This Was My Postpartum Anxiety Breaking Point
When my daughter turned a month old, I wanted to give her away. Not because I didn’t love her; I love her deeply. But because postpartum depression and anxiety convinced me I wasn’t the best one to be taking care of her.
We had tried for years to get pregnant, struggling with failed attempts, working with a fertility specialist. All we wanted was a healthy baby. Finally, on March 26, 2019, we had a beautiful, healthy baby girl. I had this vision in my head of what kind of mother I wanted to be, what being a mother would look like for me. I was as confident as a person can be about my abilities to take care of her. I honestly had very little fear about how much my life was going to change.
My confidence was shattered when my husband, Greg, went back to work. He’d been home with us for the first month of her life and we were a great team, tagging each other in and out to take care of her and our home. We’d settled into a real routine of partnership. Then, suddenly, he was gone 10 hours a day and it was all on me—every feeding, every diaper change, every time she cried.
I felt trapped. I would fixate on her to an unhealthy degree, constantly staring at her, watching her breathe, because what if she stopped? It would be my fault. Counting the minutes until she needed to eat again, because crying is a late hunger sign and if I didn’t feed her before she cried or exactly every two hours, I was failing her. Repeatedly checking her diaper to see if she needed to be changed. Not wanting her to sit a moment in a soiled one, lest I be called bad mom.
I agonized over when I would eat, several times barely managing to eat once a day, because if I were in the kitchen making food or eating my focus wasn’t 100% on her, so I was a bad mom. Could I take a shower? No. She’d be alone. She can’t ever be alone. If she choked while feeding or spit up after it was because I’d done something wrong while feeding her. If she got a bit of diaper rash, it was because I didn’t change her diaper fast enough or often enough.
I was terrified. Terrified I was going to hurt her in some way. That I’d kill her accidentally. I was stuck in an anxiety loop, an awful roller coaster of fear that I couldn’t get off. Sure, there would be moments when the ride would slow, but I was still strapped in, waiting on the edge of that hill for the world to fall out from under me.
I met my breaking point one Saturday. My husband had gone to work, and we were alone, again. I’d fed her and was carrying her around, shushing her. She was fussy, likely from gas, and suddenly she projectile puked right into my face. We were both dirty. We were both crying. I cleaned us up as best I could and tried to go about my day. I attempted to watch a TV show while she slept, but I couldn’t concentrate. I felt like I had to be doing something, that sitting wasn’t allowed.
My internal dialogue was constantly shaming me. “You need to be washing her clothes or bottles or pumping—you know if you don’t pump enough you have to give her formula, breast milk is better, why would you be so lazy you can’t pump to feed her?” I tried taking us out for a walk with our dog. “What if a car comes around the corner and hits us? What if the dog runs off and we can’t run after him? What if we trip and fall while she’s strapped to your chest in this carrier? What if she can’t breathe in this carrier? What if it breaks and she falls out the bottom?” These intrusive thoughts were neverending.
I’d called my husband that day, crying, feeling so scared and overwhelmed. I don’t remember exactly what we talked about, but I felt better afterward, and I decided to give us both a bath. I got her situated in the bathroom and hopped in the shower, leaving the curtain open so I could still see her. Then I turned the water down and pulled her in with me to rinse her off too—we’d both been spit up on and outside in the heat of the day, were both sticky, and I was sure getting us both clean would make us feel better. We even took a selfie wrapped in our towels and sent it to Greg saying, “We had a bath!” I felt good. I felt like I was finally doing something right. I was finally taking care of her. I could do this!
I laid her on the bed to put her diaper on, and she turned her head and coughed up water. I was instantly filled with panic and dread. I was convinced she’d swallowed so much water into her lungs, she was going to dry drown. I called Greg in a panic, I called my parents in a panic, I even called her pediatrician at 9:00 PM on a Saturday night. I was Googling the signs of dry drowning, despite that fact that everyone assured me she was fine. I was sure she was going to die. That I’d finally done it—I’d killed her. I didn’t even want to tell anyone I took her in the shower with me. I lied initially, even to my husband, and said that I’d given her a bath in the sink. I was sure that my taking her into the shower was going to kill her and it’d be my fault and they’d think I’d done it on purpose because my brain was so messed up. What kind of horrible mother takes their one-month-old baby into the shower?
When Greg came home from work, he took her from me, and I couldn’t stop crying. I’d ask him every five minutes if she was okay. My anxiety-rattled brain refused to believe that she was fine. I called my parents and asked them to come be with us the next day. I no longer trusted myself to be alone with her. I spent that entire night watching her breathe. Every time I nodded off to sleep, I’d wake in a panic, thinking she’d died while I slept.
That next morning my parents showed up. I passed her off to my Dad and he sent me back to bed. They spent the next few days taking care of both of us, making sure that I ate and went outside for a walk, that I called my doctor for help and medication. By Monday morning, I was convinced they were the ones who were really meant to take care of her. That it’d better for her if she just went home with them. That she would be better off without me. After all, I’d almost drowned her in the shower. The rest of my family took shifts for the next two weeks, coming to spend the days with me while Greg was working. They’d make me go take naps, eat, shower. They’d make sure she was well taken care of.
I went to a therapist. She told me by the time she saw me the next week she was confident I’d be feeling better, that the medication just needed time to work. At that moment, I didn’t believe her. I was still stuck on that roller coaster. The ride had slowed, but I was still in that dark tunnel, inching toward the next hill.
The days went by and each day I felt a bit better. I used the techniques that the therapist taught me. I went for walks. I made sure to eat and sleep. I went back to my gym. I got out of the house every day, even if it meant lugging her into a store for a quick errand. I joined local moms’ groups and made myself get out there to meet them, which was a whole other set of anxieties for my introverted, Anxiety Blob self. It was hard, incredibly hard. But I did it.
My daughter is two months old now and we’ve got a good routine. She’s currently sleeping through the night, and after I get some work done during the day, we go out for play dates or errands at least a few times a week. We even go to visit Greg at work, because waking up, getting dressed, and getting out of the house regularly helps break up the long hours during the day when we’re alone.
I finally believe deep in my heart that I am the best person to take care of her. I still have moments when I feel like I’m on the top of that hill, but I know that even if I fall, my family will be there to catch me.
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