Making Peace With Your PMAD (Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders)
Recently, I’ve been diving deeply into PMAD (Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders) research for a project I’m working on. And I’ve made a few discoveries. If you’ve been a follower on my blog, you are aware that I am a PPD (Postpartum Depression) survivor. But what you may not be aware of is that I’m a PPA (Post Partum Anxiety) survivor, as well. And to be honest, up until recently, I didn’t truly connect the dots and realize that what I experienced were symptoms of PPA. And I know I’m not alone in this.
I know I’m not the only mom who refused to admit that she was suffering from a postpartum mood and anxiety disorder. There are many other moms out there suffering in silence and denying their painful experiences. We all have our reasons why we do it. For some it’s painful to admit that you need help. You may be the Type A independent woman who loves having everything under control, and believes that she is the maker of her own destiny. You may be a perfectionist that is scared of failure, and thus can’t admit that you may be struggling. Or you may be in actual fear that your baby will be taken away if you admit to having a mental health disorder. It has happened before. But whatever your reason, one thing is for certain – you are not getting the help you need.
Sings Of PPD and PPA To Watch Out For
Before we talk about coming to terms with receiving a diagnosis or even going in to receive the diagnosis, I wanted to share with you the signs you should be looking out for.
Symptoms of PPA (Postpartum Anxiety)
- Physical anxiety symptoms – faint, dizzy, nauseous, racing heart, “pit” in the stomach
- Panic attacks
- Racing thoughts
- Issues with sleep
- Changes in appetite
- Constant feeling of dread, as if something bad is going to happen to your baby, your family or you
- Yelling at your other kids and your partner
- Disturbing thoughts and images about your baby (baby is going to die, picturing yourself doing something to baby like dropping them from a second floor, etc)
- Afraid of being left alone in the house with baby because you believe you will act on your thoughts
- Constantly checking if baby is ok (not sleeping in the night and checking if baby is breathing all the time)
- Fear of leaving baby in the care of anyone else, like your family or partner, who you normally trust
- Afraid to leave your house with baby because something bad is going to happen (car crash, kidnapping, brick falling on you or baby, etc)
Symptoms of PPD (Postpartum Depression)
- Anger or rage
- Profound sadness
- Inability to cope with life’s stressors
- Not bonding with baby
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Suicidal thoughts and ideations (seek treatment immediately or call 911 if these are present)
- Excessive fatigue
- Change in eating patterns
- Frequent crying
- Not finding joy or pleasure in any activities
If you are experiencing any of these signs, don’t panic. Just write them down and take them with you to a doctor’s appointment. The more concrete evidence you have of your struggles, the more likely the doctor will take you seriously and offer actual help. Also check out Postpartum Depression – How To Get The Help You Need for tips on how to talk, so doctors will listen.
You Are Not At Fault For Your PMADs and Neither Is Your Baby
It’s no secret that there is still a lot of stigma in society surrounding mental health disorders. People don’t accept that mental health disorders are no different than physical disorders like diabetes or arthritis. But they really aren’t. Mental health disorders aren’t just “in your head” or something that you can just “snap out of”. This type of thinking is damaging to anyone who suffers from a mental health disorder. And it’s especially damaging to a mother suffering from one.
Mothers are uniquely vulnerable postpartum. The huge hormonal shifts that happen during pregnancy and post birth, coupled with an enormous life transition that reshuffles not only the family structure, but the mother’s priorities, self-esteem, outlook on life and self. It is a difficult and tumultuous time in a woman’s life. But society has promoted a false narrative of motherhood being pure bliss and joy, and anything other than that means there is something truly pathological about you (mama) and you should be shamed for it.
And there is also faulty thinking that if you are suffering from PMADs that it means that you don’t love your baby and blame the baby for causing this. That couldn’t be farther from the truth! But a lot of moms do start wondering about this, and then shame comes.
