Becoming a mother - whether for the first time or the fifth - is miraculous and beautiful. There is nothing like the feeling of holding my new son close and breathing in that sweet baby smell. For the first few days after the birth, I am surrounded by well-wishers, family, and a nursing staff who bring the baby to me to nurse and help manage my pain. The day arrives to be discharged, and I can't wait to bring baby home. But somewhere between the driveway and the nursery, it dawns on me that it is all up to me from here on out.
I have done this before. Nine years ago it was my daughter.
When I arrived home after her birth, I was overwhelmed by pain. No one could have prepared me for the aftermath of a C-section. Hopped up on painkillers, I felt zoned-out and absent for at least a week. Sitting up took Herculean strength, much less picking up the baby. Fortunately, I had my mother to help, and I recovered from my surgery in a few weeks. Around the same time, I learned that my husband was being deployed to Iraq. Understandably, I became deeply depressed; this news, combined with the cocktail of postpartum hormones swirling around in my system, resulted in classic postpartum depression. So I saw my doctor, and he prescribed Zoloft to help me function. The overwhelming misery gave way to normal sadness, and I was able to care for my baby. It was difficult to bond with her for a while, but by her fourth month I was as attached to her as any mother ever was to her baby.
This time around, I knew exactly what to expect. Maybe that's why it was so difficult for me to get excited about the birth. With my first, I was too clueless to be afraid. I had more going for me; my husband was home and out of the military, my daughter was old enough to be self-sufficient, and even to help.
My son is here now, and he is beautiful. I have fallen deeply in love with him. So why can't I stop crying? It may have something to do with being sequestered from the world in my living room day after day( I can't drive for two more weeks, doctor's orders). And maybe it's because a person can only watch so much Shahs of Sunset and Real Housewives marathons on television without taking time out to fixate on real-life worries, like: How will we live while I'm on unpaid leave and I just paid $1,000 to the hospital and pediatrician thanks to my shitty insurance?
Those are logical worries, but there's more at the root of my despair than that. There is a dread that lurks in the corners of my consciousness; it eats the food in my refrigerator, it ducks into doorways on my way down the hall. It lulls me into calm and certitude, and it waits until I am distracted. And then it reaches out and grabs hold of my heart and lungs and it squeezes as hard as it can with its cold fingers until I cannot breathe. The room goes crooked, my fingers go numb, and I brace myself for the deluge of horrific thoughts that are coming, sure as anything.
It's the awful thoughts that really do it, that send me, sobbing, into the next room. Away from the baby. Because what if? What if I lose it and hurt him? WHAT IF I LOSE IT?
Of course, I don't lose it. I have not yet lost it, and I understand that there is about a 0% chance that I will enact any of the fiendish deeds that my imagination conjures. You'd think that would help somehow. And yet logic and hysteria perform this tango every single day, and I have to talk myself through it, breathe through it, excuse myself and just get through it.
I suffer from postpartum OCD. In fact, something like 5% of women suffer from it. (I wonder what the real percentage is, though, and how many women just keep it to themselves because, honestly, how many people are comfortable admitting that they have terrifying visions of harming their own children?) I didn't know that my crazy had a name until very recently, and it was thanks to my Google search prowess that I found some answers. I also had going for me a longtime familiarity with OCD and anxiety, old friends who like to pop in and out of my life periodically like that cousin who hits you up for a loan every holiday. So I am familiar with the treatment options: medication, cognitive behavioral therapy, a combination of both. I have taken the meds, I have done the exercises, and I know that there is help for me.
As for the moment, I have decided to avoid taking the medication yet; I am going to white-knuckle it for a few weeks because I want my son to have uncorrupted breast milk, if only for a little while. We'll see if I last that long. I can't get out to a therapist yet, but I am making plans to do so in the coming weeks, as well. Until then, I take a deep breath at a time and look forward to feeling better.
Have you experienced post-baby anxiety? How did you manage it?
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