feelings of dread, trouble sleeping, changes in appetite and difficulty concentrating, just to name a few.
All of this can put additional strain on a couple’s relationship during an already stressful time. Partners who educate themselves about postpartum mental health, listen, show patience and compassion, and find ways to ease the burden can be a tremendous source of support to new moms.
To that end, we asked women who have dealt with PPA what they wish their partners understood about the condition and their experience with it. Here’s what they had to say:
1. Researching the condition before the baby came would have helped you learn what signs to look for.
“Something I wish my partner knew about PPA was how to recognize it. I wish he would have been armed with knowledge so he could help me navigate my feelings of intense fear and dread surrounding my newborn. Instead of telling me, ‘I wouldn’t worry about it.’ I wish he could have said, ‘Babe, I think what you’re feeling right now is anxiety. Our baby is safe, you are safe, we are safe and I won’t let anything happen to you.’
I didn’t know I was suffering from PPA; I thought what I was feeling was normal. The reality I lived in was scary. I thought everyone was out to hurt my baby so much so that I feared leaving the house.” — Lina Forrestal, motherhood blogger and host of “The New Mamas Podcast”
2. My thoughts were so scary sometimes that I didn’t even want to say them out loud.
“My anxiety was so severe, it felt like a prison of my own making. I was convinced if I talked about it, I would look ‘crazy,’ and someone would take my baby away. I barely slept. I couldn’t bring myself to close my eyes at night because the anxiety caused horrifying nightmares.
“I suffered from intrusive thoughts about every terrible thing that could happen to my baby. I couldn’t make myself share all of this, even with my loving, supportive partner.”
– Katie Cloyd, writer
Even when I was awake, I suffered from intrusive thoughts about every terrible thing that could happen to my baby. I couldn’t make myself share all of this, even with my loving, supportive partner. I wish he had somehow known how much fear I was living with. I know he could have helped me reach out to people who could help me.” — Katie Cloyd, writer
3. It was difficult for me to articulate what I was feeling and what I needed from you.
“Knowing what I know now, it should have been part of my birth plan to talk with a mental health professional. Instead, I suffered in silence and struggled with being a new mom. I had trouble articulating to my husband what I needed and what I was going through.
Transitioning from pregnancy to postpartum suffocates us mothers with raw emotions. Oftentimes I couldn’t find the words because there was a lack of understanding and a disconnect between my husband and me. Only one of us experienced hormonal changes — and that alone is difficult to explain.” — Tonya Gooch Mann, @thepostpartumeffect on Instagram
4. The anxiety manifested as a need for control and wanting to do everything myself.
“I wish partners knew this controlling behavior is not a criticism of them or their parenting abilities. It actually has nothing to do with them. Rather, it’s about how the present moment in parenting brings up feelings of uncertainty and powerlessness from our past. It is a cry for help.” — Cath Counihan, psychotherapist and writer behind @psychotherapy_mum on Instagram
5. My irritability and edginess felt impossible to rein in.
“It was like I’d turned into a puffer fish or a porcupine. One seemingly small move, comment or sound and — poof! — I’d prickle out and sting those around me with my words or a look. I had developed a negative reflex to everything and anything, and it was all-consuming. It controlled me.” — Emily Adler Mosqueda, creator of @postpartum365 on Instagram
6. When I snapped at you in frustration, please know that it wasn’t your fault.
“My husband was my ally and did everything he could to help me. But my frustration with PPA and all my symptoms, like agitation and anger, was often taken out on him unapologetically. I think he spent much of that season believing he was to blame. So if I could go back in time to when my symptoms started, I would tell him that nothing was his or the kids’ fault. He wasn’t the cause of my PPA at all.” — Melissa Campos, @mommothermama on Instagram
7. Supportive gestures — even small ones — meant more than you know.
“I wish partners knew that extending support by touching and making eye contact is really helpful. Putting a hand on our shoulder or arm and saying, ‘You are doing so well’ or ‘You are having a really hard time’ makes us feel so seen and acknowledged. I have taught my partner to do this for me now at times of stress like bath time.” — Counihan
8. I needed to be reminded that the distressing thoughts in my head were not based in reality.
“When I was experiencing postpartum anxiety with my first child I was equating my ability to handle my anxiety with my ability to mother my child. In hindsight, three babies later, I wish my partner had known about this damaging inner dialogue so he could have reminded me that what my anxiety was telling me was not reality.
