I’ve always been an incredibly anxious person. But after having my son, my anxiety became out of control. I had a traumatic birth experience that left me feeling like I couldn’t trust my body. I felt like it had failed me. It hadn’t done what God intended it to do. I went from having normal levels of anxiety to full-blown panic attacks.
We called 911 in the middle of the night one night because I couldn’t breathe and felt like my chest was going to explode. I would get light-headed and dizzy and feel like I was going to pass out. I had heart palpitations. I saw doctor after doctor trying to figure out what was physically wrong with me. Because it felt like something was PHYSICALLY wrong. There was no way it was all in my head. I had an echocardiogram, neurologist appointments and blood tests. I was poked and prodded by specialist after specialist. But there was nothing physically wrong with me. I just had anxiety. Crippling, life-affecting, incredibly scary post-partum anxiety.
I remember trying to fly home for Christmas and having a panic attack in the security line. I got light-headed and felt like I was dying. While there was no physical cause, the anxiety, the fear, the feeling that I was dying was very very real.
I didn’t realize that what I had was actually post-partum anxiety until my son was about 8 months old. I thought post-partum was baby centered. I thought it was moms that wanted to harm their babies. Or moms that were too depressed to do anything. Or moms that were overly anxious about their baby. I didn’t realize that it could be completely different. I didn’t realize that it could be so physical. That it could have nothing at all to do with the baby. I didn’t realize that having a traumatic labor where I felt my body failed me and thought I was going to die could leave me with crippling anxiety. I didn’t realize that post-partum depression and anxiety come in all shades.
I loved my son. I bonded with my son. I had an incredible group of mommy friends and my days were filled with playdates and fun. I was however, overwhelmed and burnt out. I was incredibly stressed and relatively unsupported. We don’t have any family in Los Angeles and there was no babysitter or nanny to give me a break. My son wouldn’t take a bottle, my breastmilk supply was low and his weight dropped week after week. I couldn’t deliver him how I was “supposed to” and I couldn’t feed him like he needed. My body, that I relied on and trusted and took for granted all my life had failed me twice…for no reason.
I eventually started meeting with a therapist specializing in post-partum depression and anxiety and slowly started to regain my sanity. While I am still an anxious person in general and have been known to overreact on occasion (like this week when our bulldog was “fed” playdoh by our toddler, then later threw up and I googled it and learned that she could have irreversible salt poisoning that could kill her and was about 5 minutes away from taking her to the emergency vet. She was completely fine BTW, BUT playdoh is super dangerous for dogs in case you didn’t know.) I have anxiety, but it’s in somewhat normal quantities. I am aware. I am able to stop the thoughts from snowballing into irrational fear and debilitating panic. I don’t have unexpected physical panic attacks in the middle of the night.
But as I get closer to this new baby coming…I am scared. I am scared of trying for a VBAC. I’m scared I will end up with another c-section. I’m scared something horrible will go wrong during my labor. I’m scared of going through what I went through last time. I’m scared of the unknown. I’m afraid of dying and leaving my son and husband and new baby alone. I’m scared of having panic attacks again. I’m scared my son will see me go through what I went through before. I’m scared he will see his fun, energetic, happy mommy slip away into a fearful, anxious, overwhelmed version of me. I’m scared.
And what’s worse is that I’m ashamed to feel this way. I’m ashamed to admit my anxiety. I keep it to myself and mask my fears with humor. But I don’t truly hide it, not to the one that knows me best – my husband knows. He knows when I read an article that triggers my anxiety and fear leaving me like a zombie the rest of the day fighting panic and fear off like a giant elephant in the room.
After feeling the fear and anxiety building this past weekend, I called a therapist today.
I will hopefully make an appointment tomorrow. I’m sure some of what I’m feeling is normal, rational fear going into having a baby. But I also know that I don’t want to go back to where I was post-partum. I don’t want to have panic attacks again. I don’t want my son to see me turn into a fear-based person. I don’t want him to see the fear and the panic.
We have been talking a lot about fear lately in our house. My son is a very fearful little dude. He is afraid of Disney movies, costume characters, the dark, loud noises…you name it. So with Halloween coming, we talk a lot about being scared these days. Part of me wants to help him get over his fears, and part of me knows that he is my son, and he will probably also struggle with anxiety. I don’t want him to be ashamed of his feelings. I want him to learn that it is ok to have fear. I want him to know that it’s ok to feel nervous or scared. But I also want him to learn how to manage those thoughts and feelings. I want him to learn that fear and anxiety can be healthy and beneficial instead of debilitating.
So I am writing about it. I am writing about my fear. My anxiety. If only in an attempt to normalize what isn’t ‘normal’ so that someday if my son shares my struggles he doesn’t feel uncomfortable or insecure about reaching out for help.