Once you experience something for the first time, it’s natural to anticipate those feelings happening again. This is how I felt about my postpartum experience. Coming home from the hospital, I would sit in my recliner trying to nurse my baby and think, “Am I sad today?” “Is it happening yet?”. I was waiting for the sadness to settle in as it did with the birth of my son after being home a few days. It may seem strange to try to anticipate these feelings but I was ready to acknowledge it this time and do what I can to face my sadness head on.
The feelings never came. Surprisingly as it was, I never felt that hollow sadness with no particular source or thing to blame it on. The teary eyes were no where to be seen with the birth of my second child. What seemed like a relief was quickly replaced with something else that came unfamiliar to me. I couldn’t recognize it at first which now seems to surprise me. As a healthcare professional, I often forget how many times I've seen other nurses and doctors unable to recognize blatantly obvious conditions or decisions because it was their own family member in the situation. Although trained to recognize signs, it may be the most difficult to see them in yourself. What seemed like typical mom over protectiveness began evolving into something more. I think back to being in the hospital with my 1 month old daughter and having to be transported through the hospital on a stretcher to have her get an MRI of her brain. I sat in the stretcher with her tiny body wrapped in my arms as we rolled through a crowded emergency room full of sick people. My stomach was in waves as I squeezed her closer to me trying my best to shield her from any potential illnesses that we may come across.
Being told my baby needed an array of tests was probably one of the more difficult things to comprehend. What was really bothering me was that any of the possible diagnoses they were trying to rule out were things that could have come from other people. Meaning any of the infections they were trying to find would have been caused by someone who held her or visited. Had I not been safe enough? Had I not subjected myself to social isolation for this reason?
I would like to think my postpartum anxiety began building from there. I worried constantly about people being around us. I would imagine going back into that emergency room and reliving my worst nightmare of watching my baby girl laying on that hospital bed surrounded by doctors suggesting she undergo invasive procedures. I crawled into my shell and refused to let anyone near us for months.
I do vividly remember worrying about something happening to my firstborn. I would consider this to be a typical mom fear. It’s that sense of protection that makes you look over into their bassinet 17 times in a night to make sure they’re still breathing. However, what I felt this time was an exaggerated sense of fear. My thoughts constantly racing with images of something unimaginable happening. Some of these thoughts would make all the hairs on my arms stand up. These are considered intrusive thoughts. Those fleeting images that pass through your mind of something horrific happening to your child. As scary as they may be to admit, you'd be surprised to learn how many other moms are experiencing or have experienced the same thing.
The day I tried to open up to my husband, I couldn’t get all the words out. I didn’t want to be seen as unstable or needing immediate medical attention. Even as I said the words, he looked confused. Naturally, I shut down, unable to express my feelings about something I wasn't even sure about. It wasn't until months after that I was able to calmly admit, "I have postpartum anxiety". I'm grateful he understands, keeps me grounded when the melt downs are near, and brings me back from those dark crevices of my mind.
It does help, recognizing and putting a name to something you are feeling. I understand now my need to control things. Why I put so much pressure on myself to be a perfect mother to my children. I've learned over these last few months that perfection isn't the goal. Although there may be times that I feel my heart beating wildly in my chest and my thoughts are racing, I take a few deep breaths and remind myself that my children are okay. That I am the best (not perfect) mom for them. I remember that I cannot control everything, that I must let go, let life happen, and be present in the moment. I remember that what is happening right now is not the source of my anxiety but rather something in the past or something that has not happened yet. I've worked on retraining my thoughts. Focusing on the present. The present, this current moment, is a reminder that all is well and there isn't much to worry about right now.