Having a baby forces you to confront the good, the bad, and the ugly about yourself. For me, that meant facing the ever-present cloud of anxiety hanging over everything I did and every decision I made. I had ways of managing the anxiety through medication and therapy, but pregnancy set me back and things I once counted on for relief no longer worked. Everything changed, except the overwhelming nature of my anxiety, and that spawned even more anxiety, perpetuating the cycle. So I think there are things only new moms with anxiety really understand, and I can confidently say I know from experience.
My anxiety and I have been together for as long as I can remember. Through the years there have been a few different things that helped drive a wedge between us so I can breath, but for the most part I've learned to live with it. I didn't think about how it might affect my parenting, though, until my daughter was born. So I was somewhat taken aback when I didn't want to leave the house, or let other people hold her. I was afraid to put her in her crib to sleep, almost convinced she'd stop breathing. And before I knew it, anything triggered the anxiety. A knock on the door. My partner coming home late from work. My crying baby. It consumed me, and fed off the fact that I didn't know how to be a mother.
While my anxiety is still very much a part of my life, I eventually learned to manage it and parent at the same time. I still remember being a new mom and having such high levels of anxiety I couldn't tame, though. In fact, I'd argue that I remember it all too well. Friends didn't understand and my family was dumbfounded. My own partner was clueless, and I don't think I can blame him. After all, anxiety is a difficult thing to explain all on its own, and as a new mom it made me seem erratic, irrational, tense, and stressed for no obvious reason. And though anxiety manifests differently for everyone, here are some of the things I think only new moms with anxiety can understand:
Those new mom jitters really set in once you lay your little on down to sleep. With all the worries over Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), I had a difficult time leaving my daughter in another room alone. Even with the monitor, it felt like the only solution was for me to sleep alongside her, or stay up all night staring at her face or checking on her every five minutes. My partner didn't carry the same fear, either, so I was alone in my anxiety over something that shouldn't be such an issue.
First of all, leaving the house is, in its own right, a terrifying experience. You never know what could happen when you get behind the wheel of a car or walk around a mall or even drop your kid off at school. You don't know what's in store when you're out in public.
So, yes, when my anxiety told me that leaving my home with my baby was dangerous, I believed it.
You'd think I'd have wanted someone to take the baby off my hands, but that just wasn't the case. While I did long for breaks, and maybe a little time to myself, whenever someone asked if they could hold my baby I just cringed. I couldn't help but think of someone dropping her or tripping and falling with her in their arms or giving her some incurable disease.
As a new mom, my biggest fear was failure. In fact, it still is. I just don't want to let my kids down.
But when I was brand new at this whole mom thing, I didn't know how to be a parent, and my own parents weren't the best examples. All that fear eventually manifested into my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) because it allowed me to feel like I had everything under control, even if I didn't. I could make sure the bottle was the right temperature by checking it often. I could ensure my baby didn't get a diaper rash by changing her as many times as my mind told me I had to.
I so appreciated anyone who came over with a hot meal, or an offer to do the dishes, or anything else I wouldn't have to think about. But my anxiety didn't always love other people injecting themselves into routines I was trying to establish, no matter how helpful it would've been to me in the long run. Maybe they'd put the groceries away wrong, or fold the laundry in the wrong shapes. Whatever it was, my anxiety didn't want the help. If anything, it forced me to do everything myself.
It's one thing to leave the house and get in a car alone. I hated it. But preparing the baby to join me, along with all the things she needed, took me solid hour (or more). By the time we hit the road, I was already so over it. Not just because she was probably crying, but my anxiety didn't want to drive with her crying and in traffic. For what — a quick visit to the store? No, thank you.
The milestones always tripped me up. My baby was always long and thin, and had jaundice for awhile after birth. When she didn't eat enough or sleep well, I worried. When she wasn't growing the way I thought she should, I worried. When she did, or didn't do, basically anything, I worried. I was, as you could have probably guessed by now, constantly worried.
Nothing — and I repeat, nothing — triggered my anxiety more than hearing my baby cry. One moment in particular still haunts me. My partner and I had tried everything — feeding, swaddling, burping, changing, pleading with the sky— and our daughter just continued to wail. The sound of her screams made my heart race. Like, why couldn't I fix it for her? Something must be wrong with me, right? I mean, this means I'm a bad mom. I've failed.
All that frustration, and all that self-doubt, reminded me of how powerful my anxiety was, and that, regardless of how hard I tried to be a good mom, there'd always be times when I wouldn't be able to fix everything. And that, my friends, is a lesson I am still trying to learn.
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