When you think of a new baby what are the first things that come to mind? Bundles of pink or blue blankets, binkies, tiny diapers, itty bitty zip-front onesies, glowing face of a new mom? There is so much joy in welcoming a new baby into your family. After all the flowers wilt and the balloons fall from the ceiling, the reality of the joys and struggles of being a new mom becomes the reality. Showers become a luxury, sleep is at a premium, and hormones are all over the place. In today’s world, the pressure on moms is coming from all directions, everyone has the best advice on schedules, feeding, sleeping, swaddling, bathing. New moms are sorting through advice from all angles while just trying to make a piece of toast. As a new mom, I remember the overwhelming feeling of doing it the “right way”.
In addition to all the pressure we put on ourselves while sorting through the information overload, 20% of U.S. mothers are dealing with some version of a maternal mental health concern (this statistic is tricky as many conditions are undiagnosed and moms may have ongoing mental health concerns prior to welcoming a new bundle). I did not experience any depression though my ongoing anxiety “added” to my experience. I use the word “added” carefully, as anxiety has become a part of my normal including my early days and months with newborns. My normal is part of my story.
My story starts in my teen years. One of my triggers (continues today) is being safe at night. When it started I would pace the house checking doors and windows with phone in hand to quickly dial the authorities. There was never a break-in at my house, and my family was about as close to the Cleavers as it gets. Regardless, nighttime became the hours where I first experienced a pounding heart, racing thoughts, sweaty palms and panic attacks. This was the beginning of my journey with anxiety.
It is estimated that as of April 2017, 30% of people in the U.S. have some type of anxiety disorder including those undiagnosed (18% diagnosed). Now take that anxiety across the population and add a baby…a crying, needy, unpredictable little human that you are now responsible for keeping alive and raising to be a responsible adult (no pressure, right?!?). This is where my journey changed.
Anxious mom of 2
My son was born in July. I took home my less than 7 pound baby boy, and I had the best plans of doing everything perfectly. Fast forward 6 weeks later, and after days and nights of consulting my pediatrician, Dr. Google, books, blogs, and every other resource at my fingertips I had a sweet baby boy suffering with silent reflux. Being a “fixer”, I found the right medicine and formula (insert anxiety causing failure to breastfeed) to help ease the symptoms. The anxiety through this process was consistent, and it was fueled by my perfectionist self that was determined to stay on a schedule.
I obsessed over my son eating, sleeping, and playing on the perfect schedule while keeping the house clean enough to eat off the floors. No big deal, right?…just trying to be absolutely perfect with an unpredictable 10 pound human. Sigh. The scheduling stress brought me to tears numerous times. The pressure of the schedule I had created fueled anxious thoughts. My supportive husband listened to all my concerns of being off “the schedule” by 30 minutes.
I did not have much time to dwell on this. When my son was 7 months old I found out I was pregnant. I was so thankful and excited as the first pregnancy had taken medical intervention (story for another blog post). 40 weeks later, my youngest was born. A beautiful baby girl that rocked my world in a way I could not quite imagine. The sheer stress (and anxiety) from going from 1 to 2 children in diapers, cribs, and strollers was plenty. Some call it twins the hard way, and I am not sure I would argue with them.
My daughter cried, A LOT. My belief is that a child, even an infant, cries for a reason. Finding the reason is the hard part. After reconnecting with Dr. Google (and my pediatrician of course) for about 4 weeks, I had her on the right track with hypoallergenic formula and reflux medicine. She was the happiest baby for one week. Then RSV hit our house.
My son (16 months) had it first, and my daughter got it at 6 weeks old. I spent sleepless nights in the steam shower holding my baby girl and sleepless days of moving the humidifier from one room to the next. All while entertaining my 16 month old toddler. The anxious thoughts were rampant, but I barely had time to obsess with all the physical health struggles. My husband helped SO much whenever he was home, often going to work on 2-4 hours of sleep. My dad took off work to help, and my mom came over whenever she could (between caring for my grandma). We were lucky enough to treat the virus at home and avoid the hospital. I was never so thankful for good health as my daughter returned to her smiley self.
What would I do different?
Ask for help. You are not alone! I always want to do everything perfectly on my own. Looking back, it may have helped to calm my mind by taking time to workout, strolling through Target on my own, or having lunch with a friend! I am getting better at taking time for me! I have not used anxiety medication, but I have plenty of friends that have found relief from obsessive thoughts and the overwhelming feeling that anxiety can bring. No shame in anyone’s game!
When you have a newborn it is SO hard to take time for yourself, and unfortunately doctors, friends, and family don’t always know how to help, despite their best efforts! I am not suggesting you expect to go on daily solo shopping trips or date nights when you have a newborn, but find little things what help you take time for yourself. Maybe you enjoy meditation, long showers, yoga, or a trip to the mall by yourself? Whatever it is ask someone to snuggle the baby for a bit and do it! If self-care does not help then ask for help from your doctor! There is NO shame in asking for help to be the best mom you can be!
Huge thank you to Jamie at Mommy in Flats for inviting me to share my story. Here is Jaime’s story on how this campaign started for Maternal Mental Health:
“Several months ago, I was perusing Instagram when I noticed another mama sharing her story about her experience with postpartum Depression. Her name is Kaitlyn of My Postpartum Life, and I immediately knew I wanted to collaborate. From that idea sprung the month long campaign to share the many faces of Motherhood and raise awareness for the not so typical signs of postpartum mood disorders. Many people think of PPD as only Depression (guilty) but often it can read its ugly head as anxiety, OCD, or ptsd. That’s why I think the “We are the face of Motherhood”