Many moms are familiar with the “taboo” behind postpartum depression and the reluctancy they may feel in speaking up about this disorder. Along with postpartum depression, I want to talk about another unheard elephant in the room when discussing the ups and downs of labor and life after birth. There is another elephant – a black sheep of the family – that targets us: postpartum anxiety. Postpartum anxiety can impact any mother regardless if they have just given birth or are getting ready to send their children off to college.
The American Pregnancy Association defines postpartum anxiety as extreme and constant worry new mothers experience. Postpartum anxiety differs from depression and the baby blues in that mothers are not necessarily extremely depressed or not interested in their newborns, but rather we feel constantly worried and on guard about our children all the time. Mundane actions such as a trip to the grocery store or introducing the baby to family and friends can leave new mothers terrified and consumed on every illness, accident, or scrape that can take place. The fact that mothers must be superheros at every moment doesn’t make this disorder easy to deal with, meaning it can hang around for years.
Ignorance is bliss.
This is my second pregnancy. It seems that this should be a walk in the park. It has not been. Every news report, every sniffle, or even a quick trip to the store has me constantly on edge, worrying about the what-ifs. I, too, am battling postpartum anxiety. With my first child, I had the blessed ignorance of being busy with no time on my hands. Nine years ago, I was a college student and my biggest worries were too many papers, driving a car back and forth on its last legs, and getting enough sleep with a newborn in the house. Never did I think about the the sicknesses, the accidents, or the calamities that many families can tragically experience. With my college days behind me and now that I have figured out my career, I guess my mind has had more time to think about the what if’s.
I feel terrified.
I believe the anxiety set in during my pregnancy. I was more worried about my body being able to successfully create life again than to truly sit back and enjoy the last nine months. This time around, we did what every expectant pregnant couples would do. We researched a successful pregnancy, discussed how we wanted our birth to go, and discussed how we would raise this new child. Along the way I discovered everything that can go wrong, all the tragedies that may befall expectant mothers from infertility to stillbirths to month-long stays in NICU to reading about those out there so willing to harm children and their families. I felt terrified. Now that my son is here, some days I wake up and ponder everything that can go wrong while struggling to enjoy the beautiful moments together.
It’s a stigma.
There are ways to deal with it; however, in the black community mental health can still be seen as a stigma. There is something that prevents women of color from speaking out and discussing the many burdens that we may have on our minds. Let’s face it! When we scroll social media, it says it loud and clear. We must be queens who support and uplift our kings and provide the world for our children. We must uplift ourselves and others along with being a successful business woman and an awesome mother. There can be no time for worry, depression, or self-pity. This can result in many women like myself trying to rationalize with the fear, depression, or sadness versus appearing weak to others. For me, I felt like I should be a person who can tackle any issue including controlling all the extreme anxiety I am facing. This is a different type of anxiety, and it doesn’t come from cramming and churning out papers during the last moments before class begins.
Let’s talk about it.
The best way to treat any disorder such as postpartum anxiety or postpartum depression is to talk about it and find support. For me, I began to discuss in detail with my husband every little fear and worry I obsessed over. Thankfully, we took charge early on and I was able to realize which fear was an actual legitimate fear and which fears were not. The goal is to be rational about what goes on around you. Do I feel like taking him into the store will cause great illnesses? Sure, if I let everyone in the store breathe on him. Should we postpone our holiday plans? No.
Let’s face the facts. We all know a mother who is terrified to let her baby out of sight. The mother who worries about her six year old starting school. The mother who is afraid to let her son play contact sports. The mother who is anxious about letting her sixteen year old become a young adult. Back in the day, nobody viewed this as a problem. We called these mothers overprotective and did not realize the toll this was taking on the mental health of these women. We rarely want to acknowledge these elephants in the room. The more we talk about these stigmas in the room, the better we can raise our families and cope with the unexpected.