What It's Like to Experience Post-Partum Anxiety
I always wanted to be a mom. Growing up, I loved dolls, little kids and babysitting. What I told everyone was slightly different though — I wanted to be a teacher, singer, writer and ice cream truck driver. But deep down inside, I just wanted to be a mom.
I remember the exact time I finally admitted that to a friend of mine. I was sitting in statistics as a senior in high school. I was getting used to the “so, what are you going to do now?” question that everyone seems to feel compelled to ask any and all 17 and 18-year-olds. I was telling everyone my plans for college and my desire to become a local legendary English teacher like my mom. However, when this one friend asked what I was going to do, I blurted out, “You know, I just want to be a mom.” I felt my cheeks warming and my face searching hers for some sort of approval or perhaps discomfort. I was quickly surprised when she hugged me and said that was so wonderful. It felt so good and I felt so validated.
Six years later, I gave birth to the most beautiful baby boy I had ever seen. Really. Most babies have scrunchy newborn faces with wrinkles and alien looking black eyes. Not my baby. He had olive skin, a head of black hair, and wide-open, searching eyes. My husband and I were so ecstatic to get him out of the hospital and insert him into our home and family life. I felt like I was finally fulfilling my destiny and future plans.
Maybe this is becoming more common knowledge, but the life of a post-partum mom is kind of a secret hell. From the aches and pains of labor, to the sleep-deprivation and the feeling like you’re relearning how to be in your body. Seriously, I had no idea my joints would make it so I had to figure out the whole walking thing again. But what I really wish I would have understood — or at least someone else to understand — was the pure anxiety. I wasn’t a stranger to anxiety, I had struggled with it before. However, this type of anxiety was new to me, and I thought this was just how it felt being a mom and I resorted to just living my life this way.
The first moment I experienced it was when he was only 2 weeks old and my in-laws came to help us out. I couldn’t watch them hold him. Something inside me would make me feel a deep disgust and desire to scream and snatch him back. I had to remove myself from the situation, go to the other room and bawl until I was so tired I felt like I could let it go just enough to be in the room with them again.
The other moments were also irrational — putting my son in the car and then putting the cart away was a situation that made me avoid grocery shopping on my own at all costs. I would have visions of someone jumping into my car and stealing my car and son along with it. The thought alone caused a sweat and occasionally tears, and if I had to go to the store with him, I would sprint to put the cart away and then sprint back to the car with my brain and heart racing.
The dreams. I have always been prone to dreaming and nightmares, but these dreams took the cake. I was at one point considering asking my very capable grandmother to watch my son for a few hours a day so I could substitute teach while my husband worked. Then, I had one dream in which my grandmother let him fall down the stairs and I immediately decided against substituting, with little explanation to anyone else.
My family made fun of it — that I was an idealist and needed to loosen up. Or that it was because I was just a typical new mother. I guess I just didn’t know how to explain what I was feeling. I felt so scared all of the time. I was scared of the potential chemicals in the fabrics near him. I was scared of anyone sitting behind us in church, especially if I didn’t know them. I knew all of this was irrational, but it felt so incredibly real to me.
When I gave birth to my next child — a daughter — it was as if a cloud lifted from my brain. I don’t know what happened inside of me, but I felt almost free of my constant worries of death and dismemberment of my children. I was happy and sad at the same time. I was grateful this was not what parenting really had to feel like, but I was sad that I felt like I had spent the last couple of years fearing for my son when I could have been enjoying that time a little more.
Every once in a while I feel those thoughts creep in, again. I’ve since learned important self-care. Sleep, obviously, is now king in my life. However, since that time, I’ve made my way to working toward a Master’s in Social Work. I hope to work with new moms and help them through the time when I needed help but didn’t know — right from the hospital to when they feel confident and happy in their parenting. I also write for and manage the social media platform for the website savemefrom.com — a company dedicated to suicide prevention and mental health.
These personal care practices have helped me feel joy in my parenting. It seems paradoxical, but it was almost as if when I let go of my stronghold on parenting and started developing my other talents and interests again that I can now appreciate parenting to a fuller extent. Obviously, some balance is necessary. Too much investment in my own hobbies and goals starts to make me feel like parenting is getting in the way, and that doesn’t feel right, either. I guess I always thought I knew what I wanted, and I wasn’t wrong. I have no regrets. I am happy I am able to find meaning in this unique form of anxiety and pass along what I am learning to help someone else.
Getty image by Archv