Early that morning, around 6am, I called my mother-in-law for help. My own mother lives 4,000 miles away in England, as does the majority of my immediate family (I’m British) so I desperately turned to my husband’s Mom for the support I so badly needed. A couple of hours later we arrived at her home, bulging bags and pack n’ play in tow, me still with a forced smile painted on my face. It would still be a while before I spoke aloud the fears I was both so troubled by and so embarrassed about.
Each night I sobbed before I laid my son down to sleep, so sure that I would find him, grey, cold and lifeless in the night having failed at protecting him. I could see the whole thing play out in my mind, feel that specific sting of panic in my chest, the hollow tug of instant grief at having lost the thing most precious and fragile in my life. I was certain that, should anything happen to my son, and should I be the one to find him, I would die of misery. Honestly, I couldn’t shake those ‘fantasies’ and at times, especially bedtimes, they would fill my head until I couldn’t catch my breath.
Over time and with the help of some much needed sleep and childcare practice, I began to reconcile how much control I actually had with how much I wished I had. The main thing that got me, personally, through the roughest of moments was prayer. Each night before I allow myself to give in to sleep I make sure I pray for my son’s wellbeing, for his protection. This is how I was first able to let go of enough fear to rest, of that torturous belief that I alone was solely responsible for my son’s survival. I went from being afraid to be alone with him, to finally and more confidently becoming his primary caregiver.
After about 6 weeks, I okayed my husband to leave the house alone for the first time (he had extended paternity leave) and I’ll admit that I cried the entire time he was gone. I remained frozen, trapped on the couch with my son planted firmly in my arms the entire time, terrified to move lest I be confronted with my nightmare situation. When he came home, I cried some more, this time with relief.
I finally allowed myself to watch some Infant CPR tutorials to refresh my memory. Up until this point I’d been too afraid to watch them, again due to that niggling, illogical fear that watching them would tempt fate and I’d be forced to use those skills on my son and ultimately would fail. Again, I was convinced that I would never recover from the loss.
I’m proud to say that I’ve now managed to drive several times with my son in the car. I’ve had him at home, alone for up to 3 1/2 hours and I handle him and his needs much more confidently overall, but I’d be lying if I said I was over this. I still find myself confronting fear and compulsion most days (granted in smaller amounts) and in many ways I’m still ashamed. I’m working on this. I still obsessively check the temperature in our home, still cannot be out of hearing range of his breathing and have invested in a Snuza Go to monitor his breaths to help me find some peace of mind as I go to sleep beside him at night. I’m still yet to go out alone with my son, which feels appalling to admit. I also still feel resentment and irritation building towards my husband from time to time, not because he has done anything wrong but because I tend to convince myself that he cannot possibly understand what I’m feeling or this difficult journey as a new Mom, which frankly isn’t fair to either of us.
I’ve spoken to my midwife about all this and naturally, she suggested medication but seeing as I’m exclusively breastfeeding my son and have previously overcome other mental health challenges through talking therapies and some serious (and difficult) self reflection, I’m not sure I’m ready for that. At least not yet. It’s nice to know that there are options out there though.
I have a feeling that this is all building a skill-set that I’ll need to pull on during parenthood. I don’t believe this is all for nothing and I do think there is something imperative to be learned from all this.
I’ll continue to push myself daily to face my fears and trust my ability as a parent and as a capable, strong adult. Every day it gets just a little easier, but like with anything some are easier than others. More than anything throughout this experience I’ve found myself let down by how few resources there are out there for postpartum anxiety specifically. From what I’ve learned on this journey this isn’t a new or uncommon ailment yet I’ve felt totally out of the ordinary from day one, having not fit into the classic postpartum depression symptom scope. This needs to change and this needs to be highlighted more by sufferers and care providers alike.
After all; if we’re not being broken, then we’re being built upon.
Some Links I Found Useful:
Do you have any experience with postpartum anxiety or depression? How did you cope? What would you share with other sufferers? Comments below please.