How I dealt with PPA and Insomnia
Yay! So baby is here! I’m an experienced mum, nothing should be able to faze me right? Wrong.
I was blind sighted by how hormones and chemical imbalances in our brains and bodies can actually mess you up big time. As I am typing this, at 7 weeks postpartum, I still don’t feel totally myself, am constantly tired (even when I don’t do much) and will still get anxious out of the blue.
I thought that with experience, and all the help I’d need, I won’t go through postpartum blues again like I did after I had Dani. But I was hit with something even harder this time around – insomnia. It started the day we brought baby home from the hospital. Everything was in place and it was going to be a stress free, relaxing confinement this time around. I was going to let the confinement lady take care of baby, my mum will help me with Dani, my husband is around, all I had to do was nurse/pump, eat and sleep. But not being able to do 1 out of the 3, the most important one, was killing me.
Anxiety attacks were keeping me from sleeping, every time I lie down to rest whether it’s day or night, with baby or not, I am hit by this wave of panic in the gut, and suddenly my heart starts to beat faster, my whole body gets hot and I start to sweat. It’s like an adrenaline rush and I’m suddenly wide awake again! And it’s so frustrating because this only happens when I’m trying to nap/sleep. When you can’t sleep, your body shuts down, you have no appetite to eat, you start to loose your mind a little, your milk production slows because you can’t produce a let-down and you generally will feel like a zombie.
I was prescribed Xanax by my gynae after not being able to sleep or rest for 48 hours and my body was starting to convulse. It worked the first night, I had 7 hours of sleep, but the nights that followed, I was getting less and less sleep, until I was down to only 1-2 hours sleep a day. I googled everything to help cure my insomnia ‘naturally’ and tried it all; relaxing massages, essential oils, acupuncture, hypnotherapy (I couldn’t be hypnotise and had a panic attack instead), calming music (I listened to a full 2 hours of buzzing music without drifting to sleep), warm baths, chamomile tea…. The first acupuncturist I went to see even suggested that perhaps I was possessed, and asked me to bathe with 5 yellow flowers and 5 pomelo leaves for 3 days – which I did. My husband even went to the temple and bought the ‘exorcism set’ complete with some biscuits and thousands of burning paper, joss stick and a female effigy which I had to spit on and burnt them all to no results. I’m Catholic, so I prayed my rosary, my dad brought me Holy water from church which I had sprinkled on my pillow, my bed, myself, still, no sleep.
Anyone who have suffered bouts of insomnia will know that the most frustrating thing about not being able to sleep is the stress of trying to put yourself to sleep and clock watching. And also, because I have plenty of time to myself, my mind was on overdrive – I googled everything from how to sleep and how taking Xanax might effect my child in the long run (because I was still feeding him breastmilk), what to eat so my baby’s jaundice will dissipate, why is my child is crying inconsolably, and every article I read added more to my stress and anxiety.
So when my gynae referred me to a psychiatrist, because I was sinking into depression from my postpartum anxiety and insomnia, I accepted the appointment immediately despite being charged an exorbitant amount (they charge by the hour!) and not knowing whether she’ll be able to help me. According to the psychiatrist, my ‘fight or flight’ response is in full gear and I am obsessed, not only with my baby but with sleep, therefore I can’t quiet my mind enough to get to sleep even though the Xanax was able to control the physical symptoms of anxiety. So she had to prescribe me with an anti-psychotic, Zyprexa, to quiet my mind, together with Xanax and this combination gave me the sleep I needed.
I was very, very reluctant to take any more medication because I was still expressing and yes, the psychiatrist and the pediatrician did tell me that these medication were ok to take while breastfeeding (only very little will pass through into the milk and I was taking very small doses) but every time my son doesn’t want to sleep, or cries uncontrollably, I’d think that it was because of the medicine in my milk affecting him in an adverse way and I was in a dilemma of whether or not to continue feeding him medicated breast milk or switch to formula. I was also in a hurry to cut off the medication so I can feed him ‘non-medicated’ breast milk that I tried going off it cold turkey, trying one medicine without the other, cutting my dosage, with no result and ended up being more frustrated with myself.
I was reliant on the medication for sleep throughout my confinement up till recently. I knew it was a mind over matter thing but it was harder to control the mind than I have thought. There was a time when I thought there was never going to be an end to this, I thought I’d be reliant on these pills to sleep for the rest of my life!! But as of now, I’ve been drug free and sleeping on my own accord for more than a week. I don’t think I am completely cured though, like I mentioned earlier, I still don’t feel like myself, and occasionally still get anxious. But for the benefit of those who might be going through this right now, I’ve listed down below the ways of how I dealt with my postpartum anxiety and insomnia and overcame it much faster than I had expected.
- Acknowledge that you have a problem and get help quick – I knew that when I couldn’t sleep at all and the anxiety I felt, which were much more intense than my previous brush with postpartum blues, something was not right. And as much as I thought that I can handle it, that I was stronger than this, I had to ultimately reach out for help and resort to medication in order to still be sitting here, typing this. I know a lot of mums out there, whether you’re a new mum or a mum of 5, you expect yourself to be able to push through and just handle things, that this is just a phase and everything will be alright in the end, which it will, if you get the appropriate support and help. But if you’re experiencing thoughts and feelings that aren’t ‘you’ and you feel like hurting yourself or your baby, and it’s affecting not only your sleep but your ability to live normally, then please do seek help. And take note, this doesn’t happen only to new mums (my case in point), or just in the few weeks following the birth of your child – Courtney Cox had a delayed case of postpartum depression 6 months into the birth of her daughter!
