The day after I came home from the hospital with our first child, I lay in my bed crying uncontrollably, begging my mom to tell me how she could let us out of the house and let us out into the world. I wanted to stick my son in a bubble and never let him out. A few days later, I had a terrible panic attack when we had to leave the house to bring him to his first pediatrician’s appointment. Things only got worse. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the beginning of my postpartum anxiety.
I know now that anxiety can manifest differently for everyone.
According to americanpregnancy.org, postpartum anxiety affects about 10% of all postpartum women. Symptoms can include changes in eating and sleeping, difficulty controlling racing thoughts, constant worry, impending fear that something bad is going to happen, trouble sitting still and focusing and physical symptoms like dizziness, nausea and hot flashes. My anxiety manifests in physical and emotional ways – a pit in my stomach, nausea, nervous fidgeting, obsessively checking my phone, feeling panicked over something simple like a trip to the grocery store, snapping at others, crying, and basically being a control freak.
Baby Blues or Something More?
I knew something was off – but I was so scared to talk to anyone about it. I cried every time someone asked me how I was doing. I cried every time I read books to him and rocked him to sleep. I didn’t want anyone else to hold him. I didn’t want to leave the house, yet I was petrified some “worst case scenario” would play out and my child would somehow be harmed in our home. I watched him sleep and even though we used an Angel Care monitor, I constantly checked to make sure he was still breathing. I was (and still am) terrified of losing him. I could barely bring myself to give him to my husband so that I could take a shower. I was terrified of someone telling me that I had PPD and they were going to take my baby away from me. I didn’t want to be labeled as a bad or incompetent mom. I felt isolated. It was terrifying and I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I wish I had said something. Instead, I faked it through the first year of his life while trying to deal with my anxiety. It was all false bravado. I acted like everything was okay and this mom thing was so easy. Inside, I was screaming, crying, and wanted to just fall apart. I felt broken. Maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a mom after all.
I realized, after the fact, that I had postpartum anxiety.
I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I was forcing myself to do things that most find easy to do – leaving the house with him, letting him nap in another room during the day, letting other people hold him and feed him, leaving him with my husband for a few hours to visit my dying grandfather. When he started daycare at 10 weeks, I could not focus on my work as I obsessively watched my phone, waiting for them to call me to tell me he was ill or had been injured in an accident. Three plus years later, and some days I feel like I don’t have this under control at all.
My anxiety has not eased up with the birth of our second child.
I was absolutely panicked when we drove from Lafayette to Gonzales with our 10-day old baby to do a walk through of the house we were purchasing. The knowledge that a wreck on I-10 could easily harm her or worse had me feeling so out of control I thought I was going to pass out. Since both of my children started at a new daycare, I check the live camera feed obsessively throughout the day because I am still terrified that something will happen to them. And just ask my husband about my control freak tendencies and outbursts.
I can be totally fine one minute and freaking out the next.
That’s the thing about anxiety. There may not be one particular trigger or response to your anxiety. It may not be easy to identify that is why you feel the way you do. You don’t want to hear that everything is fine, or everything will be okay. You don’t want your feelings to be swept under the rug by others. You want to be able to talk about it – but maybe you just can’t bring yourself to do that. I have found that voicing my concerns in the most logical way possible and speaking with other mamas about it has helped. I know some moms who have taken medication to help them through tough times and others who started exercise regimens to help decrease their anxiety.
If you are dealing with postpartum anxiety, know that you are not alone. You are not broken. Speak with your OB/GYN or GP about it. Find what works best for you and your family – whether that is counseling, medication or meditation and exercise. It’s okay to ask for and get help so that you can be the best mama for yourself and your family.