Postnatal Anxiety

When I found out I was pregnant, it was a lot to take in, too big to comprehend and I was nervous. “I don’t have enough patience”, “I’m too selfish”, “what if I don’t enjoy it?’’,  ‘’I like my life now” Don’t get me wrong, there were also  feelings of excitement and butterflies in my tummy too!

I’m often told that I’m very laid back, I think the reason people think this is because I keep a lot of my worries inside and don’t talk about them. I feel silly and don’t want to make a fuss. I don’t know how to word them or get them out. So I kept my pregnancy and parenthood worries bottled up.

With regards to the birth,  if I didn’t think about it, it would all turn out fine, right? It did turn out alright in the end – after an emergency c-section and several days in hospital later we all arrived home safe and well, if not a little tender and shell shocked.

It was from here that the anxiety began. I would lie in bed thinking ‘what if’.  What if he stopped breathing? What if he died? What if I smothered him by accident in bed? I used to wake thinking he was in the covers when we had never actually had him in bed with us! It was baffling.  Was I insane? Am I the only one to think these things? I couldn’t cope with the thoughts, I daren’t tell anyone about them and so again I bottled them up.

When I did my psychology degree I learnt about something called ‘thought stopping’. Literally stopping harmful and dysfunctional thoughts as they swim through your head.  So I would watch some mind numbing TV just to empty my head, then I could sleep for a couple of hours before he woke me.

For weeks I had this internal battle. My husband took paternity leave and we crammed it full of visits. 2-3 things a day from photo shoots, visitors, midwife, family etc . In the end my husband said ‘enough was enough’ and made me agree to cancel things. Saying no is not usually a strength of mine but it’s certainly something I’m getting better at.

Every night I’d have these horrid thoughts and everyday I’d worry we were letting people down, my chest would tighten, I’d feel nauseous, my tummy would flip. It became frequent and worrying and I thought a lot about PND. But this was more anxiety than depression and I’d never heard anyone talk about it before so it was just me being crazy!!?? I googled ‘anxious postnatal’…and it turns out it wasn’t just me. I read that anxiety was more common than depression. This made me mad, why had I never heard about it? Why did no one warn me? Everyone talks out PND but not postnatal anxiety. Knowing I wasn’t the only one, that it was common and probably hormone related made it less serious somehow.

One thing that I felt really helped me was getting back to normal life quickly. I had booked onto Keri’s baby massage course before he was born and then he ended up being late so he was just days old at our first session. My husband managed two sessions whilst on paternity leave and took time off to attend more, it was a fantastic bonding experience for them and we’d go for lunch with the new  friends we made at the group  afterwards. This normality of being out and about as a family, socialising, hearing other people’s experiences was the best therapy.

We had our issues with feeding and were given advice that didn’t work for us, it was a tricky time and I am thankful for my level headed and tactful mother, the amount I learnt from watching my sister raise two kids before me and for a supportive husband. A bit of trial and error worked with th feeding, but really I think a lot of it was luck. I was too dazed and baffled by it all to do anything complex like fixed feeding times or strict routines. All of my new friends would be recording every feed length/oz consumed and every nappy change on apps, I began writing a diary. It wasn’t very accurate in terms of feeds but it became a place to empty my head of what we had achieved that day, who we had seen, the presents we had been given…and slowly the positive day to day happenings replaced the hideous thoughts.

I don’t remember feeling an overwhelming love for parenting immediately. I certainly loved him and would happily stare at him for hours but I distinctly remember one morning, thinking ‘is this it?’ as I changed and dressed him. It took a while, but it was the smiles and eye contact and when he started moving that I fell in love with parenting. I remember every week thinking ‘I wish he would stay like this forever’!  The good is definitely outweighing the overwhelming, so I rarely go to bed thinking it’s been a bad day.

So when did the anxiety go away? It hasn’t completely stopped, any news story about a child is a new shocking level of tragedy for me to hear. My husband and I know we are so lucky for all we have and we try not to take anything for granted. A fact brought hammering home by a poorly family member. I still have the odd dysfunctional thought but now I can focus on giving my child a happy upbringing and new shared experiences as a family.

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