The first sign was my tired jaw. It must be from pushing during labor, I thought. I didn’t know it was because I spent what little sleep I was getting with my jaw clenched tight.
When I started to fear that I would be fired from my job, for no reason, while on maternity leave, I chalked it up to the normal worry a mother would have about providing for her children.
The overwhelming, day in and day out worry that tinged every waking moment of my life was just fatigue from having a newborn.
Fearing leaving my house because something bad could happen to the baby or me was normal because all moms worry.
None of this was normal but life, as I had known it prior to the birth of my son, wasn’t normal either. I had two children to care for now. Stretched in two different directions, I knew this would be hard.
I was also prepared. I’d been diagnosed with perinatal depression during my pregnancy but this was different too. I wasn’t really sad. I was worried and moms worry. Especially sleep-deprived moms with a colicky newborn.
At a two-week postpartum check-up, I took the anxiety assessment and immediately realized that this wasn’t normal. I’d spent the last two weeks expending my precious energy in a flight or fight mode that didn’t have to be. I wasn’t running away from saber tooth tigers and scavenging for food for my family, but my body didn’t know that. The birth of my son was also the birth of my postpartum anxiety.
There was relief in the diagnosis, but it wasn’t the end. I changed my medication dosage and increased the frequency of my therapy. Things like meditation and yoga and me-time were suggested. Unfortunately, my anxiety thrived on running to-do lists of things I should do. Much like yeast eats the sugar in bread dough, my anxiety ate at the “shoulds” of life. Growing and becoming stronger as more “shoulds” were added. I should go for a walk. I should meditate. Should get off the couch and off my phone. I should unclench my jaw and relax my shoulders. I should sleep.
Anxiety meant I couldn’t do any of those things. Anxiety meant that I became a person that I don’t like. I snapped at my husband for being 20 minutes late. I took the baby and escaped to my bedroom to avoid the excited energy of his big sister. Canceled plans. I quit things I liked to do. I melted with the anxiety growing with the “shoulds” and the guilt growing from my reactions.
Slowly the medication started working. My therapy evolved and the coping mechanisms I learned improved the quality of my life. Nine months later, the anxiety is weaker, but still there. It grows in strength when the “shoulds” of life get too big and I forget how strong I am. Now I’m angry about all that postpartum anxiety stole from me in the first few months of my son’s life. I have guilt, but I am working on that too.
This is my postpartum anxiety story. It won’t be the same as some else’s story. I’m sharing this to make mental health a normal part of our conversations with family, friends and complete strangers. It affects so many more people than we know and no one should suffer. If any of this resonates with you, please know that there is help available. Talk to someone. Make an appointment with your health care provider. It does get better.