When I was pregnant with my daughter, I did a lot of preparing. I made a spreadsheet of baby items that my husband and I registered for. I had a registry guide that even helped me put together that spreadsheet, after hours spent researching car seats, strollers, and baby carriers. I did enough reading up on breastfeeding that I could have certified myself as a lactation nurse. I painstakingly put together the nursery, finding the best deals on furniture, and trying to color coordinate everything without looking like a Pottery Barn Kids catalog spread. I read articles on newborn sleep, growth spurts, and what to pack in the hospital bag. I was as ready as I was ever going to be.
Of course, I knew parenting would throw me for a loop like it does every mom. I could read and research and input everything I could into email folders and spreadsheets and when my daughter would come, I would still feel lost. Still, I thought things would be a little easier because I knew for the most part what I was getting into.
One of the things I never saw coming was my anxiety.
Sure, I’ve had anxiety probably my whole life, rearing its head especially hard in nursing school and later, in my career as a nurse. The thing is, I didn’t see my anxiety taking over once my baby was placed in my arms.
I should have realized this was a very real possibility. I went through six years of fertility treatments before my daughter came to be, and along the way, had lost babies. I should have wondered if I would have a tougher time post-infertility with all my raging postpartum hormones. But I didn’t really think about it. I knew about postpartum depression, and I knew the signs to look for. No one ever talked to me about postpartum anxiety and how much more I was at risk for it, having an anxiety disorder.
When she was born, the bond with her was immediate and fierce. I held her in my arms as we were wheeled back from the OR suite to my postpartum recovery room, with a protection that terrified me. After a long and grueling hospital stay, we went home and I thought things would get better as we settled into our new life as a family of three.
But then I would spend nights lying awake, my hand sometimes resting on her chest in the bassinet next to me, making sure she was still breathing. I would let the fantasies play out in my head, of her suffocating in her sleep, of someone coming through the window in her nursery to steal her from her crib, of the man in the grocery store who told me how cute she was snatching her away when my back was turned to the car. I’d force the thoughts away, but they’d always come back and they’d leave my heart pounding.
For a long time, I didn’t recognize the anxiety for what it really was. I didn’t have symptoms of depression — I was just an anxious new mom, and infertility probably made my feelings more intense. After all, I had waited so long for her, that of course, I was probably having some issues with my anxiety. That’s what I told myself.
As she grew, my anxiety remained, only it manifested itself differently. I’m hesitant to let anyone else watch my daughter except for my parents. When I know she’s getting sick, I worry if I’ll be able to take care of her. When she’s at preschool, I try not to think about someone coming into the building. I have to resist the urge to go in at night and check to see if she’s still breathing, even now at three and a half, surrounded by her stuffed animals and comforter. I know so many of my thoughts are similar to other moms, but the feelings behind them are magnified so much more.
Anxiety is constantly reminding me of all the things I have to get done while I'm playing on the floor with her. Anxiety means everything is an obsession and everything is a regret. It makes me feel like I’m the only one never doing it right. It's disheartening, living with this and knowing how much joy I missed out on in my daughter's early days. I was too neurotic, I was too cautious, I was overly protective. For so long, my postpartum anxiety was a character flaw, something I needed to overcome. And in speaking with other moms who also struggled with postpartum anxiety, I now realize I'm not alone.
I wish I would have spoken up sooner to my friends. I was so quick to send off a text message of a breastfeeding question or a photo of a weird rash on my daughter’s leg, but I stayed silent when it came to my anxiety.
Did you ever feel like the world was caving in on you?
Do you ever think you’re doing this entire mom thing the wrong way?
Is it normal to play your baby’s death over and over in your head no matter how much you try to make it stop?
These were the things I should have spoken up about. This is what I should have told my doctor. Maybe then I could have gotten help sooner and wouldn’t have thought what I was going through was normal.
It’s hard enough trying to do your best in raising a child, but some days, the anxiety makes it seem impossible. I’m making strides in bettering my mental health, but it’s a slow process. As my daughter gets older and more independent, I’m realizing I’m able to let her go more and it’s been fun to see her become her own little person.
I was lucky enough to have the chance of another baby, and this time around, I hope things will be different. At least being a second-time mom, I can forgo those spreadsheets, right?