I woke up two nights ago at a typical nurse back to sleep time for my son. I couple hear him starting to fuss a little and decided to bring him back into bed with me over trying to stay awake enough to put him back to sleep in his own bed. I snuggled him in under my arm, his knees curled into my belly in a puzzle fitting of bodies that we have been perfecting for 7 months now. I started to drift off to sleep but every time I did I would wake up suddenly with a racing heart. It was similar to having the falling dream and waking in a panic only I wasn’t asleep enough to dream. This happened about five or six times until I realized that I was in a cold sweat, the room was spinning and my heart was racing. It had been years but I knew what I was experiencing. An anxiety attack. I sat up suddenly I instructed my husband to please soothe our son as I placed my head between my knees and breathed. I was angry. Why was this happening? I wasn’t any more stressed than usual. I wasn’t feeling particularly smothered, tapped out or out of control. My postpartum experience this time around had been so wonderful and IN control. And then it dawned on me. My period. I had just started my period for the first time since pre-pregnancy. My hormones were changing and my body was struggling to keep up. Knowing there was a reason for the anxiety attack, my body seemed to relax almost as soon as I made the connection. When I felt strong enough to stand up I did a quick walk around the house, got some water, inhaled my favorite balancing essential oil, changed into cooler, looser pajamas and cracked the window. Then I climbed back into bed ready to reassume cuddling and nursing with my son until we both drifted off to sleep. In the morning I was able to briefly address what had happened with my husband and we shrugged it off as an isolated event. But it really stayed with me. Because in the months postpartum with my daughter, those were not isolated incidences and I did not always know how to regulate my racing thoughts, let alone my heart.
Anxiety is crippling, frightening, and can come from a multitude of triggers. Its onset can seem mild and shakable, like a fleeting thought or irritation. But those thoughts turn to fears, and suddenly your heart is hammering in your chest, and your mind’s awareness of your racing heart causes you to fear you are losing control which only exacerbates the symptoms. Anxiety is cyclical in that way. It is a cruel rabbit hole that feels bottomless. When you are in the middle of an attack you’re left gasping and grasping at anything you can to pull you back toward something that resembles stability. I’ve been there, and for the most part I’ve climbed out of it. But I have triggers and seasons and sometimes even when things seem really good I have to acknowledge that my anxiety is present again. And every once in a full moon I experience something like an actual attack. Like two nights ago.
If this is you, I am here to tell you that you are not alone, you are not broken, you are not a bad mother, and you can and should seek help. When anxiety was debilitating after my daughter was born I chose to be on medication. I sometimes question that decision now, but I’m not sure if I had a better option for that specific time and situation. I was still able to breastfeed without any complication for her (though a decrease in my milk supply meant that I had to supplement with formula) and I was also able to return to work and function well. My relationship with my husband was able to remain strong, I was able to resume having a social life, and I was able to truly bond with my daughter. I stopped taking medication after 9 months old because I was so concerned with my milk supply and I had really wanted to nurse her until she was at least a year old. I weaned off safely and was thrilled that I still felt very much like myself. But all of life is peaks and valleys, and since that time my body and heart have experienced many hormonal and life changes. I am simply prone to anxiety. And because of that, I have had the opportunity to learn coping skills that have prevented anxiety from becoming incapacitating again. My hope is that something here will ignite hope, awareness, and inspiration to someone who might be in a dark place without a match.
1). Talk to someone. That someone can be someone very close to you or a complete stranger, depending on which suits your own unique personality. But please make it a loving and wise someone who will extend care and respect for your experience.
2). Seek to carve out space that is all your own. This can be physical in the way of creating a safe haven within your home that is your own private retreat (your bathtub perhaps) or it can simply be thirty minutes to an hour of the day that is all your own. When you have an infant at home this requires that you lean on the support of others to tend to your baby during this time period, but it’s necessary space for your well-being.
3). Pray, meditate, or consider seeking spiritual connection if you haven’t ever before. Motherhood opens us up to an entirely new way of being that can only be described as spiritual. In the face of this new reality of self we come face to face with the most inner parts of our soul and often times need to wrestle with big questions.
4). Make sure that your hormones are stable and functioning normally. Even the slightest imbalance can have incredible effects on our bodies. The most natural and effective way that I have found hormone balance is through the use of essential oils. I have a few friends that work with very reputable companies and I have been thrilled to find a particular oil blend that combats my anxiety.
5). Eat real, healthy food. It’s really that simple. Take care of your body by giving it good fuel. Don’t count carbs or calories or fat grams. Just eat really simple, basic, and straight from the source food.
There is no shame in needing help. We all need encouragement, support, and sometimes simply a sounding board. I’m here. Your motherhood sisters are here. God is here. Tomorrow night I will be posting more resources specific to postpartum anxiety, so if you know anyone who could benefit please send them here.