The One Thing that Helped Me with Postpartum Anxiety
Updated: Feb 25, 2021
I see you, new mama, afraid to put your baby in her crib. So in love and so scared all the time. What does she need from you? Are you doing this right? What will happen to you if she gets hurt or stops breathing? No matter where it comes from, it is a terrible fear that tries to rob us of the joy of our precious children.
You don’t have to let fear steal this time from you.
If you deal with anxiety too, I invite you to read on as I share a snippet of my story and the one thing that helped me be the mother my children need…
When Eliana was born, I didn't want to put her down. To be away from her for longer than absolutely necessary was unthinkable. For weeks, I sat on the couch and held her, admiring every inch of her beautiful little body. I kissed her funny toes. I made up songs for her. I cannot remember a more peaceful or joyful time in my entire life. I’d waited 37 years to become a mother, praying for this very thing since I was eleven. Was there ever a more perfect answer to prayer?
Ah, how our memories lie to us. When I stop and think about it, I was also terrified almost constantly. I laid awake at night staring at her, so afraid I’d roll over her in my sleep; not willing to put her in her crib because she might stop breathing. I’d have night terrors and wake up feeling around the bed for my babies. (Yes, I said babies. It made no sense.) I hauled her off to the doctor for the most trivial things. How many times were we in the Emergency Room with her before she was a year old? Three? Four? I’d never been to the ER in my life before that.
She was perfectly healthy. She never had one health problem besides jaundice and a cold. She met all her milestones in an appropriate time, if not early. She slept pretty well too.
But every time we got in the car, an irrational voice repeatedly screamed terrible fears about car accidents into my mind. Terror led to me make my husband’s life pretty miserable as I corrected him and ran my invisible brake. I’d catch myself imagining how I’d survive if she was seriously injured or died. The dark thoughts were horrible. I’ll spare you any more details.
It became almost debilitating, to the point where I was afraid to fully allow myself to enjoy her because my fear of losing her was so great. There was a time when I was afraid to touch her because of all the germs I imagined, afraid to look away while she slept because she might stop breathing, and afraid to hold her because I was so tired that I might drop her. Terror consumed me and I thought I might go completely mad.
I sank to my knees in front of her crib, quietly crying out for God to help me. I didn’t feel like I had postpartum depression. I was on cloud nine. But severe anxiety threatened to swallow me.
I can tell you exactly where I was kneeling in that room when God whispered into my fearful heart.
“Kimberly, if Eliana were to be taken from you tomorrow, you would regret not giving every single ounce of your love to her freely. You cannot protect yourself from the pain of loss. You can’t plan ahead like that. Giving in to this fear only steals from the joy of today. If you allow fear to consume you, you rob Eliana of the joy of knowing her mother. She needs you.
Stand up. Pick up your daughter. Accept the responsibility of caring for her. Accept the germs. Accept that if you lose her, it will be excruciating. Accept that there is nothing you can do to prepare for that possibility ahead of time. Accept that opening yourself up to deep love means opening yourself up to deep hurt. She is worth it! Do your best. Then rest.”
I got up from that floor, wiped my tears, and allowed all the possibilities to settle on my shoulders. I accepted the weight of the responsibility. I accepted the possibility that I could be hurt beyond measure. I accepted the germs, the unknown, the frailty that IS human life. My daughter deserves a mother who is strong enough to accept all the things that could go wrong and absorb them, a mother who decides that she was worth all the risks.
I felt peace return. I picked up my daughter and allowed all the love and tenderness I had inside to flow into her tiny little body. No one had ever told me about the rush of love you feel when you hold your newborn baby - the inexplicable, totally unearned, all-encompassing love that fills up every part of your being.
My anxiety came as a result of the overwhelming love. To love someone so fiercely and completely, to be utterly consumed by it, also means that you are utterly exposed to the loss of that love. You want nothing more than this kind of love, and yet it terrifies you because you are absolutely powerless to control it. It feels like your heart has been removed from your body and now someone else has control over it, and what they do with it will either save you or destroy you.
My anxiety didn’t go away immediately or completely. I wish I could say that today I’m not still fighting anxiety. I've been to a naturopath who says it's in my very DNA to be anxious. (Yay.) But when I learned to accept that I could be destroyed, and the love of that precious baby was worth it all, I began to really understand love. Selfless love. Unconditional love.
It’s the kind of love that God has for us. It’s the kind of love that would make Him capable of sending His only son to the earth to save us from our sins. It’s the kind of love that looks beyond the pain we may experience, that says, “I am willing to endure the possibility of tremendous suffering for the joy of having a relationship with you. You are worth it.”
As my children have grown, new fears have surfaced. The first time their daddy drove away from our house with them in the car, I was nearly strangled with fear that they’d have a car accident and I’d be all alone again. Accept it. The first time Eliana went on the bus, went to kindergarten, and spent the night away from home – fear washed over me in waves. Accept it.
Accept it because God is with you. No matter what happens, God loves you as much as (and if it’s possible, even more than) you love that child. God will hold you together if everything falls apart. There is no other way to live if you want to have a home full of love.
Sweet friend, receive the love God has for you and lean into it. Accept it and live.
Learning to accept it when Eliana was a baby was paramount to how I overcame anxiety when Redmond was born. I’ve written a lot more about how I handled that anxiety, including the new fears that arise when you have a baby with complex medical needs, in my book. There are some very practical things I did to get through that dark season. If you pick up a copy, you can turn to page 144 right away, check out chapter nine, and let me know if it helps you as much as it helped me.
Lastly, please do not disregard the importance of the hormone fluctuations, lack of sleep, and shock to your body that comes after giving birth. These things serve to make struggles with anxiety even worse. If you are unable to get the relief you need, please seek out professional help. I don't want to over-simplify this very complex issue. I let my doctor and husband know how I felt. We set up some safeguards to get more help if things got worse. Because I have an anxiety disorder, I always have medication on hand in case of an emergency. I've written another blog post about the practical tools I use to deal with anxiety, and I encourage anyone to read it and implement these steps to give yourself the best chance at peace.
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