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Anxiety and Psychosis
By Veronica Barnes
I had heard all those terms before, but thankfully had never experienced them. I had friends who had bouts with the "baby blues" for a few days after their babies were born, but I had been immune to even that. So when my body and mind started falling apart two weeks before my son was due, I was sure that I had some terminal disease. The thought that it was related to a shift in hormones and was psychological in nature was completely absurd to me.
Nothing with my two prior pregnancies and deliveries prepared me for the hell I was about to live through as I awaited the birth of my third child. Until the 37th week of pregnancy, things had gone pretty smoothly for me. I had been down the road twice before, so most of the thrill and wonder of carrying a baby was routine. I was excited, but then again, I knew that having two toddlers and a newborn baby to care for was not going to be easy. I had lined up a babysitter to help me for the babys first two weeks of life, and knew my husband would help me, so I can honestly say I wasnt really nervous or scared.
It was strange. One day I was fine, the next day I couldnt sleep, had tremors, lost my appetite, and had a crushing headache. Two days later, when the symptoms had worsened, I still hadnt slept and began having palpitations and panic attacks (I didn't know that is what it was at the time); I rushed sobbing into my OB/GYN's office for help. I was given a once-over and pronounced perfectly fine, if a bit anxious. His solution: to take a relaxing bath and drink a couple of glasses of wine. I was furious. Everything I had ever read had told me to stay away from drinking during pregnancy, and I felt that I had not been taken seriously. By the fourth day of literally no sleep and increasing panic attacks, I went again to the doctor. I was desperate and thought I was dying. I was consumed with the desire to sleepit had been days since I had any sleep at all, and I literally begged for help. I was given sleeping pills and tranquilizers. By day 7, my symptoms continued to worsen and I became so distraught that my doctor felt it was best to deliver the baby early.
I had a C-Section, and was thrilled to see my new baby boy. He was beautiful. I loved him immediately and with a deep passion. I almost felt like myself again. After his birth, I was sedated with painkillers and actually slept through the entire night. I believed then that the worst was behind me, but unfortunately, it was only the beginning. By the second day in the hospital, all of my symptoms came back in a rush and the despair I felt was indescribable. I managed to make it through four nights in the hospital with the help of some very understanding nurses, my loyal husband, and my precious doses of Tylenol #3 with Codeine. So what if they gave me horrendous nightmares -- I was able to sleep and that is all that mattered to me.
My first day home was uneventful. I laid around in great pain, but looked forward to getting beyond all of my physical problems and getting down to the business of taking care of my new baby boy and his siblings. I took a tranquilizer every six hours and prayed that the tremors, headache, chest pain and dizziness would go away. It didn't. I didn't sleep that first night at all, nor the second or third. My husband got up in the middle of the night to feed the baby each night, and I continued to pray for help and the ability to sleep. All noises upset me, the sight of food sickened me, and as strange as it sounds now, I felt like I was dying.
By my second week home, things had gotten progressively worse. I loved my baby fiercely and wanted so much to feel well enough to care for him. So when each doctor I saw diagnosed me with Postpartum Anxiety and Depression, I just knew they were all wrong. I was sure I had read somewhere that having that disorder meant you wanted to hurt your baby. They said I was depressed. I told them, through my tears, I was merely frustrated. I wanted to feel like myself again. I consulted a psychiatrist: same diagnosis. What did he know? Every time I was given a prescription, I would get upset. "I am not mentally ill!" I would cry. My medication would be adjusted or changed with hopes that a magical combination would solve my problems. As the days turned into months, I began to think life was not worth living anymore. I didnt actually think of killing myself, but I thought if it just so happened that I got hit by a bus, well I wouldnt be so upset about it.
My son was now 3 months old. My hands still shook so badly that I was afraid to hold the baby for fear of dropping him. My husband still fed him every night, and the babysitter cared for him and my other two children all day. I felt ashamed of myself for not "snapping out of it", guilty that my baby barely knew me, and I became obsessed with the thoughts that I would never be the same again. I had once been a fun-loving, strong, healthy woman and had turned into a crying, weak person who I despised. Yet slowly over the next month I began to notice signs of improvement. I began getting a bit of appetite back, the sound of the television or radio no longer tormented me, and with the help of medication and relaxation tapes, I was getting a solid night of sleep most of the time. And then I would notice that a few days of the week I would wake up without tremors, my headache eased, and I began to feel like venturing outdoors.
I called my doctor, thanking him because for the first time in months, life was good again. It wasn't great yet. That would take another year before I felt completely like the "old me". And even now that my son is two, I am still on medication. If I don't take it, I find that the headache and tremors come right back. However, I know someday soon I will be able to come off of the medication entirely and feel good without its help. But I no longer feel guilty for needing medication, nor do I feel ashamed to tell others that I am a survivor of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety. I know now that this is more common that I would have ever imagined, and that there is information, chat groups and support on the web for women like myself. If you suspect that you (or someone you know) are suffering from this disorder, do not hesitate to approach your doctor with your needs. There is no reason you need to suffer. There are professionals to help, and other women who are willing to listen. I have gone through this difficult experience and have emerged with a deeper sense of compassion for others who are suffering, a greater bond with my husband and children, and a deeper faith in God. And for that sweet little boy of mine, I would go through it over again a hundred times.