The Serious Postpartum Condition That Can Easily Be Dismissed As Anxiety
"The doctor could see the concern on my face and assured me it was okay but how could I have not noticed this? How could I have missed the very noticeable tremor?"
I’ve always admired women who love pregnancy because for me, those nine months are a real struggle. Physically, my body doesn’t cope well but mentally and emotionally, I find it really tough. So as my second and final pregnancy neared its end, I was elated for the fog to lift, looking forward to basking in newborn smells, sleep deprivation and slow days around the house as we settled into our new life together.
For the first few weeks after Jones was born, that was how it went. My birth was incredible, everything I could have hoped for and in turn, my recovery was swift. I was walking my eldest to daycare within ten days. Then, I just started to feel a bit crap. I was more tired than I thought I should have been when transitioning to two kids.
I knew my body and something was just off
I spoke to my obstetrician at my six-week check and told her how I was feeling so she ran a sweep of blood tests. Sure enough, something showed up and I was diagnosed with postpartum hyperthyroidism, a phenomenon following pregnancy that often goes undiagnosed.
I was referred to an endocrinologist to assess it further. Sitting in her office she asked me a range of questions about how I was feeling, things that when I actually took the time to think about, made much more sense.
I was losing a lot of hair, clumps at a time. I remembered losing it after my first pregnancy so chalked it up to being normal. I was so worn out as if I had run a marathon all the time but I couldn’t sleep, insomnia rampant.
She asked if my hands had been shaking, I said no. She took my blood pressure and asked me to hold out my hands. They immediately shook. I clenched my fists as a knee-jerk reaction to make them stop and when I opened them again and it started. The doctor could see the concern on my face and assured me it was okay but how could I have not noticed this? How could I have missed the very noticeable tremor?
She explained that usually, this disease starts four-six weeks post-birth. The thyroid can stay in an overactive state for three-six months, move into an under-active state for six-twelve months and then either return to normal or stay under-active forever. We talked about medication, beta-blockers specifically but she explained that if I used them, it would only mask what was naturally happening and in turn makes it harder to get the dosage right. I didn’t want medication anyway, just to persist as much as I could. Regular blood tests were set up to monitor my thyroid and I could see my normal GP from there.
Taking control of my health
That following week I did a lot of reading. Diet seemed to play a crucial part in me being able to minimise the symptoms without taking medication. I switched to decaf coffee, limited sugar intake and tried to cut out refined carbs while increasing my cruciferous vegetable intake.
That following week, I also did a lot of crying. Not because I was devastated by the diagnosis, it was totally treatable but because my emotions were all over the shop. Hell, there was no shop. I felt even more unbalanced than I did during pregnancy, which I never thought possible.
I had to go back to see my OBGYN to have a mirena put in, which those sorts of things don’t usually bother me but the longer I sat in the waiting room, the more my anxiety rose. By the time I was in the chair, my breathing was erratic, my heart was palpitating and after it was done, I burst into tears. Again. I barely felt the insertion so it wasn’t from pain. My gynaecologist rubbed my arm and said “Your anxiety is from your thyroid. Don’t worry”. Immediately I felt more at ease.
My skin started to break out like I was a teenager again, I was sweating profusely at sporadic intervals even though it was winter and my hand tremors got worse. I was trying to change Jones’ nappy one morning and I couldn’t stop the shakes so I put him on the floor and sat down next to him, grabbing my phone to call my husband. I couldn’t even hold the phone still to dial. It completely freaked me out.
My next lot of blood work showed it was starting to dip, only marginally overactive this time. I spoke to my GP about diet to help and he all but scoffed at me. Ignoring him I started to adjust my diet for an under-active thyroid. I cut gluten, kept off coffee and sugar and added more fish and avocado in. I could feel the shift in my body when it went under-active, the tremors stopped, my hair loss was back to normal and the sweating, thankfully, ceased.
Mentally and emotionally though, I was still in a bad space
One Sunday, in particular, we had friends coming over for lunch. These were some of our best friends, who we’d collectively known for decades. I sat in the nursery crying because I was so anxious about even speaking to them. I didn’t want anyone to come over. I just wanted to be with my husband and our boys. This was so far removed from what I am naturally like. I’m not social in the way of being the life of the party but I treasure time with our friends. My husband reassured me it’s just lunch and they’ll be gone within a few hours. I felt awkward the entire time, tears welling right below the surface. I was very quiet and withdrawn and even though I knew I was doing it, I couldn’t stop it. My girlfriend knew something was up but also knew not to push me. I could feel her tiptoeing and I was silently thankful.
That day, after they left and it returned to just the four of us, the anxiety cloud immediately lifted. The weight dispersed and all I could think about was how many women were trudging through their days with this undiagnosed disease. Or how many women thought they had postnatal depression or anxiety when really, it was their thyroid.
How many mothers just think they are supposed to feel that tired?
Ten months postpartum, my thyroid finally levelled out and returned to normal. For those ten months, I think only my husband really knew the extent of what I was going through, even my extended family didn’t really understand the depths of it. I didn’t talk openly about it with my friends until after it had subsided, which was not deliberate, rather an insight into the impact the disease had on my mental health.
In a society where we are overloaded with information constantly, how had this knowledge never been shared by a professional, in books or on blogs about pregnancy and motherhood? How had it had never come up in conversation with friends or at mothers group? I’m still unsure but if there is one thing I did learn, it’s that if something physically doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
This article was first published in KidSpot and republished on theAsianparent with permission.