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Worried sick Postpartum

Worried sick

Introducing postpartum depression’s evil stepsister: postpartum anxiety.

I do not consider myself the anxious type. My sister has commented, “You just don’t do stress.” Co-workers have remarked, “You’re unflappable,” and described me as “completely calm.” Naturally, I am a relaxed person. I’m good in a crisis, and I let things roll off my back.

Even in the most stressful life events, like childbirth, I still find a way to be Zen-like. After our daughter was born, I experienced a high that seemed like it lasted a lifetime. I called it the “Macey Magic Bubble,” and it could not be popped. Motherhood was sweet. I loved taking my baby on long walks and spending my days with her.

So when our son came along a little more than three years later, I anticipated the same type of experience. I was looking forward to holding my sweet newborn in my arms and falling head over heels for him. I imagined I would feel a sense of wholeness once our family was complete —once our baby boy had arrived.

But from the beginning, everything was entirely different.

A bundle of nerves
There was no magic bubble. No euphoria or bliss. Instead, I became gripped by anxiety. I couldn’t sleep, no matter how thoroughly exhausted I was. Once a little sleepy respite came, I’d wake up to nurse and then toss and turn until the next feeding. My mind was constantly racing, haunted by my past and angst-ridden about the future. I felt like I could never relax.

Over the next four months, things started to unravel. My son was diagnosed with acid reflux and was underweight. I was constantly stressed out about being his sole food source. Was I making enough milk? Should we supplement? I felt like I was to blame for him not growing on track. If I was his only food source and he didn’t weigh enough, then logically, it was my fault that he was not thriving.

Things just kept happening. My daughter broke her collarbone. And as if I didn’t have enough on my plate, I got mastitis—on Mother’s Day. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. For somebody who can usually find a place of calm, I couldn’t get there. I was spinning all the time. Constantly stressed, overwhelmed and perpetually exhausted. The puzzle that was my life just kept falling apart, piece by piece.

I felt like I couldn’t access my personality … like I wasn’t even myself anymore. I thought something was wrong with me. Maybe I had postpartum depression? But the weird thing was, I didn’t feel depressed or sad. I found joy in my son—and my daughter, when she wasn’t in time-out (which wasn’t often). I didn’t feel down or bluesy.

I couldn’t figure out what my problem was. I felt like I was losing myself, and there really wasn’t an explanation for it. I thought to myself all the time, What is wrong with me? I tried to give myself pep talks in the middle of the day just to make it through the afternoon. I told myself, You can handle this; you’ve got this. But it didn’t work. Nothing worked. The anxiety persisted.

Things fall apart
I leaned on my husband, my sister, family and friends for support—spending more time with my in-laws who helped me get more rest. At certain times, I did begin to feel better. But as things felt a little lighter, the anxiety would come charging back.

It had been nine sleepless months, dealing with a defiant toddler and having an infant on me continuously, literally sucking the life right out of me. I was struggling to stay afloat.

To be fair and keep things in perspective, we had a lot of life changes that were contributing to my anxiety. After working full-time in a high-stress environment, I had decided to take time off and be at home for a year. I can look back now and realize that heightened my anxiety. We had also recently bought an older house, which we were trying to fix up, and I was not feeling comfortable there. It didn’t feel like home, and that added tremendously to my stress level.

I was trying to naturally wean my son from breastfeeding by dropping feedings and adding more solid food to his diet. When he was about 10 months old, I experienced a full-blown panic attack. I thought to myself, I’ve got to get this under control. This anxiety is just not me. It was around this time that I read about something called weaning depression. I had never heard of it before, but it made total sense to me as I found myself in the throes of it.

I dug into the research more and discovered there was also a thing called postpartum anxiety. Why am I just discovering this now?, I thought. Postpartum depression is widely known, but why isn’t it the same with postpartum anxiety and weaning depression?

I learned postpartum anxiety is experienced in about 10 percent of new moms, but it hasn’t been discussed or studied much. It’s often triggered by hormonal shifts. Coincidentally, hormonal shifts take place around weaning, which can cause depression and anxiety.

Finding calm
Around my son’s 1st birthday, I went back to work, and he began sleeping through the night. It was the combination of getting more rest and working again that seemed to reduce the anxiety that had been stalking me for so long.

Working outside of the home is key for me. Waking up, showering, dressing in clothes other than yoga pants and utilizing my talents in a professional manner helps keep me sane. I need time to miss my kids and to look forward to spending time with them. Working gives me more energy. And although I don’t believe I’m fully out of the woods, I feel more and more like myself every day.

Perhaps the hardest part of spending a year feeling so anxious is that I know I missed out. I missed out on the baby bliss and my chance to be in the moment. I missed out on a truly special time that I really wanted to enjoy—those fleeting newborn moments when I realized that my son would never be that small again, never make that sweet coo again, never look at me and smile in just that way again. I can’t get that time back—and that hurts.

At the same time, through experiencing constant anxiety, I now have tremendous respect for and stand completely in awe of people struggling with anxiety or depression. And what I have realized more than anything is this: It’s not their fault. They should never feel judged or ashamed for it. It’s not something that they can just shake off or snap out of. My heart grew in capacity to understand and empathize with anyone who has ever experienced anything like this. I developed a profound compassion and emotional depth for this debilitating heartache.

I have also grown to understand that it’s completely normal. Our bodies are phenomenal. We can grow people. Child-birth is mind-blowing and life-changing. It truly is a miracle, and I’m amazed at the whole process. But hormones are real and can have a significant impact on the body.

My son is 15 months old, and he’s learning to walk in the adorable, drunken- sailor-toddler type of way. I’ve been able to be in the moment with him for these memorable first steps, and that is a gift I appreciate more than I would have before.

I can feel my life is slowly being put back together. That person with an innate calmness is starting to return. I will always have a heavy heart about how my son’s first year went, but I also get to enjoy him for the rest of my life. And that thought gives me peace.

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