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I Was Terrified as a New Mom — Then I Realized It Wasn't Just All in My Head

Photograph by Twenty20

Being a new mom turned my world into something unfamiliar and primal. I knew things were going to be completely different after bringing a new baby home but I had no idea how much I would struggle emotionally. In fact, I thought my postpartum anxiety was just normal new-mom behavior. It took me a long time to realize what I was expecting wasn’t normal — or healthy.

Because of severe preeclampsia after giving birth, I needed to spend almost a week in the hospital. It wasn’t what I was anticipating, and being new to this motherhood thing, I had it in my head I would give birth vaginally after bouncing gently on a giant ball — unmedicated, of course. But I had a C-section and soon found myself with dangerously high blood pressure, hooked up to every sort of machine. I was coming down from some wicked hormone shifts and the only thing keeping my sanity was the little pink bundle held protectively in my arms.

During the hospital stay, I’d spend hours with my daughter on my chest. I might have been on 12 different medications, but I would be damned if anyone took her away from me.

After we returned home, I thought things would get better with my intense protection over her. I was back in familiar territory in my own bed. My daughter slept in a Pack 'n' Play next to me and I diligently got up every two hours to nurse her. She was my whole world.

I was sleep-deprived, but my bond with her was fierce. It was so fierce, it terrified me. That any moment, this beautiful little baby that I worked so hard to bring into the world could be snatched away at any moment. Both of us could never be safe from it.

I would lie in bed, the darkness consuming me, and all sorts of thoughts would race through my head: What if she stopped breathing? What if I accidentally rolled over her in the middle of the night?

I was screened at every appointment for postpartum depression, but not once did anyone ask about anxiety.

A long car trip would have me reeling in a panic, because I couldn’t see her face in the back seat — and I was certain she had suffocated or had spit up and choked on it. I would find myself pulling over at the nearest exit to check on her. Never could I fully convince myself she was simply asleep.

I thought I was just being normal. I was a new mom, and a new mom after going through infertility and miscarriage. Of course, I would be a little more anxious. That’s what I kept telling myself, as the months passed and the intrusive thoughts continued.

I was screened at every appointment for postpartum depression, but not once did anyone ask about anxiety. I wasn’t depressed, ergo, there was nothing wrong with me.

My daughter was 2 when the anxiety finally drove me to seek out a therapist. The fears of her dying were replaced with other forms of intense fear for her and I couldn’t do it alone anymore.

It was at therapy that I finally realized that I was living my day-to-day life with postpartum anxiety, and later, an actual general anxiety disorder. I finally realized that while some new-mom worry is normal, what I was experiencing was something I needed help with from professionals. My thoughts of my baby weren’t just “all in my head.” I would have greatly benefited from therapy much sooner.

I wish this was something I heard more about while I was still pregnant. I braced myself for the possibility of postpartum depression, but no one warned me about the anxiety. If I get the chance to do this all again, I know I’m going to be much more aware of it.

Next time, I refuse to let the fear get in the way of my joy.

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