My experience of Anxiety in Motherhood
As this week marks Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, I’ve taken to my Blog to talk about my own experience of suffering from Anxiety during early motherhood.
My daughter Scarlett was born in 2016 and was very much planned, being a Midwife I wasn’t too concerned about birth itself and although it did have its complications it all went pretty much to plan and we were home within 24 hours.
The Baby Blues
Day 3 – I experienced the ‘Baby Blues’ which was feeling tearful and a little emotional and overwhelmed, but it passed and I was very much aware it would happen so I kept visitors to a minimum around that third day. I had great support from my husband, family and friends. I breastfed as I had wanted to do and although it took some getting used to, I encountered no problems.
On my own
When my husband went back to work, I made sure I got out straight away with my new baby, as I didn’t want to get ‘cabin fever’ and I loved the freedom of getting out and about. It was at around two weeks old I stumbled across my first hurdle, a growth spurt. I can honestly say as a Midwife and being used to discharging women at around 10 days postpartum I naively knew very little on the subject. I couldn’t understand why at roughly 2 weeks she wouldn’t stop wanting to feed and I just sat at home on my own, crying on the sofa watching This Morning on the tv! It was only when my friend explained the constant feeding, giving me very little time to do anything else was probably a Growth Spurt. This helped me so much because I could then rationalise the situation, this is something that has become a real help in my Mothering, if it can be rationalised or explained I feel less anxious or worried.
The Witching Hours
My daughter also suffered from terrible ‘witching hours’, it was like clockwork, everyday at 5pm and that is when the anxiety started! I am someone who likes routine and to be in control something you cannot have with a new born, so to have every evening taken over by this baby and with no real certainty as to when it would end, really threw me. I noticed every evening at around 5 I would start to feel nauseous and my heart would start beating faster, followed by being constantly on edge. My husband tried to help as much as he could but it didn’t alleviate the anxiety I felt inside. Looking back now we just sort of muddled through. I read an article about the ‘witching hours’ and the last line said, ‘this too shall pass’ and those words I found hugely reassuring because whoever wrote that article was completely right it did just pass, I can’t even tell you when or how many weeks old she was but it did just pass.
Sadly, although the ‘witching hours’ passed my Anxiety didn’t and I carried on doing what would seem to be a great job from the outside but on the inside, I felt anxious about the lack of control, lack of sleep, lack of routine an if I’m honest an inner battle with the Midwife in me. Everything needed to be done correctly, breastfeeding was a must and something like a dummy was a big ‘no no’! It was only recently when a close friend said to me that she actually felt sorry for me because I had so much added pressure being a Midwife, she felt I couldn’t always go with my instinct rather i had to follow the exact advice I had always given.
My daughter Scarlett was also a terrible sleeper and this became a BIG issue, sleep then became my obsession and when I couldn’t work out why she wouldn’t sleep or nap the anxiety would bubble up once again. I’d feel out of control and unable to settling, wishing I could understand what I was doing wrong. When I found a routine that worked for her sleep, I stuck to it rigidly, so rigidly that breaking it in any way would result in me feeling physically sick as to what the outcome would be.
Over the following months the anxiety continued and life became frustrating and tiring, I absolutely enjoyed being a mother and wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else, I just wanted to chill out a bit, feel less pressured and break the routine!
Time for a change – dropping breastfeeding
When Scarlett was 6 months old my husband was sent to Africa for 4 months as part of his role in the Military and I saw this as a time I had to change something. I was tired, anxious and had lost weight due to going dairy free because she was mis-diagnosed with a dairy allergy (that really is a whole other story!) and for me it was the decision to stop breastfeeding that helped me turn a corner. It was a really difficult decision and of because I beat myself up about it but I couldn’t go on and it was the best decision I made. Looking back maybe I saw my husband going away as my reasoning to tell others why I stopped? I could barely tell my close friend who was a midwife herself and had kept up breastfeeding for a year, her reply was, I think you maybe should have given up a while ago. I just wished she had told me that earlier but I think she felt it would upset me!
I went to see my GP who was also concerned about my weight loss and on this particular day I felt extremely anxious having arrived too early I remember blankly walking around the park opposite the surgery. I think I was worried the GP would tell me off for not taking care of myself properly and that she would insist I commence formula feeding. Instead, she said something really kind when I mentioned I wanted to stop, which I haven’t ever forgotten, she said; your daughter has been blessed to have been breastfed for so long but if you feel its time to stop then you must do what’s right for you.
So, I stopped and once I stopped, I could take a bit of control back, I could gain weight and start to have extra help from my family who I went to stay with in Norfolk. I’m not saying that stopping breastfeeding solved all my feelings of Anxiety but for me personally it was the right choice. I still continued to worry about her sleep and the lack of routine but slowly over time it got better and I did start to feel more like me.
As a Midwife of course I promote breastfeeding due to its many health benefits but for me I had to recognise something had to change to improve my mental health, even writing this now I feel pressured to explain myself more because of what I should be promoting! I’m not going to though because I want to own that decision and that’s maybe my takeaway message, we all experience motherhood differently and every baby is different. Some of us can feel anxious, worried, find it overwhelming and we are put under pressure to fit the mould but when your mental health is at stake recognising what needs to change is what is the most important factor of all! We as new mothers deserve to put ourselves higher up on the importance list in order to be a happier mother which in turn to a happy baby!
If you’re struggling postnatally or feeling anxious in your pregnancy and want help to prepare and feel more organised, then book a call with me and we can plan how I can help.