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Meghan McCain is opening up about her struggles with severe postpartum anxiety – and how to recognize the symptoms

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Meghan McCain is opening up about struggling with severe postpartum anxiety. McCain, who welcomed her daughter, Liberty, in September 2020, says in a new interview that she struggled with the mental health condition for six months after her daughter's birth.

“It's the second-hardest thing I've ever done, other than my dad dying," McCain, 36, told People. McCain said she was scared to leave home and was so worried that someone might kidnap her daughter that she wanted her husband "to hire armed guards outside our house," McCain said.

She said she was so worried to take her daughter around her neighborhood for Halloween that she ended up crying. "I was just having a really hard time doing something as simple as leaving the house with a baby in a stroller," she said, adding that she was "barely showering and functioning."

Meghan McCain on the set of
Meghan McCain opened up about her struggles with severe postpartum anxiety in her new book. (Charles Sykes/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images)

McCain said Liberty's pediatrician first noticed something was off and "very kindly" urged her to seek help. “She pulled me aside and was like, 'You need to talk to someone,'" McCain said, noting that she gave alarming answers in a postpartum questionnaire. McCain said she's now on a treatment plan that includes antidepressants and therapy, which makes her feel "steady."

In an excerpt of her book, Bad Republican, obtained by Variety, McCain said her postpartum anxiety influenced her decision to leave The View, noting that she was scared someone would try to hurt Liberty to try to "punish" her for her views. "I was afraid people wanted to kill her, or steal her or hurt her in some way. Every night, when she went to sleep, I would go in and check on her to make sure she was still breathing and still in her crib," McCain wrote. "As I was dealing with my own emotions, I couldn’t also navigate the idea that I was hated and felt hated at a toxic work environment. The second that feeling set in, it started to snowball into me thinking that everyone hated me. And because of that, I was worried even more that someone would steal or kidnap my child — as a way of hurting me. It wasn’t rational; I know that. But it was the medical diagnosis I was going through."

“I felt like people need to share stories about struggles with new motherhood — not just it being picture-perfect," McCain told People. "But I feel really raw and vulnerable sharing it. I just wanted to offer something that would hopefully make women, in particular, feel less alone.”

McCain isn't the first famous mom to speak out about having postpartum anxiety — former Bachelor winner Lauren Bushnell Lane shared on her Instagram Story that when her son, Dutton, was 3 months old that she was having postpartum anxiety. "I had a full blown panic attack the other night and drove myself to the fire station thinking I was having an allergic reaction and my throat was closing / legs were numb," she wrote. 

Duck Dynasty alum Sadie Robertson shared in an episode of her Whoa That's Good podcast in July that she developed postpartum anxiety after the birth of her daughter, Honey. "All of a sudden I was just in a state of anxiety. I didn't even realize it was creeping up as much as it was," she said. Robertson described feeling jittery and even having chest tightness and difficulty breathing because of her anxiety, noting that she didn't tell anyone. "I didn't understand how I could be so happy and so joyful, but also experience so much fear," she said.

Postpartum anxiety (also known as PPA) doesn't get as much attention as postpartum depression (PPD), but research suggests it's also common. One study estimates that PPA may occur in as many as 23 percent of new moms (by comparison, researchers found that an estimated 36 percent of new moms had symptoms of PPD).

While it's normal to have some anxiety as a new mother, postpartum anxiety is different, Thea Gallagher, a Philadelphia-area psychologist and co-host of the Mind in View podcast, tells Yahoo Life. "Both may be more focused on your baby, but postpartum anxiety tends to be more severe and frequent," she says. With PPA, a mom may be constantly worried that someone is going to take their baby or compulsively check on them through the night to make sure the baby is still breathing, to the point where it interferes with their ability to sleep and function normally, Gallagher says.

Dr. Tamar Gur, a psychiatrist and women's health expert at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life that certain worries new moms have can be helpful, like whether or not your baby has eaten enough and how many wet diapers there have been. "But it turns into PPA when it's no longer helpful," she says. "With PPA, those worries are really encompassing every aspect of your life, and most of your waking hours are spent worrying about your baby to the point that you're unable to enjoy other areas of your life." It can even manifest as panic attacks, compulsive checking behavior and washing things excessively, Gur says. 

"Being a new mom can be stressful, and a bit of anxiety is to be expected," women's health expert Dr. Jennifer Wider tells Yahoo Life. "But if the anxiety is getting in the way of your daily functioning, it's important to speak to a health care provider."

There is often some overlap between PPA and PPD — one study found that nearly 4 percent of new moms had signs of both conditions — but they're not the same. "Postpartum depression is more focused on a lot of negative self-talk and beliefs about yourself as a mother, thinking that you're not a fit mom," Gallagher says. "Anxiety is a lot more focused on your baby and their health." Still, she says, "both can impair functioning."

The symptoms of postpartum anxiety can be hard to recognize when you're living through them, Gallagher says. But, according to Postpartum Support International, they can include:

  • Nonstop worrying

  • Feeling that something bad is going to happen

  • Uncontrollable thoughts

  • Problems with sleeping and eating

  • Having an inability to relax

  • Feeling dizzy

  • Having an upset stomach

  • Experiencing hot flashes

Women with PPA may also have trouble shaking off "a feeling of impending doom, dread or danger," Wider says. 

"These are significant warning signs," Gallagher says. If you or a loved one is concerned that you may have PPA, she suggests reaching out to your ob-gyn or your child's pediatrician about next steps — they should be able to refer you to a mental health professional who can assess you and recommend a treatment plan to help you feel better. That could involve talk therapy, anti-anxiety medication or a combination of both.

Whatever you do, Gallagher stresses the importance of seeking help. "People can sometimes feel a lot of shame or try to write off their feelings as 'just' being a worried mom," she says. "Don't go silent."

Wider agrees. "Don't hesitate to get help. This is incredibly common," she says. "It's easy to manage as long as it's diagnosed and treated in an expedient manner."

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