“Do you ever feel like hurting your baby?”
Of course not! I had gripped my first born tight to my chest, evidencing commitment to his safety. No one would EVER hurt him.
“What about yourself?”
Myself? If I hurt myself, my baby doesn’t get breastmilk. I have to stay healthy for my baby. Everything for my baby. I already have 20 bags of breastmilk in the freezer just in case.
My midwife smiled, good-naturedly, cocking her head to the side. “Are you getting time for yourself?”
My chest tightened. It’s only been six weeks. My baby screams 24/7. I can get him to calm to a whimper if I am standing and bouncing. No one else can hold him. I will never have time for myself.
She couldn’t know my mom had recently offered to keep my son so I could go get Starbucks. I had driven the quarter mile in a mess of sobs before I pulled a (highly illegal) U-turn and drove back home. I couldn’t do it. What if he needed me? My mom didn’t know the right way to bounce. She didn’t know that he liked to be held tightly to the chest. She would fail.
I didn’t let anyone hold him. Not even my husband. I couldn’t handle the sound of crying. I nursed on demand at the first whimper. I broke out in hives and had panic attacks that perpetuated more panic attacks: What if I had a panic attack while I was home alone with my son? What would happen?
After about a year, the fog slowly lifted. I started to feel like myself.
Enter baby two.
For my six-week post-partum appointment, a friend offered to keep my kids. I drove halfway there before my throat started swelling. I called my midwife to cancel and turned around. As I walked up to my friend’s door, she grabbed my shoulders. “I think you need help. This isn’t okay.”
Post-partum anxiety wasn’t something I knew about. I had been barraged with information of baby blues and post-partum depression. I had no desire to hurt anyone and sincerely thought anxiety was just part of being a new mom. It wasn’t until my counselor asked me what was wrong and I answered, tearfully, that something might be happening to my children while I was away, that I was introduced to the concept. Post-partum anxiety: It had a name. Something was happening to me.
I continued weekly counseling sessions and slowly got better. After my third child was born, I quickly recognized the signs and implemented the tools my counselor had supplied to talk myself down. I still got hives but had zero panic attacks. I didn’t fall apart the first time I left my daughter and I don’t stay awake at night stressing over what will happen to her if I get cancer (a common fear after my first child was born).
I don’t know what post-partum anxiety looks like for everyone. I only know it in myself. I also know that I am a better mom when I am actively working against the anxiety instead of allowing it to consume me. If this resonates with you at all, please seek help. It’s the best thing for you. It’s the best thing for your family.
Kara Garis is a cloth diapering, baby wearing, semi-crunchy mama to two active boys and a baby girl. She lives with her husband in Oklahoma and loves running, cooking, traveling, reading and teaching herself how to braid. She blogs very infrequently at karagaris.blogspot.com.