Tamara on how Coronavirus actually helped her postpartum anxiety

mom sitting at the pool with her baby-essay on coronavirus helped postpartum anxiety

Content warning: Discussion of postpartum depression, birth trauma, domestic abuse or other tough topics ahead. If you or someone you know is struggling with a postpartum mental health challenge, including postpartum depression or anxiety, call 1-833-9-HELP4MOMS (tel:18009435746)—The National Maternal Mental Health Hotline This free, confidential service provides access to trained counselors and resources 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in English, Spanish, and more than 60 other languages. They can offer support and information related to before, during, and after pregnancy.

When I first found out I was pregnant in December of 2019, I remember feeling the weight of it come crashing down on me all at once. I literally collapsed on the floor of my bedroom and said “oh my God” to myself 100 times.

For so many of us first time moms, the reality of pregnancy can be paralyzing. Especially for those of us who had spent so much of our lives imagining becoming mothers.

I’ve always been an anxious person, but my pregnancy challenged everything I knew about my own disorder. As my pregnancy progressed, my anxiety worsened. I gripped the seat in cars and hated driving anywhere–to do anything–because I was afraid we would get into an accident and something would happen to the baby.

Related: Anxiety in motherhood: How I learned to calm and control my fears

I couldn’t watch anything even remotely gory, scary, emotional, or sad on TV–I was basically reduced to HGTV. As someone who has both her undergraduate and her Master’s degree in film and television, this was pretty dismaying. 

I assumed this would only last while I was pregnant. I was anxious about being the vessel, sure, but once the baby was here things would go back to normal. Wouldn’t they? I knew kids. I had five little nieces and nephews and had worked with babies and small children as an aid through college. I attributed all of the anxiety to pregnancy hormones and that was that.

After my daughter, Mina, was born, things were a lot worse. No one had really prepared me for the two weeks postpartum when I could not walk up the stairs or sit down, or really move at all without feeling like I was going to split in two.

Related: 5 truths about postpartum recovery every woman should know

I didn’t know that I would start crying randomly, bleed profusely, or be utterly terrified to go to the bathroom. Postpartum is RAW. The shock of it threw me off balance from the start.

I was terrified to be alone with the baby, utterly clueless as to what I was doing, and paranoid about SIDS. I remember the nurse at our hospital as we were gathering our things to leave and giving us a lecture on the dangers of SIDS. The last thing she said to us was, “I know it seems silly guys, but the other week we just lost a baby. A father was sleeping on the couch with his 3-week-old and the baby suffocated.”

I knew she was trying to help, but this was the last thing I needed to hear on my way out of the hospital about to bring my newborn baby home.

Related: AAP releases new 2022 safe sleep guidelines: Here’s what parents and caregivers need to know

The next months consisted of obsessive breathing checks every time my baby slept and endless intrusions of thoughts that came constantly throughout the day. I would be driving on the highway and think about how fragile the entire world was, that all of it would come crashing down at any moment.

Even the sky was hostile. I used to think that it would somehow stop working, that Earth’s atmosphere would melt away letting everything in to destroy my precious baby. Because of this, I often did not leave the house. When I did go out, with friends or on date nights, I was always only half there. I breathed a sigh of relief when I was home and we were safe. 

As these thoughts grew worse, I started doing research. I knew all about postpartum depression and I knew I didn’t have it. I never once had thoughts of harming myself or my baby. Overall, I was quite happy, over the moon actually, to be a mother and to have Mina in my life.

Related: Postpartum anxiety stole my joy. Here’s how I got it back (and then some)

Especially after those first weeks were behind me and I started feeling like a pro. So, what was this exactly? Something was definitely wrong, and my everyday life was being significantly affected. That was when I learned about postpartum anxiety. I had never even heard the term before. I live in a progressive city, had an unbelievably progressive group of OBGYNS and doctors, it didn’t make any sense. But here I was. 

I remember when I broke down crying on the couch to my husband explaining that I had PPA, something he didn’t even know existed. He stared at me clueless, with no idea what to say or do and I was right there with him. 

Then the Coronavirus came; and everything changed.

Related: 5 steps to stop an anxiety spiral, according to a therapist

I won’t be too specific, but when the pandemic really started gaining momentum in March and April, we were right smack in the middle of a hot spot. I’ll give you a hint: it was somewhere in the NY area.

Our baby was around 7 months old and on the move. Our days were filled with my husband by the computer frantically searching every online delivery service and me milling about trying to think up every possible house project imaginable. All while the news was on quietly–and constantly–in the living room.

Things were tense, to be certain, but we had no big breakdowns. My husband and I had no blow out fights. Each day faded into the next, ended with a temperature check, and was always considered a victory. 

Related: The Latest COVID Information & Resources for Your Family

Over time, and without realizing it, all of my other anxieties began to fade to the background. Coronavirus gave me a focus; a solid, real-life threat to pour my vague fears and ruminations into. And one I could control.

Sure, I probably held a thermometer up to my daughter and husband’s heads one too many times and gave the mail some thorough, paranoid cleanings before bringing it inside–but I had purpose. All of a sudden, my other fears seemed meaningless and non-existent. Who has time to worry about tripping on the stairs in some freak accident when there is a real time pandemic happening right outside your door? 

Now, as things begin to settle down, I think that what the pandemic really gave me was perspective. You cannot control everything; all you can do is to get through each day. It sounds trite, but after the Coronavirus, I think we all understand how powerful that truth is.

Related: Dear child: The world may not always be safe, but I will always be your haven

There are real things out there to protect my daughter from. The sky falling is not one of them. All we can do is to teach our children to navigate the world as safely as possible. We think of our babies as so fragile, so in constant need of protection, but this is the easy part. 

Now my daughter is about to turn one. We wear masks, we stay home, we get by. My PPA is nothing like it used to be and I am feeling a little like myself again. I still have my moments, but I feel equipped to handle them now.

Coronavirus did something for me that it probably didn’t do for a lot of other mothers. It helped.