My Experience with Postpartum Anxiety

It’s been a while, I mean a long while, since I’ve written a blog post. In all honestly, I’m just trying to keep my head above water right now being a full-time working Mom, dealing with the change of having my daughter in daycare (and all the fun colds that come with that…), and managing our schedules with a husband who travels most weeks. But something has been heavy on my heart lately, and that’s how mom life is perceived as just this beautiful, Instagram worthy image all the time. I’m just as much to blame as the next person for pretty much only posting our best moments, it feels way too vulnerable and raw most of the time to post about the bad stuff. And truthfully, until I get through the hard times, it’s challenging for me to even write about them because I don’t have the full perspective. I’m the type of person that when I’m in a challenging situation, I’m pretty much consumed by it. It’s only when enough time passes that I can look back and see the purpose of why I went through those moments. So, I try to remind myself now that things happen for a reason, and there is nothing God is putting in front of me that I can’t handle even if some days it feels like I’m drowning.

But this post is about my experience those first few months after I had my daughter, Madelyn. There were so many beautiful moments, and when I look back at my camera roll and videos, I see this happy, content baby who is cute as can be and usually myself trying to smile and soak in the moments. But those first few months were incredibly challenging for me. Like I said above, it took me getting out of the experience to be able to look back and truly see what had happened. I was dealing with postpartum anxiety.

The first few weeks were a blur and I just remember constantly having this adrenaline rush. I wasn’t sleeping much, but overall I felt “okay”. I was coping, and I finally had my perfect baby in my arms! But after a month or two with very little sleep, and a baby that was having a lot of issues breastfeeding, I started sliding downhill.

The sleep issues really exacerbated everything. I have always been the type of person who needs perfect conditions to sleep, but I figured once I had a baby and was incredibly exhausted, I would be able to nap or fall asleep at the drop of a hat. Turns out, I had the opposite experience. I began to dread bedtime and even going up to my room. To start things off, it would take HOURS to get Maddie to fall asleep. I would bounce her on the ball or nurse her for close to an hour before she would finally drift off, then I would wait around 15 minutes to make sure she was “really in a deep sleep” before putting her down, but usually as soon as she left my arms, she woke right up. I would sometimes have to do this whole process 2-3 times, so around 3 hours, just to have her sleep for 2-3 hours. It was absolutely exhausting.

To make matters worse, I felt like Maddie wasn’t breastfeeding well and I was constantly worried about her not getting enough food. So I was trying to breastfeed her CONSTANTLY. Literally I would spend hours just keep trying to get her to latch and eat for more than a few seconds/ minutes; I saw a lactation consultant no fewer than 8 times, and we finally had a tongue tie surgery done because I was so desperate. Unfortunately, this caused things to get worse before they got better, and we had to do exercises with her in her mouth 5-6 times a day, including in the middle of the night. So once again, sleep was not really happening.

My stress levels at night would also sky rocket. It seemed as soon as the sun went down I would start to get panicky. I was worried about how sleep would go at night, I was worried if I would get any sleep at all, I was worried what would happen to me if I was in this constant sleep deprived state forever…. plus, when I was feeding Maddie in the middle of the night I was terrified to accidentally fall asleep while nursing. After all the baby classes/ CPR classes we went to, they constantly made you fearful that you would fall asleep in a compromising position with the baby and the baby could then get caught under blankets, or in the side of a couch, etc. I was so worried about this, that when she was nursing in the middle of the night I would just be up, stressing.

I also questioned almost every decision I made for her; I would finally come to a decision, then start questioning it all over again. I was constantly online doing research. I researched every medical procedure, every sleep method, every feeding/ latching method. I did not trust my instincts at all and was constantly looking to others for advice. I now realize that I never just looked at my baby and figured out what was best for us, I just wanted to make sure I did everything perfectly and by the book, so I researched everything I did to make sure it was the “most safe”.

I remember one day vividly that was one of my worst days ever. I got up in the morning after having almost no sleep. Getting up almost seemed better because then at least I didn’t have to lay in bed anymore stressing over sleep that wasn’t coming. I got dressed and did my makeup like I always did (this was very important to me in order for to still feel somewhat like myself). I had a lactation consultation appointment and then the plan was to go to my mother in law’s for the afternoon where some family could see the baby. I got to my appointment with Maddie, and as usual she was struggling to latch. She also was starting to drop weight percentiles. My stress levels were through the roof and I just burst into tears. I admitted that I was not sleeping at all, and in fact I was terrified of sleeping because I was scared if I fell asleep I wouldn’t know if something bad happened to the baby (I was so scared something would happen to her when she was sleeping, and I would be asleep and not know it).

I realize how irrational that is, but we also live in a fear driven culture where you only ever hear the horror stories, and rarely the stories about how everything is most often just fine. I knew that Maddie slept so much better co-sleeping, but I was so afraid to do it, so I kept trying to do everything under the sun to avoid it. (I also don’t love co-sleeping, I truly do prefer my own space when sleeping). Anyway, I remember then the lactation consultant saying that maybe I needed some help/ counseling or even medication, and there was no shame in that. I ended up making an appointment that day.

Gradually, things did get better. Maddie started sleeping longer stretches which meant I didn’t need to be up in the middle of the night for hours, I did go to a therapist who really thought most of my challenges were coming from sleep deprivation versus something more, I set limits for myself to stay off the internet at night and talk more to the friends/ women in my life, and also I just think with time I got used to my new reality/ trusting myself.

I now look back at the newborn phase and sometimes wish I had enjoyed it more and hope that next time around it all goes more smoothly. But at the same time, I think it’s okay that every phase isn’t your “favorite”. I’m realizing that I am enjoying things a lot more now that Maddie is doing more activities, learning new things, and (usually) sleeping better. I enjoy the predictability and routine of her nap times and bedtime. I think as moms we feel a lot of pressure to “love every second” with your child, and while I would certainly do anything for my baby, some moments are really tough and that’s okay. Especially from someone who went through years of infertility and was so desperate to have a child of my own, I think there is some guilt that I didn’t “love every minute” because I knew how badly I wanted this, and I know how many women are still struggling and waiting to experience exactly what I now had. But again, I don’t think you have to think every moment is perfect in order to love your child more than anything and be insanely happy to have them in your life. You can be all this AND still mourn the life you had before, where it was easy to go out and do any activity, or you could go to sleep whenever you wanted. It’s important to know that there is no “perfect” experience, and we all struggle.

I hope this helps some other moms (or moms to be) and I think this conversation is really important. I know it helped me to talk to others who could say “yup, that part sucks”, and not just see everyone else smiling and so happy with their newborn. Again, this isn’t to say it isn’t 100% worth it, because I truly believe it is, and if God allows it, I truly hope to have this whole experience again (even with the no sleep!), but I’ll be able to go into it with the expectation that you don’t just come home from the hospital with a baby and everything just “falls into place”, it’s a lot of hard work and effort and tears and struggle as well. So if you’re in the thick of it, or about to have a baby, this is just to say “I get it”- you don’t have to be brave all the time. Or if you think “what are people talking about when they say they love the newborn stage?!” I hear you and I see you. <3

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1 Comment

  1. Alli, I really admire you and all mothers and the challenges that title brings to their lives and if they work-full time they are my hero. You met the challenge God gave you and in my eyes you did it with love, strength and determination.

    Your little daughter I know loves you to peace’s, which speaks of your devotion to her. We all need our time for ourselves it does not mean we don’t love our families, I believe it is just the opposite, if you don’t care for yourself how can you care for others. Thank you for this insight on the struggles a mother has to go through. God bless you and other mothers.

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