I realized that I had postpartum anxiety when I was 8 weeks pregnant with baby #2, about a year and half after dealing with it, or rather, denying it to myself. It wasn’t until I stopped feeling that every single person in the world was out to get my baby and that every object in our house would cause death that I was finally able to admit to myself that I had an issue. Postpartum anxiety, postpartum depression’s secret cousin, isn’t as widely discussed but just feels just as destructive and real.
When our first baby girl (lovingly nicknamed Peanut) was born, I was elated. Thinking back to that first night in the hospital, when many moms handed their newborns to the nurses so they could get a couple hours of sleep, I should have recognized the first sign – I couldn’t imagine having my little girl out of my sight. In fact, that night, when my husband and baby slept soundly, I stared at her, checking to make sure she was breathing every couple of minutes. The next year and a half at home continued in a similar manner – if I wasn’t stressing over SIDS (which I was, through the year and half mark even though the odds were low and there was little I could do), I was constantly checking for breathing, listening and watching our baby monitor for the movement of her chest. Every new milestone in Peanut’s life brought new anxieties. I never moved on from SIDS, but I added worrying about head trauma as she learned to sit up, food allergies as she took her first solids, chocking as she learned how to feed herself, and every accident imaginable as she took her first steps. I rarely slept at night, thinking about burglars that were out to harm my baby, outlets that weren’t properly protected, and our newly-installed house alarm (this was my husband’s attempt to calm my nerves) malfunctioning. When I was home alone with our baby, things went from bad to worse as I rehearsed an escape route and a speech in my head in case someone was to break in.
I’m not here to tell you guys how to deal with postpartum anxiety, since I obviously didn’t Instead, I wanted to share with you my experience in hopes that someone reading will recognize the signs and seek out help.
I remember leaving the hospital after the first couple of days, the feeling of complete helplessness overwhelming my every being as I walked out the doors and away from the many nurses that constantly poked and prodded Peanut to make sure she was doing well. Like many others, I received a lecture and a checklist of items to look out for to recognize postpartum depression. And like many others, I smiled and said that just wasn’t me.
The first couple of weeks are hard to even remember – there was a lot of crying (normal), a lot of feeling overwhelmed (also normal to many extents), and a lot of questioning in my abilities to keep the baby alive (I have no idea how normal that is, but I’m guessing I’m not alone in this one). Each day blurred into the next but somehow we were all surviving. I knew that the first couple of months were hard to get through so we just kept on moving. Around this time I started getting completely paranoid about someone breaking in to our house, SIDS, and every other small event I heard about. Some were legitimate, like her uneven breathing, while others were a bit far fetched like a hair getting stuck in a sock, cutting off her circulation and leading to her death. Somewhere in the back of my head I knew that things will happen and I just needed to do my best as a mother but I couldn’t freak out over them. But drawing the line became impossible – if I didn’t check her toes and socks twice before putting her down and then check them again 20 minutes later, was I a good mother?
As Peanut grew and developed new skills, I develop new fears. When she learned to sit up, I held my breath and cried every time she fell and hit her head. I never put her down anywhere without at least 4 pillows to catch her fall and cursed myself out when she leaned forward and hit her nose on the one small patch of carpeted floor. When P started to pull items to her mouth, I started constantly disinfecting them and checking them for any loose parts. The idea of leaving her unattended for even a split second brought my anxiety to a level I can’t even begin to describe to you. With crawling I worried about every hard surface in the house. When Peanut started walking, I covered every inch of tile with an area rug and never let go of her hand when we were outside on hard pavement. Family walks turned into anxiety attacks as I struggled to breathe when my husband let our toddler take steps on her own.
And then there were the constant thoughts consuming me. There was rarely a moment when I wasn’t thinking up of some new things that could hurt my little one and the horrible gripping feeling of losing her had me hyperventilating almost daily. I rarely slept but that didn’t prevent the nightmares that haunted me every time I even blinked. While many moms watched their kids make mistakes that taught them to be stronger and wiser, I worried that letting her do anything on her own would lead to her destruction.
Many of you reading this probably see it as what it was – anxiety. But I couldn’t figure out if it was anxiety or just the kind of parent that I was. What if I was a helicopter mom? What if I was a worrier? What if this was just my Type A personality?
I guess the biggest difference I can point out to you is my reaction, or rather overreaction, to every situation versus a normal reaction. Accidents didn’t cause a scar or a bump in my mind, they caused death. Checking on the safety of something or Peanut wasn’t good enough, I needed to check it again and again and consider every single possibility of what could go wrong. With me, I was unable to draw the line and say, I did the best I could do and move on.
And then one day, around the 8 week mark of my pregnancy with baby #2 it all became clear. I’m not sure if it happened overnight, but it really felt like it did. I woke up and I could breath. Peanut cried and I asked her what was wrong instead of letting my mind wonder into deep, dark places. When Peanut fell, I asked her if she was ok and moved on. I let her wonder into her room without following her. I started sleeping at night.
It was in that moment that I actually started to enjoy life and enjoy being a parent.