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Aug 18 2011

Postpartum Anxiety–This is What Mine Looked Like

By at 9:46 am

Tamara recently left her beloved buckeye-state and relocated to Pittsburgh with her husband and infant son. While at home, she’s decided to give writing, attachment parenting, and photography a try. And when she saw our post about depression, she decided to share her story.

The birth of my son brought about some of the craziest emotions I’ve ever had in my entire life. Happy ones, sad ones, normal ones, and desperate ones. After a pretty uneventful first two trimesters–being put on bed rest in my third trimester really took a toll on me emotionally. Then after he was born, we struggled with breastfeeding. At his two month visit when we found out that he hadn’t gained weight, my husband and I were broken to the core. The entire day is a blur, all I remember is the pediatrician shaking her head at the weight and then–as if I am a ghost in the room–I watch myself sobbing uncontrollably, tears falling on my tiny boy who is screaming at the breast. That visit threw me down a hole of self blame. This precious gift that I worked so hard to bring into this world was hungry.

At the time nothing was as it should be. We closed on our home-sale the day my water broke and we were packing up our belongings on no more than two hours of sleep each night. I was struggling with pain from some postpartum complications and my body was weak and still recovering from bed rest. And to top it all off, I hadn’t finished writing our thank you notes yet.

We were living amongst boxes.
We were worrying about money.
We were moving to a city where we had no friends or family.
My baby was hungry.
It was too much.

Looking back–all that was probably too much for almost anyone.

I cried, a lot. Every day I cried. I cried because I couldn’t pump enough milk. I cried because my baby wouldn’t latch. I cried because we were leaving a home we loved. I cried because I felt I had no business being a mother.

Other people saw us struggling. We asked for more help than we ever have in our entire lives in that three month time span. It was like my husband and I were shells of ourselves just going through the motions of our hectic life. Everything we knew was being changed, all at once. Everything. Our friends, where we lived, our jobs, our marriage, our finances. And we were responsible for this new little person who didn’t happen to arrive with an instruction booklet.

And then there was the judging. People were judging us, as if we were auditioning to be parents. Watching us struggle, watching me fail. Some people did it quietly with odd glances and “helpful” comments. “Maybe he doesn’t want his arms strapped down like that (swaddling). You should sing to him–Babies like to be rocked–Wow, he really takes to the bottle.” That criticism burned like salt in my open wounds. I didn’t need to be told that I was being a terrible mother when I was already telling myself that very thing every minute of every day.

At first, it was like the elephant in the room. We were chalking it up to baby blues and stress. We decided that we would move and settle in and reevaluate. The breastfeeding, the sadness, everything.

The first week that we lived in Pittsburgh, a lactation consultant came to our house to help with our baby’s latch. She showed us what a breastfeeding relationship should look like and told us to throw our bottles and timed feedings out the window. And we did. And he latched.

That same week I bought something off of craigslist, from a mother with two children–her husband was a doctor. I don’t know if I looked broken or helpless or what but when I came to pick up the item–she invited me to her mom’s group and insisted that I meet her there. And I did. My husband dropped my baby and I off in a church basement full of mothers. One of them came up to me and took my crying baby and bounced him in her arms while another woman handed me a brownie and a tissue. Another mother gave me the name of a great therapist. And I called her.

I went to a therapist in high school and told myself they were all quacks and I would never go again. But when I was faced with losing my husband to medicine and losing myself to the fear of failure–I chose therapy. Her name was Pam and I told her that I was the shittiest mother on the planet. I told her how I unknowingly starved my baby. I told her I was scared to drive my car and hadn’t done so since moving. I told her that I stayed awake to pump and how I was hording upwards of 20 ounces of milk a day to assure that my baby would never again be hungry. I told her how I checked on my baby every five minutes because I was convinced he would die in his sleep. And I sobbed.

I sob when I talk about it, I sob when I think about it and I sob as I type this because everything surrounding those first 11 weeks still makes a pit in the back of my throat far too big to ever swallow or forget.

I swear I saw tears in her eyes when I explained how effortlessly and completely I loved my son and the lengths I had gone to just to feed him. I told her I had a wonderful marriage and beautiful baby that I felt I didn’t deserve and one day God was going to knock on my door and ask for it all back. I asked her if I had postpartum depression. She looked at me thoughtfully and told me she didn’t think I was depressed. I was far too motivated for depression, and better fit a diagnosis of postpartum anxiety.

She explained that women respond very well to medication –an option I dismissed immediately. So we made a plan to fix me. We made a plan to find the strong confident Mama I so desperately wanted to be. A plan to silence all of the negative thoughts that entered my mind. We made a plan that, over the next three months, saved me from myself.

I suffered from postpartum anxiety and after 11 weeks I sought help. And by doing that, I am a better Mama.

UPDATE: Read Tamara’s next piece about how she found her inner mama

If you or somebody you know is suffering from postpartum anxiety or depression, send them to the New Moms Connect website or call them at 323.761.8800 x1028. They’ll help connect you with somebody in your community.

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on Kveller are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

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