Every new parent worries.
It’s simply part of the journey. According to experts, worrying is a natural response to becoming a parent. We need some level of anxiety to give us energy and an uncomfortable nudge to adapt to the full-time job that is parenthood. This belief, although true, is also what holds so many women back from realizing there might be a bigger issue going on. Yes, some level of anxiety is expected as a new parent. When it starts taking over your thoughts and how you function, it no longer is just “new parent worries” and might be postpartum anxiety.
Let me paint you a picture. You just had a baby and are over-the-moon-excited about this tiny little creature. You’re obsessed with their mini fingers and toes. Although you just met, you know in the depths of your soul you would do absolutely anything to protect that person. Once this realization hits, your mind starts wandering through every worst-case scenario imaginable. It keeps spiraling to where you are no longer just having fleeting concerns about keeping your child safe.
It’s become your entire focus and something that keeps you up at night. When you should be spending time bonding with your precious newborn, your mind is a million miles away. These intrusive thoughts take over and you’re in a constant state of panic, feeling entirely powerless. Your thoughts don’t even feel like your own anymore. It’s like you’re drowning in your own mind with no way to turn down the volume on the ever-running tape of every terror imaginable in your head.
What constitutes postpartum anxiety?
If this sounds familiar, please know you are not alone! It’s estimated that roughly 15-20% of mothers experience postpartum anxiety. That number is likely higher due to how many women don’t know that’s what they’re experiencing. So often the people around us brush off this crippling level of fear as typical new parent fears.
The simplest way to tell if it’s simply new parent worries or postpartum anxiety is by assessing how much it’s affecting your ability to function. Particularly, if it keeps getting worse as time goes on and does not subside after a couple of weeks. If there’s even the slightest thought that you or someone you love might be going through this, it’s worth investigating further.
How to Cope with Postpartum Anxiety
If you’re at the point where you’re not sure this is “normal”, tell someone. Anyone close to you that you are comfortable confiding in. Wondering if it’s normal is a sign that you know something is off. Sometimes saying it out loud and acknowledging the problem can be the biggest hurdle. It hurts to say something is wrong to yourself, let alone to anyone else.
For me, finally telling my husband just how severe the anxiety was took a huge weight off. I felt like a failure for admitting the horrifying thoughts I was having. It made me feel like a bad mother to say out loud that I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to protect my daughter. I thought he would look down on me for saying I needed help. I simply couldn’t work through this on my own.
As soon as I told him what was going on, he did what he always does and read my mind. He reassured me that I was doing the right thing in telling him. That it made me a better mother putting my pride aside to admit I needed help. Most of all, it was entirely okay and we’d figure this out together.
Talk to Your OB/GYN
Many people think their OB/GYN is just there for prenatal care and delivering the baby. They’re also there to support you in any way possible during the postpartum journey. Their job is to ensure you are healthy and thriving before, during, and after that baby is born. If you have any doubts that what you’re going through is something more than typical new parent worrying, ask them. They see new moms all the time and will know exactly what questions to ask to get you the help you need.
Talk to a Therapist
Therapy often has a negative connotation to it. It implies that there is something wrong with you. But that’s not true at all. Therapy is a way to help you sort out what’s going on. Think of it as a toolbox to help you break down everything in your head. We can all use a little help sometimes, especially when going through a life-changing event like becoming a mother.
Channel Those Fears into Something Good
There’s unfortunately no quick fix to postpartum anxiety. Even with getting help, it can take a little while to start feeling like yourself again. In the meantime, use those fears to empower you to make the safest possible environment for your little one. You might not be able to control all the intrusive thoughts, but you can remove some concerns from the realm of possibility.
No matter how illogical it was that someone would come into our home to take our baby, it still kept me up at night. Instead of trying to reason with myself about how this made no sense as we live in a small town, away from any and everyone, we took action. Every night we made sure the nursery room windows were locked, even though she was born in the winter so they were never open. We put curtains up so someone couldn’t see in the room from outside. Her room had cameras on both ends of the crib so that we could see her from any angle. These may seem like small, mundane tasks to most people. But when you’re in that state of constant worst-case scenario thinking, it helps to take whatever precautions necessary to protect against it. That way you get a small piece of mind knowing you’re doing everything in your power to take back control of the situation.
Write Out Your Fears
As weird as it sounds, sometimes just writing out your fear and how likely it is to happen can make a world of difference. When your mind is playing tricks on you with intrusive thoughts, writing your thoughts down can put that fear back in perspective. It can help you poke holes in your own thought pattern.
Know That It Will Be Okay
Although it might be a long road, it will be okay. You’re going to get through this and are most definitely not alone. Don’t ever feel you need to suffer in silence. The more we normalize talking about these types of issues, the more people will be educated on what they are and how to handle them.
As women, we’re so often taught that we need to be everything to everyone and handle it all on our own. It’s okay and necessary to take care of yourself and to need help in doing so. Moms can be extraordinary, but they’re still human.
I was embarrassed to talk about it until a close friend opened up to me about her experience. She told me her story because she wanted to make sure that no one felt as alone as she did when she went through it. Her bravery is what inspired me to share my story with others. I hope it can inspire you to do the same.
I am a mechanical engineer who has been working in industry for 9 years and running a farm with my husband for almost 2 years. My husband and I use our practical and technical knowledge to help others learn to be more self-sufficient.