DETROIT, Mich. — Stephanie Gerber experienced what felt like constant fears her newborn son would die in his sleep, or, that something might happen to her.
They were negative thoughts she simply couldn't turn off, and they started about four months after the birth of her first son.
“When you’re in it, you have these blinders on and you can’t see past it, it’s consuming," said the West Bloomfield mother of three boys.
Gerber is talking about postpartum anxiety, a rare but serious condition that can occur weeks or even months after a baby is born.
“It was debilitating," Gerber said. "Most of my panic attacks and anxiety happened at night while I was sleeping. So I would wake up in a state of panic. Well then that resulted in me not even wanting to go to bed.”
Sleep deprivation mixed with postpartum anxiety was traumatic, and something Gerber felt she wasn't prepared for. She battled it not once, but twice.
Unlike the "baby blues," a short-term emotional dip in the two weeks after a baby is born, postpartum anxiety and postpartum depression can last for much longer and are much more serious. They are also more rare.
“Up to 80-85 percent of women are going to experience 'Baby Blues,' explained Dr. Samara Gibson, an OBGYN at Detroit Medical Center's Sinai-Grace Hospital.
“Postpartum depression is when you are literally not yourself," Dr. Gibson said.
According to CDC data, around 13 percent of women in Michigan experience postpartum depression symptoms, which can include:
- Lasting sad, anxious, or “empty” mood.
- Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism.
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness.
- Feelings of irritability or restlessness.
- Loss of interest in hobbies and activities.
- Loss of energy.
- Problems concentrating, recalling details, and making decisions.
- Difficulty falling asleep or sleeping too much.
- Overeating or loss of appetite.
- Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts.
- Aches or pains that do not get better with treatment.
Jill Reiter is a postpartum Douala in metro Detroit and owner of The After Baby Lady.
Unlike a midwife, Doualas are not medically trained.
“We’re really there for emotional and physical support," Reiter explained. That support she said, is something many people don't realize is important after the baby arrives too.
A Douala can help not only moms, but also new dads.
“Making sure that you’re getting enough rest, someone is feeding you, helping you maybe with things around the house," Reiter told Action News.
It's those little things that new moms and dads tend to focus too much on, Dr. Gibson said. Getting enough rest is always more important that completing chores. Her advice? Always sleep when the baby sleeps.
Gerber used a postpartum Douala after the birth of her second son, when she again experienced postpartum anxiety. She said that, mixed with connecting with other mothers going through the same thing, really helped her recover.
“If I didn’t have that, I don’t know how long I would have been stuck in that state of despair," Gerber told Action News.
Another rare but serious condition Dr. Gibson said, is postpartum pre-eclampsia.
“During the pregnancy the mother’s blood pressure could or could not be high. But postpartum meaning after the baby is born, the blood pressures tend to go up," Gibson said.
The condition can turn into something much worse if not caught early and treated.
“Your body tends to have seizures, possibly even a stroke, bleeding disorders, so it’s a very serious condition," Dr. Gibson said.
Thankfully, if a women delivers in the hospital it's usually caught early. As for postpartum anxiety and depression, along with any postpartum concerns, Dr. Gibson stresses the importance of speaking honestly with your doctor.
Click below for helpful resources: