Post partum anxiety: the unspoken reality
‘It’s a boy! Congratulations!!’
The words you have been waiting to hear. This little person that is going to complete your life.
I’ve heard it so many times before that new parents expect the arrival of a baby to fix everything. It’s the final piece of the jigsaw.
One new mum very poignantly once said to me, ‘I thought I would always be happy once my baby arrived. It’s all I have ever wanted. Now all I do is worry constantly that I am failing her’. Like many of you reading this, this particular mum had been through countless challenges to get, what she called, her ‘prize’.
But let me tell you this, and listen up… Social media, Hollywood movies, magazines often depict a romantic notion of what being a new parent is like. Sure, we know about the sleepless nights, the seemingly endless stinking nappies, the challenges that can be present with breast feeding. But what about the extreme sadness that some new parents experience? Or the negative and all consuming thoughts that leave your whole being riddled with anxiety?
Many, if not most, new parents have heard of post natal depression (PPD), a persistent and overwhelming feeling of sadness within the 12 month period after having your baby. NHS data estimates that over 1 in 10 women experience PPD. It is also routinely screened for in primary care settings. But what about those who don’t fit into the PPD box. Neither do they fit into the ‘baby blues’ box.
Post partum anxiety (PPA) can be described as an overwhelming sense of worry. This worry goes well beyond what would be considered an appropriate level of worry in the situation. I have heard it described as the ‘hidden disorder’ of post partum health. That is because so few new mums notice it and subsequently do not get the diagnosis and support they so desperately need.
Of course a certain level of anxiety is to be expected as a new mum. As a human being, there are many hats that you will already have. Many roles that you will occupy – paid or otherwise. Maybe you are a sister, or a daughter. A friend. Someone with a career. With hobbies and talents. Within each of these roles, once we are familiar with the tasks and boundaries, we get into a comfort zone. It’s a habit. We perform easily. Confidently.
As a new parent, this is a brand new role unlike any other. Whilst this new role is the REAL you, it is a role that you have not occupied before. It is a role that is requiring new skills; some that have maybe been evident within other roles. Others that will be completely new. And, as with every new role, some anxiety is to be completely expected. There is no rule book (or at least no definitive one…). And even if there was a rule book, what would be the chances that your baby has read it??!
Like PPD, PPA can result in feeling constantly tired. Other symptoms may be excessive worrying, racing thoughts, catastrophising, feelings of dread. There may be changes to eating and sleeping patterns. Even feelings of nausea, dizziness and a racing heart. Comments like ‘I’m such a failure, my baby doesn’t deserve me. I never get it right’ perhaps because baby won’t latch, may be an example. Remember how I said that baby hasn’t read the manual? For a woman experiencing PPA, it is common for her to feel that she is at fault. Statements like ‘never get it right’ or ‘always get it wrong’ can feature. It is important to state here that these thought practices are merely interpretations of the situation and not an actual reflection of the situation.
Research indicates that in the majority of cases, PPA starts at some point between baby’s birth and first birthday however it is estimated that in approximately 25% of cases it occurs antenatally.
In my hypnotherapy practice, I frequently hear from clients about the difficulty in seeing the wood from the trees. When going through intense periods of anxiety it is hard to find that path.
But I would like to tell you that every emotion you have is valid. Every feeling is valid. Every experience you have is valid. And often the very simple act of acknowledging that, is the first step to paving your way through those trees.
So instead of saying ‘I am a failure’ when your baby, (irrespective of boob or baby position) simply won’t latch, how would it be to name it instead: ‘I am bloody well frustrated because my baby isn’t latching’.
The good news is that neuroscience seems to back this simple practice up; recognising and naming emotions appears to bridge the gap between thoughts and feelings. Moving from ‘I am this….’ To ‘I am feeling this’ means that you are separating yourself from your emotion. You are not a failure. Rather, you are feeling tired and frustrated. This process is also a reminder that emotions and feelings are temporary. We are greater than anything we are feeling in any particular moment. Stand up to that emotion. Label it. And call it out for what it really is.
So mums, listen to what the emotional data is telling you. Remember that all these states pass. Remember that you are doing a great job. Remember that your little bundle is oh so lucky to have you as their person. Most importantly, remember to go easy on yourselves today.
If what is written in this blog resonates with you, I offer a free and no obligation initial consultation for my hypnotherapy services. You can get in touch with me on email at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange your first consultation.
* I have written this article largely from a woman’s perspective. I would like to stress that becoming a new parent is life changing for all parties. New dads too can experience the same range of feelings that new mums can. It is also worth noting that studies have indicated that rates of depression are higher with new dads than they are in the general population.