I, by nature, am not an anxious person. That was, of course, until Dave and I decided to start trying for a baby. Suddenly, I was ridden with anxiety and self doubt--a feeling that was very foreign to me. It was one of the first “goals” in my life that I could not achieve simply through focus and determination. There was, of course, the obvious act necessary to make a baby that I could participate in, but beyond that… I couldn’t will my body to conceive the moment I was ready. It became quickly apparent that a Type A personality was not going to play in my favour when it came to making and raising babies. The root of this? Control. Or lack there of, I should say.
I am writing this from a very vulnerable place and it is not something that I am fully comfortable with. To shine light on a time when I felt out of control and less capable is, in fact, a very uncomfortable thing for me to do. I think as women, but particularly as mothers, it can be hard to show others that we battle with self doubt and mental health. For some reason, we feel there is this expectation to be Super Woman at all times. But, from everything I have learned through this experience, I can say with confidence that every mom feels this way at some point in her journey, if not on the regular. It is my hope that, by sharing my story, I will help other women climbing similar mountains know that they are not alone and that, with time, and maybe a little help, this too shall pass. You may feel weak, but you possess endless amounts of strength and wisdom. Know how I know? Because you are a mom. And no one can love or care for your child like you can. No one can know and understand their needs better than you. You are a mother. And that is synonymous with strength.
The day our daughter, Ayla, was born was the happiest day of our lives. We could not have been happier or have loved her more. But, as very early days passed, I recognized the feeling that was settling into the pit of my stomach as all too familiar. It was the same feeling I had when I worried about not being able to get pregnant. However, this time, the anxiety was more difficult to pinpoint because I wasn’t sure where its roots lay. My daughter was healthy and thriving, so why did I always feel plagued by anxiousness? Even being on the other side of postpartum anxiety and writing about it months later, it is difficult to put these feelings into words.
The term postpartum depression is something that pops up all over the place during pregnancy. You are educated on the signs and symptoms well before baby arrives. It wasn’t until after Ayla was born and I was faced with daily anxiety that I began to research other postpartum mental health issues. I had no idea that postpartum anxiety was even a thing! Turns out, not only is it ‘a thing’ but it is extremely common.
Most of my anxiety tended to be around how much Ayla was sleeping as well as the anticipation of anything new (like breastfeeding outside the comfort of my own home. Flash forward a few months and you can find me nursing anywhere and everywhere). I have a very vivid memory of Ayla waking one night at 10pm and me freezing in my tracks, not knowing what to do. As a new mom with a very young baby, I could only rely on one thing and that was Ayla’s night time sleep. She would go down at 7pm and wake twice for feedings, sometime around midnight and 3am and then wake around 7am. She would sleep well until those feeds. So when she broke routine one night and woke before midnight, I panicked. She broke her one consistent behaviour and that threw me for a loop. Was it a big deal? Of course not. Would I even blink an eye if this happened today? Nope. But then, in my very vulnerable state, something small like this rocked me.
Another evening, I remember Ayla had gone to bed as usual and was sleeping soundly. Dave and I were enjoying our evening together, something that I continue to cherish today, but that was very precious to me in the early days of motherhood. The day had been fine. Nothing significant had happened. And yet, I remember sitting on the couch consumed by anxiety that I could not explain. My stomach was in knots and I was breathing deeply, trying to calm my nerves. That was an upsetting night. It was when I knew hormones were determining my emotions and that there was likely nothing I could do about it except let them run their course.
During this time in my life, I was very thankful to be a reflective person. I understood that these feelings were rooted in hormones and generally triggered by situational factors. My fluctuating hormones combined with my need to maintain control was the perfect cocktail for postpartum anxiety.
When I would talk to other moms about what I was feeling anxious about in regards to Ayla, they would assure me that this phase wouldn’t last and that I could relax and let her run the show for a bit. And although I knew they spoke logically and truthfully, I also knew I had to experience everything for myself. I had to watch Ayla grow and I needed to learn as a mother. I needed to see her go through various phases of her newborn life and live through them with her before I was able to successfully relinquish control and come to peace with the fact that, when it comes to babies, it’s often best to roll with the punches (within reason, of course. I can’t completely change who I am!).
By the time Ayla was three months old, the anxiety had almost completely disappeared. A moment that stands out in my mind is when I took Ayla to the doctor’s for a routine check up. I had, of course, scheduled it perfectly to fit in between naps, but his office was running behind. Soon, I found myself right in the thick of nap #3, but certainly did not have a sleeping baby in my arms. I watched the clock as we sat in the waiting room. Nap time came and went. It was then that I realized that the world didn’t end when things didn’t go as planned. Ayla made it through to bedtime, perhaps a little crankier than usual, but no one was worse for wear. And I hadn’t succumbed to my anxiety either. I remained calm and my baby, happy. This sounds so insignificant, especially writing it today, but in the moment, it signified that I had emerged on the other side of my postpartum struggles.
Aside from my own hormones settling a bit, I had also been a mother long enough to figure out that every phase a baby goes through is relatively short. So to try and control a particular baby behaviour is like trying to hold on to a fleeting moment. It’s barely worth the energy because it will be such a flash in the pan. The term, “this won’t last forever,” became all but my mantra. And it is these words that continue to keep me calm (as possible) through motherhood.
Although I do not miss my anxious days by any means, I am, in a way, thankful for this experience as a new mom. It taught me valuable lessons about myself and provided me with ample opportunity for growth. I got to experience something difficult in the midst of something incredibly joyous, and then come out the other side, where even more joy awaited me in the calm. I love talking to other new moms, in the throws of hormonal chaos, not knowing which way is up, so I can tell them it gets easier.
Today, Ayla is seven months old. She is our greatest joy and gives us, as parents, new and profound purpose. Every day brings new lessons (for her and myself) and some are more challenging than others. But, as physically and emotionally taxing as being a parent can be, I wouldn’t trade these days for the world, as I am sure other moms would agree. Each day I find myself begging time to, please, slow down as the months fly by.
If you are a mom struggling, in any way, postpartum, I encourage you to talk about it. Acknowledge your feelings and give them a voice. I promise you are not alone and you will quickly find a band of women who will flock to you in support. I also believe that talking about these feelings and emotions allows you to make sense of them and get out of your head, so to speak. This was, without a doubt, my best coping mechanism. And although it was just time that my body needed to sort itself out, talking about my feelings and realizing their root, made the difficult days so much easier.
If Dave and I ever give Ayla a sibling, I obviously hope that I can skip this phase. The unknown surrounding life with a newborn is now behind me and these life experiences are hopefully enough to keep my anxious triggers at bay and prevent me from playing into the crazy hormonal shifts. But, if I don’t, I will remind myself once again that, “this won’t last forever”. I will reach out to my support system to raise me up and I will come out the other side.
Articulating this period in my life has been difficult. Not because I don’t like talking about it, but because I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to describe what it was truly like.
I hope that this story finds its way to someone, somewhere who needs it. I hope that my journey through postpartum anxiety brings another woman comfort knowing that they are not alone and encourages them to soak up the joy of this precious, very short lived period of their little one’s life.