I look at my beautiful two year old son today, and when asked, I am still able to replay the first two weeks of his life hour by hour.
Saturday, October 14th was not Nolan’s birthday, but it was an extremely important day in both his and my life: we had to leave the hospital where we had just spent two days laboring, delivering and starting our lives together, and he would be coming home with my husband and me. It was now up to me to keep this little angel alive. “Good luck!” the nurse who walked us to our car said in a cheerful tone. “You’re not coming with us?!” I gasped.
Prior to Nolan’s birth, I was extremely leery of hospitals. This time, I’m pretty sure I thought about moving in. Suddenly, there I was, buckling this infant into his new carseat and embarking on the ride of our lives. I cried, hard, the entire ride back home. As soon as I saw that both mine and my husband’s family were waiting for us, I wiped my tears and attempted to stuff the emotions down for a bit. I put on a brave face and tried to remind myself that I now had a beautiful, healthy baby who loved me already as I did him! When I looked at Nolan, I felt love like I’d never felt before, which both made me happy and simultaneously scared me to death.
The physical anxiety I felt began to infiltrate my waking hours with my son. Fears I didn’t realize were humanly possible to think about flooded my mind: What if when I was walking down the stairs with him, we fell, or worse, I dropped him? What if he smacked his head on the corner of our coffee table? Well, now it’s time for a new coffee table. What if I am terrible at this? What if I turn into one of those moms that goes insane? What if, what if, what if? These scary thoughts, among many others, played on loop and they were both painful and confusing. I loved my little boy, and I also felt horrifying guilt and remorse over not being able to be totally present for our time together. It was agonizing. Because of this, I lost my appetite, couldn’t sleep and couldn’t do something that always made me feel better: exercise.
I decided it was an appropriate time to call my therapist from three years prior. She was heaven sent back then when I needed her; surely she would save me this time too! I waited for her call back for a painful 48 hours but I needed help now. It was my sister’s therapist who finally called me to give me some feedback from NYC. We talked for about 20 minutes as I paced up and down the tiny sidewalk in front of my home. It occurred to me that walking around at all made me feel like I had been hit by a bus. I cried as the therapist reassured me, “the fact that you are putting all this work in to help yourself because you are worried about being the best mother possible is very telling. You just had this baby a week ago. You are already an amazing mother just by doing this.” Could she be right? Could I let her be right? Because I was still so fragile, I had trouble believing her words. She gave me the names of therapists from my area but none of their specialties aligned with my postpartum issues.
So, I kept searching for more help. When I was pregnant, I skimmed so many books, scoured the internet and bothered all my friends who had newborn babies and toddlers and none of my sources discussed THIS. Thus, I felt so alone. Am I the only one who feels this fearful of motherhood? Why couldn’t I feel joyful when they could? Was I not meant to be a mother? If so, it’s now too late…I can’t turn back now. And the list of judgmental questions went on and on. Finally, I remembered a good friend who confided that she’d also struggled with anxiety prior and I reached out to her. She has no idea how much she helped me.
She gave me the name and number of a postpartum stress center and it coincidentally was less than 1 mile from my house! Little wins like this were crucial at the time. “Sign a girl up,” I thought, as if I’d just received notification that I’d gotten off the SoulCycle waitlist.
After I made an appointment with one of the Clinic Directors, I began to worry about what she might say when I told her the scary thoughts and feelings I was experiencing. Turns out – the opposite happened.
I found her to be incredibly understanding, empathetic, compassionate and most of all, able to take the heavy weight I had been carrying since Nolan’s birth off my shoulders. I was not the only new mother who felt these terrible feelings; I was one of millions. Some women experience much worse and that breaks my heart to know.
After 60 minutes of chatting, it was pretty clear that I was struggling with a mixture of baby blues (hormonal changes), Post Partum Anxiety and exhaustion. I was a BIG napper in my day (ask my parents, my friends and my husband) and as soon as I had Nolan, my 12 hours of sleep was almost non-existent. Everyone says “nap when the baby naps”. To that I say LOL. That would have worked well if I wasn’t so anxious every time I closed my eyes when Nolan did. I had learned in my prior years of therapy that “what if” statements are not helpful at all, but when you are sleep-deprived and your life has been turned upside-down (in the best way possible), your mind is fragile and doesn’t let the thoughts flow in and out like the average person.
I made an appointment to come back the next week at the same time. As a new mom, it is SO hard to give up control when it comes to taking care of this new life – but I knew it was something I had to do in order to get better. Little did I know that letting others in and letting others HELP is something that I needed so very much. Either my mom or my mother-in-law would come for the hour I was gone and for them I am eternally grateful. Others in my position sometimes don’t even live within hours of their families, so I knew that I had to do this.
Each week, just by talking about my thoughts, feelings and worries, and with the help of a beautiful little dose of Zoloft prescribed by my OB, I felt so much better. If I could describe the relief in picture, it was like a fog lifted and with that, the fear-based thoughts and the insomnia went along with it. I gained a good amount of weight back (+ more!) that I had lost – but I was happy. I was calm. I was me.
From then on, I was able to focus on what I needed to. I was lucky enough to be able to take care of my mental health while also cultivating this new mother-son relationship with Nolan and dealing with the trials and tribulations of being a new mother; like, breastfeeding (OMG), putting another life ahead of my own, finding pockets of time to shower/eat, figuring out the new normal with my husband, amongst many more!
Don’t get me wrong, I am still overwhelmed at times and can go down an anxious spiral if I let myself, but because of utilizing the resources available, opening up, pulling back the layers and constantly making myself a priority – I know that all of this is temporary.
If you are having or have had any kinds of these thoughts and feelings, please know you are not alone, reach out to your family and friends because I guarantee at least one person has been there too. You know I have, so feel free to reach out!
Also, the Postpartum Stress Center can be reached at www.postpartumstress.com or (610) 525-7527. If you know anyone that might be struggling, please reach out and let them know you are here.
We all need to stick together and try to be lights in other’s lives; especially if they are in a dark time.
There is always a light, I promise.