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The Postpartum Anxiety I Experienced After My Child's Traumatic Birth Experience

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Today’s share is very personal for me, because quite honestly it’s something I am very private about. I wrote this piece two months ago, but was not yet ready to share my struggle with postpartum anxiety. I often see NICU moms talk about the anxiety they experience while their child is in the NICU, and I can relate on so many levels. I have found this topic to sometimes be taboo, but postpartum anxiety, fueled by a traumatic birth experience, is something many NICU moms struggle with, but also something that is rarely talked about.

After Quinn was born I struggled — that’s an understatement, I barely kept me head above water. Even with having a very supportive family, who did everything in their power to help me, what I experienced was overwhelming. Honestly, looking back I can’t even imagine how hard it would be for someone who didn’t have the support I did. Although nothing went as planned in this pregnancy, I was feeling OK for the first two days after my C-section (of course I mean after getting over the initial shock of seeing my 1-pound 12-ounce baby). I remember feeling very positive, which sounds strange looking back, but I felt like everything was under control (total facade). For some reason, on the third day I went into complete meltdown mode. It happened to be my birthday, and I told family who had previously planned on coming to visit that I just wasn’t feeling up to it. I was an  emotional wreck that day and in no shape to see anyone! For some reason, this is when the realization of the gravity of the situation began to sink in, and I realized I would soon be leaving the hospital and my baby would not be leaving with me. It was a strange feeling after giving birth to go home without a baby, and it didn’t feel natural.

In the beginning, everything was scary. My eyes would be peeled to the monitors, and I wondered why the nurses didn’t jump every time any of the baby’s stats went out of range. I began to hear a lot of terms I didn’t know anything about like: pic line, C-pap, caffeine, head ultrasound, ROP, ASD, Brady’s… I could go on and on. Luckily, the staff in the NICU spent so much time answering any questions I ever had, but all of these terms, even explained, were scary as hell. I cried every day.

Once I went home, the nightmares began, and bedtime became my biggest struggle. I actually stopped calling the NICU at night for a period of time, because for some reason it was a trigger. I think in some warped way I felt like when I was there, I was somehow in control of the situation, and when I went home at night, I felt out of control. Many nights I had nightmares that seemed so real that when I woke up I sometimes questioned if they were true. I’d like to say the nightmares were the worst side effect, but they weren’t.   On a few occasions my husband found me fumbling around the sheets looking for the baby in my sleep… he shook me awake and said to me, “Colleen, the baby isn’t here, she’s in the NICU.” I literally thought I’d lost the baby in the bed. I hated to admit it, but I began to realize I was struggling.

With everything a NICU mom goes through it’s sometimes hard to admit you don’t feel strong, but no one is strong all of the time. I knew I needed an outlet, and luckily for me, my hospital had a program that supported moms who struggled with anxiety triggered by these types of situations, especially NICU moms.

What I realize now, that I didn’t know then, is that as a parent to a NICU baby you’ve gone through a trauma, and your experience doesn’t end just because you take your baby home. Everyone, including myself, was so focused on making sure everything was OK with the baby that sometimes it was forgotten that as parents we are struggling to stay strong during a very difficult situation. Even now more than a year later, I have to say the anxiety from what I experienced still sometimes gets the best of me. For months after Quinn was released, I had difficulty sleeping, and still something felt triggered by events that would bring me back to that very difficult time. Luckily, with time this has gotten better, and the triggers seem fewer and far between. Life finally is starting to feel “normal” again.

Knowing now that there is light at the end of tunnel, I encourage any of my fellow NICU moms who feel like they are struggling emotionally to find an outlet no matter what it be that helps you deal with the trauma you have gone through. Sometimes it’s hard to admit that you are struggling, but understand that sometimes accepting help actually makes you become the strong momma you need to be.

Originally published: June 8, 2018
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