From a young age, I have suffered from anxiety and panic attacks. As a child, I merely dealt with them, not really knowing what they were, and went on with my life. As an adult, despite being able to finally affix a label to what I had been experiencing, I found myself with more questions than answers.

My original diagnoses came at a time when the subject was not really talked about. This left me not only without a way to navigate ongoing episodes, but also without the ability to foresee potential problems. This would play a major role when it came to parenting.

I have always had a fondness for babies—holding them, dressing them, loving them. So, naturally, when I got pregnant I thought I would be the most fantastic parent ever and know exactly what to do. Well, things didn’t exactly start out that way.

The pregnancy part was fine. Every symptom I had was normal, and nothing out of the ordinary ever happened. My favorite part was at night when everyone was asleep and I could feel the baby’s movements, almost like somersaults, swirling around my stomach. I would talk to him often and tell him how wonderful he was and how much fun we would have together. Everything seemed to be going according to plan and my emotions were in check—that is, right up until the moment he arrived.

After I gave birth I was terrified. Even at the hospital I didn’t want to be left alone with my son. I made sure that the nurses only brought him in when someone else was there with me. I had a C-section, so it was hard to move around at first, which made things worse. It’s not that I couldn’t hold him and love him; it’s just that I couldn’t do it when there wasn’t anyone else around. I was afraid of not having backup because I was afraid of doing something wrong.

Ironically, my doctor had requested that a social worker come in for another patient, but they got the rooms mixed up. So, when she came into my room, I thought she was there for me, that I was being judged for having anxiety. The mess got cleared up right away, but it still left an impression on me that somehow, because I had panic attacks, I was under a microscope and wouldn’t be a good mom.

Everything felt better the moment we brought my son home. I was in my own surroundings and it seemed to make all the difference. That feeling, however comforting at first, did not last long.

The very first night while lying in bed holding my son I fell asleep. I had an awful dream about a cat attacking me and woke up with my arms flailing. My son was nowhere to be found and I screamed because I thought I had thrown him. I thought I had lost it. I thought I had hurt my precious baby boy. Finally, after what seemed like forever—though it was probably only about five seconds—I realized that he was fine. He had just rolled off me and onto some pillows. He slept through the whole thing.

After that first night, I was really scared to be alone with my son in our own home. I still always interacted with him, and it never reached the point where I would put him down if he needed me, but I was wrought with fear. All around me, I started seeing horrible stories of mothers hurting their children and I was terrified that it would happen to me. It got to the point where I was afraid to even put lotion on my son for fear that I would squeeze him too hard. I knew I would never do anything to hurt my child on purpose, but I was so scared of making an awful mistake and doing irreparable harm to my child that I became virtually paralyzed with fear.

At one of my post-op OB/GYN visits, I came across a flyer for a postpartum helpline. I took the flier home, but did not call right away. I didn’t want to be judged, or worse, have my son taken from me because of my fears. Finally, when I couldn’t take it anymore, I made the call.

The person who answered the phone was really nice and she told me about her own experiences. I was able to relate to her, no longer felt alone, and for the first time in a long time, if only for a moment, I didn’t feel like I was crazy. But I knew I needed more than a helpline could give. I asked if there was someone else I could talk to and was referred to Dr. Shoshana Bennett.

While it was difficult enough to express my thoughts and feelings over a helpline, it took all the courage I could muster to relay my fears to a licensed professional. I thought I would be reported to child protective services. Dr. Shosh quickly reassured me that something like that would not happen, that I could be helped in confidence, and I would eventually get over the scary part. Indeed, after a few sessions, I slowly started to feel better. I regained faith in myself, reassurance that I could never intentionally harm my son, and greater confidence in my abilities as a mother.

With my initial postpartum panic behind me, I still turned to Dr. Shosh for my overall anxiety. Though the line was blurred sometimes, I felt like there was a distinction between what I had felt immediately postpartum and what I had been experiencing over the course of my life. In time I learned the right tools to get through the “mommy moments” and take time for myself to feel more balanced. The more positive things I did for myself, the better I felt, and the better mother I could be.

I still have struggles, but I know that they are no different than those felt by any other mother out there. Sure, I worry at times, but Dr. Shosh has shown me the benefits of positive thinking and of believing in myself so that I am able to control it. This helps reinforce the fact that I am a capable woman, mother, and person.

A lot has changed since I had my son, and we have endured our share of struggles, but I truly feel I am the better for it. A bit of anxiety still lingers and surfaces from time to time, but now I have the tools to deal with it. I now have the strength to keep going, and I have every confidence in the world that someday soon I will be free of anxiety for good.

The mind is the most powerful tool we possess, and my experiences have taught me that whatever you put your mind to you can do. In my case, I use it to remind myself to take time out to exercise, eat better, and generally make better choices.

I love my son and would do anything for him. He is a happy, healthy three-year-old little boy and the biggest joy of my life. We live, we love, and we learn. Most of all we laugh—all the time! I now know that taking care of myself allows me to be the best at taking care of my son. It keeps things in perspective, gives me strength, and keeps me in top form for being a mom.

Like you, Elizabeth loves her child more than anything. That’s why it’s so important to take care of yourself, so that you have the strength and energy to care for those closest to your heart.

A Note from Dr. Shosh

Like you, Elizabeth loves her child more than anything. That’s why it’s so important to take care of yourself, so that you have the strength and energy to care for those closest to your heart.

Please review these tips from Elizabeth’s story:

—Take time out for yourself. This isn’t selfishness; it’s taking care of yourself, which is not only healthy, but essential for your well-being.

—Find what feels right for you when taking care of yourself. This is very individual. What you decide to do may be different from what works for the mom next door. Just because it’s different, doesn’t mean it’s wrong or bad or that you are somehow off track.

—There is no shame in anxiety or depression. Professionals should check on you and monitor how you are doing postpartum, whether you’re depressed or not. Their questions are not meant as slights, insults, or a cause for defensiveness; they’re just doing their job—and an inquiry about your mental health means they’re doing it well.

—If you have experienced anxiety—including obsessive-compulsive disorder—or depression prior to having a baby, then you are high risk for postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety. It’s best to set up a wellness plan before delivery with a therapist who specializes in this field to help minimize your risk.


 
Photo by Anne Worner CC BY 2.0
 
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