“You’re having this baby tomorrow,” my obstetrician said matter of factly. My blood pressure was too high. She went over troubling symptoms to watch for and outlined possible outcomes. Everything that could go wrong flooded my mind and swirled in a dizzying whirlpool all that day and through the night. My third baby was born via cesarean section the next morning. She had fluid in her lungs and needed extra care. I sent my husband to be with her, while they finished my surgery and took me to recovery. I didn’t see them again for what felt like hours.
While I was waiting for them, a cold river of worst case scenarios rushed through my body. When my husband finally wheeled her little silver hospital bassinet in, she was perfectly pink and healthy. I was so in love with her, but felt so disconnected. I didn’t sleep that night either. In fact, I didn’t sleep at all for the next five days and really infrequently for the next few months. Lack of sleep fuels worry, fear, and irrational thinking, and so began a vicious cycle. I kept telling myself that tomorrow I’d feel better. I didn’t. I was drowning.
My husband’s eyes followed me one night as I was pacing in our room and decisively said, “I think your anxiety is out of control. I’m worried about you. I think you need help.” Anxiety! I had certainly heard that word before, but I didn’t realize this is what it felt like. It was a revelation. My husband continued. “You always run a little anxious, but you manage it well. This feels unmanageable.” My husband is a mental health counselor, so I knew it was a fair assessment. “I have anxiety?” It was a life-flashing-before-my-eyes moment. Anxiety had been a frequent visitor in my life, but I didn’t know its name. I also didn’t know it could completely overtake me until now.
I began to research. I learned everything the internet could tell me about anxiety and more specifically postpartum anxiety. Postpartum anxiety is the lesser-known, troublesome little sister to postpartum depression. I read articles, visited online forums, and read every definition and symptom. It was good to know I wasn’t alone and that there were options. All along I had been pleading in prayer for Heaven to send help, relief, love, and peace. Usually when God connects with me it is through my mind and my feelings, but they were too hijacked to hear Him, so I relied on others. My husband was right, I needed help. When knowledge wasn’t keeping me afloat, I reached for wisdom.
Wisdom came in many forms. In addition to my husband, who was trying not to be completely saturated with my misery, I reached out to other people I trusted. My neighbor had battled postpartum anxiety herself, multiple times. She helped me apply the knowledge I had gleaned from books and the internet into small steps I could take. She could tell I was in survival mode and contacted me frequently to be sure I was okay. It was comforting learning from and leaning on someone who had been there. Another answer to prayer was my husband’s cousin Rick. He is a doctor who takes a holistic approach to healing through food and lifestyle along with traditional medicine. I thought maybe if I could cut out salt and sugar and Iog every minute I exercised, and it was the right kind of exercise, I could find a magic formula to get rid of my anxiety and restore my normal blood pressure. I was sure he could help me make a perfect plan. He surprised me. He told me to stop counting, worrying about being exact, and striving so hard to be perfect. He said something like, “Get outside every day, move your body in some way that feels good to you, do whatever you need to do to get some good quality sleep, and feed your body a variety of foods. This is going to work itself out.” My own doctor had not been very sympathetic or helpful. Rick was kind enough to respond to anxious texts and queries and kept patiently reassuring me and giving me advice and motivation. It was simple, but life-saving. Additionally, a professional mental health counselor took every unfiltered fear, worry, frustration, and confession I gave her with no judgment. She had decades of experience and helped me slowly dam the flood of fear and worry in my mind and body. It took about a year to get back to my baseline level of manageable anxiety (which feels like a light rain with occasional thunderstorms). The wisdom that others shared with me is a Divine blessing that I’ll be forever grateful for. In that miserable time I gained a wisdom of my own that I share whenever I can.
*If you or someone you know is suffering with postpartum anxiety and/or depression, please don’t wait to reach out and help them find the resources they need. https://www.postpartum.net/learn-more/anxiety/