On May 18, 2018, the moment my baby boy was born, I was overwhelmed with emotions. I cried, the nurse cried; it was beautiful. This is it, I thought. This is the feeling everyone told me about. I had a rough pregnancy, having been diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum ― severe nausea and vomiting during pregnancy ― early on, so giving birth felt like a relief. Later, I was wheeled into the recovery room and a hospital staffer came in with a checklist: Was I feeling sad? Did I feel worthless? Did I feel like hurting myself or others? My answers were a big no! I wasn’t sad at all.
However, there was another feeling overpowering any resemblance of joy. It was this overwhelming sense of responsibility and fear weighing down on me. Here was this little, helpless baby, and his life was in my hands. Thoughts of sudden infant death syndrome, illnesses and an immature immune system flooded my mind. I entered a state of panic. I’ve always been a positive, upbeat and rational person, and, although I’ve been known to be a planner and sometimes worry over little things, I’d never suffered from anxiety before that moment.
We went into the hospital at 5 a.m. for a scheduled cesarean section. Late that same night, I was still wide awake. The nurse told me several times I needed rest. I smiled and nodded but wouldn’t dare let myself close my eyes. She finally came in and asked why I wouldn’t sleep. I broke down. In between sobs, I explained to her that my baby was going to die if I went to sleep, and I wasn’t going to let that happen.
“Although I’ve been known to be a planner and sometimes worry over little things, I’d never suffered from anxiety before that moment.”
When we were sent home, I continued staying up all night. I was determined to keep my baby alive by watching to make sure he took every breath. Yes, we had also bought an electronic monitor (at my insistence) to track his heart rate and breathing, but it didn’t matter.
When I needed to get up to feed or change the baby’s diaper in the middle of the night, every step I took caused excruciating pain. I was also weak from excessive blood loss. On most nights, I would cry for hours, feeling frustrated, alone, helpless and hopeless, waiting for the sun to come up and for my baby to make it through one more night. Although I had a lot of support at home from both my husband and my mother-in-law, I did not ask for help. No one can care for my baby like I can, I reasoned. Plus, I needed everyone else to be wide awake in the mornings to watch him for me, in case I dozed off then.
Once my husband was up in the morning, he’d take the baby and I’d let myself sleep for a couple of hours. I would dream that my baby died and wake up in a panic, never wanting to sleep again. I would spend my days in a room power-pumping, breastfeeding and breaking down crying every time my baby made a noise. In spite of my efforts, I wasn’t producing enough milk. I was devastated.
My baby had a perfect latch. He was born big and strong, and was doing everything right. Yet my body refused to cooperate and do what was supposed to be natural. Breastfeeding advocates reiterated that formula wasn’t the best, it wasn’t even second or third best, for that matter. Over and over again, support groups screamed that every mom could breastfeed, and if I wasn’t, I was just being selfish and I was surely hurting my child.
I searched for donor milk, but my baby was healthy. He wouldn’t be on any priority list to receive it. I searched online and came across warnings of premature infants who had died from tainted formula ― I was instantly terrified that would happen to my child. But my baby wasn’t a preemie, he was born big at almost 41 weeks. No one understood why I was so concerned, and I couldn’t explain it to them. I would hear my baby’s stomach while he drank his bottle, and every swallow was a punch to my gut. I tried lactation consultants, power-pumping, weigh-ins and even a supplemental nursing system. Nothing worked.
I felt I was failing this innocent child I had just brought into the world. Throughout the day, I would cry for seemingly no reason at all, but inside I kept thinking of all the ways a newborn could die and how horrible of a mother I was turning out to be. I didn’t feel joy, and I didn’t feel connected to my baby.
“Throughout the day, I would cry for seemingly no reason at all, but inside I kept thinking of how horrible of a mother I was turning out to be.”
I thought of how much of a challenge pregnancy was, how I wasn’t able to deliver naturally and how my body couldn’t feed my child. It was becoming obvious to me that I wasn’t meant to be a mom. People say that your maternal instincts kick in as soon as your baby is born and to follow your gut. My instincts were screaming that something was terribly wrong. I was sure the worst would happen at any moment. I knew my marriage would be devastated over it and that I would never recover. I felt I had ruined everyone’s lives. I also thought about the end of maternity leave, and how I would go back to work without having enjoyed my baby; and if he lived that long, he would surely die without me at home watching over him.
I would see posts from new moms about how overjoyed they were. I didn’t understand. I couldn’t comprehend why I didn’t feel the same thing they did and why they didn’t seem as worried as I was. I remember my husband fawning over the baby and saying over and over again how in love he was. He’d ask me if I was happy. I didn’t know how to reply. All I felt was this constant painful and crushing feeling in my heart and in my chest. I was also frustrated that he didn’t understand that any breath could be our baby’s last.
At one point, my husband said he was worried about me, and my sister told me I should talk to someone. But at my six-week checkup appointment, when the doctor asked what the most surprising thing about motherhood was, I looked down, embarrassed I didn’t have a better answer, and quietly said, “The overwhelming anxiety. I wasn’t expecting that.” He smiled and told me it was normal. But it didn’t feel normal. I wanted to scream and cry and beg him to help me. I wanted to tell him I couldn’t be a mother. I wanted to tell him my baby was going to die. Instead, I smiled back and told myself that maybe this is how it felt. That maybe others just never shared that with me. That just maybe I would carry this pain, tightening in my chest and shortness of breath the rest of my life. I remember thinking it couldn’t be possible to live like that forever.
People assured me I was going to miss this newborn stage. Meanwhile, all I kept praying was for my baby to grow. For him to not be a fragile newborn anymore! I was counting down the days before he could have his first set of vaccines that offered some sort of protection. Yet when that day came, I broke down in tears wondering if I had made the right decision. All the warnings I had seen on social media came rushing in. Had I not read the vaccine inserts enough? What if I was injecting my baby with poison? I began recording him on my phone while he slept to have a doctor evaluate his breathing for any possible adverse reaction.
Friends asked me if I was able to see how the rough pregnancy that I endured was worth it. But by the time I had a complete breakdown and snapped at my mother after she coughed during one of her visits, I was regretting the decision to ever become a mother. It was too hard, and my heart hurt too much. I used to be happy. What did I do? Why did I cause myself and my family so much anxiety? Whose idea was it to let me have a child? I had no training, no experience and no real knowledge. Why did they ever let me walk out of the hospital with a baby? That didn’t even sound safe. Didn’t they know this baby would die in my hands and under my watch? These thoughts were constantly flooding my mind.
Looking back, I now know what I was feeling was extreme anxiety ― a lot of it irrational but still very real to me. My child is now 8 months old and insanely happy. I’m now amazed that my body created this big, healthy, beautiful human being. I don’t know exactly how things started to get better. But thankfully they did. Had they not, I would have eventually sought help. Therapy and medication, if needed. I still struggle with wanting to overprotect my child. I still panic and overreact at moments. But I’m working on it every day.
One morning, my husband woke up and saw me cuddling and talking to our baby and he said, “You’re feeling better. And you’re feeling differently about him, aren’t you?” He looked so relieved. The entire time I thought I was suffering alone. But, in reality, my anxiety had affected us all.
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