Posted on October 01 2019
I talk a lot about the struggle of my long, excruciating labor story, because at the end of the pain, I had my beautiful baby girl. But what I don’t talk about much was the mental struggle I went through for at least a year after that. Looking back, I was in pain then as well.
When the nurses first laid Emma on my chest, after 24 hours and 2 “failed” epidurals (see there I go milking it again), I was so relieved and so incredibly in love. She was beautiful, already chubby and in perfect health (besides the fact that big babies need their blood sugar monitored extremely closely). Everyone was enamored with our sweet girl and I couldn’t blame them, I was completely obsessed. As a mama, the everlasting bond you feel instantly is almost indescribable. But in the same breath, there was this heaviness of “oh wow, I am responsible for keeping this tiny human alive and safe”. Just to give you some background on myself, so that you know where I’m coming from; my personality is very much “type A”, on the “DISC” personality scale, I rank as a “D” for dominant and on the enneagram chart, I believe I’m a 3 wing 2 (but that’s still up for debate). So it’s no surprise that I immediately went into full on mama bear mode, even in the hospital. Or that’s what I thought it was.
Looking back, I was definitely living my first year, maybe longer, with postpartum anxiety. I feel like it is not talked about as much, compared to postpartum depression. For that, I knew the signs and I knew what I should be looking for. But postpartum anxiety, is that even a thing? I’m here to tell you that it definitely is. As I described my personality above, it’s no wonder that my husband and family thought that I was “just being Erica”. To the best of my ability (and then some) I wanted her to be safe, so I controlled as much as I could. Everyone who came over had to be completely healthy and wash their hands before they even thought about breathing on my child. That also lends to the fact that I was raised by a germaphobe and might possibly have those tendencies as well. I was just so scared that she would get sick and my mind would take me down dark paths. Not about myself, but about what would happen if I failed her as a mother, let her get sick and then lost her forever. Let me tell you, those thoughts weigh incredibly heavy on your heart and shoulders, especially when you don’t communicate what you’re going through with those that love you.
I was so deep in full time motherhood and sleeplessness that I did not take the time to recognize those thoughts and then process them, so that I could realize “hey, this probably isn’t normal and I should tell someone”. So I powered through the only way I knew how, giving my all to my daughter and unknowingly letting most everything else fall by the wayside. I now realize that I pushed some of the people that I loved away, because come to find out they felt unwanted. When in reality, I was just trying to take care of everything and keep my head above water. The need to appear as though I have everything together, even when I’m struggling inside, makes me believe that I’m an enneagram 3, but that was not the right thing to do.
Fast forward to a little over a year of motherhood; I finally fully realized my struggles after talking to a family member that I trust and hold very near to my heart. I confided to her that I was struggling with “daymares”. I explained that I could be cooking, breastfeeding Emma or even watching yet another episode of “friends” when out of nowhere a terrifying scenario would play out in my head. Since I’m already showing all of my cards here and being vulnerable (which is hard for me), these “daymares” would be about someone trying to steal Emma from me in public, or her falling into water, just out of my reach, to name a few. She looked me in the eyes with kindness and said, “Erica, that’s a panic attack”. Yes, my chest would hurt and heart would race sometimes but I wasn’t hyperventilating or anything like shows and movies portray. But it all began to make so much sense. My need to control everything so that nothing bad would happen and these panic attacks made it clear, postpartum anxiety was real and prevalent in my life.
If anything that I am saying, strikes a cord in your heart, please talk to someone you love or your doctor. There is absolutely no shame in asking for help when we need it. I truly didn’t recognize it in myself, but had I done so earlier, I would have talked to my doctor about a plan of action. Communicating with your loved ones is not only necessary for the wellbeing of your mental health, but it also clues them in as to why you are acting a certain way. I wish that I could go back and talk to certain friends and family members, to explain how much I wanted them to be there but didn’t or couldn’t show it. But something that I fully believe is that there is absolutely no reason to dwell on the “what ifs” or “should haves”. It’s honestly not healthy to allow ourselves to worry and stay in that space. You have to take your experiences and learn from them in order to grow, otherwise we will stay stagnant in lives.
I am the person I am today because of what I’ve gone through and I pray that I continue to grow into the woman and mother that God created me to be. I hope that opening my heart provides clarity in your own life or in the life of a mama friend, from the outside looking in. Motherhood is hard but such an incredible blessing! Please do not feel, as I did through my cloud of postpartum anxiety, that you need to do any part of it alone.
Written by: Erica Shelton