If you know me, it goes without saying: I’m a worrier by nature. On a scale of 1-10, my average, casual anxiety level usually hangs out around a 7, ready to jump to an 8 or higher at any given moment. But because it’s how I’ve lived my life for so long, and it’s so deeply woven into my personality, I truly cannot imagine any other way.
All parents worry…
When I was pregnant with my first son, I figured my anxiety would be heightened after he was born. All parents worry; all parents have some degree of anxiety–it almost felt like I’d been preparing my whole life for this new kind of worry. I honestly figured I’d take it in stride.
But when he was born, I wasn’t prepared for the flood of hormones that led to day after day and night after night of inconsolable sobbing. Near the end of two straight weeks of panicked crying, someone explained the concept of the “baby blues” to me, and that it should be over soon.
But it wasn’t.
Nights were the worst. Despite crying on and off all day, as soon as I noticed the sun was setting, dread filled my body and the crying would start again. I was in pain, having not healed properly from my postpartum stitches, an issue that wouldn’t be resolved for six weeks. I was unable to breastfeed, not knowing why at the time (and learning only later that it was due to a posterior tongue tie). I only knew that I had “failed” and punished myself with a grueling pumping schedule that left me exhausted and depleted.
One of the lowest moments was during one of my sunset crying bouts. I was nearing hyperventilation and begging my husband to hand me the baby– I needed him. My husband hesitated, unsure if he should actually let this sobbing lunatic hold a newborn, and my heart shattered seeing him pause.
I swung from feeling everything to feeling nothing, sometimes staring at my son sleeping in his bed and wondering why I felt so empty. My heart would pound if someone held my son for too long. On multiple occasions, I made up excuses to take him back in my own arms. But sometimes, instead of feeling like I had to be the one to hold him, I was completely incapable of doing so because I was terrified of dropping or hurting him. I made my husband hold him for almost the entirety of his baptism because I was physically shaking.
It wasn’t PPD
These are just a few examples of how my anxiety intensified after giving birth, but at the time, I truly believed it was just my own generalized anxiety under the added pressure of being a first-time mom. Whenever I got suspicious about the full intensity of my emotions, I would read through postpartum depression (PPD) checklists, thinking maybe I could put a name to this insanity– but every time I concluded that I didn’t have that. I didn’t feel that my symptoms matched up quite right. And so I powered through– because dealing with anxiety is just “what I do.”
Even when my doctor asked me about PPD during my checkup, it was easy to answer “nope” and move on.
The fog slowly, slowly lifted. It wasn’t until months later that I learned about postpartum anxiety– something not quite the same as postpartum depression. I felt that my symptoms matched up more closely with PPA, but it wasn’t something my doctor ever mentioned.
The birth of my second son brought a strange sense of healing to my motherhood journey. After two weeks of baby blues-style crying, everything cleared up, and I wasn’t bawling my eyes out every night. A few people attributed it to being a more confident, second-time mom, and while that may have played a role, I believe it was more than that. There was no fog. There was no terror.
It’s possible I may have had a combination of PPD and PPA, but my hope is that new mothers are more aware of PPA. Sometimes I wonder how differently my parenting journey could have been if I had known about PPA or even just asked for help despite not having a name for it. To care for yourself as a mother is just as important as caring for your baby. If you find yourself feeling “off” in any way– be it depression, anxiety, or something you just can’t put your finger on– reach out to your doctor or a friend and see what help might be available!