My Unexpected Companion, Postpartum Anxiety
Over the past two weeks, I can say someone has talked to me about having postpartum anxiety or depression at least once a day. While I believe we are creating a culture where it is more acceptable to discuss and understand postpartum depression and anxiety, I don’t think we are where we need to be in terms of accepting how common this really is. Common, not normal. I have a mental health professional acquaintance who explained that term, and I think its so true- just because something is common does not mean its normal. And, if its not normal, we need support.
Today I want to share Alycia’s story. Everyone’s story is unique. But my hope in sharing these stories is that if you are struggling, you know you are not alone. Please reach out to someone and let them know how you are feeling. Talk to your partner, your doctor, me. I will help get you pointed in the direction of people who can help you, and people who have been down the same road as quickly as I can.
And if you have a story you want to share as well, please let me know and I’ll be happy to share it with everyone here.
Have a beautiful weekend. All my love to you.
My Unexpected Companion, Postpartum Anxiety
by Alycia Edwards
I had fantasized for years about the moment I would first hold my first child. I had imagined it over in my mind almost daily during the “safe” portion of my pregnancy. I knew it would be the best moment of my life. After 15 months of struggling to conceive my son, I couldn’t wait for the “pot of gold” at the end of the rainbow.
To say I was shocked that the elation I expected was replaced with pure terror when they placed my 6 pound, 11 ounce baby with a full head of black hair (totally covered with my insides) on my chest is an understatement.
I did not know what to do with him. I had powered through my labor and delivery like a champ. (Albeit with the use of an epidural—and yes, you can still achieve champ-status with pain management!) I walked laps around L&D while on Pitocin in hopes of speeding my labor (successful), and even managed to laugh at my hubby when my son’s hairy head was crowning and my hubby informed the staff that “it looked like a clogged drain down there”.
The feeling of terror now covered me like a thick, humid summer day. I slept two hours total during our almost forty-eight hour hospital stay, and that was with the assistance of the strongest sleep aid they would provide me (one Benadryl pill). I was incredibly anxious about EVERYTHING. The pressure of hosting visitors, (I ended up refusing to allow anyone besides my mother and husband enter my maternity room), breastfeeding on demand, (I was brainwashed to believe that any formula feeding at all was the devil), and taking care of this tiny baby (although I had attended the hospital-hosted baby care and childbirth series) were completely overwhelming to me.
My mom swore I would feel better when I got home in familiar, comfortable surroundings. I didn’t. What was wrong with me? I had wanted this child SO BADLY.
I stayed in my room for the next two days, only emerging when my mother (who took a week’s vacation from work to manage my crisis) forced me to come eat. Of course I still made it a priority to breastfeed my son (who taught me all about cluster feeding). But I cried, and cried, and cried, and did not sleep. I could not live in the moment. All I could think about was my husband eventually going back to work, and me being alone with this little boy who I was still too scared to carry down the steps. I couldn’t escape the fog of my anxiety. I was terrified my husband would leave me for being an incapable mother. My sweet, sweet husband who snapped into Super Dad mode and taught himself how to care for a newborn.
My anxiety was so severe that I made multiple frantic calls to my OB asking for anti-anxiety medication, which they prescribed, and placed me on what I know was a “watch list”. One nurse even recommended that I check myself into the hospital, and I have to be honest, I was close to considering it.
My husband finally had to convince the practice after so many calls checking in on me that I was being monitored closely and was not a threat to myself or my baby. (I am very grateful I never reached this sad place.)
I live right on the Maryland/Pennsylvania line and had delivered in Pennsylvania, but had chosen a Maryland pediatrician; therefore, my pediatrician didn’t meet my son until our first appointment when he was four days old. My mother and husband accompanied us, and after giving my son an excellent report, asked me how I was doing. The floodgates opened. My pediatrician told me to go home, sleep, and have my husband and mom feed my son formula if I slept through a feeding. He said, a healthy, happy mom is essential for a healthy, happy baby.
He saved me. I decided the next day to switch my son to formula, and within a couple days I was back to functional, without the assistance of medication, which I feel very fortunate to be able to report. (In hindsight, I wish I would have received better education in my childbirth classes about a breastfeeding/supplementing combination. I hope to explore this if I am blessed with a second child.) This was the right choice for my family. My husband needed a functional, loving wife, and my child needed a nurturing mother. Relieving myself of being the sole food source for my son allowed me to focus on the other tasks of mothering, and I quickly got into a routine.
These past nine months with my son have been pure joy and the happiest of my life. I am excited for every morning when he opens his big hazel eyes, and every evening when he flails his arms with happiness when I pick him up from daycare. I love watching him grow intellectually. He is such a happy, healthy baby and I am beyond blessed.
Once I returned to work after my three month leave, I had an hour-plus in the car each day to reflect.
It was then I realized I had never allowed myself during pregnancy to envision bringing my son home from the hospital. I was terrified something would go wrong, and without reason, frankly, as I was blessed with a complication-free pregnancy. This was an incredible disservice to myself and my family. Being afraid of “something going wrong” did just that—it prevented me from mentally and emotionally preparing to mother my son, and it robbed us of our first few days together.
I have learned major lessons from this experience. The first would be to not let the fear of something going wrong to rob you of the much more likely situation of something going RIGHT. There is always something to worry about as a mother. Is my child meeting his milestones? Is my child happy? If we focus on worrying, we miss out on being present for our families, and we miss out on all the blessings. I remind myself of this regularly when I start to worry. Anxiety will always be present in my life, as it has been since I was a small child. I tell myself it is normal to feel some level of anxiety, but when it gets overwhelming, I need to rationalize it and seek help if I need it—whether that be a chat with my husband or on a professional level.
Please know that I am not naïve enough to think that my experience with postpartum anxiety is severe; I understand that this experience lasts months of years for some women and can take therapy, medication, etc. to manage. I am just merely sharing my experience and hoping that my story can help someone either in their own postpartum experience, or help them assist a loved one. There is a path out of the fog…