As first-time moms, I think many of us believe that experiencing postpartum anxiety or depression is a failure rather than a chemical or hormonal response. We question whether we are even ‘meant to be mothers’ because the commonly held belief about motherhood is that it is beautiful, natural and instinctual. It is beautiful, yes, but I think it’s more raw than anything. Women are trying to find their way back to wholeness over a longer period of time than many might expect.” — Jess Procter, parenting blogger and @north_west_jess on Instagram
9. Sleep and rest played a huge role in helping to manage my anxiety.
“While adjusting to new parenthood, it can be a major struggle to try to get enough sleep and rest. When anxiety sets in, it can appear that we feel just fine and are not as exhausted as we actually are. My partner was not familiar with the signs so he thought I was fine doing all the things. In reality, I was falling down the depleted anxiety rabbit hole. Also, if self-care isn’t happening while mom is taking care of everyone else and not herself, encourage and provide time for rest and self-care to happen.” — Elexa Martinez, @austinmombudget on Instagram
10. No, I couldn’t just ‘snap out of it.’ Getting better took time and effort.
“When I first started realizing what was wrong and getting help thanks to my doctor and my own internet research, I felt like my partner and some others thought I was using the condition as an excuse for how I acted. I feel like they still thought I could just ‘snap out of it’ and stop how I was acting immediately. They eventually saw that slowly, over time, I got better with medication, therapy, journaling, taking better care of myself mentally and physically, support from others, etc. They saw my relationship with my daughter improve, they saw my marriage improve and now they see me trying to educate others. Most are very supportive now.” — Amanda Dodson Gremillion, author and host of the podcast “Just Buy Her a Dress and She’ll Be Fine”
11. I missed the old me just as much as you did.
“Even though my partner is male and just didn’t ‘get it’ (though he tried, bless him!), I wanted him to understand the chaotic feelings I was experiencing after I had each baby and how difficult it is to navigate the constantly changing waves of emotions as our hormones slowly stabilize after being pregnant for so long. I felt so far away from the person I was before the baby arrived and just didn’t know how to find my way back to that rational person from the hormonal and sometimes angry person I had become.
“Looking back, I think it would be important for him to also get help. He was suffering in a different way.”
– Melissa Campos, @mommothermama on Instagram
The prevailing idea that the postpartum period ends after six weeks like many say it does is especially damaging to those with PPA or PPD. We feel that those around us expect us to be ‘our old selves again’ at six weeks when, of course, we are still recovering and adjusting. After each child I haven’t felt truly like myself physically or emotionally until around one year postpartum. We are forever changed by pregnancy, childbirth and becoming mothers — from our sleep patterns to our bodies, our ever-present anxieties to the permanent baby brain.” — Procter
12. You couldn’t “fix” me no matter how hard you tried.
“What happened to me was not my partner’s fault. He could not have fixed me, even if he had known all he knows now. I think he took all my complaints personally, like he should be able to fix them but couldn’t. Your partner can recognize the signs and encourage you to get help. They can try to be more understanding and supportive. They can try to not take things personally. But no one can force you to get or accept help. You have to choose that on your own.” — Dodson Gremillion
13. I recognize that period was really tough on you, too.
“My husband basically did everything for the family in addition to his work as a firefighter in those nine months while I was recovering. He took care of our baby, our toddler, me and our home. He cooked, cleaned and replaced everything I did as a mother to the best of his ability.
Looking back, I think it would be important for him to also get help. He was suffering in a different way since the brunt of the family workload was his to bear. He needed an outlet as well, someone he could confide in and share his frustrations with. I wasn’t in a mental place to understand or listen. To this day, I think he internalized much of his experience.” — Campos
Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.
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