This was by far the hardest thing I’ve written for The Returnity Project to date, and I’m feeling very vulnerable sharing all of this. But, I wanted to share to make sure no mom feels alone in these feelings, and that she gets the courage to ask for help if needed.
After my daughter Olivia was born, I was a beautiful mess. I was so in love with this tiny baby, trying to figure out what the hell I was doing, sleep deprived, and FULL of anxiety. I thought the anxiety was normal and that all new moms felt it. My friends also admitted they’d wake up in the middle of the night to check if the baby was still breathing, and felt anxiety when others would hold them. So I continued on thinking this would pass and that it was normal.
However, the anxiety took over my days and I was constantly overwhelmed with it. There was always a long list of worries going through my mind at any moment; I even had trouble sleeping--I couldn’t “sleep when the baby sleeps” EVER...I would just watch the baby sleep. When people would pick Liv up, I would get extremely irritated and anxious. I hated having visitors because I had constant fears of her getting sick and being hospitalized. I would cry and worry before and after visitors came. I didn’t leave the house for at least a month after she was born because it was winter in Michigan and I didn’t want her to get the flu, or some other terrible sickness that would put her in the hospital. I lost a lot of joy in things I used to love doing because of the anxiety.
I remember my husband, Ben packing our stuff up one day and saying “let’s go, we’re going to your parents house.” I remember fighting it but finally getting in the car with Liv. As we were driving, the sun came out and I remember smiling at just being out of the house. After we left my parents that day, Ben turned to me and said “it’s nice to hear you laugh and see you smile again.” I agreed and then realized how anxious I’d been that it was almost debilitating. I felt sad that I hadn’t realized how bad it’d been; that my husband hadn’t seen me smile in that long?! Those who know me know I’m an extremely positive person, always smiling and laughing 24/7. So to go from that to this was out of character for me.
I still kept going at this pace. The fears and anxiety continued to creep in and I took most of this anxiety out by randomly bursting into tears on the couch. Some of the thoughts I had while lying in bed not sleeping were:
“What if someone breaks into our house to try to steal her in the middle of the night?”
“What if I go shopping and someone knocks me out and drives away with her?"
“What if she gets SIDs?”
“What if she gets sick? What if she gets the flu and we end up in the hospital?
"What if something terrible happens to her?”
"What if something happens to me and Liv grows up without her mom?"
Some things were so far from reality, but these were legitimate concerns for me. I would spiral these thoughts down to the worst case scenario and believed it may happen. I would constantly send my husband and family news articles of terrible things that happened to babies or kids. I would spend my nights googling every rash, noise or little thing she did thinking something was terribly wrong. I would text my poor friend who is a pediatric doctor with photos, questions, etc. 24/7 (thank you Heather for being there for me). I felt crazy. If I told anyone these thoughts, they’d say “oh it’s just normal worries of being a new mom.” I think part of that is true as we all feel worry with this new life in our hands (new parent syndrome), but not when it’s to the point where everything is a constant struggle and you aren’t sleeping because you’re anxious 24/7.
The World Health Organization reports that in many countries, as many as 1 in 5 new mothers experiences some type of postpartum mood and anxiety disorder. These illnesses frequently go unnoticed and untreated. Estimates are that 7 in 10 women hide or downplay their symptoms. You can find more information on symptoms and signs for PPA here: https://www.thebump.com/a/postpartum-anxiety.
If you’re feeling what I felt, please don’t do what I did and ignore it and go undiagnosed. Talk to someone. Talk to your OBGYN. Talk to a family member and ask for help. Talk to a licensed therapist. You can find local support here: http://www.postpartum.net/get-help/locations/. Reach out and get help so you can enjoy your beautiful new baby and not live in a constant state of worry. Be the best mother you can for your baby by asking for help.
I share this today so you don’t make the same mistake I did in not asking for help. I share this today to tell you that you are not alone mama. We are all in this together and the journey of motherhood is a beautiful mess.