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In the last section, we discussed panic and depression. This included panic disorder; panic attacks and pregnancy; and panic vs. depression, which comes first?
In this section, we will continue our discussion of anxiety. This will include untreated anxiety, when a child is truly at risk, and ghosts in the nursery.
Awareness of the frequency with which anxiety disorders can accompany pregnancy may enable the diagnosis to be made sooner, thereby reducing the woman’s emotional distress and preventing further complications for both mother and child not only during pregnancy but also after birth.
♦ Untreated Anxiety
Tessa’s story illustrates just how serious that dual risk can be. Tessa had a history of panic attacks and had been taking antidepressant medication to control her illness. When she became pregnant, however, she immediately stopped taking her medication because she wrongly believed, as so many do, that her pregnancy would protect her from the anxiety.
When Tessa’s son was born, however, things went from bad to worse. Tessa had a difficult time breast-feeding and was self-conscious because friends kept questioning her about her inability to nurse. Every time she looked at her baby she began to feel anxious, to the point where she could barely bring herself to touch the infant or to establish any kind of positive feeling toward him. Because she felt that the baby himself had triggered her panic attacks in utero, and because she’d visualized him as being deformed, once the child was actually born she couldn’t shake the anxiety toward him that had become so firmly entrenched.
Even before her baby was born, however, Tessa may well have been putting him as well as herself at risk by allowing her anxiety to go untreated. Many studies have shown that increased anxiety during pregnancy is often associated with conditions including pre-eclampsia, preterm labor, and even miscarriage, as well as changes in fetal blood circulation and behavior.
♦ When a Child is truly at Risk
Serena, age 18, was referred to me by her pediatrician because of the uncontrollable panic attacks she’d been experiencing ever since her child was diagnosed with a severe lung disorder in the third trimester of her pregnancy. After Serena gave birth, as her child underwent a series of medical workups, her panic increased and she became more and more certain he would die. Serena began to experience severe night sweats and chest pains, and she slept in the baby’s room night after night, convinced that he wouldn’t survive.
In another, similar case a mother was told at twenty-one weeks of gestation that her baby had a serious kidney disease, and even though she had no previous history of anxiety, she began to experience breathlessness and the sensation that she was actually choking.
♦ Ghosts in the Nursery
While ghosts in the nursery may be a unique variation on panic disorder, other symptoms, like Tessa’s, are not unlike the intrusive thoughts that plague women with another form of anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder to be discussed in the next section.
In summary, in this section we have discussed anxiety. This has included untreated anxiety, when a child is truly at risk, and ghosts in the nursery.
Whisman, M. A., Davila, J., & Goodman, S. H. (2011). Relationship adjustment, depression, and anxiety during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Journal of Family Psychology, 25(3), 375–383.
Online Continuing Education QUESTION 9
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