I will stand here and be honest with you – I fell into the trap of believing this message. I believed there was something wrong with me because I wasn’t over the moon about becoming a mother. And I believed that only I struggled to transition into this new role, while everyone else effortlessly slipped into it and led a charmed life. Now, having actually suffered from both PPD and PPA, I did struggle more than the mothers who weren’t afflicted, but all mothers struggle in their own way with this transition. And it is not a competition of who struggled more. Everyone’s story should be heard and empathized with.
I know a lot of moms feel like they’re somehow at fault for their PMAD. As if they somehow caused it. And feeling this burden makes you not want to reach out and get help. It is a common feeling, but it’s false in its assumption. You did not cause your PMAD. You could not have truly prevented it. All you could have done is potentially prepare for it and soften its blow. But even if you didn’t prepare for it, it doesn’t actually matter. All that matters is that now you are getting the help you need and are not blaming yourself.
The postpartum period is incredibly raw and emotionally charged. No one is thinking straight, not you, nor your partner. It’s a time of surviving and doing the best you can on broken sleep. So, bring some compassion to the situation and realize that no one is at fault if things are crumbling around you. It’s just parenthood. And it is difficult.
Admitting That You Are Suffering Is the First Step To Getting The Help You Need
Once you realize that you are not at fault for what is happening, it is time to actually admit that you are suffering, and things are not right. I know first hand that if you don’t have family or friends who will be watching, advocating, and making sure you get the help you need, that it’s way too easy to slip through the cracks.
I couldn’t admit that I had a problem and vehemently denied that there was something wrong. My personality and my upbringing made me feel that I’m just being weak and overly sensitive. I felt that this was the time to take the advice that I received my whole life and to toughen up and just do my motherly duties. I didn’t admit to any depression symptoms on the Edinburgh Depression Scale at my 6 week postpartum check. No one screened me for anxiety, so I didn’t disclose my symptoms. I’m in general prone to minimizing physical ailments, so it was easy to just “forget” to mention these at my annual physical appointment.
In my daily life, the focus was more on the baby and his needs. So, no one really saw or seemed to care what I was going through. I didn’t have friends checking in on me or reaching out to me. All I had to rely on was my husband who was away from the house for 60 hours a week. And he was also tired, trying to manage a demanding job, while attempting to help with a newborn in the house. So, he did what could.
I’m sharing this with you not to lay blame at anyone’s feet, but just to show you how easy it is for a mom who’s suffering to just slip through the cracks. PMADs are isolating. They trap you in a negative thinking cycle, and manage to drudge up the worst messages that you received growing up, and make those messages your mantra and your reality. And if you, mama, can’t admit to the fact that you need help, those around you might just miss it altogether.
Letting Go of the Pain of Suffering Through PMADs
Whether you were in a similar situation to me or actually got the necessary help, there may still be residual feelings of anger and frustration over suffering from PMADs. It was probably a very dark period in your life. And no doubt, PMADs robbed you of the motherhood experience you envisioned. There are many things to be angry about. But it is better to let them go. Let go of the anger and accept life as it happened.
It’s easier said than done, of course, but it’s not impossible. I invite you to join me on working through your residual feelings by practicing self-compassion. Self-compassion is a way to provide empathy and understanding for yourself and your suffering. It is an invitation to acknowledge your pain without wallowing in it. Self-compassion should be a part of your daily mindfulness practice. You can join me every Friday on my Instagram account (www.instagram.com/parentonboard) for quick 5 minute mindfulness exercises.
Find a therapist and talk through your story. (Visit my Resource Library to find a therapist near you). Write your thoughts and feelings down in a journal. Get them out in the open, so that you may finally release them and begin to truly heal. And expect that it may take time for you to truly recover. You may never be the same, and your PMAD experience will likely leave some scars, but that’s ok. Those scars represent growth and transformation. Those scar are unique to your motherhood journey. Every journey is different. Some are easier than others, but all are worthy of existing.
Final Words on Making Peace With Your PMADs
Regardless of where you are in your PMAD journey, I hope that you know that you are not alone. And I hope that you know that the way you are feeling right now is not forever. You have the power within you to overcome your struggles. Find a good support network, lean in to it, and start your healing process. There is hope!