From the moment my baby was placed in my arms, I was head over heels in love with him. So in love that I (like many parents, I’m sure) wanted to do everything exactly right. Car seat secured, straps in the right position and tight enough, sleeping in a bassinet in our room — with no blankets or pillows or loveys), no solids until 6 months, tummy time every day, ALL THE THINGS… and they fueled my anxiety.
Because what if we did everything right and still something happened to my baby?
And I understand that some things are just out of our control — but I couldn’t handle that.
Early on, I woke up many times frantically searching the bed for our baby. I was patting the comforter and accusing Landon of smothering him. Meanwhile, he was sleeping soundly in his bassinet. I also heard phantom choking and would leap out of bed to go check on him. Each time, my heart pounding so hard it felt like it might come right out of my chest.
When L was six months old, I read a horrible story in a moms group I was in about a mom in Washington who had a son just a month older, who died unexpectedly in his sleep. Landon still worked at home at that time and he found me hunched over SOBBING. I was devastated for that mom and family but selfishly, I pictured it being us and it destroyed me. Later on my fears would manifest in similar but different ways, and the thought of something happening to me or L and us living without one another would send me in a spiral. I could barely say it aloud when I finally got to see a doctor.
I did mention several times to a midwife and doctor that I had these feelings and I was told I had a “normal level of new mom anxiety.” So I carried on. And I carried a lot of baggage from my difficult delivery, my nursing issues, L’s follow up appointments for possible hip dysplasia and another now non-issue, my return to work was miserable and I didn’t feel supported (traveling at 4 months postpartum was the worst!), I had my own postpartum issues — (including the fact that my weight didn’t just fall off like everyone promised), and I stressed every time I wasn’t with my baby.
I knew he was in capable hands with his grandparents but if I wasn’t with him, I worried. I didn’t sleep well because I constantly worried that he would die in his sleep and I wouldn’t know it and that terrified me.
In 2018, around October, I had to start traveling a lot for work. I felt stressed, stretched thin and hated being away from my family. People would tell me how lucky I was to get to go sleep in a big comfy hotel bed by myself and all I could think was how miserable it was going to be. I wouldn’t sleep. I’d cry. I’d have horrible fears the whole time… like the plane would crash, or someone would shoot up the airport before I even boarded. If the hotel booked me on a floor too high, I knew my fate was sealed if there was a fire. I hated being separated from my guys.
In November, I went to a concert with Landon. At that point, my body was on high alert all the time. I was convinced something bad was going to happen. I’d later be told that this was called an “impending sense of doom.” The band was great and one of Landon’s favorites. The place was really cool too but I noticed when we walked in that it was extra dark, the floor slanted down, the exits were only at the back… about halfway through I could hear some people moving around and I didn’t know exactly what they were doing but it sent me into a panic attack. I sat in my seat, tears falling down my face as the band played on and hoping we’d be ok.
I guess the good part of the story is that I knew I needed help after that. The bad part is how long it would take me to get it.
By December and my 9th or 10th trip in 4 months, I was losing it. I was crying daily over little things. I was procrastinating on getting to the airport, pushing it as close as I could. I cried the whole way there and am still amazed I ever made it through security. Trip delays would send me over the edge. I felt anxious ALL THE TIME.
I emailed my doctor and another doctor who was covering for her just said “make an appointment” and I tried with the scheduler but after one or two emails she didn’t respond again.
On the way to the airport, I called to see if I could get in with the Women’s Center but because I was more than one year postpartum, they wouldn’t see me. I broke down sobbing on the phone and the lady was empathetic but didn’t offer up an appointment. I missed my flight that day.
I emailed a specialist I had seen at UNC for my nursing issues and asked if she could get me a referral. And finally, I texted my beloved lactation consultant and told her I needed help. She asked if I could wait til Monday (it was a Friday) and I said “no.” She got me in with a wonderful doctor (and the nurse was also incredible) that same day. They both let me cry and get everything off my chest.
I felt so much relief just saying how I felt and having someone listen. But she also immediately prescribed some medication to help me right then and also put in a referral with the women’s center. I was diagnosed with postpartum anxiety (PPA) and started bi-weekly cognitive behavioral therapy so that I could identify the triggers and work on finding joy in life again. The doctors think that with my travel and still nursing Liam that my hormones were just fluctuating and brought the anxiety on. The therapy was wonderful and I also think the medicine has helped tremendously (other than making me super sleepy at first).
I am a little over a year out from the diagnosis and I feel so much better. At my last appointment with my doctor, I got a little teary-eyed thinking how far I’d come and she agreed. I’m no longer on medication though I do still have one kind that I can take if I feel an attack coming on (luckily, I haven’t had to use any!)
A few other things we worked on:
- Saying no to things that added stress
- Getting 8+ hours of sleep
- Turning down the volume of the monitor
- 5-4-3-2-1 technique
- Calm app
- Exercising as a stress reliever + me time
- Recognizing that my feelings are valid
I know this is a deeply personal post but I wanted to share it because like so many other things women go through (miscarriages, fertility issues, nursing issues, etc.) I don’t feel like it’s talked about openly enough. When I recently asked on Instagram what folks wanted to read about next, so many voted for this post but also messaged me.
It hurts my heart to know people are suffering in silence. I think the more moms I’ve been open with about my own situation, I’ve learned I’m not in the minority! It’s not unusual to have these feelings or be on medication and therapy is just good for everyone! I was mad that I got shut down by the medical community when I knew I needed help. I also know that I’m extremely privileged and had all of those resources at my fingertips even though it took me a while to get an appointment. It makes me sad to think about someone who does not have that privilege and doesn’t know where to turn.
Having kids is hard and asking for help doesn’t make you weak, it makes you a better mother for them in the long run. That’s my hope anyway! 💗