Postpartum Anxiety: An Untold Story
We waited for her for over a year.
Wondering if she’d ever be part of our family.
Watching others welcome new life into the world.
Some were expecting once again.
All in our time of anticipation.
Months upon months of heartbreak and tears.
Until finally, one cold, unforgettable Christmas Eve morning, the best gift we could have ever asked for, two pink lines slowly making their way across the store-bought test.
Completely surreal and in total shock.
The first-half of my pregnancy was relatively uneventful, minus continuous morning and evening sickness. By 20-weeks pregnant, concern had grown not only over my own size, but also that of our unborn baby girl. My body was not making enough room for her.
With three months to go before she would ever make her way into our arms, the non-stop worry and anxiety had already set in. My mind was officially running on a closed-circuit track of fear. She wasn’t even in my arms, and I was already failing as her mother.
There were ultrasounds.
Some showing severe discrepancies in her size.
And more ultrasounds.
More doctor visits.
All while carrying around this intense “guilt” that my body wasn’t keeping up with its end of the bargain. When she finally did arrive, there was a sudden sense of “relief,” until the trauma of both of us landing right back into the hospital when she was just 5 days old, caused the concerns and apprehensions to reemerge with a vengeance. My postpartum time with our beautiful, first-born was at times just plain awful.
Here I had this gorgeous newborn, surrounded by all the love in the world, and I was a mess. She was tiny. I was protective. I was a perfectionist. Since nursing alone was not enough, our routine quickly became completely monotonous.
With barely an hour’s time in-between, we essentially “lived” in her nursery. I remember feeling such an incredible responsibility to this tiny being. Not wanting anyone else to care for her. In my mind, they simply could not do the job I could do. So, I politely declined help. With an incredibly driven husband working “overtime” to support our growing family, while I was on maternity leave, I took it all on myself, her 24/7 care. Because, in my mind, tending to her every need was my job, and mine alone.
But, when utter exhaustion set in?
So did the anxiety.
Followed by the depression.
Of something terrible happening to her.
I had fallen into a deep and dark place. My mind was racing from worry to worry, without a breath in between. I will never forget the friends, and most importantly, my husband and parents, who climbed down deep into the trenches to pull me back out.
I will also never forget one cold and dreary December morning, me with our sweet baby, just 4 months old, realizing I couldn’t hold it in anymore and completely losing it. In my parents’ house, I was next to my incredible mom. I told her I didn’t feel like I could ever let myself be happy because I was so totally scared something bad would happen to our daughter.
I can never, ever thank her enough for making me call my OB’s office and my own doctor’s office to talk to someone. I will never forget the amazing doctors and nurse practitioners who sincerely listened to me as I sobbed out my anxieties and fears. After some serious convincing, I began taking anti-anxiety/depression medicine. I will never, ever deny that at that time, I needed it. Learning from my parents that anxiety and depression run deep into the roots of our family only provided me with an additional blanket of comfort.
My best advice for all the new and beautiful mamas out there? Accept the help. Take care of yourself, too. As hard and completely “selfish” as it may seem to you, take care of yourself. Because, sweet mamas, you cannot take the same amazing care of your new life without tending to yourself as well.
If the feelings of unhappiness, exhaustion and being overwhelmed do rush in? It is OK. It happens to the best of us. (After four little ones, it can repeat itself too, which it has for me.) It happens to more people that you could ever imagine.
Reach out to someone, anyone. I reached out to very few, but when I did, they responded in ways I never could have imagined.
My best advice for all the OBGYN-associated healthcare workers out there? Ask for a history of anxiety and depression. My own doctor’s office was wonderful with this, but don’t stop there. Follow up. Get personal. Reach out. Through phone call, patient portals, invitations in the mail to small support groups, set up connections with a counselor or therapist.
Because, honestly? There were so many days I wish someone just would have asked me if I was OK, or simply how I was doing. We can all wear “masks,” which easily hide our deep, “dark” moments. We hide those sad faces that we wish for no one else to see.
Sometimes, all it takes is a simple phone call, a text, a social media message to simply check in on a friend, a co-worker, a loved one. Because you really never know, you very well may find yourself as someone’s life-preserver.