She wasn't sick; I was.
She is going to get a cold and there will be nothing you can do.
She is going to starve in her sleep, wake her up.
She is going to stop breathing in her carseat, sit in the back with her.
She is going to be kidnapped, stay home.
You cannot be alone with her, because you won't know how to save her.
She is going to get sick, she is going to get sick, she is going to get SICK…
She wasn’t sick, I was. I am; I have postpartum anxiety.
Have you ever had a night terror that feels real? Living with PPA is a nightmare that does not stop; it spirals and grows. It’s the real life experience of falling in a dream with nowhere to land.
The first couple weeks postpartum are a hormonal roller coaster known as the post baby blues. It is normal to cry for no reason and stare in awe at your baby for hours. It is typical to feel as though your heart is physically breaking when she is across the room, it is even common to miss her when she is in your arms; to feel as if she is not close enough because you are no longer attached. Fears, sometimes irrational are normal. Intrusive thoughts are also part of meeting your newborn and the hormones that accompany her. However, when the fears start to dictate your life, you distance yourself from people who love you or your intrusive thoughts start to flourish into plans of running away, it is more than the blues and you should seek help.
I have heard of postpartum depression, but I felt like something else needed to be addressed. Although I felt I was undeserving of this beautiful life, I was not depressed. I was terrified of absolutely everything. How did I deserve to experience a love this strong, when only two years prior I was “never having children”? I was certain something was going to take her away from me, that my time with her was limited. My fear made us prisoner to our home, our safe space. I wanted to run with her to keep her from everyone and anything that could harm her. Going to the grocery store was no longer a chore, it appeared life-threatening.
For the first week of her life I did not change a single diaper nor did I dress her. I so badly wanted to care for her that I had convinced myself that I would break her. Her first bath was a nightmare. Even though there was no obvious reason, no sign of imminent danger, I looked on, feeling helpless, sobbing. I graphically imagined that the nurses were going to drown her, hit her head off something or drop her. Following the tears: self-loathing. When I attempted to dress her I was immediately aware of my clumsiness, lack of finesse and the distinct fact that I had no clue what I was doing. This tiny human whom I loved more than I could comprehend deserved confidence, poise, motherly instincts; qualities I feared I lacked. I felt unworthy; she would be better off raised by her dad. His transition into fatherhood was graceful and intimidating. I refused to bathe her on my own until she was almost three months old; she could sense my discomfort. It was the first and only time she cried during a bath. I also cried, not a few tears, deep bellows. The image of the broken woman sitting on the bathroom floor wanting nothing more than her own mom to save her, while simultaneously wanting to be alone with her baby, will always be etched in my mind.
As debilitating as my fear of bathing her was, nothing compares to the overwhelming panic of the possibility of her getting sick, despite knowing it’s inevitable, I am terrified. I feel as if I can see germs; I picture little bugs crawling all over her skin after being in public and all I want is to bathe her, in Purel. Conveniently my brain chose this time in my life to open the vault of news images of babies covered in cold sores, dying from otherwise eradicated diseases and resurfacing my hypochondriac tendencies.
I was in denial of my condition for some time. I started to notice there was a problem when I would not allow anyone, except her dad, hold her. I even lashed out at my mom for wanting to hold her. I wanted others to “scrub in” before coming near her. I realized I could no longer pass off my fears as those of a “new mom” the day I washed my two month old’s hands over the sink at the doctor's office, while naively trying to convince my doctor, my boyfriend, and myself that I was okay. It took me two weeks, two follow-up appointments, days of intrusive thoughts and uncontrollable crying to realize the severity of my anxiety: I needed help. I needed something to put my anxieties to sleep and reawaken my happy. I started taking medication just over 2 months ago and have noticed a huge difference in my behavior, my confidence, and in the way I approach my fears.
Mental illness does not reserve itself for convenient moments, or for moments when you are alone. My most recent episodes happened in front of family, friends and strangers… Although extremely embarrassed, I was quickly reassured that mental illness does not define me. People who love me are not mad at my hesitation, crying or numerous questions; rather concerned and empathetic.
For her to be healthy, her mom must be healthy. Changes will be made when a mother and baby are born, but they should not be negative changes that control your life. Being a mom is scary, you do not however, need to live in fear.
She did get sick, she coughed for two days... She’s okay, and so am I.