Two months after having my first baby, I woke up in a cold sweat. I had had trouble sleeping, my body was (painfully) adjusting to pumping exclusively, and my heart felt like it was going to beat out of my chest. I thought I was dying.
I leaned over the bed, peeked into the co-sleeper attached to the side of the bed, and watched my baby son’s chest rise and fall inside his fleece swaddle. I checked his breathing monitor, and touched his face to make certain he was warm enough. I fell back against the pillows, gulping in breaths of air that felt inadequate, and prayed for the feeling to pass.
My hyper vigilance wasn’t unlikely, or without reason. My son nearly lost his life when he was 36-hours-old. I had a reason, a very good reason, to feel those feelings. But those feelings were soon edged out by PTSD, swallowed in the shadow of the year to come.
I did a lot of work to heal the PTSD before my daughter was born, but it wasn’t long before the feelings of panic began to seep into my everyday life. It started slow. I would wake up to feed my baby and then not be able to fall back asleep for a few hours, in spite of being bone tired. Then I found myself looping thoughts of doom around the clock. Insecurity and irrational fear began wearing away at the edges of my consciousness.
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Then the mental and emotional paralysis set in.
Awash in the anxiety, I felt glued to the couch, unable to mobilize myself to get anything done except the bare basics of being a present and loving caregiver to my two kids. I fell behind with work and relationships began to suffer. Emails would sit in my inbox for weeks and I wouldn’t address them, not because I didn’t want to, but because every message brought a wave of anxiety and expectation and I wanted space to CTFD before responding. But by the time I got back around to crafting a response, the email was buried and I would forget to address it.
I became snappy with my pre-school aged son and husband, unable to withstand any sort of stress. Leaving the house required brain space that was occupied by my debilitating anxiousness, so I stopped trying. Those random nights of insomnia soon morphed into most nights, and I felt like a deranged mommy zombie. Caffeine was a no go for me, so I compensated with sugar. That left my body feeling achy and only compounded my symptoms.
I was scrolling through Facebook and came across an image that hit me like a ton of bricks.
Then I did preliminary screening, and I checked a majority of the boxes. A visit with my therapist reaffirmed what I suspected was true.
Here’s how I pulled myself out of the spiral. You can, too.
Find a real therapist.
I know your bestie is always there for you, and hopefully your partner is, too. But nobody is a substitute for professional help. You need someone who understands what happens in the brain when anxiety takes over and life starts to not make sense.
Have your hormones and thyroid checked.
After the third month post-partum, mamas don’t always get more care. But you are important and your body matters here. Ask to have all of your levels checked and don’t take no for an answer.
Identify your triggers.
How do you feel when you exist on string cheese and coffee, with a side of gummy worms? How about sleep? It takes less than a week of poor sleep to begin affecting your neurological function. Is your partner engaged and helpful? Do you have other children who create more challenges? Do you feel better when people are around or better alone? Take a few days to notice when your anxiety spikes and make a note of it.
I know. How do you even do that with a small baby? I don’t know. I know what works for us, and that means that my husband gets up with kids on the weekends and I sleep as long as I need to in order to be a functional human. To be clear, he doesn’t love this plan, but he loves me and he loves it when I’m not a zombie. He also loves it when I’m not continuously on the edge of a complete and utter breakdown. So, it’s a win.
Expect less of yourself, less of your kids, less of pretty much everything. But mostly yourself. Your body just grew a human, it might be feeding a human, and it is definitely caring for a human. This human tipped your world upside down and threw everything off-kilter. It’s going to take time and work to figure out a new normal, which is basically impossible until your baby is 15. Lower your own expectations about what this season should look like, and prioritize getting through it however you can.
Don’t wait to have your sh*t figured out to acknowledge you’re struggling.
Listen, mama. Your people want to be there for you and literally nobody who loves you is going to judge you. They will help you figure out how to get in to see your therapists. You deserve all of the support you can possibly muster, even if it makes you feel more vulnerable in the process. You are allowed to fall apart.
If you’re reading this and it’s hitting home, you can follow along with me while I get my own post partum sh*t together over on Instagram. If not, I’m so happy for you. Truly. Now let’s look out for each other.