Recently, I started planning my youngest’s first birthday party. It is wild for me to think that, in less than a month, the two of us will have reached this huge milestone in our lives. For him, it means he'll achieve more independence. Walking and talking are right around the corner. For me, it means I’ll be getting more sleep, breastfeeding less often, and getting some of my own independence back as well.
As much as I am looking forward to his birthday, I am also feeling some frustration and disappointment that is difficult to express. I have three children, and I have loved everything about having newborn babies in our home. I love each of my children with all of my being, and I know that the first year of life is something to be celebrated. But I haven’t loved who I have been during the first year of each of my kids’ lives.
I have struggled with postpartum depression (PPD) and anxiety (PPA) and it has only seemed to intensify with the birth of each child. As much as I have hoped the end of my son’s first year would bring some relief from my intense postpartum anxiety, I don’t think that will be the case this time around. I’m not a new mom anymore, but I still have anxiety, and that has been really hard for me to accept.
The fact of the matter is, I’m not bouncing back from my anxiety as quickly I have in the past. After the births of my first two children, I crashed hard, but I was steadily on the mend as each month of their first year passed. I would wake up one morning and realize I hadn’t sat awake obsessing about this and that, or I would slide into my chair at our dinner table and realize I had managed to make it through the day without slamming a door or letting panic take the reins. These were signs I was returning to my normal self, that the steps I was taking toward personal wellness were working to heal my mind.
Realizing I'm not any less anxious than I was a year ago is honestly heartbreaking.
This time around, though, I keep looking for clues that things are getting better. I keep watching for the signs that I am on the mend. Realizing that my son's birthday is just around the corner and I'm not any less anxious than I was a year ago is honestly heartbreaking.
Here’s the thing: I’ve been taking medication for my postpartum anxiety and depression, along with therapy prescribed by my physician. Those two things have done a lot of good. They have brought my anxiety to a more manageable baseline level for the time being. But if I’m being perfectly honest, I had hoped the medication would be a temporary fix. I had hoped I could stop refilling my prescription each month, that I would be well enough to manage the challenges of motherhood without extra help, but that hasn’t been the case.
In a way, as I pack up the last of my son's 9-month clothing and rip tags from his new 12-month onesies and sleepers, it feels like he is moving on and I’m not. It feels as if I have stalled somewhere during the last 12 months. In all of my time spent caring for him and his sisters, guiding them into their next milestones and experiences, I stopped growing and adapting alongside him.
I’m tired, I’m anxious, and honestly, I’m desperate to feel like myself again.
I’ve hit a snag in my healing process. I’m not getting better. I’m not feeling more rested or more whole. Honestly, I’m not even sure it is postpartum anxiety anymore. I think it started that way, sure, but I'm also straight-up worn down from the last five years of my life. Carrying babies and giving birth, working and raising babies, and not sleeping night after night have taken their toll. I’m tired, I’m anxious, and honestly, I’m desperate to feel like myself again.
When I think of getting back to who I used to be, I realize that it's an impossibility. My old self doesn’t exist anymore. Motherhood has changed me. I’m not ashamed of this person I have become, but I’m more sensitive than I used to be. I’m more prone to worry and exhaustion, to feeling overwhelmed and worn down. I am no longer capable of gritting my teeth and powering through whatever is next. I have been so responsive to my children’s changing needs, while neglecting to acknowledge that my needs have been changing, too. I need more care and I need more rest than I used to and I owe it to myself to do what it takes to get it.
I doubt I will ever say I am grateful for my postpartum anxiety and it’s extended presence in my life, because it has been one of the harder things I have faced in my life. I can see, however, how this experience has forced me to change for the better. For the first time in my life, feeling trapped in a cycle of restlessness and fear is requiring me to take my own mental health seriously, because the way I choose to care for myself today will directly influence my healing process over the next few months or years, as I grow and change alongside my children.
If you struggle with postpartum depression or anxiety, please seek professional help or call the Postpartum Support International helpline at 1.800.944.4773.