Disclaimer: This story contains details of intrusive thoughts that may be upsetting to some.
“An open letter to mothers struggling with postpartum anxiety:
My postpartum story is full of trials, tears, anger, depression, anxiety, and most importantly, hope. And I pray it brings hope to you who are reading this if you are going through the hardest trimester of all…the fourth trimester. Postpartum.
It was Mother’s Day. I had just had my son via C-section a few days earlier, my dream of having a home birth shattered. My baby had contracted Group B Strep and was very sick, so our hospital stay was long and hard.
Breastfeeding was difficult. I was sleep-deprived. I was disheveled. I was overwhelmed. My body felt like it had been hit by a truck. And I wasn’t okay.
But there I was in a hospital room full of people who came to celebrate my very first Mother’s Day. I was surrounded by laughter, balloons, flowers, and gifts. My sisters and mom gathered around me so we could take a photo together. I smiled.
I excused myself so I could hobble to the bathroom. I shut the door. And I cried.
I remember taking a shower that night for the first time after the party died down, and it was just me, my husband, and my son. I waddled painfully from my hospital bed to the bathroom. I slowly removed my clothes and stared back at myself in the mirror.
I was swollen from all the fluids. My empty, sagging belly looked foreign, and I had bloody bandages where they had cut me open.
I stepped painfully into the shower and I stood there for a long time, the warm water falling down all around me. My emotions were everywhere. I heard my son crying from the other room and my husband comforting him. I let a few tears fall down my already wet cheeks. I didn’t know why I was sad. I just…was. So I stood there and cried, prayed, and cried some more.
Thankfully, the depression only lasted for a couple of weeks. I’m grateful for this because I was starting to save the last of my pain pills for nighttime when I felt worse because they made me happier…which scared me. But then, the anxiety started, and it stayed around much longer.
My son cried. And cried a lot. Breastfeeding remained a constant struggle. I’d have a hungry baby screaming at my boob because he couldn’t latch. I remember sitting in my rocking chair on the phone with my mom, in tears and at my wit’s end because I didn’t know what else to do.
Trying to breastfeed a baby— who wouldn’t even take a bottle, and who cried more often than not—meant leaving the house, in general, was filled with anxiety.
I’d see other moms with their babies who seemed carefree and easy. They’d lay them down on the floor and go do the dishes while their baby looked around happily, and I’d wonder why I couldn’t make my baby happy like that. They’d say proudly, ‘My baby has been sleeping through the night since 6 weeks old!’ and I was up 5-6 times a night sometimes with mine. They’d whip their boob out and feed their baby with ease, and I’d be checking the clock, seeing feeding time was approaching, and dreading it.
I also had constant horrible visions of terrible things happening to my baby. Getting run over by a car. Falling off a cliff or balcony. I would walk past my coffee table and imagine dropping him and him hitting his head on the corner of it, cracking his skull.
Keep in mind, I never wanted any of these things to happen. I didn’t realize why I did this, until recently, when I heard a similar story from someone else. While I thought it was because I was a bad mom, it was really my postpartum anxiety causing these horrible visions.
My sweet baby was the newest love of my life, who I would literally die for. And the anxiety of losing him caused me so much fear my mind wandered to the darkest of places, stirring up scenarios of my greatest fear coming true.
At 4 months postpartum we got breastfeeding down, which helped, but then, like some sort of twisted clockwork, another trial came on the scene: Breath-holding Spells.
It was a normal Tuesday and I was changing my son’s diaper. My favorite TV series, The Office, was playing in the background and I heard Dwight say, ‘Through concentration, I can raise and lower my blood pressure at will.’ And Pam responded, ‘Why would you want to raise your blood pressure?’ Dwight answered, ‘So I can lower it.’ I chuckled and laid Zeke down.
He was always a cranky baby, so when he started crying, I thought nothing of it.
Until his lips started turning blue.
Why wasn’t he taking a breath??
I picked him up and patted his bottom.
‘Take a breath. Mommy’s here! Take a breath!’
Gone. No more movement. My baby was dead.
I was in shock, but quickly lifted his chin and started giving him mouth-to-mouth like I’d learned in my CPR class at work the previous summer. I did this for a few seconds and started to reach for my phone to call 911 when I heard him suddenly inhale.
Relief flooded me, and I held him for a few minutes consoling and nursing him, confused beyond belief. Fast forward through all the doctor’s visits and tests, and we were able to find out what he had experienced was a Breath-holding Spell. 5% of children experience them on some level, and all grow out of them by 3-5 years of age. There is no known cause or cure, only hacks to help, and patience to wait them out.
Now, more than three years since his first spell, our son has had more than five hundred of these spells.
This is the number of times our child has felt what it must feel like to drown or be smothered. And in order for me to survive the worst of it (25-30 spells a month), I had to remove myself emotionally as best as I could. I would hold my stiff, blue-faced, arch-backed baby in my arms, looking away until it was over, unable to look him in the eyes because I couldn’t stand seeing the look of sheer panic and agony on his face.
This caused lots of fights and tension between my husband and I. Plans would change constantly when a spell hit, blaming the other person for causing a spell, anxiety when leaving the house. For a while, we wondered if we even wanted to have any more children because it wasn’t supposed to be this hard.
Today, my son is 3 1/2 years old. And this is where the HOPE comes in. With the passing of time, I slowly became myself again. When you’re in the midst of postpartum, you wonder if you will ever feel like yourself again. And I promise you, you will.
We still deal with the Breath-holding Spells, but much less often, as he is slowly growing out of them. My anxiety still comes here and there, but now I think they are the ‘normal’ motherly anxieties. My husband and I are stronger in our marriage, and the future of having more than one child is becoming brighter.
And truly, God was our peace in the storm. I prayed to Him constantly. I got angry at Him sometimes. I cried to Him a lot. I had to remind myself daily to cast my cares on the Lord and trust in Him through it all. And through the difficulties, He gave me joy I couldn’t exactly explain. It doesn’t mean life wasn’t hard, because it was. But I had Jesus Christ walking beside me through it all, and I had hope.
Our son’s name is Ezekiel, which means ‘the strength of God.’ And I think it’s so fitting that because of Zeke, we had to learn how to lean on God’s strength more than ever.
Motherhood can be rough. Postpartum depression, anxiety, OCD, and other postpartum mood disorders are real. So if you’re struggling with this too, you are not now, or ever, alone in your feelings. And when all you see are dark clouds, just know—this won’t last forever, and there is sunshine waiting for you on the other side.
You will get better.
You will feel like yourself again.
You may not feel like it’s possible now.
But cling to it anyway.
You’re not alone.
‘Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.’
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Lacey Hansen from Oregon. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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