I can still remember sitting on the edge of my bed wondering if I would ever be “normal.” My dad had just unexpectedly passed away and I was nine weeks pregnant with my first child. I was wracked with panic and nervousness as I spent hours each day predicting the worst outcome to any situation. The internal dialogue in my head kept telling me to be afraid, but I didn’t know what I was afraid of. I was stuck in a never-ending cycle of worry, yet there was nothing real to worry about. It felt like my body was consumed with a constant energy that I couldn’t shut off and the only thoughts that seemed to consume my mind began with what if.
Anxiety has been a part of me for as long as I can remember — my constant companion. At times, it is all-consuming. But by now, I know all too well that the intense feelings of fear and worry that live inside of me — the ones that well up at a moment’s notice — are all about control. The way I approach everything in life is viewed through a lens of caution, and the thought of being responsible for another human being gripped me with one constant thought: At any moment, something could go terribly wrong.
These paralyzing feelings were not new to me, but the fear and sheer terror of something inexplainable happening to my baby was. They seemed to spike when I became pregnant and the need to control every aspect of my life that could cause harm to this life growing inside of me took over.
After my daughter was born, the worry and anxiety intensified and at times, felt like it consumed most of my life. Many nights, I would rest my ear on her chest just to make sure she was breathing. Even though I could see her chest rise and fall, I still felt compelled to sleep like that; just in case.
Having already lived with anxiety for so long, I knew that some worry was adaptive; it was my natural response to protect my baby. However, the constant thoughts I was having of her dying while sleeping, drowning in the bathtub, and becoming permanently ill from too many toxins would not leave my head.
I used cloth diapers to avoid toxins, glass bottles to feed pumped milk, organic cotton to avoid the proposed dangers of synthetic material, and looked at every situation as worst case scenario. The rational side of my brain told me that her safety was not at risk and I couldn’t find any imminent danger to point to, but the what if and fear always won out.
After she would fall asleep, I would fall apart. It wasn’t until recently that I realized how much time I actually missed with both of my children when they were babies. Bonding was strained because my mind was too preoccupied with safety concerns, fear, and worry. I spent an unreasonable amount of time googling every possible symptom they had or hazard that could come their way. The attention and energy that should have been given to my children was always forced to share time with my anxiety.
Becoming a mother is truly one of the greatest gifts women are afforded in life. But I think most people would agree that motherhood changes you. I once remember someone telling me that I will finally understand true happiness once I have a baby. Unfortunately for so many women, this happiness is also fraught with anxiety, fear, and worry.
Postpartum anxiety, a cousin to postpartum depression affects about 10 percent of new moms, according to Postpartum Support International. With postpartum anxiety, a mom may have constant worries about the baby’s health and development, her ability to be a good parent, and how she’s going to balance work and home or care for multiple children. She may become restless and moody, or experience physical symptoms like a rapid heartbeat, dizziness, nausea, or insomnia.
I think what is so difficult for many new moms is the fact that many people dismiss our anxiety as a normal part of becoming a mother. We all know that it is almost expected to feel anxious while pregnant and after you give birth. But for many women, this occasional feeling of anxiety can escalate and turn into a disorder, or worse, exasperate a crippling disorder that already exists. And sadly, when left untreated, postpartum anxiety can interfere with your ability to bond with your baby.
What’s worse is that research has found that only 20% of Obstetricians screen for anxiety during pregnancy. In fact, practitioners have only recently begun to bring awareness to the staggering numbers of women who are dealing with anxiety while pregnant and into motherhood.
But the real tragedy of postpartum anxiety is that most women don’t speak up about it. Many women feel trapped and isolated because these debilitating thoughts make you feel utterly crazy. So much of the time, I would think to myself that surely, no one else thinks and feels like me. But I know now that that just isn’t true: There are so many of us out there, suffering in silence. And though we may look put together on the outside when you see us out in public, that doesn’t necessarily mean we have it all figured out. Many people with anxiety have become experts at masking it; I know I was. All too often, it’s an internal struggle that only we see and feel. Because of that, so many of us suffer alone.
Once women understand that they don’t have to suffer in silence, effective treatments are waiting.
At the end of the day, I would be exhausted from the worry, but my mind would keep racing; there was no way to ever relax. Looking back on it now, I often wonder if things might have been different if I had just found the courage to speak up and ask for help earlier. For me, it took 30 years before I finally sought help for my anxiety; which turned out to be well after my kids left the baby stage. If only I had realized sooner — even if just for a moment — that I didn’t have to suffer in silence. But you cannot go back; you can only go forward. And for now, I’m just happy to be living in the light.More On