postpartum anxiety



I am so excited to share this piece today for so many reasons.

  1. It will 100 percent help every mom dealing with anxiety that will read this

  2. It will help those be better support systems to those who are living with anxiety

  3. It’s written by my sisters best friend who is basically my older sister because being four years younger than your sister makes all her BFFS your sisters as well. Carolyn seriously makes every person around her laugh and smile. She has a larger than life personality that makes you just simply want to be near her at all times. When you read Carolyn’s story below you will find that she lives with anxiety but it does not define her. She has dedicated her life to help those around her.

Carolyn is a Maternal Wellness Nurse at The Center for Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders at Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, NJ. One of only 10 comprehensive programs in the entire country for PMADS. She is a two time survivor of Postpartum Anxiety, Intrusive Thoughts and Birth Trauma. She is a maternal mental health advocate and a peer group facilitator for The Bloom Foundation for Maternal Wellness. She lives at the Jersey Shore with her 2 little boys and amazing unicorn of a husband who helped her out of the dark. 

Parenting with Anxiety: Coming Along for the Ride.

You know that meme about anxiety that goes something like, “Hold on. I’ve gotta overthink about it.” ? That’s pretty much me. The majority of the time. In some form, anxiety has always accompanied me on my journeys.  Sometimes in the back seat quietly peaking its head up over my shoulder every once in while, and other times, like when I suffered from severe postpartum anxiety and intrusive thoughts, it has been the pilot of this ship.  For the most part, I had a pretty good handle on my anxiety in my early 30’s. Life was moving along nicely. That was until I had kids. There’s nothing like babies and kids and pregnancy and childbirth  and PARENTHOOD to wake up that backseat driver and push you right out of the front seat. But if you have anxiety as a parent it doesn't mean you have to always be teetering on the edge - holding on for dear life from that shriveled up fossilized french fry you've found lodge into the carseat. Postpartum goddess and guru, Karen Kleinman, author of Dropping the Baby and Other Scary Thoughts, says it best: “Recognizing and understanding your anxiety might mean the difference between unnecessary suffering and healthy coping.”

So what does parenting with anxiety mean for me? It means a lot of self care. And I don't mean in the form of manicures and massages and GNO’s (although don't get me wrong - these are important much needed time outs that can FEED your soul). I’m talking about the type of self care that involves doing the hard work, the heavy lifting. For me it means still going to therapy every other Monday to make myself accountable for my anxiety and to figure out what I can do to make it better. It means that I do a lot of checking in, grounding and mindfulness when I feel my brain going to that place. Stoping. Taking a deep breath. Fact checking what my brain is telling me vs what is really going on. ANXIETY IS A LIAR, and when we take the power away from our thoughts, they become that,  just thoughts. 

If I feel my heart starting to race or a tightness in my chest, it means pressing pause on whatever I'm doing and (if possible) splashing some water on my face, sticking my head in the freezer ( silly sounding but totally effective), or using some yummy smelling hand cream to get in touch with my five senses and to ground myself back to the present. 

Sometimes doing my best also means taking medication. There is SO MUCH stigma around medication - everyone, everywhere wants to be the one who “doesn’t need it” - myself included for a long time. I would advocate for everyone else, but when it was my turn to take that little white pill I’d come up with every excuse in the book. My favorite analogy for taking medication for anxiety goes something like this: “I wear glasses. Can I manage without glasses? Well, yes, probably. I could squint a lot, constantly move up close to anything I want to see…I could just accept that I’ll never be able to see eagles flying in the sky or whales jumping out of the ocean.But why? Why try so hard to manage life when I could just put on a pair of glasses? No one would ever suggest a near-sighted person should just work harder. No one would say ‘Maybe that’s just your normal’ to someone that needs glasses. They would say ‘Let’s go to the eye doctor and get you a prescription so you’re able to see again.’ So, I’m here to tell you its ok. Its ok to take medication. Its one tool in your toolbox. It doesn't make you weak. It makes you strong, mama.

Sleep. I know that sleep is huge for me, so making sure that I get at least seven hours a night is a must. No screen time right before bed (easier said than done) so my mind can relax. I found checking Insta or FB right before I went to bed made my mind race with all sorts of thoughts. Find a little nighttime ritual that sets your body up for a deep sleep. We play ambient sounds thru Alexa and use some lavender spray on the sheets before bed. You could always put on your  essential oils diffuser or do a quick mindful meditation thru one of many free apps available. I LOVE Insight Timer and Calm!

