"Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop"
My pregnancy had some scary beginnings with an erupted cyst at 5 weeks that the doctors thought was a sign of miscarriage to worries about an ectopic pregnancy. After all that, it was pretty much average up until I had our daughter.
Our daughter, Sophia, was born almost 6 weeks early by stat cesarean section due to her being in Frank breech position. She came into this world with hip dysplasia and a dislocated left knee which forced her to be in a knee wrap. Then she had to wear a Pavlik harness full time for her first 6 weeks of life. It could not be removed. It had to be bathed around, clothed around, etc. Otherwise, she was a healthy vibrant baby. Even though she was early, we didn’t even need to stay any longer in the hospital due to her excellent overall health.
I attempted to breastfeed, but she would only comfort latch due to being so early. I began to pump thinking I wouldn’t be able to do it at all but, surprisingly, it worked, so I pumped exclusively. I was pumping every 2-3 hours during the day. At night, I would wake up to pump, feed my daughter, go back to bed, just to do it less than 2 hours later. My husband was wonderful during it all. He woke up with me every feeding, but since I had to pump anyway, I felt bad having him get up all the time. I felt it was just easier for me to do it all since I was up anyway.
I felt the anxiety hit for the first time a couple of days after Sophia was born. She had a poopy diaper. I remember asking my husband if he could change her since I was still recovering from my c-section and couldn’t bend over without some discomfort. That wasn’t the real reason why I asked him. The truth was that I was terrified to touch her. Terrified that somehow, someway, I would accidentally hurt her, this fragile little being, so in need of love and warmth and ME. I didn’t want to let her down. Yet, I still didn’t address this as anxiety. I lied to myself.
After the first week home, my husband went back to work. That first day alone, I think I sat on the couch with Sophia for most of the day, worried to move, worried to budge. I didn’t want to break her. I didn’t want to drop her. I forgot to eat, forgot to care for myself, and the heart palpitations came swooping in. Then, I started to be up half the night checking on her, making sure she was breathing, making sure she was still alive. I was afraid to shower, even when she was napping, in case something happened and I wasn’t right there to help her. We bought a breathing tracker that clipped onto Sophia’s diaper and laid flat against her belly because I couldn’t sleep otherwise. It offered little relief.
I kept having severe heart palpitations that wouldn’t go away, and pretty high blood pressure during the first 6 weeks. At my 6-week postpartum checkup, I asked my doctor about them. I also took the little survey they hand out to determine if you are suffering from postpartum depression. The questions about being overwhelmed? I was a new mom! Of course I was overwhelmed! So I lied to myself again, and lied on the card, and passed with flying colors, because I didn’t have postpartum depression. Anxiety, however, sat hovering over me at my appointment, metaphorically laughing. I was referred to a cardiologist for my heart issues at that appointment, and sternly told by my OB-GYN that I needed to lay off the caffeine, as it wasn’t doing any good. I was hooked up to a heart monitor for 30 days, and continued to check my blood pressure at home. Any time I was very frustrated or experiencing the feeling of being overwhelmed, my heart monitor would beep at me. Those beeps and the constant checking of my blood pressure caused me to have white coat syndrome in a way. Any time I did have to check, my body automatically went into fight or flight mode. It was a normal thing for my blood pressure to be up to as high as 163/98 in those weeks, when all throughout my pregnancy, my blood pressure sat around 117/72. My cardiologist suggested putting me on a medication that would cause my heart rate to slow down. But when I wasn’t having the heart palpitations, my heart rate was actually a bit below average. The medication also wouldn’t have allowed me to continue to feed Sophia via my breastmilk, so I opted to take a few months to see what would happen and continued to pump, hoping it was just some random fluke of a recovery phase.
When Sophia was around 6 months old, I also had a scare that caused me to have a colonoscopy at age 28, which thankfully came back clear. My body, looking back, was flagging me down with signs and symptoms of severe stress and anxiety. I had been working in higher education for about 4 years at that point, and had just made a big exciting job change, but there I was, sitting at work, beyond miserable. I was crying in my office on my lunch hour, rushing home to get Sophia after work, pumping throughout the day, and parenting on my own 5 nights a week, as my husband works a 3-11 shift in a high stress career field. He would come in, tired from a long crazy night at work, to find me on the floor in our kitchen, bawling uncontrollably. I was so overwhelmed and scared of everything. It happened a handful of times, but yet, ironically, I still felt like I was happy. I was just SO scared. My anxiety got to the point where one night, I was cleaning a kitchen knife after dinner, and panic sunk in. All of a sudden I was terrified that it could drop and hurt my baby when she was in the other room, safe and happily cooing while my husband played with her. I was never worried I would do something on purpose to harm my child; I was worried the universe would do it all for me.
I felt as if I was holding my breath all the time. I was so happy to be a mom, something I wasn't even sure I would be able to be; but I was also so terrified. Someone told me recently that seeing me in those first few months, I always looked so happy and so incredibly scared at the same time. Like I was waiting for the other shoe to drop.
At my follow up appointment for my blood pressure, I finally admitted to my doctor that I thought I had postpartum anxiety. We talked about options for treatment, which included me discontinuing pumping breastmilk and only formula feeding, as my hormones were totally out of whack from not having a regular cycle yet. I let my supply slow and stop, and with other coping mechanisms, including therapy, I was able to get on the path to feeling GOOD again. My blood pressure lowered. My heart palpitations slowed and became almost non-existent. I found my triggers.
I still see a counselor regularly as I also have general anxiety. If my husband and I do decide to have more children, I know that I have a greater risk of having postpartum anxiety again. I also know that I'm still a total work in progress. But I'm also the best I can be by acknowledging every part of myself and by not being afraid to let the not as shiny, glittery aspects of my life show through. I know that I am not alone. I know that there are women out there who are going through this now, wondering when they’ll feel “normal” again. Just know, you are a wonderful, amazing mother. You first need to care for yourself, and then you can care for your children even more. There is nothing weak or shameful in admitting you need help or support. Let’s end the stigma.