There’s no eloquent way of saying this. Post partum anxiety (PPA) sucks. I’ve always been what people describe as a worrier. A type A planner, a bit of a perfectionist, the person who’s checking the time and making lists and planning ahead for every eventuality. I’ve always taken comfort in thinking in my head if X happens, we do this. If Z happens, we do this. If you’ve got a plan for every occasion, there’s nothing to worry about, right? I like to feel in control of my own life, which I think is fairly normal.
But how do you do that when you’ve got kids? Having a child puts so many things out of control. It puts the most precious, important thing to you out of your control at times. Suddenly there’s something in your life that’s more important than anything else has ever been, it’s your job to protect it and keep it safe – but how do you do that when danger lurks around every corner?
Whilst I was a planner, I wasn’t irrational before I gave birth. I worried about getting on a plane, but I still did it, because the rational side of me knew that it’s actually perfectly safe and the most convenient way to get to awesome places. So I didn’t like it, but I got on with it. I didn’t let my anxiety take control away from me. I don’t think I could put my son on a plane at the moment. Hell, who am I kidding, I know I couldn’t. Despite four months of cognitive behaviour therapy and working with a mental health support worker, my anxiety still isn’t rational and some days – well, nights mostly, I feel like my anxiety is winning this fight.
Is that cough bronchitis? Is that rash meningitis? Is that sick an intestinal blockage? Is that cry serious pain?
Or is it a tickle in the throat? Used the wrong laundry detergent? Drank too much milk? Dropped his binky and can’t find it?
These are all fears I’ve had this week alone, and although the rational part of me knows that the simple, common answer is the most likely, somewhere deep in my brain a tiny switch has been flicked and there’s a great big red PANIC button stuck in the wrong position. I’ve used everything that CBT has taught me – all excellent things, logical, rational, easy to understand – and sometimes I still cannot flick that switch into off position.
I never thought I’d be like this. I was going to be one of those care free mom’s who lets their kid eat dirt and never worries about a thing. Bad shit happens, so why worry about it, I used to think. Then when he was born, we almost lost him. His heart rate dropped to zero when I was in labour, and the emergency c-section revealed the cord around his neck. He could have died, but he didn’t. When he was less than 24 hours old, his blood results showed such a severe infection that they took him away to do a lumbar puncture to check for meningitis. At 3am in the morning. He was on an IV drip for 7 days. A friend lost their daughter at 2 days old 3 weeks before he was born due to an infection, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I’ve not stopped thinking about it since, but I try really hard to focus on the positives. 90% of the time I succeed, but there’s that small percentage of the time, when he’s unwell, that I get dragged back into the circle of worry.
When he’s ill, I google when I shouldn’t and then I really start to panic, because literally every symptom you can possibly google has a Daily Mail article about a child that has died, which really doesn’t help. “Why did my baby vomit?” “6 MONTH OLD DIES AFTER CHOKING ON VOMIT” That’s not what I wanted at all! Why do I click it? I tell myself not to, and then I do it anyway. Sometimes I feel like I’m not really me any more – not when my anxiety is ramped up to max. I’m watching someone else do dumb things like googling for an hour, having a panic attack, calling the NHS Out of Hours service (who are always very helpful), being reassured for 2 minutes and then spending the night checking him every 30 minutes instead of sleeping.
It’s mostly at night that it gets me. Sleep is so important, but so elusive when anxiety is high. I toss and turn and lie in the darkness thinking of all the things that worry me and going through my CBT exercises to try and let it go. But it’s easy to be afraid in the dark and it’s a time I feel very alone, even with my husband asleep next to me. Then of course, the next day is harder because you’ve had two hours sleep which just compounds the whole issue.
I still get up the next morning and have a smile for my husband and son, the sun rises and I realize my fears didn’t come true. We made it through another night. Nothing went wrong. I remind myself that even if it did go wrong, I’m strong, I’d get through it, I’ll face whatever comes my way and if I can’t change it, why worry about it? If it’s out of my control, then it’s gone. So let the worry go. I can find that strength in the morning when everything seems positive, but as night draws around again and the little worries start creeping in, it wanes again.
Post partum anxiety has me in a cycle I’m working on breaking. Tonight he has a viral stomach bug (I think). I’ve changed the bed sheets that he threw up on, his pajamas twice and his sleeping bag is in the wash. I’ve called NHS Direct and taken their advice. I’ve checked his temperature (a zillion times). I have a breathing monitor on and I can hear him stir. I’m still worried to death and I know I won’t sleep well tonight, if at all.
As I write this it’s 5 minutes past the time I told myself I’d check on him – so I distracted myself for an extra few minutes whilst writing, which is a start.