Lets go back to social media for a second, I know that this can be a huge trigger for me and a lot of other parents. Social media can be amazing and give us a support system and help us connect with other parents - just like in this platform. I find personally and professionally, that social media can also be fuel for the fire. I refuse to read sad or upsetting stories about babies and children. It doesn't make you a bad person to not read it - you must protect yourself - JUST KEEP ON SCROLLING! It’s like a social media version of ear muffs.

Exercise and clean eating is also a must to keep my anxiety at bay. It’s no secret that exercise helps improve our mood thru the release of endorphins. This was a major hurdle for me, but something that I had to commit to because I knew how important it was to my over all mental health. Doing some moderate to light exercise 3 x week makes me feel more level headed and clear. It makes me feel like a good mom! I’m not talking about anything crazy (but if that’s your thing by all means go for it). For me, it is 20 mins on the bike or a 30 min jog in the park. Just pushing your stroller around the block or getting out in the fresh air and running around with your kids at the park can be invigorating. And it’s a win/win for everyone involved.

Here’s another tough one:  learning how to say NO and then doing it! If you’re anything like me you're a people pleaser and you want to do all of the things, all of the time. There would be some weekends we’d look at the calendar and see that we had committed ourselves to too many things, and that would send me into a complete tailspin and my anxiety  would go into overdrive.  I had to learn to under schedule. CRINGE. To say no to that second birthday party in 1 day or that playdate when your kid had a crappy night sleep, or your husband’s brother’s girlfriend’s BBQ that interferes with bedtime. Its OK to say NO! 

And the big finale - the concept of radical acceptance. For years, I fought the fact that I was an anxious person.  If someone mentioned that I was anxious,  I’d almost physically wince. I’d get defensive and angry. When I was struggling with severe Postpartum Anxiety after my first was born, it took me OVER A YEAR to accept help. When I finally completely and totally accepted that anxiety was a part of my life  and probably always would be— I stopped letting it define me. I was no longer an “anxious parent”.  I was a parent who had anxiety - along with a long list of other wonderful traits. 

So what am I saying? - I’m saying OWN IT. Talk about it - speak its name. Call yourself out.  Tell your family and friends whats going on - they can’t begin to understand if they are left in the dark. I also started finding the humor in it. “Anxious mom,  over here!” I’d say if the after school playground banter turned to something that would start to make my heart race. And you know what? I realized when I let my guard down - that I wasn't alone. That there are plenty of other parents out there having the same struggles, and we are all just doing our best and TRYING to do our best for our kids. At the end of the day, healthy moms equal healthy families and we owe it to ourselves and our children to be present and available. 

Carolyn is a Maternal Wellness Nurse at The Center for Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders at Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, NJ. One of only 10 comprehensive programs in the entire country for PMADS. She is a two time survivor of Postpartum Anxiety, Intrusive Thoughts and Birth Trauma. She is a maternal mental health advocate and a peer group facilitator for The Bloom Foundation for Maternal Wellness. She lives at the Jersey Shore with her 2 little boys and amazing unicorn of a husband who helped her out of the dark. 



Mary Clare-83.jpg

I am honored that Emily decided to share her story with us, she is one strong individual. Thank you Emily. I know you are going to help so many other women that might be suffering in silence. Emily will take it from here.

I am a 30 something girl from Long Island who once sold ad space, taught kindergarten and now spends her days raising kids and then writing about it. I have a tiny dictator toddler and a newborn arriving in a few weeks. I am wildly obsessed with my children and overwhelmed by them every day.

I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and anxiety 6 weeks after my daughter’s birth. It brought me strength and passion I didn’t know I had. I began sharing my story on Instagram and later launched my blog to document my journey. My dream now focuses on redefining the expectations of motherhood and shedding light on the realities of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. 

Motherhood: Expectations versus Reality

Learning to manage my own expectations is one of the most important tools in managing anxiety. Though for much of my life, I didn’t know how to do that well. I’ve always had this way of building things up in my mind, only to be very let down. Alternatively, I’d worry about how something might turn out, particularly things out of my control, only to be pleasantly surprised by the outcome. I don’t think I am alone here. This kind of “future tripping” is very common. Motherhood was no different. I expected that I’d take to motherhood like a fish to water. I was sure that nothing would come more naturally. Motherhood was in my bones, I was sure of it.

Then I became a mother and all of those dreams and expectations came crashing down. After giving birth to Mary Clare in September 2017, I found myself in a very dark place. I felt little to no connection to my daughter. I didn't want to be with her while simultaneously wanting to control every aspect of her life. When Mary Clare cried, I panicked. When I left the house without her, the anxiety was crippling. Ultimately, I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and anxiety about 6 weeks after giving birth. I received treatment under the care of my primary care doctor and my longtime therapist. Recovery was a process that took time. The hardest part was not blaming myself but with the support of so many I started to make progress.

