“Mom-Aholic” Anxiety and Postpartum Anxiety
One mom’s heartwarming story about her struggle with anxiety before, during and after pregnancy
by, Keri Kemper
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness’ in the United States, affecting 40 million people over the age of 18, or 18% of the population.
mom-a-hol-ic; adj. meaning to obsess and stress over being a mom.
Hi. My name is Keri, and I’m a mom-aholic. I’d like to think that my maternal anxieties stem from the two year struggle we had to conceive my daughter; the emotional ups and devastating downs that come with infertility and never really feeling secure that everything will be fine. But I know me. I know that even if I conceived my daughter from the product of a lucky, drunken late night with my husband that my heart would still be in a perpetual state of pumping out of my chest.
Before I get into our current struggles, let’s take it back. Back to July of 2014 when my husband and I decided to start trying to have a baby. This, I believe, was the beginning of my anxiety starting taking over my life. After 6 months of being off birth control, I had only gotten a period once, and I knew something was wrong. My mind racing, my fingering googling, and my anxieties brewing, I eventually saw a specialist who confirmed that I had PCOS. I didn’t ovulate naturally, hence, no period. Fast forwarding through all details of my 5 failed IUI’s, 2 years of acupuncture and more medications, shots and hormones then I can recount, we turned to IVF, which was fortunately successful. The anxiety of trying to get pregnant was now over, but now begun a new host of anxieties; the anxiety of trying to keep this baby growing inside of me. Well, my pregnancy was not a bed of roses. I was put on bed rest at 23 weeks due to early contractions, and was back on medications and hormones. Now the anxiety grew as the potential of losing this baby that we worked so hard to conceive was very real. It was all I thought about, until she was born at 36 weeks, perfectly healthy. My anxieties eased…for about 3 minutes.
You hear a lot about postpartum depression and baby blues, but nobody warns you as a new mom for the anxiety that consumes you as you try to keep a tiny person alive and happy. When does this feeling of being a mom-aholic go from just new mom stress to an anxiety disorder and/or postpartum anxiety? Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness’ in the United States, affecting 40 million people over the age of 18, or 18% of the population. That is a lot of people who are living their lives in worry and fear. While pregnant, 6% of women will experience anxiety and 10% will experience postpartum anxiety after birth. Sometimes anxiety is mixed with depression as well.
The symptoms of anxiety include the following:
- Constant worry
- Feeling that something bad is going to happen
- Racing thoughts
- Disturbances of sleep and appetite
- Inability to sit still
- Physical symptoms like dizziness, hot flashes, and nausea
For me, a naturally anxious person to begin with, it is a constant struggle. Something that I can never shut off. Now that I am a stay at home mom, thoughts of my impending day flood my mind as I wake up at 4am and stare at the monitor at my sleeping baby. “Will she go down for her naps easily today?” “Will she be fussy?” “Will I be able to make it to Target or the supermarket before she has a melt down?” And possibly my biggest anxiety at the moment…“Will she wake up tilting her head today?” You see, my daughter has torticollis. A frustrating, stubborn and serious condition in which she has a tightening on the right side of her neck, causing her to have trouble looking to the right, and also causing her head to constantly tilt to the right. If left untreated, it almost will never go away on its own, and can cause asymmetry in the face, ears, jaw and spine which can lead to scoliosis and other serious spine conditions.
With my type A personality, OCD and anxiety issues, looking at my perfect little girl who, at 6 months old can’t hold her head up straight, has trouble rolling over on her own, is just now mastering tummy time, and isn’t keeping up with her friends’ milestones…some days, I just can’t handle it. There have been days I leave a play date or mommy & me class and cry because I wonder if she’ll ever catch up to her peers. So what do I do? My fears are real, but the constant worry is all I can focus on. How can I fix it? What more can I do? There HAS to be something that can make it better…to make my anxiety go away.
So I spend my days trying to fix her. I spend my days worrying about her head and neck. I spend my days thinking about what would happen if her ears don’t realign and she needs glasses, will they need to make them special for her in order to fit? I spend my days going to different specialists who poke and prod at her, increasing her already fussy tendencies. It’s the same anxiety I had when I spent the last 2 years trying to conceive her obsessing over ovulation, and lining thickness, and ultrasound and blood results.
This is the problem with anxiety. I spend my days in the future. Thinking about what will, what if and what can be. I looked at my 6 month old baby just yesterday and cried to myself. She’s so big. Where have the last 6 months gone? I spent the past 2 years of my life trying to bring my daughter into this world and now she is here, but all I have done is look to the next nap time, next doctor’s appointment, the next day. I haven’t been able to focus on that moment she smiled at me for the first time, or when she rolled over, or when she started laughing and playing and cooing. My anxieties wouldn’t let me. All I saw was a tilted neck. All I saw was a fussy baby. All I saw was fighting naps and not sticking to her schedule. My anxiety robbed me of the first 6 months of my baby’s life. And for what? A fear of what could be, and in my case, what felt like what would be.
I didn’t have it easy up until this point, so in my head, I jumped to the next challenge, the next struggle, and the next worry. But what if they simply weren’t there? Yes, without my anxiety, my infertility would still exist, my preterm labor risk would still be real, and my daughter would still have torticollis. But what did worrying and obsessing get me? It got me 2.5 years of sleepless nights, a “woe is me” attitude, and a miserable outlook on life. It got me 6 months of daily worrying and obsessing over my beautiful baby girl instead of enjoying her.
Anxiety robbed me from my daughters first 6 months, and I can’t get those days back. What I can do is look forward to how I can make the next 6 months different. How I can focus on getting her better, while enjoying her at the same time. Enjoying life at the same time. Enjoying me at the same time.
Synergy would like to thank Keri for her emotional honesty about her struggles with anxiety before, during and after pregnancy and for briefly sharing her fertility story with our community. Anxiety is often debilitating for so many and gets a “bad rap” because it is so powerful over the mind and body. Anxiety’s fight and flight system keeps us safe from harm, whether real or perceived. When this system gets out of whack, there IS something we can do to help provide more balance including therapy and/or medication. Therapists can help people learn more about the way their thoughts impact their mood and build new strategies and skill set that can provide more balance. This is really hard work, like any new skill – it takes daily practice. Our highly skilled therapists and psychologists at Synergy eTherapy can help you or someone you know get support, learn how to cope, and better understand the mind/body connection.
This is the problem with anxiety. I spend my days in the future. Thinking about what will, what if and what can be.