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.

I’m Just an Okayest Friend

I’m an okayest friend with extraordinary friends.

Some of my reasons for being an Okayest friend

Some of my reasons for being an Okayest friend

Both my family and my husband’s family have always supported me (sometimes even literally). But I also have this small mom tribe around me who have bailed me out of trouble a thousand times during this tumultuous time of life. I don’t have a lot of friends, but I have a lot of support. For this, I consider myself extremely lucky. Friends are not obligated to support me, yet somehow I have been the recipient of much more love than I have ever given. Unfortunately, I am sorely lacking in the payback department.

Recently, a good friend posted an article she liked about what it takes to be in her “mom tribe”, which made me think about my own mom tribe. I liked the article so much that I wanted to add to it. As two of my dearest members of my support team prepare to move away this month, I would like to dedicate this post to my mom tribe.

My closest friends in my tribe have exhibited at least one of the following traits:

You make me want to spill my guts. In one-sentence bursts between toddler demands.

You don’t say things like, “Kids love me!”

You don’t post selfies – with the exception of your profile pic, of course. We all need at least one selfie. And you don’t take gym selfies.

You tell me when I wear the wrong kind of shoes to the gym.

You make me pee a little with text one-liners in the middle of the night.

You don’t brag about your kids too much… cuz I’m sure mine are always gonna be behind.

Those times my husband is out of town and we are all sick, you might drop a loaf of bread or a box of cookie butter cookies or Pedialyte on my porch in a germ-free drive-by, even though you know I would probably never reciprocate.

One time, when we were all sick at Christmastime, you offered to come over and put all my ornaments on my tree. Because I hate that job.

You always lift my kid up to the throw a ball in the basketball hoop at the gym, even though you have four or five of your own kids to lift up.

You offer to watch my two-year-old twins when I’m in a terrible bind, even though you know I probably won’t reciprocate.

You don’t judge. We hear that trite phrase a lot, but you know that you don’t know what it’s like to be wrapped up in the Okayest Family anxiety/migraine/ developmental delay/ infertility/ almost died/ twin/ adoption/ transracial situation.  (Just as I don’t know what it’s like to have a husband deploy, or work on his second PhD, or have four or five or six or even two kids.)

We don’t clean our houses for each other. More importantly, we don’t apologize for not cleaning.

You have given us beautiful hand-me-down toys and clothes, even though you could have taken those items to the consignment store for cash. You pretty much gave me money out of your own pocket. I will pay it forward.

When I was super overwhelmed, you tapped me on the shoulder during church and said you were going to teach my Sunday School class of seven-year-olds. You would not take “no” for an answer. You demanded that I give you the lesson manual and march myself to an adult class for once. (I cried. With relief. In the bathroom. And then I went to the adult Sunday School to refill my soul.)

We don’t call each other, visit, or plan activities between the hours of 4-7 pm. It’s the unspoken SAHM rule. (Note: Germ-free drive-bys are permitted within this window.)

I get a little distracted from friendships sometimes

I get a little distracted from friendships sometimes

You don’t keep score. Of anything. Who called last, who gave more car pool rides, who offered to help… (Good thing, too, because I would lose. Every time.)

You didn’t care that time that I RSVP’d yes to your kid’s birthday party and then totally forgot to come.

You have offered to bring me dinner.

When I came out of intensive care, you had arranged a schedule with five weeks of dinners from church sisters.

You actually want to hang out with me sans kids, but you will settle for my three screaming toddlers. But you have responded to my pleas for girls night.

Two times, you brought me a donut.

When I was on bedrest, you arranged daily care for my toddler with different church sisters.

When I panic about a tremendous load on my shoulders, and message you a long rambling message begging for ideas to help me fix that problem, you respond right away. You don’t get mad when I don’t make time to write back to you, even though you made time for me.

You have caught a runaway twin of mine in a parking lot.

When my twins climbed out of their cribs and quit napping, you came over and laid on my floor and helped get one to sleep. (In case you don’t know, putting a toddler to sleep is NOT cozy and sweet like putting a newborn to sleep!)

When I tell you something I already told you, or I tell you about that cool new product that everyone knows about but me, you make fun of me instead of just nodding and smiling.

You ask how the kids are doing when you know they are sick/ have a big meeting/ appointment/ hard thing to do. I only hope I remember to ask about your sweet kids as much as you do about mine.

You have walked me through the IEP process and calmed my fears.

You have broken the Sabbath to watch my kids so I could break the Sabbath to attend a once-in-a-lifetime concert. (Not that I am condoning this….But, Bob Dylan? Jack White?)

No competition. Duh. If you have a cute party, I’m not gonna one-up you. I promise.

You tell me I’m doing good.

Why have you all done these things? You all make me laugh and you make me cry. You all hold me up. You all show true love and service through many of these things. This list is an amalgam of different friendships. I would be a lucky woman if I had even had one of these things happen to me from this list. You all know who you are, and I thank you. I can only hope that someday, when my kids are in school, and when I don’t feel so overwhelmed and wild-eyed, I will reciprocate. Or at least pay it forward. I only hope you can accept my apologies for not being able to reciprocate/pay it forward just yet… But I thank you for having faith in me anyway.

You all are not okayest. You’re amazing,