What It's Like To Live With Postpartum Anxiety
I remember clearly the day that my ex-husband left; it's as if I can watch it on Netflix at a moment's notice. I walked in the door not knowing or suspecting that our home would be ransacked with my husband gone. Everything was strewn about, his things all missing when they were just there 5 hours prior when I left for work. I truly thought he was dead. This was the start of my postpartum anxiety. I remember hyperventilating on the couch, my ears ringing because I was breathing so fast, and it was that moment that I felt the little life inside of me flutter for the first time. I began to panic and immediately was convinced I was again going to miscarry, and this precious life that I was so enamoured with would leave me also. I guess you could say that I have abandonment issues.
After my ex left, I was placed on bed rest again for the remainder of my pregnancy. Anyone who has been on bedrest knows that there is only so much Netflix one can watch. I no longer had work to distract me. I spent months researching everything under the sun, all the while, my inner dialogue constantly reminding me of everything that was going to go wrong--there was no doubt in my mind otherwise. I had constant and overwhelming thoughts streaming through my brain at all times.
Anxiety has always been there for me. A persistent, unwelcome companion of sorts. Like one of those "friends" that seems to always drain you of energy, leaving you more and more fatigued every time you see them. It creeps up without notice, yelling suddenly in your ear, giving you an immediate sense of uninvited urgency that you can't seem to shake. I could literally feel my chest tightening, my breath quickening, and my heart rate rising. Becoming pregnant and then the earth-shattering, heart-breaking feeling of your spouse leaving would cause anyone's anxiety to peak, right? The need to control everything around me grew to overwhelming heights.
After Adelaide was born, I slept very little in the months after. She started sleeping through the night at 3 weeks old, but I haven't slept through the night in almost a year. I would wake in a panic suddenly, convinced that my child isn't breathing. I would panic at the very thought of someone else putting her in her car seat because what if--just what if-- they got in a wreck and she wasn't buckled in tight enough? I controlled every variable around me. I can't tell you how much time I've spent in worry, fear, and stress. Google and I are the best of enemies.
After nightfall, I was a mess. I had spent my entire pregnancy not processing the death of my marriage, and fighting for it in prayer, but suddenly, I was done with him. Now, I had to process it. I wouldn't allow myself to think about it when I was pregnant for fear of killing my unborn child on accident. Then, the news of my Daddy being diagnosed with stage four throat and lung cancer. Over and over again, I heard him saying to me "It's everywhere... They've given me 3-6 months." My anxiety attacks grew more frequent. I became dizzy, nauseated, I couldn't sleep, my heart rate was at a constant high.
Every time my baby was inconsolable, I would panic. If she was crying in the back seat, I could feel anxiety and stress coursing through my veins and was immediately sick to my stomach. Anytime someone would question why I'm doing something with my parenting, I'd bite back bitterly that this is my decision, but my train of thought goes to "What if I'm screwing up my child? What if?"
New estimates are gauging that upwards of 17% of new mother's have high postpartum anxiety, and for almost 10%, that turns into a disorder. Did you know that only 20% of doctors and midwives screen for postpartum anxiety during pregnancy, but that postpartum anxiety has the same crippling effects on the mother's ability to bond with her child as PP depression? Our society likes to tell you that this is just hormones, and that this is normal, but if you feel like your day-to-day life is in constant turmoil because of anxiety or depression, there are resources for you.
As moms, we're so quick to be a martyr, telling ourselves that this is just normal, we're just worried about our children, but I'm here to tell you that what you may be experiencing may not be normal. There is help out there for women who experience crippling anxiety and stress. If you can relate to any of the feelings I've described above, I implore you to seek help through your doctor, midwife, or counselor. You don't have to go through this alone. There is no shame here and this is a safe place. You don't have to hide any longer, sweet friend, I promise. You deserve to be happy and healthy too.