Postpartum Anxiety: When Motherhood Is Terrifying

by Hope Eaton
Originally Published: 

Do I look terrified in that picture? I don’t remember now if I was terrified or not, the medications given post C-section (and during) are no joke. I remember thinking the food in the hospital was the most delicious food I had ever eaten. I ate the same food a few weeks later. Apparently, pain meds give me the munchies.

I knew I was overwhelmed and a little scared. I assumed the only sane response to being responsible for two newborns was terror. What if I did this wrong? What if I damaged them forever? What if they grew up to be Dallas Cowboys fans? The struggle is real, folks.

Looking back, I should have known something wasn’t right when a couple of days post-delivery, I yelled at a nurse, flipped out on three family members and had a panic attack that was only solved by my doctor sitting on the floor in my room and holding my hand, and my dad taking me for a walk to get coffee. I assumed it was hormones and I would be fine. I was so very wrong.

I was worried I would be depressed. I knew the signs for that. I knew what to do if I got sad. I was not even aware that it would be anxiety that hijacked any joy I had in being a mother.

Many things were glaring signs in hindsight, but at the time, I just kept doing what I had to do to survive the day. I scrubbed 20 bottles every day by hand and had to have them assembled and lined up just right or I believed something would go horribly wrong. I would get worried we would run out of formula if there were less than three giant tubs unopened in the cabinet. One tub would last about four days. I am not sure what kind of crisis would have kept us from being able to get more food within 12 days, but the fear was real.

When I left the boys in the truck with my boyfriend to make a quick run into the store for formula one day, I came out and could not see the truck immediately. Within seconds, I was having a full-blown panic attack with tears streaming down my face while fearing that something had happened or that my boyfriend had run off with the boys and left me there. In reality, he had just pulled over to the side of the store to wait.

I would not leave the house to go to Target without 10 diapers and four bottles. That was enough for at least eight hours. I have no idea what I thought would happen to keep us at Target for that long, but I believed something would if I didn’t take them.

As the boys grew, the anxiety changed. I stopped being terrified of them starving only to be terrified that they were behind developmentally and were going to be hindered by my subpar parenting. They weren’t talking or walking when we went for a well check at 15 months. That couldn’t be right. Sure enough, they were behind. They were behind enough to qualify for our state’s early intervention program.

I believed had failed as a mom. I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing. I felt like an imposter. No one could be this horrible of a parent. I am a smart girl and had no idea what to do with my own kids.

The boys were 2-years-old before I finally admitted that reality and my perception were not lining up. I wasted two years being immobilized by fear and overwhelmed by any change in routine or a new stage.

If this sounds familiar, do not wait two years. Do not be afraid to admit something is wrong. You have not failed. You are not a bad mom. Body chemistry is weird. You can get help. You are not alone. In fact, studies are finding that postpartum anxiety is much more prevalent than the much wider understood postpartum depression.

Know that you are not alone. I have received some amazing help and have come so far in just a few months. The first step of admitting I needed my doctor’s help was the hardest. Guess what? He did not think I was crazy or a bad mom. He did not think I was lazy or weird. He understood. He walked me through my options for treatment and offered his help.

You can get through this. A trip to the mall does not have to take seven hours of planning and three bags. A cough does not mean your child will die. A bump on the head is really not likely to be fatal.

Now my boys are thriving. They are funny and curious and smart. I’m still worried they’ll be Dallas fans. But I can’t control everything, and I am OK with that.

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