I didn’t see the anxiety coming for me until I had already been swept away in its current.
At first, it was just a subtle change in my emotions. The little parts of everyday life as a mama of littles left me flustered and overwhelmed. Soon, the emotional struggle turned into physical signs of stress as panic attacks, chest pain, and heart palpitations began to sneak their way into my routine.
By the time my precious baby girl turned two months old, I was struggling. Bad. This must just be what it’s like to have three kids, I told myself. You’ll adjust.
But I didn’t.
Instead, I convinced myself that since I didn’t have all of the telltale signs of depression, there wasn’t anything wrong.
There were no thoughts of self harm, nor did I feel the hopelessness I’ve heard described by others. I bonded with my sweet baby and continued to feel overwhelming love toward my other children. I made plans with my husband and dreamt about our future together.
And yet . . . the symptoms of anxiety were crippling.
Slowly, I felt the joy draining from my motherhood.
There were days when I struggled to get out of bed. To be productive. To breathe; the tightness in my chest stealing my ability to function.
My irritability was off the charts; I had to talk myself through each and every interaction with my kids and husband so I wouldn’t snap at them for no good reason. Too often, I still did.
The loudness that walks hand-in-hand with motherhood was just too much. The sound of a too-loud TV, or a repetitive toy, or a squealing toddler made me cringe. I couldn’t seem to get a moment of peace. The constant over-stimulus of tiny hands, tiny voices, and tiny needs suffocated me.
A stream of irrational worries and what ifs kept me awake at night.
A simple mess or spill had the power to send me into a full-on panic attack.
All of these things—which had only been minor inconveniences before—suddenly consumed me. I felt incapable of being the mom, wife, and friend I wanted to be, the one I knew I was deep down.
The nagging tightness in my chest screamed for attention, but I pushed my own mental health to the back burner the way moms do when they’re so busy caring for their families. After all, their needs were more important than mine, right?
I didn’t realize how bad things had gotten until one afternoon, I came across a video I had taken of my sons a year before. I could hear myself in the background somewhere, giggling at their goofiness. A lump rose in my throat; I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt that kind of easy joy.
Here’s the thing: we talk a lot about postpartum depression (as we should)—but we need to talk to mamas about postpartum anxiety, too, so they’re not blindsided like I was. I had heard of it, sure, but I had no idea what a beast it could be.
That video on my phone? It saved me.
It reminded me who I was before. And once I saw it, I couldn’t unsee it. The relaxed way I used to laugh with my husband. How I once played so happily with my kids.
I wanted all of that back. I wanted to live my best life. I wanted to be that woman again.
And that’s where this moment finds me; in the waiting room of my O.B., filling out the postpartum anxiety and depression survey for the fifth time since I had my baby . . . only this time, I’m answering the questions honestly.
I’m not coming to you from the other side of the struggle; I’m coming to you from the middle. The “fix” won’t happen overnight. This road may be long and windy and it’ll likely take more than one chance to get it right . . . but I will get it right.
For my kids.
For my husband.
But most of all, for me.
I don’t know how this journey ends, but I can confidently tell you how it doesn’t end. It doesn’t end with me standing by while this monster of anxiety ruins me. Here—in this doctor’s office—I’m ready to begin my fight.
I refuse to let postpartum anxiety steal the joy of my motherhood.
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