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Dear Moms With Anxiety: I See You

Dear Anxious Moms,

They say that when you have a child, your heart goes walking around outside your body. You know this truth so well. And you know that with it comes an abiding fear like no other in your lifetime. The galloping thrum of your heart has become a familiar rhythm. You cry. You’ve taken to biting your lips or gnawing your cuticles or tapping your toes or chewing your fingernails right down to the quick, because you're constantly obsessing over your children's safety

I want you anxious moms to know that I see you, and you are not alone. In fact, nearly a third of women will experience an anxiety disorder in their lifetime. You are the 1 in 3. You are the fighter of fear, the gazer into the face of sheer terror. You live in a constant state of dread, but know that you are a stronger mother because of it.

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Maybe your anxiety is relatively mild. Maybe you just spend a little bit too much time worrying and not enough living in the moment with your child. Or maybe you struggle with intrusive thoughts. Maybe you are like the mother who constantly worries if her child will drown in the tub. Or maybe you're like me before I was diagnosed with postpartum anxiety, when I was worried that my baby’s head would fall off. Please know that while these big, bad thoughts might be scary, they do not make you a bad mother. Worrying about bad things happening doesn't mean you will act on them.

If you are struggling with these thoughts and you have just given birth, you might be one of the estimated 10-15% of women who struggle with a postpartum mood disorder. You are not alone. You have so many sisters in anxiety, sisters in worry, sisters in pain. You are part of our communities. You are part of our mom groups, our La Leche Leagues, our Stroller Strides and our birth-month cadres.

Panic mode is where you live, your heart always on the edge of beating too fast, your head always clinging to the cliff of what if.

You might feel overwhelmed, like you’ll never be able to do this mothering thing. Just the seemingly simple act of caring for an infant is petrifying. You might be staggered by the sheer immensity of your baby’s needs, and doubtful that you’ll ever be able to meet them without losing yourself. Because of this, you might feel guilty. Other moms seem to be doing fine, you think. Other moms are happy and relaxed.

You might think your baby deserves better than you. Please, please know that she doesn't. You are an amazing mother and no matter how you are feeling at this moment, you are more than capable of giving her everything she needs. We see you, and we know you are struggling with an illness, the same as a broken wrist or diabetes, and you have to take care of yourself. Remember: you have to put on your oxygen mask before you can help others. And you, my dear, are in dire need of some oxygen.

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Maybe you feel sadness. Maybe you feel hopelessness: is this all there is? Will it be like this forever? This hopelessness crashes down at odd moments: when you’re washing bottles for the third time in one day, when your baby has been screaming for so long you’ve lost all sense of time; when you just can’t stuff that little arm into that sleeve. This is hard stuff. In fact, this is some of the hardest stuff you will ever have to deal with. But you will get through it. We see you. We are here.

Anxiety sucks. Anxiety sucks even more when you have children clinging to you, depending on you, these small creatures who would expire if left in the middle of the floor for too long. It’s enough to spiral anyone into panic mode. And panic mode is where you live, your heart always on the edge of beating too fast, your head always clinging to the cliff of what if. This is where you live, with your anger and your hopelessness and your intrusive thoughts, with your blankness and your terror and your panic attacks. We see you. We know you. And we are here to hold your hand and walk you through the darkness, toward the light. Because it does get better. The light is there. We promise.

If you struggle with anxiety or depression, please seek professional help or contact Postpartum Support International (PSI) at 1-800-944-4773.