The anxiety permeated my core, and began to take its toll on my marital relationship and my sleep. It was a vicious cycle. The less sleep I was getting, the worse my anxiety and agitation became, and the more strain it put on all my relationships.
This anxiety and depression didn’t dissipate after my baby was born. It intensified. I recently found a video I didn’t even know existed of the nurses handing my baby to me immediately following my C-section. I looked terrified and stunned. I watched myself with horror as I awkwardly tried to kiss, hug and hold this sweet child, and then quickly ask the nurses to take her back from me. I don’t remember this at all—it’s such a fog—but when people ask how I felt after my baby was born, I have often been truthful and said, “frightened and alone.” This absolutely breaks my heart because I love my little girl so much and this is the exact opposite of what we expect new mothers to feel.
I didn’t have the kind of anxiety and depression that made me detach from my child. Quite the opposite, she (and everything to do with her) became my obsession. I was so focused on her needs and well-being that I lost sight of everything else, including my relationship with my husband and taking care of myself. In this state of hyper-focus, I couldn’t handle anything else. Writing thank-you notes for gifts? No way. Fixing myself a plate of food? Impossible. Taking a shower or getting dressed? I couldn’t fathom how other mothers managed to do these tasks while ALSO carrying for a newborn.
Each day my husband would come home from work to find me a puddle on the floor. I couldn’t pull it together. I was convinced I was failing as a mom. I wasn’t confident at all in my abilities. I didn’t trust myself to do anything alone—change diapers, give baths, drive her down the street. But the catch was that I didn’t trust anyone else to do these things, either. I put myself in a terrible position. I made myself the only one I allowed to care for her, yet didn’t even trust myself to do it. And when I was apart from her, I suffered immense separation anxiety. I cried the entire time I was away from her, barely making it through my graduate school classes, which I went back to just two and half months after her birth.
It took a long, long time. No one knew what was going on, and everyone—including me—felt frustrated. I didn’t know how to explain what I was going through. Looking back, I would have given anything for more support, but I didn’t know I needed it or what to ask for. I finally sought help when my daughter was almost 18 months old. I suffered far too long and recovery is still a process, but I finally have started to feel like myself again.
I am currently 34 weeks pregnant with twins, and this time around things are different. I DO know what I need, and the most amazing part is that so does my husband. Recently over the holidays when the old pangs of depression and anxiety hit hard, we knew it wasn’t normal and sought treatment right away. We were proactive, and more importantly, my husband showed me that we are a TEAM. I am not alone this time. He is on my side and knows just what to look for. This, in and of itself, makes a world of difference.
I do not anticipate it to be all smooth sailing. I am prone to anxiety, and having suffered a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder previously is a risk factor for suffering again. But this time I know my triggers, as does my support network, and we can watch for the signs and respond accordingly. I have established a solid postpartum-care plan, involving help from family and friends, nighttime support, childcare for my oldest, and a team of professionals who really “get it” and can physically and emotionally work with me on the tough stuff. And perhaps the biggest change is that I am willing to offer myself grace, to go easy on myself and not expect perfection.
To others suffering or who have suffered from a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder, please know you’re not alone. It’s a hard-fought battle, but rest assured, there is hope and help. And like mine, your war wounds make you stronger, wiser and more self-aware.