My son was six months old when I had my first panic attack.
I was sitting in our living room watching him play when suddenly I felt like the walls were collapsing in on me.
My heart was racing, I was having trouble breathing, and an overwhelming feeling of guilt washed over me. I had thoughts like, “What if he dies in my care?” and, “Would he be better off without me?”
A month or two before the panic attack, I started having vivid visions about my son dying and I wasn’t able to do anything to stop it. Anxious feelings overtook me every time I left him; I felt I needed to be home in order to be in control.
I was exhausted. Sleep deprived from breastfeeding and the inability to fall asleep due to my racing thoughts.
I had this perfectly healthy, happy boy and I felt defeated. Which left me to wonder: what was going on with me?
My wonderful husband helped me through my struggles and I set an appointment with my doctor, which led me to a diagnosis of postpartum anxiety.
What Is Postpartum Anxiety?
You always read or hear about postpartum depression, but not as much about postpartum anxiety.
Postpartum anxiety can look like this: you never stop worrying about your new baby. So much so that you cannot sleep or let someone else take care of your child. You have dreams or visions of your baby dying in many different ways or of you or your husband passing away, leaving no one to care for your child.
Inability to Relax
I recall trying to unwind in a bath tub while my husband watched our little one. Finally, this was my time to finally relax, clean the spit and breastmilk up off my body, light a candle, and just slow down for a moment.
Laying back into the hot bathtub filled with Epsom salt and lavender oil, I heard “phantom crying.” I rushed out of the tub as quickly as I could, only to find a happy baby playing safely with his daddy.
Why couldn’t I just take 10 minutes to relax?
Another day I laid my son down for his afternoon nap, and decided to take a nap myself. I snuggled in, closed my eyes, and instantly had a vivid vision of someone running in and stealing my son. My eyes flew open, I had this feeling of crippling fear, and I wouldn’t allow myself to fall back asleep.
Combatting Postpartum Anxiety
After my doctor’s visit I had a better understanding of postpartum anxiety. My wonderful doctor reassured me it is real and that she had experienced postpartum anxiety herself.
She prescribed some anti-anxiety medication, recommended therapy, and a book called The Pregnancy and Postpartum Anxiety Workbook by Kevin Gyoerkoe and Pamela Wiegartz.
I realized these strange feelings were felt by many other mothers. I learned how to stop in the moment I start to feel my anxiety rise, and remember I can’t control everything. With help, I was able to stop obsessing over my worries and take the time to make myself a priority.
A New Perspective
One day I was installing some floating shelves in our living room so I could place some new photos up. I went back and forth and couldn’t decide how to lay them out.
What is the best way to lay these shelves out? Will I hang them up and then hate the way they look? What if I leave too many holes in the wall if I have to redo them? Will this clutter up the wall?
I questioned my supportive husband about a thousand times which option he liked better. And he finally said, “Honey, just hang them up. If you mess up, all you need is a little wall spackle.”
A bell rang in my head, some clouds cleared, and I felt a weight lift off my shoulders.
“All you need is some wall spackle,” changed how I thought about motherhood. I came to these realizations:
- You will make mistakes. And it’s okay!
- Some things will be out of your control.
- And constant overthinking and worrying will not make anything better.
So, think lightly and go forward with love. Find help when you need it, and keep your good support system close.
And remember to relax and take care of yourself, too. When we aren’t well, our family isn’t well.
If you are struggling with postpartum anxiety, please reach out to your local provider or contact Postpartum Support International to find support near you.