Postpartum Anxiety: You Are Not Alone
I remember the day vividly. It was a typical Midwest summer day, sunny and warm, but inside my house it was anything but sunny. H had been crying for what seemed like eternity; he wouldn’t sleep despite my best soothing efforts that the internet and books told me would surely work. I stopped in the hallway and sat down outside the entrance to his room. I began screaming and hysterically crying, shouting for no one to hear, “why won’t you stop crying, why won’t you sleep?!”I put H in his crib, closed the door, and sobbed outside of his room while faintly hearing his screams in the background of my own breakdown. I began wondering why I become a mother, why wasn’t I cut out for this, why won’t my child sleep, why should I even stay in this baby’s life? He clearly hates me, I should just disappear, he would be better off without me. That was the moment I knew…something wasn’t right.
I wish that was the apex of my story, and from there I sought help and began my journey in healing. Unfortunately, it was not until months later that I admitted to needing support and seeking medical treatment for postpartum anxiety.
In the months leading up to becoming a mother, I did an immense amount of research. From baby products to birthing techniques, I was as prepared as one could be for this baby’s arrival. But nothing prepared me for the mental weight of motherhood. Even in a society becoming increasingly more aware and accepting of mental health, I didn’t think postpartum issues would affect me. I considered myself mentally strong. I had gone through difficult experiences (losing a father, a mother battling cancer, etc.) and survived each obstacle life threw at me. However, I am here to tell you none of that matters. Postpartum depression and anxiety are not selective in who they affect. Had I known this prior to becoming a mother, perhaps I would have been better equipped to seek treatment sooner. Perhaps I would have been more accepting to the notion that this could in fact happen to me.
Social media can be a cruel place for a new mother. In the thick of H’s colic, trying to get more than 2 hours of sleep, and attempting to power through breastfeeding issues, I was constantly bombarded by images of successful new mothers everywhere I looked on social media. Mothers breastfeeding with ease, loving the newborn stage, and somehow managing to put makeup on and exercise? What was wrong with ME? Here are plenty of new mothers succeeding in their transition into motherhood, why couldn’t I make it work? It was that constantly lingering toxic mindset I had that delayed me seeking help. I was convinced the problem was something I was doing incorrectly, not my brain. Fellow mamas, if you are reading this and in a similar situation, please hear me that it’s not something you are doing incorrectly! If you are reading this and were in a similar situation, I see you and your feelings were valid and I’m sorry you also fell victim to the illusion of what success should look like for new mothers.
When H was about six months old, I finally admitted to myself and my husband that I needed help. I realized I could no longer push away my intrusive thoughts on my own. The overwhelming fear of something happening to H, that I wasn’t enough of a mother for him, which constantly kept me up at night while I stared at his baby monitor were unbearable. I contacted the midwifery practice I saw during my pregnancy and told them of my constant anxious thoughts. They were gracious and eager to help me find care. I spoke with a therapist and learned grounding techniques for when I felt those unpleasant thoughts creeping to the forefront of my mind. I began taking Lexapro when therapy wasn’t enough to dissipate the anxious fears. Motherhood became more manageable and I began to know my worth as a mother. I wear my diagnosis of postpartum anxiety as a badge of honor now. Something that I never wanted to be associated with as a new mother, I now openly talk about in hopes that other mothers in similar situations will feel seen and heard. Every new mother’s story looks different, and I do not pretend to know the answers or to be an expert of anything. This was simply my story of stubbornly stumbling into getting the help I desperately needed to become the best mama I could be for my child. Cheers to all of my fellow mothers out there; I see you, celebrate you, and deeply respect you and all that you do for your families.
Note: I wanted to acknowledge the fact that this was the experience of mine, a white woman. Women of color experience significantly higher rates of postpartum issues than white women, and often face barriers when trying to access care. Check out Every Mother Counts or Black Mamas Matter Alliance for more information or ways to help all mothers get the access to the quality care they deserve.