When my daughter was born in 2010, nothing went as planned. I had an uncomfortable pregnancy with morning sickness that lasted all day and the entire pregnancy as well as constant fatigue. I was teaching at the time so I had the summer off. I returned to work in August. After my first day of teaching, I had an appointment with my OB that evening and I told him how I think I passed my mucus plug. He shrugged me off as not knowing what I was talking about because I was a new mom. That night my water broke in bed. My daughter that I wished, prayed and hoped for was coming six weeks earlier than planned.
After she was born, I had to go home without her because she needed a feeding tube. That night the nurse in the NICU neglected her. She had two babies to watch but she didn’t watch mine. In the morning, a wonderful nurse named Tanya found my angel of a baby thrashing and crying with an IV infiltrate in her ankle. The ankle is commonplace for an infant to have an IV since they have such small veins. The hospital was putting in a protein to help nourish my baby. Well the IV wasn’t in her vein and her leg was red, swollen and the skin around the IV burned.
I remember not sleeping that night at home.
I remember the doctor in the NICU pulling us aside with tears in her eyes before we could see our daughter.
I remember trying to swallow the information about the injury.
Trying to comprehend.
Trying to make sense of it all.
I remember making the choice to have my daughter transferred to another hospital.
She went by ambulance. I remember my husband driving us.
I remember the nice social worker who offered us a stay at the Ronald McDonald House.
I remember telling my husband that if my daughter died I would kill myself.
I remember pumping milk in sterile pumping stations.
I remember the parenting classes at the NICU that scared me.
I remember being prepared to have a sickly child.
I remember being prepared to have a child who would be a slow learner.
I remember being in the NICU from opening to closing.
I remember my daughter’s skin graft surgery and again fearing losing her.
In the midst of this, I remember the vision of my grandfather and a man I did not know, coming to visit my daughter in the NICU. I remember them holding her and telling me how beautiful she was. That is when I realized my grandmother who was more of a mother than my actual mother had died. And the man was my husband’s deceased grandfather who I had never met.
I remember finally taking my daughter home after two and a half weeks that stretched into years that aged me.
I remember the first day home, how she choked in her sleep and I had to call 911. I remember riding in the ambulance back to the local hospital that almost killed her.
And then I didn’t sleep. I didn’t really live. I became afraid to leave the house but also afraid to take her out. I felt afraid all the time. I thought at any moment she could die. She seemed so fragile so tiny.
I started seeing a therapist and was written off from work. In my absence, many of the other female teachers formed negative opinions of me. They thought I couldn’t balance family and teaching. They thought I was a bad teacher. They passed judgment out of their own guilt of being a working mom.
My therapist told me I was suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder but also had generalized anxiety. He said my mind associated sleep with my child being in danger so that is why I didn’t sleep. He prescribed me pills that deadened me and made me feel less. My husband talks about how the pills made it so I never laughed.
I eventually went back to work, I found a way to be somewhat normal but I never stopped fearing for her safety. The fear didn’t go away.
Fear is anxiety. Anxiety is fear.
Now I am in a different space. I do not live in fear or even have anxiety. I have used the tools of mindfulness to change my mind, heart, and life. My daughter is strong, healthy and smart. My son’s birth was “normal” and he came right home with me. Mothers who have postpartum anxiety, I write this for you.
I understand your embarrassment and shame about not enjoying the newness of motherhood.
I understand your frustration with yourself and how you feel angry with your mind and its patterns.
I understand how motherhood has only exasperated what you already feared was “wrong” with you.
I understand your jealousy of social media moms who are glowing and “normal.”
Now that I have been through it, I offer some ideas for you.
Tools for Postpartum Anxiety
To start your postpartum anxiety healing, I recommend seeing a therapist and if you want to be on meds, do so without shame. Yes, mine deadened me but I am unsure if I could have got back to my life without them. If you have a parenting partner or other family you trust then I recommend confiding in them about your feelings so that you are not alone and you lessen your shame. I also recommend incorporating the following mindfulness techniques:
I recommend keeping a real journal. One that no one will see and that you may want to dispose of later. A journal that you write down all your raw emotions, fears and thoughts just to get them out of your head.
I recommend starting each morning reminding yourself of some things you are grateful for as a way of shifting your mind. For example, I am grateful to be a mom. I am grateful for my healthy baby. I am grateful for the sleep I got. I am grateful for the help I receive.
Anxiety is the opposite of meditation. It creates constant thoughts that you never get a break from. I liken it to a siren going off in my head. Meditation creates space between the thoughts and allows you a break from them.
Internalize that you are not your thoughts
You are not your thoughts, you are the divine spark that thinks them but they are not you.
Yoga, good yoga, is not about yoga booties or losing the baby weight. It is about connecting the mind and the body and learning how to breathe. When we are in a constant state of fear we are not breathing and our bodies are constantly tense. Yoga helps undo the damage anxiety does.
Give yourself grace
Forgive yourself every day, several times a day if you need to. Forgive yourself for anything you think a “good” mom does that you do not do. Forgive yourself for being unable to breastfeed. Forgive yourself for not losing the baby weight. Forgive yourself for struggling.
Do things that make you happy
A new baby makes it so you have less time to do what you love, but they sleep a lot. What is something you can do as your baby sleeps? Binge-watch a show you like? Read a book? You will not be able to do all the chores so just let that go and find something you enjoy doing each day.
Ask for help
Ask family or hire someone to come help you with your baby so that you can do the things I have mentioned above. And if you can’t get that help: pray. Even if you aren’t receiving the help, the simple act of handing it over to someone else will make you feel better. A healthy mom is what’s best for you and your baby.