It all started with my first pregnancy in 2017.
I went alone to our initial ultrasound appointment, expecting a quick, positive report. I even told my husband not to bother rescheduling a meeting at work to join me because this was supposed to be such a brief scan.
“The heart rate is a little low,” the tech said. “We’ll have you come back in a week to recheck.”
My heart sank. Instead of feeling excited, I was immediately on guard, preparing for a miscarriage.
As any newly pregnant woman can relate, I started Googling appropriate heart rates for a 6-week-old fetus. I sadly told my husband not to get his hopes up—this one probably wouldn’t last.
The next week, the ultrasound showed an improvement, but not the 120 BPM that the doctors were hoping for.
“Come back again in two weeks,” they said.
I left the appointment nearly sick. The waiting game was killing me.
I went home and cried to my husband. I swore I would never get pregnant again if we made it through this one. I prayed daily, just asking God to help our little one improve. And I searched online relentlessly for information and statistics—I needed to feel prepared.
By the next ultrasound though, our daughter’s heart rate was perfect. Ahead of the curve, actually. Finally, we could relax.
But for some reason, even though I was ecstatic about the results, I couldn’t seem to chill out. I couldn’t stop researching early pregnancy loss stats and comparing them to my situation.
The following week I had brown spotting.
After an entire evening of crying and anxiously Googling “spotting and early pregnancy,” I insisted on an ultrasound the next morning. Per the images and the doctor’s evaluation, the baby was just fine. Early pregnancy spotting was totally normal.
When I should have felt reassurance, all I kept thinking was that we were on the verge of a loss. I felt like, at any time, we were going to lose this baby.
I didn’t want to talk about the pregnancy. I didn’t want to tell anyone. I begrudgingly disclosed the secret to our immediate family and close friends, mostly at the request of my husband. When most women would reveal this news with smiles and happiness, I wanted to ignore it. I didn’t want to get attached to a pregnancy I was convinced wasn’t going to last.
“I’ll feel more confident at 12 weeks,” I thought. But 12 weeks came and went, and I was no better.
I worried constantly about the state of my pregnancy.
I checked my panties hourly for signs of bleeding, so much so that I had to purchase only black underwear for the remainder of my pregnancy to keep myself from neurotically visiting the bathroom to analyze my undies.
I waited until 19 weeks to share the news with my co-workers (I practically had no choice since my belly was starting to show through my clothing).
“I’ll feel better after the anatomy scan,” I told my husband.
But even after the anatomy scan showed a healthy baby girl, my anxiety persisted. It’s normal to worry about your pregnancy, I thought. After all, for most women, this is a hugely monumental time in their lives. I figured my level of concern was what everyone experienced.
I declined a baby shower and would feel anxious even being around baby items. I’d promptly shove any gifts from well-meaning relatives into the back of a closet. I declined purchasing any products for our daughter until I was over 34-weeks pregnant.
When most folks were decorating a nursery, I was doing all I could not to think about my pregnancy. I didn’t want to talk about names or pick bedding or buy clothing. I was not going to be that woman who had a baby shower and then came home without a baby.
I was chronically distressed about the baby’s health.
If she didn’t kick enough, I’d panic, referencing distant stories of late loss after a baby’s movement declined. If I felt an uncomfortable pain, I felt immediate concern that I was dilating early. I’d nervously go into my regular doctor’s appointments with a lump in my throat, always preparing for the possibility we wouldn’t find a heartbeat.
Finally at 38 weeks, 6 days, I went into labor. THANK GOD, I thought. Nine and a half months of constant anxiety were finally over. When she’s here, I’ll feel so much better.
But her delivery came by way of an emergency c-section due to a placental abruption during labor. Ultimately, both our baby girl and I were perfectly fine. We were the lucky ones to come out on the other side of an abruption both alive and well. But that unexpected, extra dose of panic just before her birth was certainly not what I needed to catapult me into motherhood.
It was a normal weekday morning sometime in the early spring of 2018. I was driving my regular 40-minute commute into the office. It was early, the roads were all but empty. Usually, my husband and I carpooled together, but for some reason, we drove separately on this particular day. By all accounts, it was a typical, boring morning drive to work.
