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 car seat; 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 postpartum anxiety 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 just 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 them. 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 had 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 on something, or drop her. Following the tears came 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 being raised by her dad. His transition into fatherhood was graceful and intimidating. I refused to bathe her on my own until she was almost 3 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, but 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 can compare to my overwhelming panic at 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 Purell. 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, to 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 2-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 happiness. I started taking medication just over two months ago and have noticed a huge improvement in my behavior, my confidence, and 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. And while I was 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, they are concerned and empathetic.
For my daughter to be healthy, her mom must be healthy. Of course, changes are normal when you have a baby, but they should not be negative changes that take over your life. Being a mom can certainly be scary, but you do not need to live in fear.
My daughter did get sick, by the way. She coughed for two days.
She’s okay, and so am I.