I wake up to hear Clark stirring via the baby monitor. It’s 1:30am. I’d been asleep 2.5 hours. I get up to nurse him before he starts crying and wakes up Darcy. After nursing him, I go back to my bed, and try to sleep. I am exhausted. I haven’t slept more than 3 hours at a time since he was born 3 weeks ago. But I can’t sleep because what if Darcy heard him? Do I hear her? Is she going to wake up again at 3am crying? Why isn’t he settling down?! Is he going to go back to sleep? Please, God, let him go back to sleep. Do I need to go burp him again? Should I enroll in classes this upcoming semester? Or take a break? OMG! Go to sleep, Beka. Now I only have like 2 hours before he wakes up again, ready to eat! Shut up, brain, shut up!
And I didn’t go back to sleep because these (among other) thoughts are racing through my mind nonstop. Just like the previous night. And the one before that.
In the morning, I check to see if Clark is breathing–constantly. Did I turn off the coffee maker? What are we going to eat tonight? Is Clark still okay? Is Clark going to be okay? Do we have any paper towels? What if Darcy has another ear infection?
I’m easily able to convince myself that I just “have a lot on my mind.” I mean I’m a mother of two children that are under two years old. I’m a grad student that works full-time. I’m just a little stressed, and that’s why I’m having trouble and feeling anxious. Then the other thing with those symptoms happens…the heart racing, palm sweating, stomach dropping, limb paralyzing thing. It’s kind of like the exact moment where you remember that you forgot to do something really important. Except I haven’t forgotten anything, and knowing I haven’t doesn’t stop this feeling. I have exactly zero relief.
Anxiety–postpartum anxiety to be exact–is the worst, and these episodes can occur three or four times an hour lasting anywhere from 2-15 minutes and occur independently of my unrelenting, worrying thoughts. If I’m completely honest, it probably started with all the drama surrounding Clark’s pregnancy, and his birth, combined with the heavy postpartum hormonal shift, made it pretty terrible. Making matters worse, I felt guilty, and I tried to pray my anxiety away. Philippians 4:6 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” But my anxiety wouldn’t dissipate because I was sick. My brain was, anyway. We wouldn’t be expected to pray away diabetes or high blood pressure, would we?
According to americanpregnancy.org, postpartum anxiety affects around 10% of women, but I’m pretty sure it is severely underreported. Why? Because women are scared of judgement. Of being ignored. Or of confirming their worst fear—that they are, in fact, a “bad” mom. Just last week I read this article, where a postpartum woman told her provider she was having persistently violent thoughts she would never act on, but was disturbed by. Yeah, they called the police on her, who escorted her to the ED, treated her like a criminal, and finally released her 10 hours later with a list of phone numbers to call for “help.” Zero support, zero medication, and zero empathy.
That is so far from acceptable that I actually hurt for this woman. I know firsthand how hard it is to get help. You see, I experienced postpartum depression with Darcy. I claimed it was situational depression only because of her surgery, etc. It was hard and dark and affected my initial bonding with her. Thankfully, with meds, love, and support, it quickly abated and I became strong again. Towards the end of my pregnancy with Clark, Ben had mentioned he was worried I might struggle again once the baby was born. So in my favor, I had a husband who was looking out for me. This is important because when you’re bogged down with the weight of depression and/or anxiety, it can be hard to see things for how they actually are. So, when I confessed to him how insanely worried and anxious I felt, and that I didn’t know why, he told me, “Call Dr. B right now. Get help.”
My reaction wasn’t calm. “I’m not crazy, dammit! I’m just…I don’t even know how to explain it.”
“No, Beka, you’re not crazy, but the way you’re feeling IS making you sick. Call her.”
Dodging it, I said, “Well, my appointment is in a couple of weeks, so I’ll talk to her then.” There. That should satisfy him that I’m going to take care of it, and (bonus) will put it off for now. Because I’ll get better by then. Right?
“Call her now,” he insisted.
“But it’s Friday.” Even I knew that was a weak argument.
“Yeah, and her office is open. Call her, Beka. Now.”
So I did, and I told her nurse, “Look, my anxiety is kinda bad. Ben said I should call…shouldn’t I just monitor it and see if it gets better?” She immediately responded,”No way! It will only get worse if we don’t do anything. We’ll start some meds now and see if we need to adjust the dosage when you come for your appointment.”
The second thing in my favor: a matter-of-fact, yet compassionate response from my doctor’s office. When I returned to her office 4 weeks later, we decided to increase my dosage AND she gave me a PRN (as needed) script because I told her Clark’s surgery might just push me over to crazy town 😜. The reason I go into all this, and air my “dirty” laundry is because this is a problem. I’m a nurse, I’m educated, and it still took my symptoms, my husband’s urging, and my doctor’s following up to get me on the road to a more therapeutic place. If a link in any of those chains is broken, women will slip through the cracks and take on motherhood with an additional, massive weight on their shoulders.
So, maybe we should talk about this. Maybe we should de-stigmatize these mental health issues that are SO very relevant to our loved ones. We should listen, support, and help those we know are struggling. We need to look out for our friends when they’ve had babies and encourage them to seek help if they need it. If you are struggling, you aren’t alone. It’s going to be okay, mama. You won’t always feel this overwhelmed. Love yourself, give yourself grace, and get some help. Because your children need a happy, healthy mama, and you’re gonna get there. Love to all ❤