I will never forget the feeling of holding our baby for the first time. As a first-time mom, I had read a multitude of books to try and prepare us for parenthood. While many of them expressed the joy that comes with holding your child for the first time, I was not prepared for the euphoric happiness that flowed through me. We were mesmerized with this precious miracle (quite so! Read the last journal post to learn more about that!) and delighted to finally have him join our family.
Something else that I was not prepared for was overwhelming and inconspicuous anxiety. I have dealt with anxiety my entire life. My mother has anxiety, her mother did, her mother did and I am almost certain that if you went down the line it is something that we all inherited. We are very much accustomed to anxiety in our family. In fact, when my mother was a young girl growing up with parents that spoke Italian as their first language and older brothers who primarily spoke English, she made up a brand new word, “scapauro”, which is a mixture of the Italian and English word for “scared.” (Scared in Italian is Paura.) She did this so that everyone would know in an instant that she was afraid and needed some assistance. How incredibly adorable!
Reflecting on the struggles that we endured during my pregnancy, it should have come as no surprise that I would be prone to anxiety after having our baby, especially since it is something that I had always dealt with. Unfortunately, as a stay-at-home/work-from-home mom facing struggles of having a newborn and not paying enough attention to my own health I was under the misconception that if I didn’t have postpartum depression, I was in the clear. Even at the six-week check-up with my OBGYN, I was screened and cleared as having absolutely no factors for postpartum depression.
PostPartumprogress.com is a website dedicated to maternal mental illness. On their website they write that a study “published in the journal Pediatrics took a look at postpartum anxiety symptoms, noting that moms may be screened for postpartum depression but are not usually screened specifically for anxiety. The researchers from Penn State screened more than 1,000 moms using both the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale and the State Trait Anxiety Inventory. They found 17% had anxiety and 6% had depression symptoms in the first few weeks postpartum, and that anxiety remained more common than depression even at 6 months postpartum. Their conclusion is, in part, that postpartum anxiety may be more common than PPD.”
While I know these facts now, I didn’t for almost the first full year of our son’s life. I unknowingly struggled. For the first three months postpartum, I was afraid of bringing my baby down the stairs of our home to the first floor. That meant that while he napped in the bassinet, I would rush downstairs to clean my pumps (I was an exclusive pumper- which is a journal entry for the future!), get something to eat and drink, prepare bottles of breastmilk or formula and rush back upstairs to try and fit in a shower or some work before he woke up. While it was exhausting, the fear of bringing him down the stairs fueled me to continue this routine. I remember the first time that I gathered the courage to bring him downstairs by myself, I cried and then laughed thinking of how awesome it felt. Of course, I lasted about an hour before we went back upstairs for the remainder of the day.
I was also fearful that someone would break into our home and harm or take the baby. With most irrational fears which stem from anxiety, there was absolutely no reason for me to feel this way. We have locks, alarms, more locks and a dog that would bark and alert me if anything was amiss.
With my husband at work during the day, the anxiety essentially rendered us home-bound. I was afraid of taking him anywhere- outside in the yard, a drive in the car, a walk around the neighborhood. My son was almost 9 months old when I took him for a drive in the car alone. Even then, it was just a quick drive to the drive-through at the bank and then right back home.
While my husband and family surely suspected that I was suffering from severe anxiety, it wasn’t something that I was even aware of or something that I thought I needed help with. Supporting me as best as they could, these struggles are something that I very much faced alone. While I now know that these things are not “normal,” before it did not even occur to me that there was anything wrong—it was my “new normal.”
In the past, I have always been very in tune to my health- mind, body and soul. But, with my focus on our baby, while running a charity and ensuring that household tasks were also attended to left me little time and energy to analyze my state of mind.
One of the only comforts I relied on was to pray the Rosary each day as I was accustomed to doing while pregnant. While I did not ask the Blessed Virgin Mary to intercede for my health, I believe that our Mother never left my side and as much as I was taking care of my baby, she was taking care of and sustaining me.
Today, my mental health has improved dramatically with the help of prayer, proper nutrition, regular exercise, therapy sessions and supplements. However, as I write this journal entry, I feel sad for my postpartum self and wish I had noticed these postpartum anxiety symptoms earlier. Thinking of how long and unknowingly I struggled, I take comfort in a quote from Padre Pio: “the longer the trial to which God subjects you, the greater the goodness in comforting you during the time of the trial and in the exaltation after the combat.”
I pray my story inspires other moms who are experiencing similar struggles to notice the symptoms of postpartum anxiety or depression. Talk to your OBGYN, primary care doctor, husband, parents, friends, Priest, co-workers…anyone to help get the ball rolling.
Remember that while we are mothers, we still need to take care of ourselves- mind, body and soul, so that we can take even better care of our loved ones.
Most importantly, know that these feelings are common, you are not alone and prayer, especially the Rosary, does help. Heed the advice of Saint John Paul II, “To pray the Rosary is to hand over our burdens to the merciful hearts of Christ and His mother.”
As always, thank you for reading. God bless you and may the Blessed Virgin Mary be with you always!