Mothering with Mental Illness: Inside Postpartum Anxiety

Postpartum Anxiety

I look at this picture and I just know that in that moment, I was in the thick of it. The odd thing is, I didn’t realize it at the time. I knew I was weepy. I knew having a newborn was overwhelming and that I’d probably lose sleep. I knew my body would go through crazy changes in those first few weeks.

I was surprised at the ferocity with which I wanted to protect my newborn son. Bonding with him was never the issue. I loved him, but more so, I wanted to protect him. The need to protect him, however, went above and beyond what is typical and what is beneficial.

This is easy for me to recount now. It’s been three years. I’ve had another baby. This summer, when my daughter was born, it suddenly hit me: I had very disruptive postpartum anxiety with my son.

I was no stranger to anxiety when my son was born. I’d already been through treatment and medication for panic disorder. The thing was, I was fine before I got pregnant and I was great during pregnancy. I wasn’t having the same fears I had before becoming a mother, so I didn’t recognize it.

But now, as a well-rested, well-balanced, happy mother of a second infant, it hit me full on: I was truly suffering after my son was born.

From the outside it just looked like baby blues. I missed my pregnant body. I missed the kicks. I missed having my son all to myself. I cried every day as soon as the sun started lowering in the sky. For no reason. I wept. I would even say: “I don’t know why I’m crying!” I could almost laugh about it. Except, in those moments, I was feeling miserable and overwhelmed. That picture is one of those moments.

Everyone who visited remarked at what a calm and peaceful mother I was. I seemed so laid-back. Breastfeeding was going well. My son was happy. I was over the moon with my wonderful natural birth experience. I accepted their praise and decided I must be as laid-back as they say.

But if they could hear my thoughts, some of which were fairly intrusive, they would not have said that. I was afraid to put my son down. The sight of him sitting in his bouncer or the car seat broke my heart. Yes, babies belong in your arms, but that does not mean you can’t put them down ever.

How I hated the “sleep when the baby sleeps” mantra. I absolutely could not sleep when he slept. How would I know if he was still breathing?

If I fell asleep and awoke to engorged breasts, evidence of my son’s extended snooze session, I would panic. He hadn’t eaten in a few hours. He was very likely dead. He died and I was sleeping.

I’d sit bolt upright and check on him. He was always sleeping peacefully right next to me.

I hated driving with him in the car. Cars have always been problematic for me, and this magnified it. I couldn’t see him. If he cried, even if I spoke to him, he couldn’t truly know I was there. If he stopped crying, he had very likely somehow suffocated himself. I didn’t install one of those mirrors so you can see your baby in the rear-view mirror, because in an accident those can dislodge and kill your baby.

Eventually my old fears resurfaced and I had to deal with the fact that I might have lifelong issues with anxiety. I started having panic attacks. I started fearing panic attacks. I knew I needed treatment.

When I had my daughter, I had been on a low dose of antidepressants through pregnancy and shortly after her birth I resumed my full dose.

And I did not have those intrusive thoughts. I just enjoyed my baby. I slept when she slept.

Surely a part of this was that I was no longer a first-time mom. I was confident in my ability to protect and nurture an infant.

It’s only been since she was born that I realized that what I experienced with my son was excruciating. Of course now I wish I had tried to get help. Antidepressants probably would have helped. But I just didn’t know I was suffering. I was very well educated about postpartum depression and anxiety, but in the overwhelming onslaught of emotions and new experiences, I didn’t recognize it.

There’s no easy answer. It’s hard to sort through all the thoughts you might be having as a new mother. My wish for other mothers is that if they have the slightest inkling that something disruptive is going on, they should seek help. They should insist on talking to someone who knows the face of postpartum depression or anxiety. Even when the face is completely in love with their baby, as I was with my son.

 

 

 

About Olivia Hinebaugh

Olivia Hinebaugh is a stay-at-home-mom to a three-year-old boy and baby girl. She is an aspiring novelist and steals time whenever both kids are sleeping to clack away at the keys. She tweets about mothering and writing @OliveJuiceLots

She can also be found on Facebook.

 

 

Bio photo by Lauren Preti.