When I started this blog, I promised myself I wouldn’t make it all happy-happy-happy all the time. I’d try to be as real as I reasonably could be (because, let’s face it, some things just aren’t appropriate to discuss on a blog). So I’m going to admit to something that I have still not completely come to terms with:
I have had horrible, at times all-consuming anxiety since the birth of Ethan.
I’ve always had anxiety – never to the point where I had panic attacks or needed medication, but just enough to be really annoying. I tend to freak out and harp on things for far longer than their expiration date. I’m incredibly hard on myself and often find myself consumed with worrying what people think of me, if I’m doing things right, and generally trying to be as perfect as possible. After deciding to leave college (long story which I’ll tell some other time), a lot of that anxiety lifted, as I felt free for the first time in several years. Sure, it meant that there were a dozen new things to worry about – paying back loans, finding a big-girl job, trying to decide if I’d ever go back and finish my degree, the list goes on – but I was free to address them and figure them out.
I’m not saying that I feel like I’m on lockdown now that I’m a mother, but the fact that I can no longer do things on my own terms and in my own time has been difficult to face. Last night, I came home hungry, thirsty, and very tired. Before Ethan, I would have gotten myself some food and water and relaxed on the sofa. Now, however, I needed to change his diaper, get him a bottle, and rock him to sleep before I could do any of those things. And last night, he decided to have a very loud, very long meltdown that I could not for the life of me make go away.
And I hit my breaking point.
As soon as Adam got home from work, I handed Ethan over to him and locked myself in the bathroom for a little good old-fashioned, towel-over-the-face scream-crying. I then basically went fetal in our bed and cried myself to sleep. I don’t remember the last time I cried so hard. I think it was shortly after my grandfather passed away. I’ve been mostly holding back those tears for weeks now, and I think the combination of exhaustion and stress just hit me all at once.
I started realizing how much I have been panicking as a new mom. Yes, most of the time I’m just fine and perfectly happy, soothing my son without batting an eye and genuinely enjoying time with my baby. I even like changing poop-filled diapers, and no, I’m totally not kidding. I love everything about my little boy and I can’t get enough of him…except when he has these long, drawn-out, screaming fits that I can’t control. Generally, they only end when Adam takes over. I have spent weeks worrying that maybe Ethan doesn’t even like me that much. Maybe I can’t comfort him at all. What kind of mother can’t comfort her own child? Maybe I’m not a good mother.
It kills me that those thoughts enter my head, because deep down, I know they aren’t true. I’m as good a mother as I can possibly be. I care for my son. I adore him. I do all the things that the books and our doctor say we should do to aid his development. I play with him and read to him and sing to him. I kiss his chubby cheeks every chance I get. I make sure that he is always fed, dry, warm, clean, and cared for in every way I possibly can. I’m not a bad mother. And yet I find myself constantly thinking that I am.
A couple of weeks after Ethan was born, I started wondering if I had some postpartum depression. I knew it was perfectly normal to be weepy, anxious, and generally feel entirely wacky in the weeks immediately following the birth of a baby. It makes sense, after all – a woman’s body goes through so much during pregnancy and birth, and then the thing causing all that weirdness is suddenly on the outside and needs round-the-clock care. It’s a lot for anyone to deal with, and I’m not Superman. I knew it would be hard and that I’d be stressed. I was usually content, but when the sadness hit, it hit hard. I would spend hours forcing back tears and staring helplessly at my baby as he cried, trying to figure out what I was forgetting or what I was doing wrong. It got so bad that sometimes my hands would shake as I forced emotion back down.
It was when these feelings didn’t fade after two weeks that I started wondering if perhaps it was more than just the “Baby Blues” after all. That thought scared me. I’ve never and would never judge another woman for postpartum depression or anxiety, but here I was, judging myself for the mere possibility of having it. You know that old cliche “you are your own worst enemy”? There’s a reason we say it. It’s true. I cannot give myself a break lately. When I do have a break, I spend most of it worrying about my abilities as a mother.
So I’m going to try and really do something about it. I’m going to allow myself to cry if I need to. I’m going to take care of my body (my appetite has been incredibly diminished since Ethan was born and I suspect that part of my problem is lack of proper nutrition). I’m going to allow myself at least an hour a day to relinquish all parental duties and do things like read, watch TV, take a long shower, or take a nap without once inquiring about Ethan or feeling guilt over it. Adam knows what he’s doing. He’s a wonderful father, and frankly, it’s good for both him and Ethan to have some time together without my interference. Most importantly, I’m going to allow myself to be honest and open about this, because I’m not alone and it’s stupid to act like I am. And if none of these efforts solve the issue, I’m going to talk to my doctor about it.
I really hope this works, and I really hope I start feeling better soon. I want to look back at this time as a time of challenges that I managed to face and fix, rather than a time of overwhelming panic attacks. Most of all, I want to remember that I am a good mother, and that the best thing I can do for Ethan right now is to make sure that I am there for him, in body, mind, and heart.