I consider myself incredibly fortunate that I’ve given birth to two healthy and thriving little girls over the last 3.5 years. And while my second birthing experience was its own rollercoaster, it was my post-birth experience with my first daughter that really put me through the wringer. And because this entire venture is meant to help connect with the mamas out there wondering if they’re the only ones who pee on a trampoline or find themselves saying “Don’t pull your sister by her neck when you’re pretending she’s your puppy,” I wanted to share my experience. You may know somebody or be that somebody who is going through this right now. And if so? You are not alone and it WILL get easier. I mean, grosser and easier; being a mom is not for the weak of heart, yo. But I’m serious – it gets better with a little help from your friends (and maybe a certified therapist!) So here goes nothing:
I stood in the kitchen crying while making a bottle. I sat on the couch crying while feeding my daughter. I laid next to my sleeping baby, singing to her, and crying. On a weekly basis, alone in my apartment, crying was par for the course, which is sort of not how I’d pictured new motherhood? I mean, I’d pictured being tired, changing lots of diapers, generally loving to cuddle this insanely cute creature I’d grown inside of me for nine months. But I hadn’t pictured the full-blown panic attacks that would come at seemingly innocuous comments or every day activities. Those, I never saw coming.
Living in a low-level state of anxiousness and frustration became my new normal, and days spent alone in my apartment stretched out into weeks. Lots of visitors came over within those first few weeks and many helped in lots of different ways. But I didn’t know how to put into words what I was feeling, except all I wanted to scream was “I WANT EVERYONE TO LEAVE IMMEDIATELY OH MY GOD.” With the exception of my mom, who seemed to tune into what was happening with me enough to literally say, “Beck, go lay down and rest. I promise that I will stand here and stare at your baby while she sleeps in case she needs anything or stops breathing.” Which was exactly the right thing to say, leading to the first time I was able to sleep in days. It was nuts and something we laugh about now. But at the time? It seemed totally reasonable.
And when I wasn’t feeling crazy-town anxiety that she’d stop breathing? I was basically so infatuated with my little baby girl that I was like a love-struck teen feeling all of the feels for the first time. I was straight up looney toons for this kid and I never wanted to leave her side. So much so that I struggled to remember the last time I’d been outside ... or showered. I still have a hard time relating to new moms I see out and about soon after giving birth, having drinks with friends, having a meal with her husband, or just taking some “me time” for a mani/pedi. The mere thought of leaving my apartment without my daughter was basically off-limits. Which was hampered by the fact that I was terrified to leave the apartment with my daughter.
So, I spent many a night frantically Googling “postpartum anxiety” through blurry eyes and I’d get a lot of comments from friends and family who thought I was being overly anxious, hovering, and just plain “new mom” about it all. Which was true, but not super-helpful. Because inside me, I was completely confused by what was “normal” new mom stuff and what…wasn’t. I was desperate to find someone who could confirm that what I was feeling was real, and not just a part of new motherhood that nobody told me about.
I’d heard all sorts of stories about postpartum depression, yet none matched my experience. I didn’t feel detached from my daughter or think that everyone was better off without me -- I felt the exact opposite: I never wanted to leave her side and nobody could be better for her than me – not even her father, and certainly not the outside world.
It was debilitating, isolating, and pretty common, as it turns out.
At first, I wondered if what I was feeling was “hormonal,” a phrase people throw around often just after you’ve given birth, which kind of makes you want to punch them (even though they’re right). I mean, hormones are definitely not your friend in the days and weeks post-birth and are likely at least a partial cause of some of the post-fill in the blank feelings surrounding new motherhood. I’d experienced “hormones” before, you guys, but what I was feeling wasn’t run-of-the-mill emotional. And when I started to run down the list of my friends and family members who had kids, I couldn’t name a single woman who’d described what I was feeling two months after giving birth. Which is sort of why I’m even telling all of you guys now, to be honest – I don’t know that I would’ve even talked about it publicly, once it was behind me, if it hadn’t been for my desperate struggle to find someone who seemed to understand. I am determined to be that person for someone else, because I know how isolating it can feel.
And so, finally, one random day, and out of sheer desperation, I started talking. I talked about new motherhood and my feelings and my frustrations and my fears. First, with my husband, then with a friend. And then, true to form, I just kept talking. I forced myself to do things that made me incredibly anxious so that I wouldn’t continue to be a prisoner of my own thoughts. And while it may have seemed small from the outside, taking a walk around the block with my daughter felt like a huge accomplishment. Driving in the car with her to and from a store felt like I was mom of the year. Sure, she’d sometimes cry, I’d sometimes cry, and there were days I gave into my own head and stayed in the apartment all day. But over the course of a few weeks, while talking and pushing through the uncomfortable and sometimes debilitating feelings, I slowly started to realize that most of my fear was simply fear of the unknown. My daughter was adapting to change just fine; I was the one that was struggling. Which, as I’m learning on this parenthood journey, is pretty much how it kind of goes for forever. I’m all nervous and Googling and my kids are like, “Oh cool, new house? Got it. New daycare? No problem.”
I mean, I can still so vividly remember how I was feeling when I took this picture. I wondered if I’d be able to actually go to the roof of our apartment complex to walk around the track, or whether I’d just fool Ian into thinking that I did. I literally snapped the picture and then was like “it’s probably good enough that I even thought about going outside, right?” (As it turns out, I did end up going out, looking at the track, and turning back around. But at least I went outside!)
As it turns out, I wasn’t alone. As I started to learn more, I realized that about 10% of all postpartum women develop anxiety and as I read down the list of symptoms on Postpartum Support International one day, I realized that it was as if they were describing every single thing I’d been experiencing for the last several months. It’s not something to feel ashamed of or embarrassed by, yet I was overwhelmed at just the idea of having to admit I felt something other than sheer joy and exhilaration at being a new mom.
Now that I'm a few years removed from the haze of postpartum anxiety, I’m now armed with a few facts: it’s going to be OK, you’re going to be OK, your baby is going to be OK. Two months may feel like two years, but it gets better. And yes, your thoughts will still race, but you’ll be able to catch up to them. To-do lists will still scream inside your head, but you’ll be able to quiet them. You’ll no longer be unable to settle down. You’ll no longer be unable to relax. You’ll no longer feel like you have to be cleaning bottles, baby clothes, and the house at all times. You’ll no longer (constantly) worry about doing it all right – though, to be honest, I’m pretty sure that this one doesn’t totally go away, since I think it’s what they call “parenting.”
Someday soon you’ll no longer convince yourself that something awful is going to happen: to you, the baby, the world with the baby in it … and you’ll no longer constantly think that you’re going “crazy.” You won’t always worry that the person you used to be is gone forever and that everyone around you will judge or tease you if you open-up.
When you can, and however you can, talk to someone. When you’re ready, when you’re not; when you’re scared, when you’re happy. Talk. Talk to your partner, your best friend, your family, a counselor -- talk to them all. Talk. And keep talking about it until it gets easier to talk about it. And then talk about it a little more. Because someday, and someday soon, you’ll wake up, put the baby in the car seat, drive to your destination, and not think twice about what could or will go wrong. It’ll just go right. Or it won’t. But somehow, that’ll be OK too. You got this, mama!