Acknowledgement: Special thanks to Erica for sharing her experiences in this post. She writes for her own blog, Mom Jeans, but was kind enough to contribute here. I found this post difficult to write due to the sensitive subject matter. However, I think it is important to talk about and I appreciate her willingness to be open on the topic.
Here we are, one month and counting into parenthood.
Matt’s already blown off some steam about the sleep deprivation, frustrations, and difficulties returning to work. Not going to lie, this is tough business. However, we knew that going in. Thanks to my mother and mother-in-law, we’ve at least picked up the tools to do this on our own. All night crying sessions have given way to trial and error routines that end with her quiet and us relieved.
Even so, like Matt, I’m struggling. A lot of my struggling, though, isn’t directly associated with sleep deprivation or frustration. Sure, I’ve been experiencing those, but I’ve surprised myself and taken them better than I thought I would. I haven’t broken down from exhaustion yet. However, I have broken down and cried from weird thoughts and scenarios that involve death and dying.
The first night we were home, I did the classic new parent move of standing over the crib to make sure Zelda was breathing. I was terrified that she would just spontaneously stop. What with warnings about SIDS and such going around with no clear explanation, my fuzzy sleep-deprived head would start revving up. Eventually sleep won out, but that was clearly the first instance I can remember fearing for Zelda’s life.
In the coming weeks, my head would crowd with more vivid and macabre pictures of Zelda dying: dropping her when taking her to the changing table and splitting her head open, slipping out of Matt’s grip during a bath and drowning, seeing her strangle on some spit up or vomit and choking, being in a wreck and the car seat failing, or the dog suddenly turning on her. Then they got weirder, like someone breaking into the house and shooting her, someone taking her from me at the metro and tossing her in front of a train, or going to the store and her catching meningitis. Then I started to get afraid of Matt or someone in my family dying. It was like the snowball that jus gets bigger as it rolls downhill.
All of them sounded phobic to me, some completely irrational. I cried a lot, but I did it when no one was looking. I didn’t talk about the weirdness going on because it sounded so irrational, even to me. I wondered if I was going crazy, or if this was some strange version of postpartum depression (PPD). I wanted to be strong for Matt and Zelda, so I swallowed that fear and put on a brave face. I think the only time it slipped was when I asked my mom to stop watching so much Law and Order: SVU. All the episodes with children dying seemed to confirm all the fears in my head.
One day I offhandedly googled “I’m afraid of my baby dying.” Sounds like a cocktail for disaster, right? We all know what happens when you google symptoms. Turns out that was a good move. All the first page hits had names like, “Postpartum Anxiety and the Incessant Fear of Losing Your Child” or “Anyone Else Constantly Worried Their Baby Might Die?” After reading blog posts and forums from other mothers who had the same weird, horrifying thoughts I had in my own head, I relaxed a bit. This is, to a degree, normal. I’m not crazy.
After realizing that postpartum anxiety (PPA) is common, I opened up a little more. I told some close friends about it, including a mother who has a one and a half year old. She related her own experiences:
Due to a history of depression and knowing an entire boatload of hormones is released just after birth, I assumed PPD would hit me hard. However, I didn’t get depressed, I started to worry. I worried a lot. You know that scene in The Joy Luck Club where the mother drowns her baby? To me, that’s what PPD was. I didn’t have PPD, so what the hell was wrong with me? I loved my baby. Every time she cried, I didn’t hate her, I hated my inability to keep her happy. The horrible and isolating thoughts about her dying crept in slowly. Images of horrific and tragic accidents, me sleep deprived and slipping down the stairs with her in my arms, SIDS sneaking up and taking her away from me in the middle of the night, our cats killing her for no reason at all. I couldn’t watch the news because every story made me panic.
It wasn’t until 6-7 months I told my doctor. When she asked, “Are you sleeping?” I broke into tears; I hadn’t slept more than 2-3 hours at a time since she was born. My heart was constantly in my throat and I had no idea why. Turns out I was suffering from PPD and PPA. I ended up getting a mild antidepressant and therapy. My moods still come in waves but they’re gentle, friendlier. It doesn’t feel like a constant storm. I no longer worry about my baby leaving me. Being able to enjoy my daughter and motherhood is the best feeling in the world. I can’t imagine if I hadn’t gotten help how different my life could have been.
My thoughts still stray from time to time, like my friend’s, but they’re not as bad as they were those first couple of weeks. I think it might have been a perfect storm of sleep deprivation and the uncertainty of being a new mother, mixed in with those boatloads of hormones. Once i opened up about it, the thoughts got way more manageable. What blows my mind is that no books about having children really cover this sort of thing. Yes, some mention PPD and to keep an eye out for symptoms, but I had no idea PPA existed until the night I did my google search.
I’m sharing this information in hopes that someone comes across it and it eases his or her mind. You’re not alone. Talk to a friend, see your doctor, voice your concerns. It may be difficult for fear of stigma, or people judging your ability to be a mother. Speaking up is a brave thing to do, and the more women that come forward and talk about their experiences, the more other women may feel inclined to speak up.
Hang in there.