Except for the fact that I was sobbing. We’re talking heaving, unable-to-catch-my-breath, can’t-see-the-road sobbing.
Our daughter was four months old and had recently been diagnosed with a more severe case of eczema. The pediatric dermatologist told us in cases like hers, there was likely an allergy at fault for the rash—he suspected the type of diapers we were using. He gave us a steroid cream, told us to switch to a different diaper brand, and said things were likely to clear up within the week.
Simple enough, right?
But despite his reassurance, for some reason, I couldn’t stop thinking that our daughter MUST be allergic to our dogs.
I Googled incessantly about babies and dog allergies, and in so many cases, folks were forced to rehome their beloved pooches. I worried around the clock that we would be the next family to live dogless because of an unforeseen allergy. How would our dogs ever understand? They were great with the baby!
I researched expensive air scrubbers and infant allergy medications. I made my husband promise to build the dogs an outside kennel if our daughter was, indeed, severely allergic.
I worried constantly that this eczema would bloom into asthma from exposure to pet dander.
I felt so guilty at the thought of ever having to give up our pets, but also extreme guilt at the prospect that our daughter would suffer through a serious allergy if we kept them.
I cried driving to work. I cried in the work bathroom. I cried putting our daughter to bed. I cried when I should have been sleeping at night.
I held myself together when I was in the presence of other people, but when I had moments alone to think about it, I was distraught. Strung-out, exhausted, not-eating levels of distress.
And then just like that, after a week of steroid cream and new diapers, our daughter’s eczema was gone—just like the pediatric dermatologist said it would be. She was never allergic to the dogs.
I breathed a heavy sigh of relief.
But just a few weeks later, I felt a soreness in my right breast and what I thought might be a lump. I went to my gynecologist to have it looked at and she insisted she couldn’t feel anything. But after two more visits, several weeks of constant self-breast exams, and reading endless first-hand accounts of painful, hidden breast cancer on Dr. Google, I demanded an ultrasound. I initially kept my struggle all but silent from my husband but would cry every night while rocking our daughter, just imagining her growing up without a mom.
Just like the “dog allergy” situation, my worry was overwhelming. It was all I could think about. And I was certain diagnostic testing would reveal breast cancer. But the ultrasound came back fine. No big scary tumor, just a chest wall muscle strain—likely from hauling around a car seat and a growing baby.
My fits of worrying continued. Next, it was numbness in my hands and feet—had to be brain cancer. Then it was pelvic pain—surely ovarian cancer.
I would hold everything in until I literally couldn’t anymore, and that’s when my husband would find me in a weepy, sobbing mess for an entire weekend.
During each pediatrician visit, I’d receive a postpartum depression questionnaire and quickly fill it out.
Question 4: “I’ve been anxious or worried for no good reason.”
“No, not at all,” I’d check.
Question 5: “I have felt scared or panicky for no good reason.”
Again: “No, not at all.”
I’d hand it back to the nurse with a smile, and we’d carry on with the appointment.
I wasn’t about to be flagged as a mom with postpartum depression. I was not depressed. I loved my child. I loved my husband. I was happy with our new lives. I just had this chronic tendency to worry. No big deal, right?
Everyone worries. It’s normal. Until it’s not anymore.
Come September 2019, we found out we were expecting our second baby. I was 10-months postpartum with our daughter, and we decided that we were ready to add a second kiddo to the brood. As luck would have it, we conceived on the first try.
My first pregnancy was fraught with anxiety, but I attributed that to being a first-time mom. I was hoping that this one would be different. After all, I knew what to expect now.
But anxiety doesn’t work like that, and with the rush of hormones came a whole new flood of worry. This time, instead of being stressed about the pregnancy or the baby, I was worried about aches and pains I was noticing in myself.
A sore spot in my right shin became a fixation for most of my pregnancy. I was convinced it must be a bone cancer of some sort. I rubbed my legs constantly, comparing the two. I secretly visited an ortho twice.
I panicked thinking this sore, this little bump, was likely a rare cancer that we wouldn’t discover until after the pregnancy when it would be too late to save me.
I never shared the source of this anxiety with my husband but would often cry in private just thinking he’d be left to raise our children alone. I would think about awful things, like how will our daughter remember me if I’m not here to raise her? and will my husband remarry?
