This is the second of the series of posts about postpartum insomnia. I met Kim recently via the closed Facebook group for Postpartum Support International. Insomnia was one of the symptoms that she suffered as a consequence of postpartum anxiety and postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
Thank you, Kim, for sharing your story on my blog!
I’ve always been anxious. It’s been my temperament since day one; just ask my parents. I wouldn’t know that I’ve also had OCD must of my life until after I had my first child. Looking back, all I can say is – DUH! – but in the 90s and even beyond, there just wasn’t a lot of information available about these mental “disorders.” My parents even took me to a child psychiatrist, but to no avail. Admittedly, it’s hard to diagnose someone at such a young age (I was 10), but the more we talk about it the easier it might become, right?
Anyway, before I became pregnant with my first child, I had a miscarriage, specifically a “missed” miscarriage, during the 12-week check, after which the recovery went on far longer than I expected. It was painful, emotionally and physically speaking, but we got through it and got pregnant again.
Surprisingly, I wasn’t as anxious as I thought I would be this time around. Despite moving 2.5 hours away from my family while 6 months pregnant, I was confident everything would be fine. My sister had had 2 kids prior and, to all outward appearances, she had made it look so easy!
Fast forward 3ish months and this baby wasn’t budging. 10 days past my due date, they decided to induce. Again, little to no progress. After 16 hours of contractions, they finally made the decision to do a C-section and, low and behold, there was my baby! Yikes!
From night one, he cried. And cried. And cried. I attempted nursing with very little success, but kept trying. (Eventually, I’d move to only formula, but not before going through several different types before settling on one that didn’t cause the babe major discomfort that led to hours upon hours of late night screaming).
All of this took a huge toll on me physically, emotionally, mentally. I felt like, because my husband was working, I needed to be the one to take care of my child during the night time hours. Sleep was not something that came easily…initially, because of the stress of middle of the night feedings/endless screaming, later because of extreme anxiety/OCD and the consequent insomnia.
If there is one thing I’ve learned from this harrowing postpartum experience is that sleep is ESSENTIAL. We need that time to reflect, to recharge, to RELAX.
Ultimately, the lack of sleep (I was averaging 2 hours a night on the couch with my son so that my husband could sleep) sent me on a terrifying downward spiral. I began experiencing awful intrusive thoughts that, even thought I didn’t understand it at the time, are directly associated with high anxiety and OCD. After some research, I discovered Postpartum Progress, an amazingly informative website that helped me to understand what was happening to me.
Even though I was hesitant to start medication, my OB prescribed me Lexapro. I began taking it and, the first night, woke up experiencing severe anxiety bordering on a panic attack. Now, please understand that this is a side effect listed in the pamphlet accompanying the medication. In a twist of utter injustice, these SSRI (selective serotonin re-update inhibitor) medications can sometimes increase anxiety before decreasing it. It doesn’t happen to everyone, but it did happen to me.
After 3 days of heightened anxiety and very little sleep, I couldn’t take it anymore. I was a stranger to myself, completely lost in the sleeplessness, anxiety, and panic. I could hardly take care of myself, let alone my one month old baby. After a visit to the ER, I made the decision to voluntarily admit myself to a local inpatient mental hospital. During my 3-day stay, I was able to see different counselors (some more helpful than others), let the Lexapro get into my system, as well as start taking trazodone to help with the insomnia.
It’s not a choice everyone would make. And, in hindsight, I’m not even sure I would make the same decision again. However, upon my return home, I was adamant that facing my fears (being alone with my child, especially during the lonely night-time hours) and getting better were my top priorities. My mother-in-law came to stay for a week as added support and my family was extra attentive to my overall well-being. I realize that I’m so very fortunate to have this support system and I fervently pray that all of you are similarly blessed.
***If you aren’t, please, PLEASE reach out to someone, anyone. Join a mom’s group, a Bible study (if that’s your thing), even a Facebook group. There are SO many people out there who have gone through this. We just need to start the conversation and keep it rolling.***
I’m not going to lie. It was a challenging couple of weeks while the medicine took time to really start working. The trazodone helped immensely with my insomnia and the Lexapro helped slow down my mind so I could separate myself from the deceptive thoughts that anxiety allows to creep in. But it got easier every day and, eventually, I began to recognize myself again. It’s not an easy role shift, I’ll tell you that. And it really shouldn’t be, regardless of what’s depicted in movies, television, magazines, etc. There’s a huge learning curve associated with new parenthood. Some take to it right away; others need a little/lot more time to adjust and that’s OKAY.
But please trust that it WILL come. You will learn. You will adjust. And it will be so, so worth it.