A lot of people ask me how I knew that I had postpartum depression and not just the baby blues that every new mother typically experiences. At first, I didn’t know. I thought the crying (mine this time, not my baby’s) was just hormones and exhaustion. I thought the feelings of despair and hopelessness would simply subside. When my daughter got better, I would too, right? I kept thinking, When the weather gets better, so will I, or, I’m just tired, or, It’s not like I’m suicidal or anything. But then my daughter turned three months old and things still weren’t better. I felt lost and unhappy and guilty. But by far my worst symptom was and continues to be anxiety. I worry. A LOT. I know, I know, all new moms worry, so let me explain.
What do I worry about? When the doctor said my daughter’s head circumference was in the second percentile (not a typo), I worried that her head would never grow. Did you ever take the heads off your Barbie dolls when you were little and all that was left at the top of her neck was that small plastic ball that had held the head on? That’s what I envisioned my daughter looking like when she was a teenager.
I worry that all the time spent in the baby swing will cause issues with her spinal development. I worry that all her crying and screaming will leave her with a voice like Emma Stone, but that she won’t be famous enough for it to be cool. I worry that letting her cry it out will cause her to feel abandoned and the cortisol levels in her brain will remain high and cause emotional issues when she is a teenager. I worry that she doesn’t sleep enough and it will prevent her brain from developing properly.
I worry that because I was less than thrilled about finding out that I was pregnant, I made her this way. I worry that she is unhappy. I worry that my worry is prolonging her colic. I worry that she will end up like me and be an anxious adult who can’t fully relax and enjoy life.
I worry that my husband isn’t able to fully enjoy the joys of parenthood, which he has wanted all his life. I worry that he will resent me for being so dependent on him.
When my daughter goes to nurse and right before she latches she sticks her fingers in her mouth and seems to expect milk to come out, I worry that not only is she not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but she’s pretty much a spoon.
I spend the night worrying what the next day will hold and the day worrying about what the night will bring. I worry when she cries at night. I worry when she doesn’t cry at night. I worry about the fact that I wake up in the middle of the night thinking I hear her crying and that she has been for hours when she is really fast asleep. I worry when her nap is only 30 minutes long. I worry when her nap is two and a half hours long. I worry she will die of SIDS.
I worry that if she is an only child that she will grow up and never get married and my husband and I will die and she will be all alone in the world. I worry that she won’t be an only child and I will have to do this all over again.
I worry that I don’t play enough with her. I worry that I don’t read enough to her. I worry that I hold her too much or not enough.
I worry that I am worrying away her babyhood. I worry that this time will go too fast. I worry that it won’t go fast enough.
I worry that all my crying makes her feel unloved. I worry that I am a bad mom. I worry that I am messing up the only childhood she will ever have.
I worry that this is the person I am now – that my life will always be consumed with worry and fear and guilt.
These are not simply fleeting thoughts. They are the constant chatter in my mind, drowning out any rational logic that threatens to invade. And I make myself sick. Literally. My breaths become shallow and it feels as if my heart is being squeezed. I have headaches from clenching my jaw and back pain from tensing my body. My stomach is constantly in a tight knot and I am nauseous most of the day. I am continuously exhausted, but cannot sleep. I cry without warning and despite my best efforts not to. I either don’t eat because my stomach hurts so badly, or I have a junk food nosh fest. Routine decisions like what to have for dinner or what card to buy for a friend’s birthday are overwhelming. I snap at my husband, my inner monologue is a repetitive cycle of negative thoughts, and I have no energy for things I used to love.
While some of this might sound familiar to you, I hope most of it does not. I hope that you are not burdened and dragged down by the weight of worry. But if you are, I hope that you know you are not alone. And that the best thing you can do for yourself is to say it out loud. Get help. Because this really isn’t the way it should be.