Crying tears of joy, relief, gratitude, and everything in between, I looked at my newborn baby girl and said, “WE did this together.”
While I have suffered from anxiety for as long as I can remember, perinatal mood and anxiety disorders were something that I didn’t consider when having kids. After my first child was born, I was all consumed with assuring his health was good. Over the top? Probably. But what first time mom isn’t?
Pregnancy was easy. I was one of those “I’d be pregnant forever” type of women. I got pregnant with my second child when my first was only 6 months old and things were beautiful and simple. Life was good. After my second daughter was born, postnatal mood disorders took on a personal meaning for me. When she was 2 months old, I began to suspect that she had some underlying health concerns. I became extremely anxious, and though I didn’t realize it at the time, depressed. I had panic attacks for a year and lost so much weight that people were becoming concerned. I could not find joy in anything I did. I distinctly remember taking the kids to a park and staring at my family laughing and playing, thinking, will I EVER feel happy again?
Every thought that crossed my mind was an obsession about my daughter’s health or whether or not something bad would happen. Followed closely were compulsions of checking her body (if I just looked ONE more time), information seeking (hello google), and seeking reassurance (are you SURE that is what the doctor said? Tell me one more time that you believe she will be okay). Sometime in the interim, my anxiety crept from concerns about my daughter to concerns about my own health. What IF. WHAT IF something happens to me and I can’t be here to take care of her? Anxiety is like a drug. A drug you know you hate but feel you can’t exist without. My brain literally felt addicted to worrying and obsessing and engaging in compulsions. And it all got so out of hand before I even had the chance to realize it.
After seeking some much needed professional help, the next couple of years were better. Lexapro became a close friend and Xanax became a distant acquaintance that I no longer relied on. I was really feeling good. I was, dare I say, happy. My husband and I started to discuss having another baby. The thought of relapsing lurked nearby, but I didn’t put too much thought into it.
Quickly becoming pregnant, my anxiety/OCD remained at a distance for the first 20 weeks. I had gone off my meds and was somehow coping beautifully. Around 20 weeks, everything hit me, or should I say, gut-punched me. Weeks 20-40 were weeks from hell. My anxiety returned with a vengeance. I was lost, scared, and sick. My husband feels that it was the worst he has ever seen my anxiety. I fixated on various components of my health for weeks at a time. I could not escape the pain and I had no where I felt safe. I felt helpless and alone. OB referred me to psych, and psych referred me to OB. It was like everyone was scared to make med changes for a pregnant woman. Friends would casually ask, “Are you SO excited about the baby?” I would smile and politely make up something along the lines of “Oh you know, I am excited and just so busy I barely have time to think about it.” Busy was code word for anxious. Excited was code word for “I haven’t bonded with this baby at all and sometimes think I wouldn’t even be sad if it all ended today.” (While I certainly did not WISH for that to happen, my brain couldn’t get past the fact that I was so miserable inside.) On top of it, I had well-meaning people in my life who said things such as, “You just need to be strong. You have two kids at home to take care of. Just stop worrying.” (PSA: Telling an anxious person “just don’t worry” is like telling mountain to “move just a little”…. correct me if I’m wrong, but this has never been effective as far as I am aware.)
When my baby girl was born, I somehow bonded with her more than I bonded with my first two right away. I don’t know if my motherly instincts took over and made me realize that I was indeed excited to have a new baby, or if it was truly my hormones finally allowing me some peace. My mental health was not great for the first few months, and I am still working daily to conquer some of my demons, but I am feeling SO much better than I was during pregnancy. I recently decided to wean my daughter from breastfeeding because I wanted to give my hormones a chance to finally balance out. I have been having mostly good days with a bad day sprinkled in now and then. I am blessed with three beautiful children and have decided that it would not be healthy for me to have any more. I strongly believe that it is important to regard our mental health as we would any physical ailment.
For anyone who this may resonate with, you are not alone. There would be days where a momma who walked in my shoes would tell me “tomorrow is a new day”, and the clouds would lift, if just a little bit. I will look you in the eyes and promise you that it will not always be this way. You WILL look back and see your strength. You.are.fierce. At your weakest and most vulnerable, I promise that you are being so, so, brave for fighting this fight. I won’t promise that tomorrow will be better. I won’t promise that next week will be better. I do promise that one day will be better. I won’t promise that your mental illness will go away and never come back. I continue to fight this fight every day. I do promise that health is waiting for you, and you WILL find it.I see you, momma.
I see you pushing the shopping cart at Target with two little ones, putting on a happy face for them, but going home and crying because you don’t feel like a good mom. I see you look at your babies with so much love, but go home and have nothing left to love yourself. I see you look at other mommas, thinking, “If only I was happy” and quietly panic inside because you don’t think it is possible for you. I am here to let you know that you are loved. You are honored. You are appreciated. You are me. WE are women. WE are moms. WE are the face of strength.
–Written by Kiah Allen