It has been four years since my son was born and since I began to suffer with Postpartum Anxiety, and now life is VERY different for me. I no longer harbor crippling levels of anxiety. In fact, I have very little to no anxiety, unless it is something that would cause everyone anxiety, like the “H” word (hurricane). When I was in the middle of my anxiety struggles, I often wondered if I would ever feel normal again, and I wanted to write this post for those who may be wondering the same thing.
The answer is YES, YOU WILL.
How Things Have Changed
BEDTIME THEN: Bedtime brought insane levels of anxiety. I would watch the baby monitor all night long, and I rarely slept. I would get up to check his breathing all night. I removed all blankets, stuffed animals, pillows, blankets, and bumpers. I was scared that something I would do would cause imminent harm to my child while he was sleeping.
BEDTIME NOW: We no longer have a monitor, and I pray that my kid does not wake up in the middle of the night. He has two pillows, he has a blanket and sheets, and he always has his stuffed Pluto along with other toys. If he does wake up in the middle of the night, I know he will come to me or call my name. Now, I don’t have an irrational fear of him going to sleep at night, and I relax upon heading to bed.
PLAYGROUND THEN: I avoided the playground for the longest time because of my fear of him touching germs on the playground equipment and I was anxious about him falling and hurting himself. When I eventually took him to a playground birthday party when he was around 15 months, I chased after him at the playground with antibacterial wipes and helicoptered around him to make sure he didn’t get injured.
PLAYGROUND NOW: I EMBRACE the playground! I love taking him there because I can let him run around and burn off his energy. Typically, a playground visit also equals the possibility of a nap. For me, it is a bonus if we go to the playground and there are friends there I can socialize with while he plays. Oh, and if he falls, I tell him to “Shake it off!”
HOUSEHOLD THEN: I sterilized every bottle several times, wiped his toys down. and even ran anything that was hard plastic in the dishwasher on a sterilization cycle. All surfaces were wiped down with Clorox wipes, I mopped the floors at least once or twice a week, and I constantly freaked out if he put his fingers in his mouth.
HOUSEHOLD NOW: He eats food off the floor because I am not fast enough to get it from him. I shrug it off as “building immunity,” and I try to mop my floors every two weeks. I still carry hand wipes and force him to wash his hands before every meal and after every bathroom break, though. I don’t sterilize his toys anymore, unless a rash of sickness hits our home.
What Brought About the Changes?
If you would have told me 3-4 years ago that all of this would be happening, my heart would begin beating out of my chest and I would probably become nauseated in fear of these things because I couldn’t control them. As time has passed and my son has grown, I have relaxed in so many ways. I also think that the chemicals in my brain and the hormones in my body have normalized. But most importantly, I FORCED myself to break the coping habits that I used for my anxiety, sometimes having no real choice in the matter. As my son got older, I could no longer chase him down and wipe his hands every time he got on and off the playground equipment. I couldn’t control the situation. By letting him play freely, without my anxieties clouding over him, I finally started to realize that he was fine and having fun, which is all I really wanted for him.
My biggest motivator for forcing myself to stop the obsessive, anxious behavior was that I didn’t want to carry my anxiety onto my son.
When it came to bedtime, I realized he wouldn’t be in a crib forever. When a friend was having a baby not too long after his first birthday, the friend who had loaned the monitor to me asked me to pass it along to the new baby. I remember that day: my heart started to beat really hard and fast, and I forced myself to take deep breaths. I asked my husband if we could order a new monitor and he told me no. He was right; we no longer needed it and I needed to move on. Almost instantly, upon giving up the monitor, my quality of life improved. I was using that monitor as a coping mechanism, and it was doing nothing but making my anxiety worse. As soon as it was gone, I began sleeping better, I began to develop faith in myself as a parent, and I started to realize that cognitive behavioral therapy, which was highly recommended by my therapist, was really what brought me to my recovery.
It has been four years since the struggle with postpartum anxiety began. Four years have passed and with each year, I have gained more confidence in my parenting journey and I truly enjoy parenthood, even the crappy (pun intended) moments. Long gone are the days of small things causing me crippling anxiety that made me physically ill. I am thankful that I can look back on the experience and realize that while it was not the brightest time in my life, it showed me that even when I am at my weakest point, I can break through and become stronger.
Two years ago, I opened up about my battle with Postpartum Anxiety. It took a lot for me to write that post, because at the time, I was slowly recovering but still had traces of it lingering. Putting all of those feelings out there had me really worried that maybe I *was* crazy or that someone would want to send me away from my son.
Instead, something amazing happened. When the post went live, I received many emails and comments on the post that were encouraging, or even more importantly, opening up that they, too, had similar feelings. It was cathartic and healing to get it out in words and to know that I was not alone. Over the last two years, I have had other new mothers who are facing similar struggles message me to connect with them or to help them, whether it was to find them a counselor or to share how I had overcome my issues.