The Truth About Postpartum Anxiety

By Becky Houdesheldt

While I sat rocking my daughter in her nursery last night, trying yet another position to get her to go back to sleep, I closed my eyes and rested my lips on her head. I tried to remind myself to relish the time with her while she’s small. She turns 5 months tomorrow, and I lost my first two months with her to postpartum anxiety.

My anxiety robbed me of enjoying my first weeks with her. I honestly thought I was on top of my symptoms. I wasn’t. I finally admitted I needed more help after I acknowledged I was experiencing intrusive thoughts, and it took me 5 weeks before I could get in to a postpartum specialist.

I couldn’t call my daughter by her name. I didn’t want to look at her. I couldn’t be alone with my thoughts because I’d lose myself in a whirlwind of fears and anxieties that I knew weren’t rooted in reality, but I couldn’t pull myself out of them. I felt out of control, out of touch, and at a loss. I returned to a new job after 6 weeks at home, and I was a mess.

Trying to become a mom of two was harder than I expected it to be, and I wasn’t prepared for the level of protectiveness and possessiveness I would feel for my oldest, or the complete lack of connectedness I felt for my daughter. I called her ‘the baby’ and couldn’t look her in the eye.

We didn’t attempt breastfeeding, which quite honestly was a huge relief. My attempts with my son were unsuccessful and heartbreaking, and I was unwilling to put myself, my daughter and my husband through that again. It was the best decision for our family, and I know it made things better for us.

My husband was put on the night shift almost immediately following her birth, and it was a lonely time for me. There’s something so isolating about darkness that made it more difficult to be alone, awake with her. She had colic, and there were nights when I would wonder why we even bothered to have another child. Why didn’t we quit while we were ahead, when our son was so sweet? Then, I’d hate myself for having such thoughts in the first place. What kind of person, what kind of mom even thinks that way?

I should be grateful. I’d tell myself those things over and over, yet there I would sit, just praying for a moment to myself. Wishing she would sleep for just a minute before my son would wake up, where I’d have 5 minutes to go in the bathroom alone and breathe. Just breathe. Alone.

My husband got off nights and, in some ways, things got a little better, but they got a little worse too, and I felt incredibly alone in my thoughts. Postpartum anxiety was not as obvious to me as postpartum depression was. I knew I wasn’t depressed, but I also knew I wasn’t ok.

I thought maybe I just wasn’t cut out for being a mom of two, and perhaps I’d just made a giant mistake, and it was one I was going to have to live with forever. I was terrified I wasn’t going to bond with my daughter, and that I’d be resentful at her for taking time away from my son. I don’t know how my husband managed to be such a good support for me, and for my kids. I’m not sure how we made it through those first few weeks and months.

Therapy and medication have given me my life back and have allowed me to enjoy being a mother to two kids. Today my daughter is 5 months old and I can’t get enough of her. She will be my last baby, and I spend as much time as I can snuggling her, smelling her sweet baby smell, tickling her adorable chunky legs, watching her discover things, relishing in her pride when she figures out something new. She is bright and happy and strong. She has so much joy in her, and while I’m sad I missed out on the time that I did, I’m grateful it didn’t go on for as long as it could have.

She giggles in the bath. She giggles when she eats. She giggles when she’s held. She giggles when she’s being read to. She giggles in the stroller. She loves to be held. She’ll just snuggle right into my neck and it just melts my heart. I put her to bed, and mosey downstairs, and I get to do bedtime all over again, with my son. We brush our teeth together, and take a bath with bubbles and colored water, we pick our pajamas and our books, and read together. We lay together and sing songs.

These are moments I cherish. Moments I never want to forget, or miss out on because I’m tired, or irritated, or hungry, or exhausted. These are the good old days, and when I look back on them, I never want to say that I wish I’d done more. My life is full of rich experiences today, and they’re almost all to do with my family.

If you’d asked me years ago if I thought, I’d be a wife and a mother to two kids, I would’ve laughed in your face. But faith, sobriety, and a life spent trying to be less self-centered and more focused on others has given me grace, and gifts I absolutely don’t deserve.

That’s the beauty of grace, and I’m grateful.

Becky is part of the Contributing Writer Network at Thirty on Tap.

Photo by Lina Kivaka from Pexels

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