- Surround yourself with positive people who will support you – I am really lucky that my husband understands what I was going through and is strong enough to make a stand not only for me but for our 2 children. I felt so guilty at one point because he had to take care of 3 ‘babies’ and had to make all the decisions for me and both our children. The previous confinement lady we had, thought I was being lazy and making up stories. Then she became paranoid and locked her door at night, telling my mum that she was afraid I might come in a take baby in the middle of the night. She lacked experienced and was a little older and always looked more tired than I was even though I wasn’t sleeping. And her inability to calm my fussy son made me even more anxious. When she left, I felt the negative energy leaving with her and my house felt much more comfortable. So, if your spouse is not supportive and thinks you’re making things up, talk to your gynae, if your doctor does not have time for you, talk to a trusted friend/fellow mother. The faster you acknowledge and realise that something is not right and get yourself out of that ‘mindspace’ whether by medication or just by crying/talking it out, the faster your recovery will be.
- Don’t be resistant to taking medication if you have to – I was very reluctant to take medication because I was still breastfeeding and Dylan was still so new! But in order to be able to be the best mother for him, I had to get better and the only way I can get better at that point was by taking medication. The mum guilt hit me hard, the thought of me being dependant on medication to sleep was enough, but I didn’t want my son to end up being dependant on it too! On his full month, Joe and I finally decided to give him formula and when he took to it with no problems, I instantly felt relieved! It was quite a weight lifted off my shoulders! I seriously didn’t realise that this issue was bothering me so much. We had a midwife come over as well and she told me that there’s so much more to being a mother than just to be able to feed your baby breastmilk. She also said that having postpartum depression is not a mark of your character – it doesn’t mean you’re weak or incapable as a person – it’s a chemical imbalance in your brain that only medication can cure. So if you’re suffering through some form of postpartum depression or anxiety right now and breastfeeding is adding to your stress, please do think about whether or not breastfeeding is as important to you as it is to be the best mother you can be in the long run.
- Enlist all the help you can get with baby (and your older children)!– We hired the confinement lady who took care of Dani for another 2 months. She was more experienced than the initial CL we had for Dylan and I had more confidence in her. As soon as she got here and took over and managed to set somewhat of a schedule for Dylan, I felt more at ease and was willing to let go of him more. He still cries a lot and is very demanding, and even this CL, who has been in this line for more than 10 years says he ‘banyak pattern’ and she has exhausted every trick in the book to pacify him, I’m beginning to see him smile a little bit more, and he’s definitely growing taller and chubbier.
- Get back into a routine and get some exercise – If you had a full time job, maybe it’s time to get back to work. Get yourself back into a routine – it can never be the same as before, but being outside of the house even for a little while does wonders for your sanity! I’ve started to take up VO jobs, photoshoots and social media campaigns just to try to get my mind off being a mum. If you’ve had a c-sect like I had, you can only start working out properly after your gynae okays it (normally around 3 months postpartum), but for now, walks in the park, gentle stretching in the mornings can also help in clearing your mind and getting some fresh air and pumping fresh blood into your tired muscles. My psychiatrist suggested Yoga Nidra, a form of yoga meditation that focuses on every part of your body and it really did help me relax and feel more rested even in my most tired state.
- Faith and the power of prayer – I’ve prayed and prayed since the beginning of this ordeal for God to give me the strength to overcome this, and I know my parents and some close friends prayed for me too. It didn’t work initially but I had faith that God will pull me through. Even if it didn’t give me sleep, I managed to rest my mind and soul every time I prayed the rosary. I only started to fall asleep by myself on the night of Christmas Eve after my daughter’s birthday party and my cousins who attended the party prayed over Dylan and I. And on Christmas day, I went to church and felt so much more at peace after Christmas mass. The priest in his sermon said that “God showed His love for us through the birth of a baby” and it suddenly dawned on me that the birth of Dylan and all this might be God’s way of bringing me back closer to Him.
To be honest, I’ve spent a lot of money trying to get better. Yes, everything I’ve mentioned above (psychiatrist, medication, massages, acupuncture, nanny, formula….) requires money. And I am thankful and blessed to have the means and support to get myself back up again. For those with no support and no financial means, there are always alternatives. Enlist the help of family, your mum or mum in law, explain to them that you really need time off from baby (and children) for a while. There are support groups out there that can provide peer counselling and there are also free counselling available, provided by certain NGOs and government bodies. And having faith and prayers are free.
I don’t claim to be an authority in this and I’m really just hoping and praying that this is the end of my brush with PPA and Insomnia. I’d admit there are days when I’d regret having another child. In my darkest hour, I thought this would be the end of me. Then I’d look at my daughter, and my newborn son and push through each day because I want to be there with them and watch them grow up to be happy and healthy individuals. So if you’re reading this right now, and think that there is no light at the end of the tunnel you’re in, trust me, there will be light, you are not alone in this and you will get better. This too shall pass and before you know it, your babies will all be grown up and have babies of their own, and then they will realise how much you had to go through to raise them!