Everyday Life is an extension of our radio and magazine ministry to encourage you in the many roles and relationships you have.
There is Hope: Dealing with Postpartum Anxiety
By Joy Choquette
The scary thoughts came, so hard and fast that the onslaught left me breathless, heart fluttering, palms damp. Knives, bath water, blankets and burp cloths, strollers on busy roads, button eyes on teddy bears, car seats—all posed imminent danger to my infant son, Pascal.
When I first learned I had Postpartum Anxiety (PPA), I felt a mixture of relief and shame. Relief because there was a name for what was wrong with me; shame because I felt broken.
When did I have the first scary thought? I can’t remember. But I know the day I collapsed into a heap on the laundry room floor, begging God to fix me, to make the bad thoughts go away, was one of the worst of my life. Like mini horror movies—that’s how one mother dealing with PPA described the intrusive thoughts. It felt like a random demon was splashing these horrific images across the screen of my brain. And I couldn’t make it stop, no matter how hard I tried.
When my son was four-months old, I went to see a therapist. Her office was cluttered with books and plants. For some reason, this made me feel safe, that I could trust her. Over and over on the drive to her office, I told myself that I wouldn’t break down. I would “keep calm and carry on.” But it took just one question, “So, how are you feeling?” for the dam to burst. I cried into a pile of tissues as she held my son on her lap, patting his back.
I told her about the scary and completely irrational thoughts: knives lying on the kitchen counter had to be moved, (they might fly across the room and into my baby’s chest), my hand had to be within inches of Pascal at all times during bathing (he might suddenly flip himself over and drown); other moms tossed their babies into the air (I saw an image of the fan decapitating my son). There were others too, so many. Deep fears that I would drive off and forget Pascal in his car seat in the parking lot or worse, drive over him; SIDS, baby food that had been tampered with, my falling down the stairs and Pascal tumbling ahead of me. The worst fear though? That I was one of “those” moms—who drowns her babies in the river or suffocates them while they sleep.
The therapist assured me that I was not a threat to my son. “People who are psychotic don’t worry about being psychotic,” she said, her voice gentle. She described the wide array of postpartum mood disorders, many of which I’d never heard of. PPA’s familiar cousin, Postpartum Depression (PPD) has had significant media attention in recent years. But other postpartum mood disorders: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Posttraumatic Stress Syndrome, Panic Disorder and others, often go undiagnosed and untreated as well. PPA affects between four and 15 percent of mothers. Many moms either don’t understand that they are dealing with a disorder, or are reluctant to seek treatment due to financial issues, fear, or stigmas.
Two things helped me the most: first, I ran into an old high school friend who I reconnected with. It turned out that Michelle was struggling the same way I was. We became our own support system and cheerleading squad. “I know what that feels like,” one of us would say when the other was having an exceptionally bad day, or “I had that exact same thought.” This was freedom to me: to know that I wasn’t inherently defective nor was I the only mother dealing with this.
The second thing that I found incredibly helpful was an online forum specifically for parents dealing with postpartum mood disorders. http://postpartumdepression.yuku.com/) I didn’t post a lot, but I read voraciously. “That’s me, that’s me!” I would think, reading about the frightening thoughts another mom was struggling with. What a relief to know that I wasn’t alone.
One morning I sat curled in my favorite chair reading the Bible; a verse spoke to me, deeply and powerfully. "Teach me how to live, O Lord. Lead me along the right path, for my enemies are waiting for me. Do not let me fall into their hands. For they accuse me of things I've never done; with every breath they threaten me with violence. Yet I am confident I will see the Lord's goodness while I am here in the land of the living. Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord." Psalm 27: 11-14 NIV (Emphasis mine)
Enemies don't have to be flesh and blood, walking around with human skin. And while I don't believe that PPA or other postpartum mood disorders is the same as demon possession per se, doesn't it make sense that Satan would take full advantage of any pain, whether physical or mental, to cut us off from God? Make us feel unworthy? Accused?
My son is three now, and I worry about normal things: splinters and scraped knees and tricycle accidents. He is the most awesome gift I’ve ever been given and I’ve grown so much in the past few years. While I can’t yet look back on those early months with complete gratitude, I see the bits and pieces of grace woven into that time. The way it taught me how to be more honest, more open, and more vulnerable; to rely on God more, to trust him despite my fear. It’s also given me a mission of sorts: to tell other Christian mothers experiencing postpartum mood disorders that they are absolutely, positively not alone. And that they will get better. Without a doubt.
Joy Choquette lives with her family in Vermont where she writes and makes art. She’s currently facing her fear of water and training for her first triathlon. Read more about her adventures at www.fiberandfaith.blogspot.com. She also maintains a website, www.postpartumfaith.com for parents struggling with PPA.