I will always remember what it felt like to have postpartum anxiety. There was a constant montage of potential horrors facing my child streaming through my mind: kidnapping, sudden death, car crashes, suffocation, a million different stories I'd read on the internet. I will always remember the time I woke up in the middle of the night and placed my hand on my son’s chest, unable to detect him breathing, shaking my husband awake, screaming and screaming until the baby finally woke too, startled by my panic. I remember being afraid, all the time. Sometimes it was a deep undercurrent of fear, other times it bubbled to the surface, leaving me crying and incapacitated for no discernible reason. I also remember wondering if anyone else had ever felt like this before, if anyone would ever see me and understand. To moms with PPA, I see you. I understand.
I know how lonely it feels, like you are carrying the weight of the entire world on your shoulders. I know what it feels like to constantly battle against your own mind, trying to convince yourself that everything is going to be OK when everything inside you is screaming that it won’t be. That voice in your head that is constantly whispering about all the things that could go wrong...I know that voice. I know it so well.
I know what it feels like to put your baby down in hopes of relaxing, only to find yourself filled with dread the moment you start to unwind. What if he suddenly covered his face with a blanket, or rolled into the corner of the crib where he cannot breathe? What if some ghoulish child-stealing monster from that 20/20 episode you watched one time came crawling through the window of the nursery, taking him away forever? What if?
I wish I had understood that suffering through my anxiety wasn’t necessarily a sign of strength or something to be proud of.
I know how many questions constantly play in the back of your mind. I know that sometimes, you're plagued by a quiet feeling of existential dread that's difficult to place. Other times, it’s a siren that's ringing in your ear, playing out every last detail of an imagined tragedy. But no matter what, that anxiety is always there.
So you go into the room where your baby is napping. You crawl as close as you can to see if they’re breathing, but you either don’t see their chests rising and falling, or you think that your eyes might be playing tricks on you. So you put a hand on them to see if you can feel their breath beneath your fingertips, and if you’re lucky you can, and if you’re unlucky they wake up, and either way is better than sitting outside the door, letting them nap while you burst into tears because of the anxiety of all the horrible things that might happen when you aren’t looking.
I know how hard it is to enjoy your child in the midst of all the anxiety. I know how difficult it is to find true joy when you are relentlessly worrying and replaying every terrible, heartbreaking story you’ve ever heard in your head, imagining it is happening to you, to your baby. I know it’s something that can’t be reasoned away, even though people will try to convince you otherwise. It does not matter how many times your concerns are dismissed as wildly improbable and completely unrealistic. The fear is real, and heart-stopping, and ready to strike at any moment.
I know how hard it is to enjoy your child in the midst of all the anxiety. I know how difficult it is to find true joy when you are relentlessly worrying and replaying every terrible, heartbreaking story you’ve ever heard in your head.
To moms struggling with PPA, I see you, and I want to tell you you’re not alone, and never should be during this time. I want to tell you what I wish I had known when it happened to me. I wish I hadn’t written off my anxiety as the inevitable nerves of a new mom. I wish I had taken it seriously enough to go see a doctor, to demand a more thorough explanation than “new mom jitters.” I wish I had understood that suffering through my anxiety wasn’t necessarily a sign of strength or something to be proud of.
I wish I had realized PPA wasn’t something I could merely “get over” if only I had a stronger will. It cast a dark shadow over a time in my life that should have been filled with light - and I wish I had dealt with it instead of sweeping it under the rug, waiting for it to eventually pass. Even though it dissipated over time, I let it rule my life for far too long, and I really wish I hadn’t. I hope you don’t do the same.
If you think you are struggling with postpartum anxiety, seek professional help or contact Postpartum Support International (PSI) at 1.800.944.4773.