I’m already an anxious person. I didn’t use to be, but I am now, and I accept it. Somewhere after the age of 27 it really started ramping up and began to hinder me doing a lot of the stuff I loved doing before. (It mostly shows up in social situations where I tend to hyper-focus on what “could” go wrong).
I know I have it, I embrace it, and I try to continue living my life without letting the anxiety impede me (as much as possible.) I’m 31 now, so I’ve had a few years to acclimate myself with this new “me”.
Then I got pregnant. And had a baby. All hell broke loose those first few months.
Postpartum Anxiety. The unsung villain of postpartum recovery. We all know about postpartum depression, mostly because it was thrown in our face by the media after Andrea Yates drowned her five beautiful children. For what it’s worth, she also had postpartum psychosis, another unsung villain, but much more menacing and not something to try and conquer on your own.
And Baby Makes Three
Ok, let’s get back on track.
My daughter was born on December 2, 2015, via c-section. Completely normal and healthy delivery. I had gestational diabetes, and she was quite large, so I opted for the c-section.
When she was born she had a large birthmark that covered her back and wrapped down her stomach and right leg. The night before our release from the hospital my dad was visiting and my daughter’s leg turned blue. When we propped it back up it got a little better.
The nurse assured us it was likely positional. We knew nothing about babies and their little circulatory systems – so we were ok with this answer. We went to bed and the next morning my anxiety levels were put to the test.
Another doctor came in and checked our daughter out. He said he didn’t like the look of it and wanted to transport her to the NICU. ANXIETY SPIKE. TEARS. FEAR. My husband and I followed behind the ambulance, him driving, me silently having a panic attack.
Long story short, all the tests came back negative, although months later we received a diagnosis of mild CMTC (cutis marmorata telangiectatica congenita.) We still have a few ultrasounds in our future and a trip to the geneticist, but from what I can tell so far, all is well. She’s happy, healthy, and absolutely adorable!
Leaving the NICU
The day we were getting ready to leave the NICU is the first time I noticed something might not be right with my anxiety. It was elevated. Racing thoughts. Panic. The most predominant thought in my mind for the first four months was, what if she’s not breathing in her car seat? What if I tightened it too much and she can’t breathe?
I made my husband readjust the car seat straps eight times before he got fed up and we ended up arguing. I called a nurse over. She told me the seat was fine, and baby could breathe.
What should have been an amazing moment, bringing our daughter home, was marred by the racing thoughts in my head that the straps were too tight, she wouldn’t be able to breathe, and she would die in the car seat.
This situation repeated itself too many times to count. My husband would ride in the back with her if I drove. I would ride in the back if he did. I had to make sure she could breathe and that she was breathing.
If I was driving by myself, the thought would creep into my head on the interstate. I would speed up to get to the nearest exit to turn around and check on her. Or, embarrassingly enough, I would pull over on the interstate and check her.
On a trip to Gainesville with friends, I would ask every 30 minutes if the baby was breathing. They laughed, they thought it was ridiculous I kept asking when she was just fine minutes before. I couldn’t explain why I just KNEW something bad would happen. My brain is constantly in a “but what if?” state.
It didn’t end with the car seat. I checked on her at night in her bassinet. I checked on her breathing in her swing. I was convinced she was going to die from positional asphyxiation. I hyper focused on this negative thought. Anytime she was in any type of baby device, other than my arms, I felt she was unsafe.
Then she got older.
I moved on to having anxiety about my husband leaving her around our dogs when I went back to work. A valid fear. Our dogs are large, unpredictable, not well trained, and one has fought with our other dog. (They have been great with her, although we practice limited and supervised interactions.)
After I calmed down about the dogs, my daughter started rolling onto her stomach and sleeping with her face flat against the mattress. More anxiety. More racing thoughts. My mother-in-law (bless her) would look at me like I had three heads when I would make anxious requests (don’t do this, do this, check on her every three minutes).
Anytime I thought about something bad that could happen, it immediately meant it would happen, and I had to go into hyper drive to prevent it.
That Much Postpartum Anxiety Isn’t Normal
I recognized what was happening and I knew it was anxiety. And specifically, not just my typical anxiety. I had postpartum anxiety. Although I recommend talking to your OB if you think you have post partum anxiety – I didn’t.
Since I already had anxiety, I decided to treat it myself. I started taking a magnesium supplement, eating better, and going for walks (the best I can, I’m still hurt from brewing this baby!).
Since I was and am breastfeeding, anxiety medicine was out of the question. Along with talking to people about my anxiety and fears, I’ve reached a pretty good balance, and I’ve relaxed quite a bit from those early days.
Things still flare up due to my regular anxiety, but I beat the postpartum anxiety I faced in those first months. I’m lucky that even though I had PPA, it didn’t hinder my ability to bond or enjoy every minute of being a new mother. It was just always there in the back of my mind, and I wasn’t able to relax.
Currently, we are into the solid food phase, and I feel it creeping back in. Especially since a rogue puff choking situation happened. But I’m aware. I acknowledge it. And I know this is not a life I want for my daughter, so I will do everything in my power to never let her see me be held back by anxiety and fear.
I’ll never skip out on doing something with her, for her, and in front of her because of my anxiety and fear. If 20 years from now we can sit around a table and she say “You had anxiety? I never knew!” I’ll consider my personal struggle a success.
After all, I’m a mama bear now. Albeit an anxious mama bear, a mama bear none the less.
Does All This Sound Familiar?
If you suspect you have postpartum depression, anxiety, or psychosis, please reach out to your OB and discuss your options for recovery.
You’re not alone. Many women face this same struggle.
The quicker you reach out and talk about it, the better your chances for recovery are. Don’t waste time that could be spent with that precious new bundle of joy, pulling over on interstates and crying in the shower from fear. You got this mama. You deserve to be happy and you will be.
A few resources for postpartum mamas:
Crisis Text Line: Free, confidential help 24/7 for anything on your mind: Text “GO” TO 741741.
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