A new mom has earnestly shared her experience about how she has battled the guilt and fear brought on by postnatal anxiety disorder.
I have recently been diagnosed with postnatal anxiety disorder. As a mentally strong person, this came as a shock to me. In order to assist in my growth, and hopefully others, I’ve decided to jot down what I’ve experienced, what I saw and felt as I turned into an emotional marshmallow in the months after having my son.
The first thing that struck me was the vast social change you see in yourself and what others see in you. Every shred of confidence you had as a person—the thoughts and ideas and things that made you interesting—is ripped away. You have a screaming, pooing, life-sucking “bundle of joy” who everyone would prefer to see than you.
Being a new mom is extremely isolating. You could be enduring the barest of grim situations (not showering for three days or eating for two) but no one asks, or looks, or cares. It’s all about bub. All of this leads you, in a hormonal fog, to question if your friends and family are who they claim to be.
In my months of motherhood, however, two of the more common feelings are fear and guilt.
Even those who were the best decision makers will now agonize over the smallest things. I stood for hours deciding what wipes would be the best to wipe his bum with, which soap to put in the bath, which clothes to put on him, whether he is hot or cold. Once the decision was made, I would second guess myself for the rest of the day.
Guilt is a large and varied part of new motherhood. There’s the guilt at not bringing in your share of income to the family. As someone who put career first and earned more than my husband, the transition into the role of housewife was an extremely tough one.
Or the guilt at not loving my baby enough. I really struggled with having this crying, hungry, smelly, completely dependent but amazingly cute child hanging off me all the time. As soon as my husband went back to work, it was all on me, and I felt guilty that I didn’t love the situation as much as I should, or as popular culture deemed of me.
There’s even the garden variety motherly guilt. I vividly remember waking up one morning when he had slept through. Good news, you might think. Well, no. I had four hourly alarms set 24/7 to wake up and feed him, as he was slow to gain weight. I must have turned off the alarm in my sleep and we all got a few good hours of rest. This resulted in days of worry about what that week’s weigh-in would be.
The guilt of being on my phone too much, the guilt of watching too much TV, guilt at falling asleep while feeding, guilt about having too small a house, guilt of wanting to quit breastfeeding, guilt of not walking enough, the guilt of taking him out too much.
The guilt I could handle, but the fear was far worse.
I have read a study that fear is actually a safety mechanism programmed into women’s brains to prepare for emergency situations and therefore keep their baby safe. However, I have also read that this is a significant symptom of postnatal depression.
I was walking, with my bubba safely strapped into the carriage, along a bike track. There are many bridges over the coastal creeks along the path and I could not stop thinking about him falling, carriage and all, into the creek and drowning. These were not just thoughts, but vivid images (almost hallucinations) that felt so real that they would take my breath away. This happened walking down stairs, standing on balconies, using knives, or about anything that had a slight edge of danger to it.
So after nine months of growing this amazing child and then nine months of worrying about him, it was time for me to go back to work.
I used to be able to go to a medical emergency and lead a team of medical professionals through lifesaving algorithms and procedures. Upon my return, my professional nous was extinguished by the nagging question: “If I couldn’t get a baby to sleep without crying, how can I save this person’s life?” While I’m now regularly back at work, it seems vastly foreign from what I left, both in staff and experience. There are large parts of the evening where I watch the clock. Strange as it seems, but the career that I treasured no longer seems like it’s for me.
But there are vast positives, for I’ve developed a higher level of empathy. Every dying child is your child; every child left without a family is your child; every single awful situation is potentially yours. This is the same for the wins; every new mother on the commercial is you, and you empathize and you cry.
Gleaning from what I’ve learned, I honestly don’t think women can have it all immediately postpartum. We are not hormonally programmed to leave our babies with families and strangers for long periods during the day soon after birth. So, I’m not saying let go emotionally or distance yourself from these feelings, but externalize these thoughts to those you love; or at the very least, keep one foot firmly planted in that bucket of salt.