I’ll be honest with you. I’ve been avoiding this.
When I started this blog, I wanted to recount my experience with PPA through a horror lens, but man, I have been writing about almost everything but PPA.
Turns out, that shit was traumatic. Thinking about it is not how I want to spend my precious few free hours. Even as I type this, it is taking everything in me not to hop over to Etsy for just a few minutes. I must resist!
It’s time to pick it back up. Postpartum anxiety has left an indelible impression upon who I am today. It deserves to be credited.
The Behaviors Preceded the Baby
My first child was actually the product of my third pregnancy.
Finding out that I was pregnant the first time was actually pretty cool. It was a surprise to me–we had stopped using birth control, but I had kind of forgotten about it. By the time I found out, my period had been late, but I was too busy to notice for a few weeks. We were excited, but by the time my first prenatal appointment rolled around at 10.5 weeks, the baby’s heart wasn’t beating, and its development had stopped somewhere around the eighth week. Sad, but pretty common.
The second one was much tougher. I started bleeding around 13 weeks and found out that there was very little fluid around the baby. The ER doc said go home and wait for the miscarriage, but my OB said it was probably going to be ok. However, we found out at around 18 weeks that the baby had Triploidy Syndrome and would not survive. What else is there to say about that?
As you can imagine, my first two experiences sucked the joy out of the moment the two lines appeared on my third pregnancy test. That pregnancy was spent in a 9-month flinch as I braced myself for the worst. Intellectually, I knew that my first two experiences were random and unlikely to repeat, but intellect is no match for emotional trauma. Especially when you eschew therapy and support for something as traumatic as a second-trimester pregnancy loss hot on the heels of a miscarriage. I just threw myself into my work.
I had a pretty great job at that time. It was fun and fulfilling, and I had lots of autonomy. This meant that I had lots of time to “research” all the ways that this third pregnancy could go the way of the first two. Not good, folks. Not good.
I found some really heart-wrenching blogs and read every word of them. Some were by women who had healthy pregnancies only to notice one day that the baby had been still for an unusually long time and had passed away days before the due date. I found a blog by a father whose wife tripped and fell, resulting in the loss of his daughter just before she was due. I read all of them, every. single. one. Obsessively. When I ran out of those, I read about mothers who died right after childbirth, leaving their newborns with grief-stricken and ill-prepared hipster dads.
I learned all about preeclampsia and postpartum preeclampsia. I pored over blood clot statistics. I learned how likely I was to have a heart attack or stroke in the six weeks after delivery. I even studied up on postpartum psychosis (not postpartum depression–apparently, that wasn’t scary enough for me).
Doom Scrolling as Ouija Board
I have always understood that messing around with a Ouija board was a bad idea. I think my mom warned me against this at some point in my childhood. I was in elementary school in the 80s, so the Satanic panic was in full swing (I don’t typically love to refer to Wikipedia, but this is a particularly well-cited article). I think any child from that time knew that Ouija boards were bad news.
The idea is that if you mess around with a Ouija board, even as entertainment, you could invite something sinister into your life. Lots of stories of real-life hauntings begin this way. I could link to proof but if, like me, you’re a Gen-X American, you need no convincing–you just know.
My obsession with soaking myself in sensational stories of pre- and postnatal loss was a kind of Ouija board, wasn’t it? I invited this horrible thing into my life, and it took a long time to remove it.
Now, I want to be clear: you are not responsible for your own postpartum anxiety or depression. Making this connection between a Ouija board and obsessing over bad outcomes is just a vehicle for my storytelling. We all understand that, yes? Good.
Understanding Perinatal Anxiety
Looking back, it’s pretty clear that I was suffering from some perinatal anxiety, which is anxiety that begins during pregnancy. This may seem a little “duh” at first; isn’t every pregnant woman worried that something will go wrong with their unborn baby? Well, yes. But when that worry takes over and starts to overshadow the joy and excitement, that’s when things can get dark and stay that way for quite some time.
As I stated in my first post on this topic, I knew when to keep my mouth shut. I understood that obsessively reading about these tragic losses and rare-yet-horrible pregnancy outcomes was not good for my mental health. I knew that the stories I was filling my mind with were not going to make good conversation topics over brunch. I knew my husband would be concerned if I recapped what I had read about on any given day, so I just didn’t. I didn’t share this with anyone. I compulsively used the Ouija board when no one was looking, and I told no one.
And so, I invited the thing home.
Don’t worry, it’s gone now. But it was a long process. I will go into it more in later posts. If you want to be notified when those are published, sign up below.
If you are a mom-to-be who found this by doom scrolling, go to Etsy and look through the handmade baby toys instead, ok? You’ll be doing your future self a favor.