I was sitting in the hallway, leaning against the stair railing, and staring down the hall towards my kids’ rooms. Dirty laundry and abandoned toys were scattered across the floor. All it took was one tiny human bringing a virus home from school to bring housekeeping to an immediate halt. The cleanup routine was traded for cuddling and 24/7 care. With everyone asleep, I could have had the mess cleaned up in five minutes or less.
But that would have gotten in the way of my worrying.
This was before COVID-19, a simpler time in the world as far as sickness was concerned. This was just your average virus. But it didn’t feel like that to me. Ever since I’d given birth to my youngest, things that were once no big deal were suddenly a very big deal.
It was after midnight. I was tired, but I couldn’t sleep. I sat there waiting for a sound but hoping none would come, as that could mean something was wrong. Then my mind whispered, Wait a minute. No sound could also mean something is wrong. The betraying thought lingered all around me like campfire smoke, choking my lungs no matter what direction I looked or where I moved to.
I tried to relax, but I just couldn’t dismiss the thought that something was very wrong.
I crept down the hallway. Tiptoeing into the boys’ room, I watched as their chests rose up and down, then I ran my hand across their foreheads. No fever. I checked on the girls next. Just one of them was sick. The other one, my wild child who hardly ever gets sick, would be running me ragged as soon as her feet hit the floor the next day.
Back in my own bedroom, I hurried to where the baby was sleeping. She wasn’t sick . . . as far as I knew. But what if it suddenly hit her after I put her down earlier? I checked for a fever and, thankfully, she was fine.
When I finally crawled into bed, my husband rolled over and laid his arm gently across my stomach.
“Everyone OK?” he asked, his voice drowsy with sleep.
“Yes. The Motrin finally kicked in,” I answered him.
“You need to sleep. You’re going to be exhausted in the morning, and I won’t be here to help you.”
He meant no harm by it, but in my vulnerable state, I felt attacked. As if I needed a reminder of how difficult my day would be caring for sick children and doing everything else a mother does to keep the home running. The physical and emotional toll is not easily forgotten. He was right though. I needed sleep.
But still, I laid awake worrying. What if this is something serious? What if it turns into that thing I saw on the local news about that child who died? Feelings of fear and anxiety replaced my bedtime prayers and the rest of the night was spent in and out of sleep. Crying kids with returning fevers invaded my room and nightmares overran my mind.
This was just one night dealing with postpartum anxiety. There had been many other similar or worse nights, and more unnecessary phone calls to the doctor than I’d like to admit.
My worrying never took a break. I didn’t begin to understand why until a few weeks later when my sister was telling me about her recent bout with a similar virus. She was so calm, recounting how each of her children dropped like flies with an intense, high fever. I felt my body shaking just listening to the details.
I confided to her something I hadn’t told anyone, not even my husband. I shared how ever since I’d had the baby, I couldn’t stop worrying. From fevers and illness to becoming a helicopter mom at the playground and not letting my kids go swimming. It was so unlike me, as a normally free-range mother. I was riddled with fear.
“I think there’s something wrong with me,” I said to her, with tears welling up in my eyes. “I just can’t get it out of my head that my kids are going to die.”
It was the first time I’d actually articulated it: I’m worried my kids are going to die.
We all worry about our kids. But this was outside the scope of normal worry. This was debilitating fear. It was losing sleep, heart racing constantly, feeling nauseated worry.
My sister, a training doula at the time, listened patiently without judgment. “Have you looked into postpartum depression or anxiety?” she asked.
“No way,” I told her. “I don’t have those desperate feelings you read about. I don’t want to harm my baby,” I said.
“It’s not a one size fits all,” she told me. “There are variations of postpartum depression. One of them is anxiety. There’s nothing wrong with you. It’s actually really common.”
When I got home, I began Googling. Until that moment, all of my online research had revolved around kids’ health and childhood development. But I’d been seeking the wrong things. All that research on children’s wellbeing only to find out what I actually needed to learn about was my own. Two words: Postpartum anxiety. There it was.
Everything I’d been feeling.
Every insane thought I’d been having.
Every conversation (occasionally turned argument) with my sweet and bewildered husband as he tried desperately to understand what had changed in me.
Every sleepless night, unnecessary trip to the doctor, and pointless call into poison control.
The excessive mental noise, racing thoughts, rapid heartbeat, ringing ears, and stomach aches.
All of it explained.
The screen on my phone lit up with testimonies from other women who’d been through what I was going through.
They felt what I felt. I wasn’t the only one. I wasn’t crazy.
Postpartum anxiety. To put a name on it brought unfathomable relief.
I went to see our trusted family doctor. The treatment, I discovered, would be different for everyone. For me, I started with a strict vitamin regimen, a fitness routine, and began a prayer journal. I still work through moments, but I am grateful to be doing so much better these days. Being able to finally sort through the noise is amazing. But the true power was found in identifying that there was noise to sort through in the first place.