Some of the worst parts of pregnancy and childbirth occur long after you grow and bring your baby into the world. Personally, and even though my pregnancy, labor, and delivery were already mind-numbingly difficult, I encountered some intense things when I confronted my postpartum anxiety. Some of those intense things I experienced presented themselves almost immediately after my baby was born. Others, however, didn't bother me until I was sitting with my baby, alone, weeks after giving birth and leaving the hospital.
When I was postpartum, I spent the majority of my time with my baby alone, while my partner spent the majority of his time working. As a result, it was hard to decipher whether or not some feelings I had were "normal," or if I had a real problem I needed to seek help for and treat. In fact, it wasn't until I felt so out of control with anxiety and depression that I could no longer function during the day, that I decided to take the steps necessary to feel better.
I've always been an anxious person. Some of my earliest memories involve worrying and playing the awful "what if?" game. I come from a long line of worriers so, honestly, my chances of being anything else were slim to none. However, after my pregnancy my anxiety and depression catapulted into terrifying new territory. Feelings I used to be able to control were now relentless and unmanageable. So, with that in mind and because, as a society, we don't talk about the realities of post-baby life enough, here are some of the things I wasn't ready for when I finally decided to confront my postpartum anxiety:
How Difficult It Was To Admit
My postpartum anxiety snuck up on me. By the time I felt lost and overwhelmed, I was too embarrassed to acknowledge I had a problem I couldn't fix on my own. When you're so used to being the one in charge of everything — the one the household looks to — it's difficult to admit you're overwhelmed and need help.
How Emotionally Exhausted I Felt
Fatigue, headaches, irritation, and and never feeling like I could ever do enough or be enough, all set in prior to my diagnosis. All these signs pointed to postpartum anxiety, and yet, I wasn't ready to confront it. I thought I'd get through it "naturally" and it'd pass if I just let it run its course. I was so very wrong. I needed help so I could, at the very least, sleep and get through my days without physical pain that had manifested from my internal panic.
How Much Time It Would Steal From Me
The thing about anxiety is, it's time-consuming. I spent a lot of wasted energy thinking and worrying about things I had no control over (and some things I did have control over). If I'd have confronted my postpartum anxiety sooner, I'd have had more time for my baby, my partner, and myself.
How Many Additional Feelings Would Surface
Confrontation with anything is like the 12-step program. Once I realized I needed help, and actually sought treatment and support, all these other feelings surfaced. Fear of failing. Anger for wasting so much time. Acceptance I couldn't fix it alone. Even forgiveness. I had to come to terms with the fact that I'd just had a baby, I wasn't perfect, and then I had to learn how to forgive myself for things I previously tortured myself for. If I hadn't, I'd still be stuck in that anxiety loop. Probably, forever.
The Lonely I'd Feel
At the time of my first birth, I had only my partner (who, as I said, worked a lot). My family was in another state and visited as often as they could, while my partner's family didn't live too close, either. The truth is, even when family helped out, sometimes I didn't feel supported. Hormones played a part in that, but so does the fact that I spent most of my time alone with my baby. My partner did the best he could, but when it came down to it, it was just me and my postpartum anxiety.
How Much I'd Be Tested
Confronting my anxiety wasn't easy at any point. It tested me in uncomfortable ways I hadn't prepared myself for. Going to therapy, taking different medications that had awful side effects, and sticking with treatments even when I wanted to quit, all forced me to really think about how much I wanted to feel better.
How Much Work It Was
Yes, confronting, and dealing with, postpartum anxiety is a lot of work. Then again, simply having postpartum anxiety is a lot of work. I'd wake up most days drained before the day even started. My nerves were shot by noon and, in the evening, it was as though I'd fought a war I couldn't win all day. Looking back, perhaps that's exactly what I was doing: fighting a war our society has never truly felt comfortable addressing.
Anything worth it in life is going to be work, and while I didn't expect the feelings to be so intense when I finally dealt with the anxiety, I'm so glad I did.