new mom with postpartum anxiety sitting next to a crib
Mental Health Postpartum Stories

Postpartum Anxiety: She Isn't Sick, But I Am

By Jessyka Gagnon

She is going to get a cold and there will be nothing you can do.
She is going to end up in the hospital and you will not be able to hold her.
She is going to starve in her sleep, wake her up.
She is going to stop breathing in her car seat, sit in the back with her.
She is going to be kidnapped, stay home.
She is going to drown in the bathtub; she will slip out of your hands.
She is going to fall out of the carrier and smash her head.
She is going to suffocate, keep everything away from her face.
You cannot be alone with her, because you won’t know how to save her.
She is going to get sick, she is going to get sick, she is going to get SICK…

She wasn’t sick, I was. I am; I have postpartum anxiety.

Have you ever had a night terror that feels real? Living with PPA is a nightmare that does not stop; it spirals and grows. It’s the real life experience of falling in a dream with nowhere to land.

The first couple weeks postpartum are a hormonal roller coaster known as the post baby blues. It is normal to cry for no reason and stare in awe at your baby for hours. It is typical to feel as though your heart is physically breaking when she is across the room enjoying her swing, it is even common to miss her when she is in your arms, to feel as if she is not close enough because you are no longer attached.

Fears, sometimes irrational, are normal

Intrusive thoughts (terrifying thoughts that flood your mind with no way of stopping them) are also all part of meeting your newborn and the hormones that accompany her. However, when the fears start to dictate your life, you distance yourself from people who love you or your intrusive thoughts start to flourish into plans of running away, it is more than the blues and you should seek help.

These fears were bigger

Although I felt I was undeserving of this beautiful life, I was not depressed. I was, however, terrified of absolutely everything.

How did I deserve to experience a love this strong, when only two years before I was “never having children”? I was certain something was going to take her away from me, that my time with her was limited. My fear made us prisoner to our home, our safe space. I did not want to share her nor did I want strangers near her, I wanted to run with her to keep her from everyone and anything that could harm her.

For the first week of her life I did not change a single diaper nor did I dress her. I so badly wanted to care for her that I had convinced myself that I would break her. Her first bath was a nightmare. Even though there was no obvious reason, no sign of imminent danger, I looked on, feeling helpless, sobbing. I graphically imagined that the nurses were going to drown her, hit her head off something or drop her.

Tears and self-loathing

When I attempted to dress her I was immediately aware of my clumsiness, my long nails, my lack of finesse and the distinct fact that I had no clue what I was doing. This tiny human whom I loved more than I could comprehend deserved confidence, poise, motherly instincts; qualities I feared I lacked. I felt unworthy. In my head she would be better off raised by her father, his transition into fatherhood was graceful and intimidating.

I refused to bathe her on my own until she was almost three months old; she could sense my discomfort. It was the first and only time she cried during a bath. I also cried, not a few tears but deep bellows. The image of the broken woman sitting on the bathroom floor wanting nothing more than her own mom to save her, while simultaneously wanting to be alone with her baby, will always be etched in my mind.

Overwhelming Panic

As debilitating as my fear of bathing her was, nothing compares to the overwhelming panic of the possibility of her getting sick, despite knowing it’s inevitable, I am terrified. I feel as if I can see germs; I picture little bugs crawling all over her skin after being in public and all I want is to bathe her in Purel.

Conveniently my brain chose this time in my life to open the vault of news images of babies covered in cold sores, dying from otherwise eradicated diseases and resurfacing my hypochondriac tendencies. I can’t try on new clothes without showering before feeding her. Who knows who tried on this same item before me? What if they had the flu!?

I was in denial

I started to notice there was a problem when I would not allow anyone, except her dad, to hold her. I even lashed out at my mom for wanting to hold her. I wanted others to “scrub in” before coming near her. I realized I could no longer pass off my fears as those of a “new mom” the day I washed my two-months-old’s hands over the sink at the doctor’s office while naively trying to convince my doctor, my boyfriend, and myself that I was okay.

I needed help

It took me two weeks, two follow-up appointments, days of intrusive thoughts and uncontrollable crying to realize the severity of my anxiety: I needed help. I needed something to put my anxieties to sleep and reawaken my happy. I started taking medication just over 2 months ago and have noticed a huge difference in my behavior, my confidence, and in the way I approach my fears.

I still have a ways to go

Firsts make me extremely anxious. We love to explore but if my most recent trip proved anything, it is that too many firsts overwhelm me and result in panic attacks. Mental illness does not reserve itself for convenient moments or for moments when you are alone. My most recent episodes happened in front of family, friends and strangers…

Although extremely embarrassed, I was quickly reassured that mental illness does not define me. People who love me are not mad at my hesitation, crying or numerous questions; rather concerned and empathetic.

The biggest hurdles are yet to come: real food and moving her into her crib. She has been exclusively breastfed from the day she was born; it scares me to give her food for fear of allergic reaction or choking, but, like venturing outside of the house, we will conquer this new chapter in baby steps.

For her to be healthy, her mom must be healthy

Changes will be made when a mother and baby are born, but they should not be negative changes that control your life. Being a mom is scary, you do not, however, need to live in fear.

PS. She did get sick; she coughed for two days… She’s okay, and so am I.

Related: Intrusive Thoughts and the Postpartum I Never Envisioned

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