I’ve written about my Postnatal Anxiety a few times before, but there is nothing quite as confronting as really owning it by saying “I am the Face of Postnatal Anxiety”. Sure, you put a label on it saying “I have anxiety”, but when you put your face to it, it seems to take on a life of its own. The face is generally the first thing you notice about a person. We quite often take someone at “face value”, and make a judgement call based on this feature. Am I really prepared to be seen as the Face of Postnatal Anxiety? After writing down my story here tonight, I think I am.
I’ve always been an anxious person – more so than most people. There are things that trigger in me a strong sense of worry and stress. For example, driving somewhere new and unfamiliar. I am overly anxious about having to park at a new destination where I am unsure of the parking situation – Is there a carpark? Is there parking on the road? Will I have to reverse-parallel park? These are all things I will stress over, to the point where sometimes I’ll look up the Google Street view and suss it out the day before. Extreme, right? Or the feeling of unease and unnecessary ‘fear’ about going into the city. I know they seem illogical, but I can’t help but feel a sense of deep worry over them. This is how I’ve always been, and I’ve always just kind of accepted it as part of my personality.
Being unaware of any sort of issue I might have had, I went into motherhood blindly. Of course, I’d heard the stories of sleep deprivation, endless feeds and constant crying, but I don’t think it fully registered to me as a non-mum. I nodded unknowingly, assuming I understood what was lying before me. My colleagues wrote a goodbye note on our staffroom notice board saying “Welcome to the World of No-Sleep Fiona!” I laughed, thinking it was hilarious. Oh how I wish I understood then what I know now.
The Wonderful Gift of Hindsight
Isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing? I have learnt so much about what has occurred over the past 9 months since my son was born. Not only about baby things like how to stop my son from weeing on me while changing his nappy, or how to breastfeed while lying down in the morning (best. thing. ever.) or any of the other mum hacks I’ve picked up along the way, but I’ve also learnt a lot about myself as a person. Like that I’m not the most patient person on the planet (okay, I already knew that), but Starfish is bringing out the best in me and my willingness to change that. Or that I am a lot stronger than I thought I ever could be. Or that I struggle with anxiety more than I realised – that has been the biggy.
The early days of my son’s life are a complete haze. In the hospital (we were in for 4 nights due to our hospital cover), I think I ended up having a total of 6-7 hours sleep overall. I was still in a bit of shock after having a son (since I was convinced I was going to have a girl), and I hardly ate. I was extremely sore after being stitched up to what felt like my eyeballs. When we finally arrived home with this tiny human we were now responsible for, the whole experience seemed intense. My husband and I survived on minimal sleep, minimal hygiene practices (who has time to shower?!) and many hours of sitting on the couch watching Netflix with a newborn on your chest. We had an endless flow of visitors in our unit, eager to meet our son. We occasionally ate, we occasionally slept. But what helped this time to pass was that we did it together – Mummy and Daddy (and newborn Son).
When our son was 3 weeks old, we moved into our new house. We spent the last few days of my husband’s leave cleaning out the unit, packing, moving and unpacking at our new house. And then, just like that, my husband returned to work and I was solely responsible for the tiny human. My worry and stress started to increase at the beginning of each day, but I figured it was just a combination of navigating motherhood and my natural predisposition to worry.
My worry and stress started to increase at the beginning of each day, but I figured it was just a combination of navigating motherhood and my natural predisposition to worry.
As my son got older, around the 6 week mark, I started attempting more outings with him (beyond Mother’s Group on a Monday afternoon). But around that time, my son also hit the natural fussy period (which starts around 6 weeks and plateaus around 12 weeks). One thing I haven’t mentioned up until this point is that my son is extremely LOUD. I think he is the loudest baby I have ever heard in my life. In the hospital, we had passersby outside our room comment, “Check out the lungs on that baby!” (this is with a closed door and everything). So as my son started to get fussier on our outings, his cries were getting louder and louder. There are two occasions where I vividly remember rushing to get my son back to the car – once from grocery shopping and one from Mother’s Group – and calling my husband in a ball of tears. My son was screaming so much that you literally could NOT hear anything else around you. I could see looks of judgement (and several of stomach-dropping pity) that made me want to run and hide.
So that is was I did. With each passing day and with every passing screaming episode, I started cancelling plans to go out. It is just easier if we stay at home, for his routine, I would tell others (and myself). In actual fact, I was petrified at the thought of leaving the house and enduring another crying fit. I hid my anxiety in an obsession to develop a solid sleeping routine for my son (which, to be fair, worked – and now he sleeps brilliantly at home, just not anywhere else…). And I became a hermit. For over a month, I basically rarely left the house unless I absolutely needed to, and when I did have to leave the house, it would be accompanied with a sense of fear and panic (but not panic attacks). I would then be overwhelmed with a sense of mum guilt because I felt ashamed that I didn’t want to leave the house with my son; like my embarrassment at his crying meant that I was a bad mother.
Unfortunately there were days where being at home weren’t much better. My son would scream his little lungs out, and no amount of rocking, cuddling, soothing, singing or movement would calm him. I would go out into the kitchen and swear my head off. I would rock him with a feverish pace, bawling my eyes out at how frustrated, and then guilty, I felt. Somedays I would actually pack him in the car, driving around to no desitnation in an attempt to get him to sleep – and when that didn’t work, I’d call my husband in tears saying “I don’t know what else to do”.
This feeling of fear and anxiety continued to build over weeks and weeks, until suddenly something changed. Like a light switch in my son, he abruptly became a very chilled baby. He completely changed from the previous 1.5 months we had just experienced with him. He would now go for hours without sleeping, and barely complain at all. He would be (and continues to be today) an incredibly happy and bubbly baby, that everyone would want to see and cuddle. My son is a very relaxed baby. And thank goodness for that.
Because, in hindsight, I was not coping very well. I now recognise that what I was going through was Postnatal Anxiety. With the support of friends (Mother’s Group ladies!) and family, I ventured out more with my son. I eventually became less worried about him at social outings. I have to admit, there are still days where I am worried. If we’re going out for longer than a couple of hours – knowing he won’t sleep – anxiety creeps in. And part of me wonders if I got the easy way out on this one. If my son was still a fussy, loud, crier (he is still loud today, just less frequently!), would my anxiety have gotten worse? Who knows.
What I do know is that I wish I knew before that what I was going through was anxiety so I could have sought help. I could have worked through my worries, and enjoyed my son’s childhood earlier. I AM the Face of Postnatal Anxiety.
If you think you are experiencing signs and symptoms of Postnatal Depression or Postnatal Anxiety, please call PANDA on 1300 726 306 or visit their website HERE for more information.
This post is a part of the “We are the Face of Motherhood” Series running over at Mommy in Flats. Jamie has put together an amazing campaign of many mums sharing their stories of Postnatal Depression and Anxiety, so please make sure you check our these incredible stories. Also, if you’re interested in purchasing an “I am the Face of Motherhood” Tee-Shirt, visit the website HERE.