This time last year I thought I was going to die. If I wasn’t going to die I thought one of my kids would. The winter months were frozen with fear of getting sick, then dying. It was awful. I wasn’t sleeping much and my hormones were a mess. It also turns out that I was clueless about postpartum anxiety.
Last February my low point collided with a moment of long approaching clarity.
I was solo parenting for a week while my husband was in the middle of America on a work trip. Every morning the sun came up so naturally. On the contrary, I had to talk myself to rise for the new day. I might need to thank my coffee pot for that motivation to walk down the hall after an interrupted night of sleep. Some mornings I ate a brownie for breakfast while pouring cereal and milk into a bowl for my toddler. Whatever it was I had to do to put on a positive mindset to make it through the day, I did with a forced happiness. I always opened the curtains and let the winter light in. Ya know, the stuff film directors tell actors to do during a contemplative scene to let the audience know that actor is in deep. That was me and my motions.
I would rate how good my day was based on this question: is everyone still alive. When the answer was yes, that was a good day.
So there I was just keeping my people alive, solo parenting, when my oldest son cracked open his chin while walking around our house with a blanket over his head. He was pretending to be a ghost. Obviously. His little two and a half-year old chin was cut wide open on the brick hearth. There was his mouth, then a new fleshy mouth on his chin.
Pretty much awful. But, still alive.
We drove to urgent care in my sister’s van because my car battery died. Nice timing for a random car malfunction, of course.
Have you ever been to urgent care in February during what “they” all said was the worst flu season in years and years? If not, let me share this: again, awful. Respiratory masks and hand sanitizer were being distributed like number 2 pencils at the beginning of the SAT exams. I didn’t even put my courageous broken little patient down. I just held him as I checked us in. I asked for a buzzer so we could go sit in our borrowed van. As if I was waiting to be seated at a table for dinner. “Duffy party of four”…buzzz, buzz, buzzz, buzz. I was not sitting down, inside, with all the germs.
I waited in the car. Oh, and our urgent care doesn’t have a buzzer. They text. Right, again with my lack of mental acuteness. It was 2018. Of course you can text me when the doctor is ready to see us.
We didn’t make it in the car long before we had to go inside…to use the potty. To be fair and honest here, I was the one who had to use the potty. Again a result of anxiety, which then led to more anxiety. Raise your hand if you want to go use the public bathroom in an urgent care during flu season with a toddler who has a face wound. Anyone raising their hand? No? Not surprised. I said it before, and I’ll say it again: it. was. awful.
I dug deep into my mom bag, like I do when I’m searching for one more snack bars, but this time I was looking for bravery. What don’t they make Bravery Bars? I think protein and bravery are a decent combination.
I pretended to keep calm because I woke up that morning and I was still The Mom. The mirror didn’t tell me that. My soul told me that, and I can’t walk out on my soul. So, I was the one holding it all together. I can only image the increased freak-out zone I would have been in if I was also carrying around my four-month old sweet baby boy. Thank God my sister came over to watch him, because as previously mentioned, it also turned about that my car battery died (just had to put that in here twice) so, I drove her car to urgent care. Let’s again thank God she had car seats in her van because she is also The Mom of her household. Let’s also imagine switching out car seats in February in a state well above the Mason Dixon line, in a rushed “hurry, let’s get to a medical professional” kinda of way. Fun or not fun? Let’s go with: not fun.
Also not on my list of fun things is anxiety. It turns out I’ve been living with anxiety since I was 14. Oddly it took me 32 years to realize this personal fact Oh, and then it took me another year to realize I had postpartum anxiety on top of my normalized anxiety. Hashtag tipping point.
Before we leave the story about urgently taking my little ghost to the flu ridden medical facility, let me just share that he (and I) made it out safely. Butterfly band aids, twice a day dressing changes, and in hindsight, no flu. There was a bacterial infection in his cut, which was conveniently located directly below his mouth and not an easy place to keep dry. However, we adventured to the pediatrian’s office (another waiting room filled with flu germs) and made it home with a prescription for an antibiotic while escaping the flu.
Guys, I’m typing this in March of 2019, and I remember these events like they happened last week.
That was the point in my journey with postpartum anxiety that made me think maybe this is a big deal. Like maybe I had some stuff to work on as a new mom to two.
Spring came slowly that year, and with it came some relief from the fear of getting deathly sick. I started to daydream about summer and our future as a family of four. However, the anxiety attacks would still creep up on me at unexpected times. Like, for example, driving alone across town to get a rare moment out without kids. My mind would begin to wonder into a dark place and ask questions…what if you break down a half hour from your house? (Back in 2006 I drove alone from Virginia to Ohio nearly every month not once freaking out about breaking down.) What if the gate at the top of the stairs is left open and baby #2 falls down the stairs? Those thoughts would take over. Then my legs would tingle, my heart would race, and my stomach would rumble. I would then think I was having a heart attack.
It turns out these are all symptoms of anxiety, postpartum or otherwise.
A year later, February of 2019, I Google searched “Postpartum Anxiety” and read about myself. Why’d it take me so long to research my experiences?
Most women don’t know they are suffering from anxiety after their baby is born. And only 10% of moms experience it. Lots of factors contribute to these physical and mental changes. A big player is hormones. Specifically the drop in estrogen, because estrogen helps decrease anxiety in our bodies. If you’re breastfeeding your baby, estrogen drops significantly. Correlation for me? Yes. When I look at all the symptoms I’m amazed by how perfectly they matched my state of being.
Doctors aren’t really checking for anxiety, they are checking for depression.
I remember sitting at my six-week postpartum visit filling out a questionnaire for Postpartum Depression, thinking none of these things are relatable. I’m a bit off, and yet, there’s no box here that I can check. So I must be fine, I just needed more sleep and more time to get used to being a mom. The same thing happened when I was at my newborn’s pediatrician. They give moms of newborns a similar questionnaire to rule out PPD. Again, I didn’t fit any of the qualifiers. Yet, I felt strange. I assigned that feeling to exhaustion and just figuring out life as a mom to two. I was wrong about both.
I experienced days when I felt exhausted and realized I hadn’t eaten much. My hunger signs were not working. My calories where too low for my daily caloric burn, which led to me bonking a few times. Bonking like an ultra runner at mile 70 of her 100 miler. I also didn’t feel very thirsty, so I wasn’t drinking the 64 plus ounces of water a nursing mom should drink. I was dehydrated. Not feeling hungry or thirsty are symptoms of postpartum anxiety. Oh, and my mind was always racing al the time. I basically only sat down to nurse my baby. I felt like there was always something needing to be done.
When friends or family asked how I was doing I said I was fine, because I honestly thought I was okay. But looking back I wasn’t; I was trying to stay alive.
New Mamas, take care of yourself. Eat. Drink. Rest. And be aware of the symptoms of Postpartum Anxiety.
- Feeling nervous, irritable or on edge
- Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
- Having an increased heart rate
- Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation), sweating, and/or trembling
- Feeling weak or tired
- Difficulty concentrating
- Having trouble sleeping
- Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems
Here we one year from the ghost walking urgent care tipping point. Again, solo parenting, but this time it’s totally different.
I feel braver and my joy is back again. My heart beats normally and I only get tingling in my legs and arms when I hear amazing stories about people overcoming amazing journeys.
I’m out of the woods. Anxiety is no longer haunting me. That ghost is gone, and the only thing that died last winter was my car battery.
P.S. I also saught out counseling after I realized I was living with anxiety since age 14. It was the best thing ever. My choice of counsel was with an organization called Restoring the Foundations. Just sharing in case you are also struggling. There’s freedom on the other side of this, and people who can help.
Love you more than candy,