Living with Postpartum Anxiety and Stress by Kelly Mitchem
I never planned on having children, so when I found out I was pregnant, everything changed. I spent most of my pregnancy worrying about my life after birth. Could I do it? Could I be a mother? I remember seeking advice from everyone I could. I asked nearly every mother I knew how to get through the sleepless nights, how to continue to live my life with little to no sleep. Most people's response was 'you just do.' Advice like that only worried me more. I'm a planner by nature. It's who I am. The unknowns of postpartum and life as a mother terrified me.
The stress began to set in almost immediately after birth. I left the delivery room in a wheelchair, my newborn in one arm and a bucket in the other in case I needed to throw up again. Two days later I was home from the hospital. I had been counting down until I could shower at home and lay in my own bed. We had family staying at our place while we were in the hospital and things were chaotic from the moment we walked in. It felt like no one could even see me. I walked into the bathroom and noticed our shower curtain had fallen. It was balancing there completely crooked, but I didn't care enough to fix it. I got into the shower and within minutes was standing in ankle deep water. The drain had gotten clogged and not fixed. I was standing there with water running down my face, bleeding, leaking milk, in pain, exhausted, and I could hear the tv blaring from the other room. I felt defeated and angry. Angry that no one seemed to care enough to make sure my house was put back together before I came home. Angry that only two days in, I already felt like I couldn't breathe. But more than being angry, I was terrified. Was this how postpartum looked? Was this how life as a mother looked?
Three months in and things didn't feel much different for me. I felt like I was living in a daze, never fully present in my own life. The moments I was present weren't my best. I was irritable and difficult to talk to, going through the motions of everyday life. Our son cried all the time during the day, which only added to my anxiety. I felt like I couldn't manage anything. I was barely eating. Even though I knew how unhealthy it was, I had no desire. I didn't feel very connected to my life as a mother, but I was trying. I spent a lot of time lying with my son in bed, snuggling him for naps on weekends. Breastfeeding brought us closer. It gave me something to focus on and helped me to know that he was relying on me.
The anxiety I developed felt unbearable. Every time I left the house I was in a mental tailspin, worrying over every little detail. We would be in public, and I could hear my heart pounding in my ears. It didn't matter that everything was fine. I was too busy focusing on if and when things would go wrong. I was always paying attention to how close I was to an exit, planning out how I would react if my son started crying. I was never in the moment. I would be sitting at a table and looking at everyone around me thinking that they were all fine, or at least they seemed fine. They seemed fine the way I did from the outside. On the inside, I felt like I was losing control.
I was six months postpartum the first time I said out loud that I needed help. Six months. That's how long it took me to take the first step toward my health. I started going to therapy, and within a few sessions felt a weight had lifted. I had at least started. I had shown up. I was committing to being there, and that alone felt good.
Six months after that, I was coming out the other side, more aware of my anxiety and triggers and how to work through them. I was feeling more like the 'me' I remembered before birth, before pregnancy. As my son's first birthday approached, I felt stronger and more present. The one year mark felt monumental for us both. In a lot of ways, I had felt like I would never make it to one year, and yet there I stood. I was still a work in progress, but what I had come to realize was that I always would be. As a mother, I would continue to grow and change in this new role, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing, but always trying.