The Other Shade of Blue: Postpartum Anxiety and I
I sheepishly mentioned in passing to a couple of my nurses that I was feeling overly worried that something might happen to my son once I’d taken him home, but no one seemed to think this was unusual. In fact, the standard response seemed to be that this was how all new mothers felt, so I didn’t press the issues further and attempted to grasp even harder onto this suggestion of normalcy. I knew I wasn’t ‘right’ though and the next few days confirmed it for me.
We made it home from the birth center around 8:30pm and from the moment we entered the house I was plagued by an anxiety so intense I couldn’t bear to be left alone in a room with my new son. I felt entirely responsible for my child and with it, entirely liable for whatever catastrophe was sure to chase him down. Even as I write this now, I find myself fighting an urge not to say these words out loud, terrified as I am that it will give some sort of power to them. What can I say? It’s illogical but it’s very, very real.
That first night home was one loaded with relentless worry and when the time came to sleep myself, I refused. The only way I would even contemplate submitting to the exhaustion of labor and birth, was if my husband would swear, hand on heart, that he would stay awake with our son. At that point I was convinced that, should we cease our watch over him for even a moment, he would be taken from us.
I was honestly hysterical each time I found myself being overtaken by fatigue and needing to rest. My poor husband didn’t have a clue what was going on or how to begin to console me, so he simply agreed to my wishes and allowed me to catch whatever broken, dreamless sleep I could.
Early that morning, around 6am, I called my mother-in-law for help. My own mother lives 4,000 miles away in England, as does the majority of my immediate family (I’m British) so I desperately turned to my husband’s Mom for the support I so badly needed. A couple of hours later we arrived at her home, bulging bags and pack n’ play in tow, me still with a forced smile painted on my face. It would still be a while before I spoke aloud the fears I was both so troubled by and so embarrassed about.
Each night I sobbed before I laid my son down to sleep, so sure that I would find him, grey, cold and lifeless in the night having failed at protecting him. I could see the whole thing play out in my mind, feel that specific sting of panic in my chest, the hollow tug of instant grief at having lost the thing most precious and fragile in my life. I was certain that, should anything happen to my son, and should I be the one to find him, I would die of misery. Honestly, I couldn’t shake those ‘fantasies’ and at times, especially bedtimes, they would fill my head until I couldn’t catch my breath.
Over time and with the help of some much needed sleep and childcare practice, I began to reconcile how much control I actually had with how much I wished I had. The main thing that got me, personally, through the roughest of moments was prayer. Each night before I allow myself to give in to sleep I make sure I pray for my son’s wellbeing, for his protection. This is how I was first able to let go of enough fear to rest, of that torturous belief that I alone was solely responsible for my son’s survival. I went from being afraid to be alone with him, to finally and more confidently becoming his primary caregiver.
After about 6 weeks, I okayed my husband to leave the house alone for the first time (he had extended paternity leave) and I’ll admit that I cried the entire time he was gone. I remained frozen, trapped on the couch with my son planted firmly in my arms the entire time, terrified to move lest I be confronted with my nightmare situation. When he came home, I cried some more, this time with relief.
I finally allowed myself to watch some Infant CPR tutorials to refresh my memory. Up until this point I’d been too afraid to watch them, again due to that niggling, illogical fear that watching them would tempt fate and I’d be forced to use those skills on my son and ultimately would fail. Again, I was convinced that I would never recover from the loss.
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