A common number I keep reading on the web is that about 10% of women experience postpartum anxiety and/or depression. This statistic sometimes includes a speculative clause that that number is probably higher, but many women don’t realize what they’re going through is normal and, therefore, don’t report it. Instead, they “white knuckle it” (as a friend of mine put it) alone for months or sometimes years at a time.
Despite being a highly emotional person my entire life, I had utmost confidence that I wouldn’t be one of those weak 10-percenters. My confidence was undergirded by the fact that I had a natural birth (which made recovery less complicated in my mind) AND I felt the most content and at ease I had ever felt in the weeks (and months) immediately following birth.
And then. I was humbled.
Latent Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Is A Thing
I had actually been warned by seasoned mothers on several occasions that emotional complications could hit me months after I had adjusted to life with a baby. I can think of four different women on the spot who took care to insist I call them should I fall prey to what they had. I kindly thanked them and insisted in return that I was fine and I was going to be fine.
What I didn’t know was that they were entirely correct: postpartum depression and anxiety can occur a year or even later postpartum! (Check out this fact sheet on Postpartum Mood Disorders for more info.) When the phenomenon blasted a gaping hole in my plans, I felt completely unprepared to deal with it because I had so quickly dismissed the possibility. Therefore, I was completely blindsided and didn’t understand for several days what was happening to me.
It wasn’t until I began to share what I was experiencing with friends and family that I began to recall the warnings from almost a year earlier. That’s right, almost a year prior! It wasn’t until 11 months postpartum that I began to experience debilitating anxiety.
In My Experience…
My postpartum mood disorder first took the form of anxiety. It took a while to dawn on me because the onset happened to coincide with what I deemed as spiritual warfare. I truly believe the enemy saw an opportunity in my anxiety to break me down and cause me a lot of fear and he took it! For a couple of weeks I literally was scared to death of nothing and experienced regular panic attacks and had to be very careful to guard my thoughts.
I was thankful that my worries had nothing to do with my child, as seems to be the case with the majority of new mothers, but I also felt that what I was experiencing was more severe since my fear was rooted in spiritual matters rather than things under my control (like my health or the safety of my son).
I went to the doctor first to make sure there really was nothing wrong with me physically and the doctor confirmed my suspicions of postpartum anxiety with no other health problems. She prescribed a low dose of general anxiety medication and I considered this option for a few days. In the end, I decided I didn’t want to take a mind-altering drug and risk transferring my bondage from extreme emotions to a different kind of slavery–namely, psychotropic drugs and a state of being emotionless. The doctor also suggested I continue to meet with my pastor (as I had previously) since my anxiety was taking a spiritual form. I did take this advice and had several conversations with my pastor and his wife about what I was experiencing. I also kept ongoing dialogues with my mom and a few friends who had gone through the same thing and requested their prayers on my behalf.
I took the anxiety one day at a time, clung tightly to business and routine, and continued to study and pray despite feeling like God was a million miles away. After about two weeks the anxiety began to dissipate. Unfortunately, as the anxiety began to fade, depression began to appear in its place. And this is where I pick up present day. Anxiety is no longer a problem, but depression comes and goes. I struggled with depression for another week or two after the anxiety, but it’s no longer constant. And when it comes on, I just remind myself that it isn’t forever and that I’m certainly not alone.
My Advice To Other PostPartum Mothers
Are you experiencing postpartum depression or anxiety? Go back and check out the fact sheet I linked above. You may be surprised to learn that what you are experiencing is totally normal and will go away eventually. Having been through it myself and even still dodging episodes, here is my advice to you:
- Make an appointment with your doctor. As my own mother said, “Even though it is almost definitely just anxiety, go for your own peace of mind so you can eliminate the possibility of any other health issues.” Having your doctor confirm postpartum mood disorders will give you comfort because you will know it is normal and temporary.
- Consider whether drugs are the right option for you. I decided not to take a prescription and to simply work to get through my issues. This was my personal decision for several reasons. I was told by another doctor that taking prescription anxiety medication can become addictive, makes the problem worse before it gets better, and can become hard to quit because of fear that the anxiety will (and sometimes does) return. I didn’t want to add any of these potential complications on top of my problem, so I decided against medical help. However, this does not mean it is the right decision for you. I urge you to really weigh your options before making a decision. Having not taken them myself, I believe that my bout of anxiety and depression has been much shorter than it would have been had I had a mask of psychotropic drugs covering my symptoms. Without them, I’ve been able to measure my progress more accurately.
- Share the load. Whether you choose to take prescription medication or not, don’t do this alone. It helped me tremendously to hear stories from other mothers who’d gone through this and to know I was in their prayers. I didn’t realize how normal the problem was UNTIL I began to talk about it because no one really does talk about it. Many mothers try to bear the anxiety and depression alone because they feel ashamed that something may be wrong with them. You’ve probably told yourself many times to just get over it or pondered what’s wrong with me? If you share your problem you will more than likely discover many mothers who completely understand and are willing to help.
- Get professional help. If you can afford a therapist, that is great! But, if you are like me, help of that sort really isn’t in the budget. But you still need someone who can give you positive, encouraging, and enlightening feedback. This is where talking to my pastor and his wife played a huge role. Not only were they my makeshift therapists, but I find that they were even better because they were able to keep me grounded in scripture and how it related to my issues. Even if your postpartum disorder isn’t of a spiritual nature like mine was, consider seeing a leader of your church about it. Even just a couple of meetings to help you realign yourself with what God’s Word says and His promises can help you gain a more comprehensive perspective of what you’re going through. All things considered, God is still sovereign and has your best in mind.
- In light of that, consider whether the enemy is using this common phenomenon against you and fight back. If you are constantly crippled by fear, anxiety, or depression, he has you right where he wants you: feeling defeated. Have you let the enemy use your postpartum struggles against you? Take time to pray and read what God’s Word says about worry, fear, and emotions. Use this season as an opportunity to strengthen your faith and renew your trust in God’s plan. Fight back! 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 says,
“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…”
Are you taking every thought captive as you work through your anxiety? Are you facing your fears with discernment and trust? You may be surprised to find if you wield the Sword (scripture) during this time of trouble, God will answer!
- Eat Well. I know when I was in the thick of anxiety, it interrupted my daily living to the point that I just wanted to sit and eat junk food all day. BUT, now is not the time to let comfort food get the better of you. Try to eat well and nourish your body so that a poor diet doesn’t contribute to any mood disorders you are fighting.
- Stay busy yourself and stay busy helping others. Staying busy by itself is a good thing that will help you keep your mind off your anxiety or depression. When I grasped the nature of my problems, I realized that the worst thing I could do was stay idle or isolated. Since struggling with anxiety and depression, I’ve begun making the effort to get out of the house more and schedule more playdates. Making an effort to socialize more helped me so much! But even better is to stay busy helping others. As I was going out and doing more, I also tried to focus on solving others’ problems–an automatic mood-lifter. Some days it would mean offering help to a friend, other days it would just mean trying to focus on serving my family.
If you are struggling with delayed postpartum anxiety or depression, be encouraged that this is still normal and that it is only temporary. Seek help and research! If you have struggled with it in the past, be sure to check on your newer mother counterparts. They may be suffering and too ashamed to speak up.
Above all, remember: This, too, shall pass.