I later ended up with soreness around my tailbone, which was eventually diagnosed as something called a pilonidal cyst—basically a glorified skin infection in an unfortunate location. It went away with antibiotics. But for months I thought it must be an extremely rare cancer of the sacrum.
I was constantly concerned it was growing. I’d have my regular bouts of crying at night, in the car, sometimes spanning entire weekends.
At this point, my husband gently confronted me about talking to my doctor.
I’d go into appointments with every intention to bring up my anxiety to my OB, but I never had the nerve to talk about it with them.
After our son was born in May 2019, I was able to get imaging to role out any sort of concerning pathologies with both my leg and my tailbone. But a lingering pelvic pain left me distressed and worried about bowel cancer, even after five different doctors and all symptoms suggested pelvic adhesions from my two c-sections.
After nine additional months of what seemed like endless doctor’s appointments and repeat bouts of health anxiety so bad I’d be in tears, I finally decided I was just DONE with feeling this constant stress. I was DONE with imagining my family without me. I was DONE with spending weekends feeling overwhelmed and burnt out from chronically worrying. I was done being short-tempered with my children because I was so stressed to the max.
I. Was. Done.
I called the local women’s behavioral health center and made an appointment. On the drive there, I ran through what I would say in my mind, hoping I wouldn’t cry when I was trying to recount my two-year struggle.
When I got to the office, they handed me a clipboard full of papers to fill out. For the first time since my daughter’s birth two years prior, I honestly answered the questions about my anxiety.
When I was called back with the therapist, she asked me to recount what was going on, and I cried like a baby. I told her everything. She handed me tissues and listened.
It was just super relieving and empowering to finally share this information with someone who could help.
She told me I was dealing with perinatal and postpartum anxiety, the lesser-known siblings of postpartum depression. They occur during pregnancy and within the first year after. If not treated, they’re unlikely to resolve on their own. She told me that women with PPA often wait months or years to come in and receive a diagnosis because the anxiety creeps in quietly. It’s easy to dismiss as normal because otherwise, when you aren’t feeling worried about something, you feel fine. You’re happy and you love spending time with your baby.
You often don’t feel sad or depressed. You get out of bed every day and carry on with your daily routine while hiding how stressed you are. It’s only when you just can’t take it anymore, when it becomes so invasive in your life, that you finally come for help.
She gave me a prescription for Zoloft and told me we would check back in a month.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have hesitations about going on the medication. For three days after filling my prescription, the bottle sat unopened on my countertop while I considered not ever taking it. I anxiously worried about the possible side effects and the stigma that comes with taking a medication for mental health.
But then I looked at my babies, and I reminded myself that they deserve me at my best.
They deserve a mom who smiles and laughs honestly, not as a façade to hide the fact she’s completely terrified all the time. They deserve a mom who is present in the moments she gets to spend with her little family, not absorbed in unfounded fears and buried in her phone. Without this medication, I couldn’t be that for them. I couldn’t be that for me. So I took the pills.
I recently had my one-month follow up, and I can honestly say I absolutely, 100% wish I would have sought out help sooner. After just one month on the medication, I feel so much better.
I don’t feel the compulsion to worry about everything to the max. And when I do feel anxious, I’m able to reign it in—to worry in a normal way without feeling overwhelmed to the point of tears. I’m able to spend time with my children and savor the moment instead of just looking at them and imagining their lives without me. I’m able to house hunt with my husband without constantly thinking how will he afford this without my income if I’m gone?
It’s a beautiful thing to not have your entire world overshadowed by anxiety.
For so, so long, no one knew how much of my life was completely debilitated by worry. How I constantly felt like I was waiting for the other shoe to drop and the absolute worst news to come. I was great at disguising the severity of my situation by casually saying, “Yeah, I’m just a worrier!” Looking back now, just a month out from seeking treatment, I can already see how severely I was affected by postpartum anxiety.
So if you’re reading this and you can relate or are on the fence about seeking treatment, I encourage you to take that brave, vulnerable step toward freeing yourself. You owe it to your kids, you owe it to your family and friends, but most of all, you owe to yourself.
You don’t have to live like this.
There are people and medications that can help you see that motherhood doesn’t always have to be such a stressful, scary place. All you have to do is ask.