The Vanderhorst Family

The Vanderhorst Family

Sunday, September 7, 2014

My Journey with Postpartum Anxiety

As I've been going through this experience I've had a really strong impression that I needed to share my experiences. Not so much because I have a lot of advice to offer, but more-so because I feel like this topic among new moms is very hush hush, which actually makes this situation worse for anyone who struggles with it.

How often do we ask a new mom how she's doing or how she likes being a mom, and she replies with "I'm doing good! I LOVE being a mom!" Of course, this is probably an accurate statement. But then the conversation often moves on to her baby and how cute he/she is or how well they are sleeping or eating or whatever, and the mom could really be thinking "Um, I know I'm supposed to love being a mom, but this has been REALLY HARD!" 

Postpartum anxiety is a very real hardship that many moms face, yet it is hardly ever talked about because moms feel like they need to bounce back to normal.

That pressure to bounce back to normal life is totally how I felt when Andrew was born. First of all, I was a first-time mom so I didn't really know what to expect as far as postpartum emotions go, and second of all, I had to return to work within 6 weeks while finishing up grades for the term ending that next week, answering emails or phone-calls of students or parents freaking out, all while my son was struggling in the NICU for 3 weeks. I had no choice but to suck it up and just go into survival mode and do what I had to do. I often look back on that time and think "How on earth did Grant and I get through that?" We were both exhausted and trying to just push through the end of the school year that I didn't really have time to process any emotions or really deal with them. It wasn't until Andrew was about 4 months old when I had time to breath, look back, and think "Wow! That was really hard!" But I don't really remember feeling super anxious or depressed during that time simply because I kind of blocked out all those emotions.

With Hailey it has been quite a different experience. The postpartum anxiety hit me the minute we dropped Andrew off and I headed to the hospital. Seriously, I would be in labor and get tears in my eyes and look at Grant and say "I hope Andrew is ok! Do you think he misses us? Do you think he's doing ok without either of us there?!" I never feel this way when I leave him with a babysitter, but my emotions were already jumping all over the place and Hailey wasn't even out yet. OF COURSE HE WAS FINE! I learned afterwards that he was just his charming self, cooperated just great, and wasn't ever really sad. He did JUST FINE without me there :) But in my mind this was a very real concern of mine. That little incident was just the beginning. The following is a list of only some of the things that I worried about in the course of my anxiety (I can actually laugh about some of these now)

1. Breastfeeding. To my credit, I did have a few hardships going against me, but really, those first 2 days in the hospital I worried constantly about whether or not I'd be able to make breastfeeding work this time around.
2. SIDS. Oh my gosh. I was up every 20 minutes for about a week straight just making sure that Hailey was still alive. She had no reason to die from SIDS! We always put her on her back, I was swaddling her, she had a binky, we've been nursing, there is nothing else in her pack-n-play bassinet except a fitted sheet, we have good air circulation, blah blah blah. She's fine. She's been fine. She will be fine. And yet I still thought every single night that I would wake up 10 hours later to find her dead in the bassinet next to our bed. It was awful. It was a really vicious cycle though because that same week Hailey wasn't sleeping very well at night anyways, so the more tired I would get the more tired I got the more anxious I got, and then the less sleep I got because I would be getting up to make sure she was still alive. There were a couple times when I would jump out of bed and frantically look around the apartment trying to find Hailey, and the whole time she was right next to our bed. It was seriously horrible. 
3. I had a dream once that my mom got cancer and died a week later, and also had a dream that Grant didn't want to be married to me anymore. My anxiety even creeped into my subconscious!
4. I was worried that Grant would get shot on the metro on his way home from work.
5. I was worried someone would come take Andrew and Hailey while I'd be walking out to the car with them.
6. I was worried that someone would come and shoot me in front of Andrew and Hailey while walking out to the car.
7. I was worried that I would drop Hailey when I would carry her around the apartment.
8. I ALWAYS worried about all these random, horrible things that would happen to either Andrew or Hailey. Really, they were kind of ridiculous scenarios, but in my mind everything was a real threat to their safety.

(As a side note, I think numbers 4, 5, and 6 were also heightened by watching WAY too much Law and Order).

These are just a FEW things I worried about--I was constantly anxious about something. I would be on the verge of tears a lot of days, and Grant could tell I was not happy. Many times I would be beside myself with angst and fear.

I realized a couple weeks ago that something REALLY needed to change. I started taking practical steps to take care of myself. 

~I tried to get a nap in every day. Sometimes this wasn't always possible because one of the kids would be up, but as soon as both kids were asleep, it was time for bed. I had to leave my apartment a mess, dinner unmade, and clothes unfolded, but I knew that I needed to get some sleep or else I would be anxious about everything.
~I made sure I ate and drank enough water. This might sound selfish, but I made sure that I got food before I fed Andrew or Hailey. I felt like I couldn't properly take care of them unless I took care of myself as well, and I knew it wouldn't happen unless I got fed first.
~I tried to shower or take a bath every day. I hardly did my hair or makeup, but bathing or showering was one way that I was able to relax. 
~Opening up and talking about it. I reached out to my mom and mother-in-law, my sister-in-laws, and friends in my ward to see if they struggled with the same things and things that helped them. I also talked to Grant a lot about it. Even though he's never been there before, I still felt like I wanted to talk to him about my concerns. Grant was always so good to hear me out, and the thing he did that was most helpful is he just listened to my concerns and also validated them, and then would reassure me. He didn't try to reason with me or laugh at me (though I'm sure he wanted to when I told him about things that made me anxious), and he never told me I was off my rocker (even though I felt like I was). He just held me, listened to me, validated my emotions, and reassured me. It was the most helpful thing any person could do.
~Tomorrow is the first day that I'll be able to exercise, and I have NO DOUBT that will help! To quote Legally Blonde "Exercise releases endorphins. Endorphins make you happy! Happy people just don't kill their husbands (or in this case worry they will get shot on the metro)...they just don't." 

Taking these practical steps was really helpful, but it wasn't until last Sunday that I really felt a lot of peace come to me.

It was fast and testimony meeting in our ward, and our Bishop shared a scripture from the New Testament. It's in Luke 10:38-42 and it says "Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her."

Tears streamed down my face as I realized that I was being like Martha. I had good intentions (like I'm sure Martha did. If the Savior were in my home I'd be cleaning and serving too!), but I realized that I only had a limited amount of worry to go around, and I was spending it worrying about things that were insignificant or incredibly improbable. I began focusing more on those things that mattered most: spending time with my children, making sure they knew I loved them, and connecting with the Lord every day through prayer and scripture study. I could feel Heavenly Father's love during that sacrament meeting as I knew that everything would be ok. 

Don't get me wrong, I still will sometimes check to make sure Hailey is breathing and I still take plenty of precautions, but it's getting better. I know there is always an option to get medication as well, but for right now I will continue what I've been doing because it seems to be working. If you're struggling with postpartum anxiety, know that you're not alone, you're not crazy, and there are people who are willing to listen and help.