Lisa asks: Has being a parent increased your anxiety?

Lisa writes about the results of a new study on postpartum anxiety.

Photo: Blakemore/iStockphoto

In case you haven’t heard (like, if this is your first time reading our blog, you don’t follow me on Twitter @lisavandegeyn, we’re not Facebook friends, you don’t know me in real life, you’ve never been on the same subway car as me, you don’t grocery shop at the Longo’s I go to… you get the idea), I suffered — and continue to suffer from — postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety. I also suffered from prenatal depression and prenatal anxiety. I also have an anxious personality, I’m a perfectionist, my mother taught me how to worry, and I’m a cynic. (Don’t I sound super fun? I swear I’m a good time at parties!)

Anyway, I read about a new study that was recently published by the Journal of the American Medical Association’s Psychiatry that’s being billed as the biggest screening for depression among new moms in the US. Researchers screened 10,000 moms, and they documented both surprising and not-so-surprising findings that, obviously, I feel the need to comment on.

For starters, they found that, in their sample, 33 percent of cases of depression occurred during pregnancy. My math sucks, but even I know that this translates to a third of the women they studied (or one in three) likely suffered from prenatal depression. This is pretty staggering, especially since prenatal depression isn’t really discussed — it’s still one of those taboo topics like PPD and miscarriage. Odds are that someone you know — your mother, aunt, sister, BFF, colleague — had prenatal depression. Given the odds of suffering from this pain-in-the-rear-end mental issue, we really need to be talking about it more. It’s devastating, but it’s not something to be ashamed of. I felt ashamed when I was four months pregnant with Peyton and realized that something was wrong with me (and it took a ridiculous amount of energy to pretend that I was hunky-dory), but I understand now that feeling like a bag of manure wasn’t my fault — it was chemical. I can control the chemicals in my brain about as well as I can control Peter. If more of us opened up about prenatal depression, there would probably be a hell of a lot more women seeing professionals (and medicated) before their bundles are born, possibly cutting down on the equally devastating feeling of having a baby and being so miserable that you just don’t care.

The other thing I found interesting was that anxiety disorders and bipolar disorders were common diagnoses among the study participants. I’m not going to lie — sometimes I feel the way I would guess someone who has a bipolar disorder would feel. (I’ve even asked Dr. G about it. She’s assured me I’m not in the population of women with PPD who are also bipolar.) Not at all shocking to me was that generalized anxiety disorders were common in moms, and, from my experience, it’s something that women suffer from (undiagnosed) even before those pregnancy hormones turn us into worrywarts. The anxiety can be overwhelming.

I’ve found that anti-anxiety medications have actually helped me (even though I’m still an anxious person), but I remember a time when Peter had to phone me every morning when he got to work, because if he didn’t phone (or if I couldn’t get him) by, say, 10 a.m., I’d assume the worst and start phoning his co-workers to find out if he had arrived safely. Nine-and-a-half times out of 10, he’d be sitting on the john reading a magazine and would be disturbed by someone knocking on the door to tell him his crazy wife was on the phone. I also remember how I wouldn’t let Addy play outside for pretty much the entire summer before Peyton arrived because there had been three or four stories in the news that June about family members accidentally running over kids playing on their driveways. My poor kid was treated like an indoor cat for three months because I was convinced (with a capital CONVINCED) that my dad would be belting out Fleetwood Mac tunes too loud and won’t notice her when he pulled into the driveway, or that she’d (for some reason) be lying down and the UPS guy would pull up over her, or (more probable) that my not-so-swift sister would be texting plans about going clubbing and crush her. Anyway, my longwinded point is that anxiety during pregnancy can be nuts (pun intended), as can anxiety after pregnancy can be just as crazy.  

As someone who has experienced anxiety during pregnancy, postpartum and even before conceiving (actually, for as far back as I can remember like I’ve said, it’s part of my personality and upbringing), I often wonder if the non-worriers out there notice an increase in their anxiety after becoming a parent. Has having kids increased your anxiety? What do you worry about?

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