I remember lying in bed in the middle of the night, my newborn in the bassinet beside me, and I couldn't move. In fact, I had a hard time catching my breath because in those few quiet moments when everyone was asleep, I had convinced myself that my baby wasn't alive anymore.
Those moments would come throughout the next year as she grew from tiny helpless infant into a walking and (sort of) talking toddler, and here’s the kicker: I attributed it all to being a worried new mom.
I had gone through years of infertility and thought for sure this was my path in life when it came to parenthood. I thought everything from preconception to raising a daughter in a big scary world was just going to be one massive anxiety attack.
I had no idea it wasn't normal to have the thoughts I had. I knew moms worried. That was nothing new. Unfortunately, the few times I spoke up about how terrified I was about something awful happening to my baby, I was left with, “You’re a mom. You’re always going to worry.”
At times I was scared to say anything because I thought if I did, if I confessed the awful things going on inside my head, my husband and family would become concerned. I didn’t want to look crazy or overly dramatic when all the other moms around me seemed to have it together.
What was wrong with me?
It had to have been my history of infertility. It maybe had something to do with the anxiety and depression I experienced as a teenager and young adult. This was my rationalization for two years.
One day, I made an appointment with a therapist to talk about my anxiety. My daughter, since she was a year old, was prone to stomach bugs and the anxiety I developed every time she vomited was worsening with every bug. During one of those episodes, my vision started darkening in the corners of my eye, and I realized I was one vomiting episode short from a full blown panic attack.
I knew I needed to see someone, especially since we were beginning to enter the winter months and another season of sickness was going to put me over the edge.
Sitting on my therapist’s couch that morning, I started discussing the anxiety over my daughter’s stomach bugs. But then it blew up, so to speak, and I found myself doing a spectacular word vomit (no pun intended) where all the little anxieties, the ones where I thought were just a result of being a new mom, came out and I found myself in tears.
“I can’t live like this anymore,” I cried. Even then, even after an evaluation with the therapist, I continued to have the belief that I was overreacting.
Trying to cover up or downplay how anxious I was, especially when it came to motherhood wasn't doing anybody any favors. I learned that the hard way. I pushed it down, didn't talk about it, and it slowly started eating away at me. I ended up on medication and continued in therapy and when I accepted the fact that I truly had an anxiety disorder, it woke me up in ways that surprised me.
I didn’t cover it up anymore. I am a parenting and infertility writer, so talking about my deep dark feelings is just something I’m used to now. Hitting the publish button on my first blog post where I confessed I was seeing a therapist and had untreated postpartum anxiety was exhilarating, embarrassing, and terrifying. I wanted to own it, but I was so nervous of being treated as that unstable mom blogger.
I didn’t downplay my feelings anymore. From then on, when the anxiety hit hard, I told my husband I needed help. I started talking about it with my family, how the medication was working, how my therapist was slowly helping me with an action plan when my anxiety got to panic levels.
Of course, I knew being open and honest when things were bad would help me overall, but I didn't realize how much better of a mom I am now to my daughter. I can recognize when my anxiety is getting the best of me and can now take steps to decrease it.
I don't get so worked up and frustrated, thinking this whole thing is one giant character flaw. I know when I need a break and ask for it from my husband. I think that's the best thing I can do now—to ask my husband to step in when I can't. I am facing my anxiety head on and gaining more confidence every day.
Society still perpetuates anxiety as something to be covered up, as a weakness or something that needs to be overcome to be successful in life. We are talking so much now about postpartum depression. But our culture still needs gentle nudges at understanding anxiety, especially postpartum and into motherhood.
Somehow as moms we are still believing the myth that we are supposed to be busy multitasking, the ones who run the household, and the glue that holds our family together. When we tell ourselves the anxiety isn't that bad, we're downplaying the fact that anxiety is actually really common, and it's important to recognize it for what it is.
We are worth it too and need to be taken care of, despite being moms who are thought to be the ones taking care of it all.