Why Is “Postpartum Anxiety” A Thing Now? And What Do We Do?

Ah, okay, there’s a name for that now. I have a Bachelor’s degree in psychology (granted, it’s old) and I had never heard the term “postpartum anxiety” before recently. Where did this come from? Everyone knows about postpartum depression, but why was no one talking about the postpartum anxiety? When I type the word “postpartum”, the suggested next words are “depression” or “hemorrhage”. Not anxiety.

I was at a baby shower recently and the words “postpartum anxiety” passed through the room like a hot potato. From mom to mom to mom. These are my friends, and we had no idea that each other was suffering.

What is going on?!

I didn’t feel any of these feelings during high school or college. I managed to graduate cum laude without getting too overwhelmed or ever hearing this kind of negative self-talk. I managed five years of a teaching career without hearing this crap. I could handle 25 five-year-olds every day for ten months out of a year, and only feel normal amounts of tiredness and frustration. Yes, those things were incredibly challenging and a huge amount of work, but I didn’t shut down.

This anxiety is all new to me, since motherhood began.

How many of you mothers out there are rocking in this same unsteady boat? Is it new for you too? Why now? Are we poisoning ourselves and our brain chemistry? What is to blame? Ourselves? Pregnancy? Regular daily situational stress? Environmental toxins? Pesticides? Food dyes? An overabundance of information?  The fact that modern parents are not able to let their ten-year-old walk home from the playground without getting Child Protective Services called? Pinterest? (Just kidding. You know Okayest Mom is not a Pinterest mom.)

No one told me before I started infertility treatments that women with successful IVF  have higher rates of depression and anxiety. No one told me before my twins were born that mothers of multiples have higher rates of depression and anxiety. Some studies even show that new adoptive mothers have higher rates of depression. We all know that people who cheat death like I did have some mental repercussions later. And it’s probably obvious that almost all mothers of special needs children have higher rates of “psychological distress.”

Despite the fact that I was not quite cognizant of all of this crap, I figured it all out on my own as I bowed under the pressures. I wrote about being haunted by successful IVF a while ago. And I have never subscribed to the belief that “adoption is rainbows and unicorns.” (The truth is that adoption is extremely complex – and involves walking with your child through his grief.)

With all of these complicated family dynamics under my roof and inside my head and on my shoulders, it’s really no surprise that I have some really really bad days. Days when I can’t handle my life. Days when I feel like a bad person. A wrong person. And, yes, days when I feel like a bad mother. I am really bad at a lot of things. Potty training twins. Growing blueberries. Unpacking anything ever. Turning down the minivan radio.

And then I have some normal days, like today. Today I reread a hopeless and detailed (unpublished) post that I had written during a bad day. It made me feel so sad. Not sorry for myself – just plain old sad. Since my brain seems to be thinking clearly today as I look back on that post, I started making a mental list of all the things that I actually do right. My list was kind of beautiful. Everything on it was something I do as a mother, just naturally, without comparison to others and without force. My list made me smile, and I realized I needed to write it down.

I needed to write that list down and read it on every single bad day. I wanted to be able to read my own words and believe myself on a bad day. Here is my list.

Motherhood things I do well (and need to reread on a bad day):

  • Having Beastie Boys dance parties with my kids
  • Saying “no” when needed
  • Saying “yes” as often as possible
  • Going outside with my kids in all types of weather
  • Making exercise a priority for all of us
  • Baking homemade organic bread often (for fun!)
  • Making homemade organic wheat pancakes from scratch every Saturday and a homemade pumpkin pie every Sunday
  • Loving their father
  • Checking the pollen count every day for my seriously allergic son, and making him change his clothes and wiping him down all over when he comes inside
  • Running a food-dye-free kitchen when I realized one of my sons reacts to dyes
  • Driving to another state to see a specialist on a regular basis for one son
  • Fighting tooth and nail to get services for one son (and then listening to this ridiculous 80s Journey song on the way home while pumping my fist in the air)
  • Snuggling and kissing and hugging my children as often as they allow
  • Teaching my children that they are the bosses of their bodies and can say no to my hugs (sigh)
  • Taking them to church every Sunday (okay, most Sundays)
  • Letting them see me preparing my Sunday School lesson, and then teaching them a 3 minute shortened version of it every Monday for Family Night
  • Teaching them to respect their father
  • Making them kale smoothies (they don’t eat their vegetables, but they sure drink them, and I’m okay with that)
  • Keeping my kids away from electronics
  • Getting my own exercise so I can be healthy for them (and keep up with them – almost)
  • Almost always controlling the volume of my voice
  • Seeing the grandparents and great-grandparents a lot
  • Learning about my own white privilege, and trying to change that for my son
  • Taking classes about race and transracial adoption to try to do better
  • Making sure my kids know what a record player is
  • Living by my favorite parenting quote: “Give them time to explore and learn about the feel of grass, and the wiggliness of worms.” (by Marjorie Hinckley)

Again, this list is not here to compare to your good things. I am writing it to remind myself what *I* do right, and hope that it can outweigh my shortcomings. If you suffer from the same crap I do, make a list for yourself of your good things – the things you do effortlessly and for which you forget to take credit.

Make a list for yourself. Give yourself credit. Reread it. Reach out to other moms on your bad days. Remind your friends what things they do right. Let’s do this together.

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