For those of you who may not know me personally or very well, here's an important piece of information before I begin this post: I am high anxiety. Finding out I was pregnant was anxiety inducing. Having a baby was very anxiety inducing (see previous post). But after my son was here and in the world? The most anxiety inducing moments of all.
I barely remember our week in the hospital after he was born. I was on morphine for a couple days and then IVs and such strong pain pills that it was hard staying awake most of the time. I remember a blur of lactation consultants, nurses, breastfeeding, crying, eating, exhaustion, soreness, bleeding. I remember my husband taught me how to put a diaper on our baby and being terrified to handle such a tiny little being. I remember a social worker coming in and asking what I thought to be really invasive questions: have you taken meds for depression before? have you ever been depressed? do you have a gun in your home? are you worried about your finances? and then she just handed me a pamphlet about PPD and was on her way. No real resourceful assistance, no suggestions on what to do if you suffer from postpartum depression, no offer to answer any questions I may have. Just her and her clipboard, asking about my life and walking away to store that info who knows where. It left a sour taste in my mouth. I don't remember what night it was but I remember my night nurse was a pretty lady with colorful glasses she pushed up her nose alot. I think her name was Lisa. I began sobbing to her in the middle of the night when she brought me my pain pills and refilled my IV and told her I felt so sad. She told me it was normal to feel sad, angry, nervous, and confused and to not worry. It was soothing and comforting to hear. Sometimes you just need to know nothing is wrong with you.
But the most anxious moment of all that week was when we were discharged from the hospital. I had lived in those walls from Sunday-Friday. I had relied on nurses to help take care of my baby and me. The farthest I had walked was around the postpartum ward in the fluorescent lighting. I was terrified and cried looking out the window as my husband began to drive us away from the hospital. "Don't worry, I'm not going to let my family down," he said. We lived only ten minutes away but it seemed like we were driving through a foreign country. He didn't let us down and we got home safely. And that's when the anxiety ramped up even higher.
Because I ran a fever during labor, I wasn't able to follow through with my placenta encapsulation that I had arranged with a doula. I wonder if I had been able to follow through with that if the anxiety would have been more manageable. I didn't know postpartum anxiety was a thing until I googled it one day to see if anyone else felt like me. I felt scared shitless about everything. Baby wasn't breathing loud enough while sleeping? Make sure he's not dead. Baby cried when I changed his diaper? I must have hurt him somehow. Baby cried when I changed his onesies? I must have pushed in his soft spot on his head. And then I began having scarier thoughts. Catastrophic traumatizing thoughts that I don't want to revisit right now. I cried probably 4-5 times a day. It wasn't until about 2 weeks later, when my husband and I were watching our son in his swing that I cried happy tears. I couldn't believe I had made a little human that I loved so much.
When I went to my 6 week postpartum appointment, I confided in my doctor that I thought I had postpartum anxiety and explained that although it was better than before, I spent most of my hours obsessed over SIDS and cried at least once a day still. He told me that sleep deprivation plays a huge factor in PPD and PPA. That I needed to find ways to get more sleep however that may be. That my body wasn't producing estrogen like before and estrogen is an antidepressant. He could give me estrogen but it would mean I would stop producing milk and of course then I would have to stop breastfeeding. We agreed that if things didn't get better in the next couple weeks, I would come to him and revisit the topic of meds. So I went home and devised a game plan with my husband to get more sleep. And it worked...for the most part.
My anxiety as a mom is still there but it is not as crippling now that I have a handle on some of the triggers. But here is a pretty amazing thing I realized the other night- while being a mom has opened up some really scary anxious thoughts for me, it actually has helped me conquer my anxiety. For example, just two nights ago, I was going to give my baby a bath with no one else home to help me. I was so scared I couldn't do it on my own. But he needed a bath. It was part of his bedtime routine. He liked his baths! And it was my job to give him that. So I did it. And we both survived. And I cried again but out of gratitude because being a mom means someone else relies on you and you can't give up on yourself for that reason alone. So he keeps me strong and forces me to push through my anxiety for him. It's a pretty cool anti-anxiety med.
Do I think everyone is able to conquer their postpartum anxiety without meds? No and there is no weakness or failure there if that's the case. I have not even fully conquered mine. Before Christmas, we went to the LA Zoo lights so the baby could get a picture with Santa. I basically choked back tears the whole two hours, overwhelmed and scared. But I did it without crying and feel stronger for it. I just take each day one at a time and breathe my way through the moments and try to trust my instincts. Every car door that shuts outside makes me jump still. Right now as I write this, I feel a rollercoaster flip of anxiety in my stomach for no reason. But I am breathing through it. I have a group of fellow mothers on Facebook that I can turn to for advice and comfort when I need it (new moms- find your tribe! and if you don't have one, email me. I will bring you into ours.)
I also try to deflect the negative now and avoid reading terrifying articles about bad things happening to babies. If you know a new mom, don't give her unsolicited advice that may ramp up her anxiety or depression and don't send her links or stories about terrifying things. Please consider she may be suffering deeper than the standard baby blues. Give her encouragement and help, not more things to worry about, and let her adjust to her new life. If you are a new mom and feeling the way I was, open up to your family, friends, doctors, whoever you can about how you are feeling. It is scary having a child to be responsible for. I bet you're doing a better job than you think. On that note, I have to go give my son a bath now because I am his mother and I am capable of that job!!!