May 23, 2019
I was meeting with a colleague when it suddenly felt difficult to focus on the conversation - her voice was miles away. The noise and interactions around me were a faint whisper - almost static - as my head became louder. I felt like I was in a tunnel and it was becoming increasingly difficult to get in a full breath. I cut the meeting short and then promptly told our Administrative Assistant that I was sick and leaving for the day. I collected my 3-year-old and 9-month-old daughters from daycare and went home. Home felt safe - especially if my girls were with me.
While that was nearly 15 years ago, I only recently understood that I had been experiencing acute symptoms of a PMAD. More specifically, Perinatal Generalized Anxiety Disorder had gripped me and was making it difficult for me to function well in typical situations. I experienced panic attacks, rumination about my own death, and worry about who would take care of my children when I died. My anxious mind was convinced that these thoughts were only foreshadowing the inevitable - I would die and my kids would be motherless. The thoughts and fear of death worsened when I experienced the physical manifestations of stress including racing heart, shortness of breath, ringing ears, and migraines.
Before seeking medical treatment, I had quit the work I was passionate about - further isolating myself - and experienced increasingly worse panic attacks and physical symptoms. Wanting to be a better mom to my young girls, and with a subtle push from a therapist family member, I finally sought help. I chose several treatment modalities including counseling, medication, and exercise. Exercise, in particular, helped me feel empowered again while medication eased my symptoms so that I could feel in control of my body's anxiety responses. Counseling sessions gave me time and space to share my experience and acknowledge my load.
I share pieces of my story with you in hopes that you may recognize indicators of postpartum depression, anxiety, or other more serious perinatal mental health disorders in yourself or a loved one. PMAD (Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders) can be experienced by any parent whether or not they actually give birth. While a wider body of evidence exists related to childbearing women, we know that fathers, transgender parents, lesbian and gay parents, and adoptive parents can all experience PMAD. If you or someone you care about has risk factors and/or is experiencing symptoms (refer to the lists below) during pregnancy or up to 12 months following the birth or adoption of a child, please consider reaching out for help. You can start by talking with a mental health professional, your medical provider or your child's pediatrician, and by researching information found at the links listed below.
Risk Factors and Symptoms
For me, PMAD risk factors included previous bouts of anxiety, family history of depression, adverse childhood events, stress associated with work, and perceived lack of social support. Additional risk factors can include sensitivity to hormonal changes, previous depression or mood disturbances, thyroid dysfunction, trauma to the baby or mother during pregnancy or birth, unplanned pregnancy, loss of pregnancy or infant.
PMAD symptoms can include feelings of anger, guilt, irritability, nervousness; recurring panic attacks; shifts in sleep or eating patterns; intrusive disturbing thoughts about baby. Symptoms can also be more serious including lack of interest in the baby, bizarre baby-related thoughts or obsessions, re-living trauma of difficult birth; and/or sudden onset of intense mood swings, thoughts of suicide or infanticide, poor decision-making.
For more information about Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders, review the information at the links listed below:
News post written by Janeen Haller-Abernethy, LCSW, CSEAP Program Manager