During my first pregnancy, I heard so many stories about post-partum depression and anxiety. I knew it was a possibility for anyone, so I was grateful and relieved when my doctor was thorough during my postnatal exams to talk to me–not only about my physical symptoms, but my mental state as well. After having my first child, my sweet girl, I was very cautious, and constantly checked on myself mentally: was I having worrisome thoughts? Was I crying more than usual? Was I feeling irrational?
I was lucky to report that I didn’t have any postpartum symptoms more extreme than the very common baby blues, so I went on my way exploring this new world of motherhood. A few years later, as I was preparing for the birth of my second child, a boy, I didn’t pay much thought to postpartum depression or anxiety. I was aware of the statistics, but I was so busy taking care of my toddler that my thoughts were generally centered around the details of how I would take care of two little humans. Once my son was here, I spent the first month just getting into a new groove. My husband went back to work, and I was juggling the two kids on my own – a toddler and a newborn. Friends would ask to meet up with me, but the more I thought about getting out of the house, the more I would think of reasons not to leave my safe space. I was worried–really worried–all of the time, but it wasn’t a worry that something bad would happen to my baby. I was fully confident that I could take care of my sweet, new baby boy. I was worried constantly that something would happen to my toddler, and my fears were at times all-consuming.
I didn’t realize it then, but I was experiencing post-partum anxiety. I learned that this can occur when there’s a hormone shift (such as after birth), and the fears are generally irrational. I didn’t realize that post-partum anxiety wasn’t limited to worries about your newborn breathing, or fears about if you were properly equipped to take care of them. In my experience, postpartum anxiety caused me to worry about dangers to my toddler—something I was entirely unprepared for.
At night, during the 2-3 hour windows when I could get some sleep before newborn feedings, my exhaustion was compounded by recurring nightmares of something happening to my toddler. If I was about to get out of the house for some fresh air, I’d have unwarranted, disturbing thoughts of my toddler getting kidnapped while I was busy looking down at the baby. I was terrified every time we left the house that she would outrun me, and I’d lose her, or she’d be hit by a car. I spent a lot of my days restless and on edge. Rarely did I let my child out of her stroller, but when I did, I couldn’t take my eyes off her, not even for a second.
As time went on, I began to justify my lack of socialization, and found myself making excuses to avoid meeting up with friends. I didn’t want the hassle of dealing with a rambunctious toddler; I didn’t want anyone to try to take her; I didn’t want her to get hurt. For those reasons, it was an easy decision for me. Cancel plans in order to guarantee my child is safe – it’s the obvious choice. What I didn’t realize was that my reality wasn’t necessarily the reality.
After nearly three months of this all-consuming fear, I finally opened up to a friend, who was a mother herself. The conversation felt awkward. I shared with her the anxiety I had been experiencing, and surprisingly, she understood completely, having experienced post-partum anxiety firsthand after the birth of her own daughter. She encouraged me to reach out to mutual friends she knew had experienced similar symptoms after the births of their children. Each time I opened up to a friend, it got easier to do so, and most importantly—it really did make me feel less alone.
Once I finally got the hard part behind me–admitting there was an issue– I knew I had to do something about it. I had to allow myself to re-emerge into society, and to again claim a social life for myself, and freedom for my toddler. In the beginning, it was hard, but the more I pushed through, the more I was able to trust that she would be okay.
Now, months later, I don’t lose out on sleep anymore, and life has adjusted for me and my little family. I’m one of the lucky ones. I was able to adapt and adjust without any serious intervention.
If you’re feeling abnormally anxious, and you’ve recently given birth, I’m here to tell you that postpartum anxiety isn’t just limited to fears about the new baby; it may be related to older children as well. It’s not all in your head. Post-partum anxiety is a very real condition caused by the hormonal fluctuations that can result after a baby. If you think that your symptoms are beyond that of the typical baby blues or normal worries, follow your instinct. Trust your gut. Tell a friend. Talk to your doctor. Do what’s best for you. We’re all in this together.
*This article is for informational purposes only and is not meant to replace medical care. As always, check with your doctor to discuss your feelings when pregnant to make sure the feelings you are having are normal and not antenatal depression.