If you’re a new mom, you probably hear about postpartum depression all the time. There are articles galore to be read. You’ve memorized all the warning signs.
But if you regularly get flashbacks to traumatic moments in the delivery room, don’t like to talk about giving birth because it’s painful for you, and have symptoms of anxiety, you might actually be experiencing postpartum PTSD. This is not the same thing as postpartum depression.
You may not have heard of postpartum PTSD. I hadn’t. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 15 months postpartum.
Postpartum depression is more widely known — but it’s also important for women to learn about postpartum PTSD. These are the hidden truths I want everyone to know.
1. Feeling helpless during birth is not normal
This especially applies to new moms. It’s impossible to know what childbirth should feel like, making it easier to dismiss feelings of helplessness as normal.
Childbirth is painful but shouldn’t leave you feeling helpless. The two can easily be confused and lead to moms internalizing how they felt during childbirth.
2. Anxiety is real
A lot of people have experienced anxiety at some point throughout their lives. It seems logical that bringing a new baby home from the hospital would lead to some anxiety for a new mom.
The danger with anxiety when you have postpartum PTSD is allowing yourself to secretly be miserable or in pain on an ongoing basis without addressing the root of the problem.
3. You may seem like you’re back to normal
I can personally attest to this one. After my maternity leave, I returned to my corporate technology career and received not one, but two promotions before I was diagnosed.
From the outside looking in, it appeared as though nothing had changed about my life. I continued to be a very Type A overachiever.
Women who experience postpartum PTSD often resume their lives. They dismiss their daily struggles as a normal part of the childbearing experience.
Secretly, they wonder why everything seems harder to them than to others around them who’ve recently had children. Some days may feel normal. Some may be overwhelming with flashes of memories of the delivery or flashes of feelings from the delivery.
4. You can still bond with your baby
One of the biggest misconceptions about postpartum PTSD is that moms have trouble bonding with their baby. If you think about it, a mom having a hard time bonding with her child would be a noticeable sign that something wasn’t right.
Many mothers with postpartum PTSD don’t have any negative feelings toward their children. They feel a very strong maternal bond.
Before I was diagnosed, one of the reasons I didn’t consider postpartum PTSD was because I bonded easily with my daughter. But while bonding may not be affected, it may be difficult to bond when flashes of anxiety overwhelm you.
5. You avoiding talking about the birth at all costs
Thinking about the birth can cause you severe anxiety and nightmares. You’ll go to great lengths to avoid talking about your birth experience or related events that trigger the same feeling of helplessness. With anxiety, you may experience shortness of breath, tightness in your chest, or difficulty relaxing and sleeping.
Many women love talking about the birth of their babies because it’s a joyous occasion. Childbirth releases oxytocin into the body and produces feelings of euphoria and happiness.
If your birth story instead produces fear and anxiety, that’s a red flag.
6. Your baby isn’t the only thing keeping you up at night
You might think, duh! Most new moms are sleep deprived. Nothing new here.
However, postpartum PTSD can manifest through nightmares or restless irritability that prevent a new mom from sleeping. There’s a difference between sleep deprivation to take care of your child versus sleep deprivation from nightmares or irritability.
7. The flashbacks are all too real
With postpartum PTSD, you may experience unpleasant flashbacks of the triggering event.
For me, it was when I started to lose consciousness on the delivery table. I heard the doctor call out that I was losing too much blood.
This exact scenario has played out in my head more times than I can count. Each time I’d feel a sense of dread and panic. My heart rate would elevate and I’d begin to sweat.
Looking back on your child birthing experience should not make you feel a sense of dread.
The bottom line
There’s hope. If you had a particularly difficult delivery that you look back on and feel a sense of helplessness or fear come back, seek some help early before the issue becomes more severe.
Find a safe place to share your experience. A difficult or perfect delivery both lead to major life changes. Most women process and heal from this experience by talking about it.
If you can’t or don’t want to talk about, try writing it down. Write what happened in chronological order. Write the feelings you experienced with each step of the process. Write down things you are now thankful for and write down things you hope never happen again.
If you feel anxious or overwhelmed with writing things down, breathe. Take slow, deep breaths. If you feel light-headed, breathe into a paper bag to stop hyperventilating. Set aside processing time for a few hours or days later until you can face it again.
Consider incorporating relaxation techniques like guided imagery, mediation, or yoga into your life. Get out in nature and pay attention to your senses: What do you see, smell, hear, taste, and feel? Getting into the present moment, rather than focusing on the experience, can give you a break from processing it.
Seeing a counselor may help. Do find a compassionate ear, and bring any writings with you.
Postpartum PTSD can have significant effects on your mental state. If you think you may be experiencing postpartum PTSD, reach out to your doctor and ask for help. Visit Postpartum Support International for more information.
Monica Froese is a mom, wife, and business strategist for mom entrepreneurs. She has an MBA degree in finance and marketing and blogs at Redefining Mom, a site for helping moms build thriving online businesses. In 2015, she traveled to the White House to discuss family-friendly workplace policies with President Obama’s senior advisors and has been featured on several media outlets, including Fox News, Scary Mommy, Healthline, and Mom Talk Radio. With her tactical approach to balancing family and online business, she helps moms build successful businesses and change their lives at the same time.