After a few weeks, the fog slowly lifted. By the new year, I was having more good moments than bad ones. I began to hit my stride as a mother around February 2018. Then under the care of my doctor, I weaned off my medication in May. I finally had my happy ending.

Then when Mary Clare was about 9 months old, I found out I was pregnant. I remember when I got the positive pregnancy test with Mary Clare, I was overjoyed, this was what I had been wanting for so long! I did not have those feelings the second time around. When I saw the positive test, the walls started closing in all over again. I was having panic attacks. I felt my connection to Mary Clare slipping away. The anxiety seemed inescapable. I never expected to feel this way while pregnant. Yet there I was, again, experiencing a reality that was vastly different from my expectations.

I would soon find out, I was experiencing a relapse which is extremely common. This time around, I knew right away something was not right. I sought treatment immediately and discovered an incredible specialized program right in my backyard – The Perinatal Psychiatry program at Zucker Hillside Hospital. Perinatal mental health care focuses on the unique behavioral and mental challenges women may experience during and after pregnancy. I saw a doctor who specializes in perinatal psychiatry, it was through her I learned more about perinatal mental health and the safety of taking medication while pregnant. I went back on medication and began group therapy. Little by little, I came out on the other side of this episode.

Currently, I’m doing really well. I still take SSRI medication and will continue to do at least one year postpartum in order to avoid a relapse. I continue to see my psychiatrist and regularly attend group therapy. We are excitedly expecting Mary Clare’s little sibling in just a few weeks. Mary Clare is curious, perseverant, funny and sweet. We have so much fun together and the love I have for her cannot be captured in words.

Even still, I have days where I wonder how I’ll make it through the next hour. It’s on those days that I feel the expectations starting to take over, so I do my best I use the tools I have to help me cope. The way I cope with the anxiety that my expectations cause is through a reality check. I ask myself, “what is real right now?” The answer is always, “this moment, Mary Clare and me.” Seems simple but honestly, that’s all we’ve got. The moment we’re in and the people in it with us. When your mind is running away with itself, you must find a way to ground yourself, to bring yourself back down to earth. This reality check helps brings me back to the present. It reminds me that we have no way of knowing what the future holds and that focusing on made up expectations will only do one thing for me. It will steal my joy. I am reminded that enjoying life is about living in the here and now.

I didn’t expect to have postpartum depression and anxiety. I didn’t expect to get pregnant again so quickly. I didn’t expect that pregnancy could cause me to relapse. In a lot of ways, those unmanaged expectations made me really angry. They caused a lot of sadness and pain for me in my first year of motherhood. 

However, those unmet expectations also lit a fire inside me, one that drives me to help and educate other women. Historically, the realities of motherhood and childbirth are not part of the mainstream conversation. I believe this has set womankind up with unrealistic expectations of motherhood and ultimately makes it so much harder for us. That’s why, I believe, as a community of mothers, it is up to us to change the conversation. It is us, the ones who know what it is really like, to shed light on the truth of motherhood. 

It feels like a big task but each of us doing little things each day makes a big difference. It can be as simple as speaking honestly when a friend asks how you’re doing. It’s okay to say, “I haven’t pooped in days and my nipples are bleeding,” or “I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, the baby is always crying.” It’s okay to keep it real and say how you really feel. Motherhood is really really hard but it is also the best thing you will ever do. We need to create a space where those two realities can exist in tandem. So let’s make sure we keep it real so we can make the transition to motherhood easier for our sisters!

Motherhood is so much harder than I expected. It has made me so much stronger than I ever imagined I could be. It has brought me the deepest joy I have ever felt and brought me more peace than I ever knew possible. That is my reality. It’s a reality I love and wouldn’t change.

Tips for Easing Anxietythese are immediate actions you can take right now.

  • Get out: go outside in the fresh air, a simple walk around the block will do wonders.

  • Reach out: do not sit alone suffering. Call a family member or friend, express how you feel and if you can, ask them to come over. 

  • Breathe out: when I have a panic attack I place both hands over where my neck and chest meet, I breathe deeply in my nose and out my mouth then say the mantra, “I won’t always feel this way, it’s going to be okay.” Repeat. The hands placement physically center me, the mantra and breathe work focus my mind.

Resources – use these resources to seek help at the first sign of any symptoms. 

If you think you may be experiencing postpartum depression and/or anxiety, DO NOT WAIT, please seek help immediately. Thank you for letting me share my story. You can find me by heading over to my blog, click here.