Childbirth. Considered one of the most beautiful, self-less, demanding acts that a woman can experience. Although characterized by the most positive and heartwarming expressions, only a few shine a light on the dark corners of pregnancy and childbirth. The emotional and mental difficulties that accompany the birthing process can catastrophize physical concerns and make pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum a terrifying experience. This is my story.
I found out I was 10 centimeters dilated at 7:30am on March 23.
I remember my mother telling me what my grandmother told her 29 years prior, “the only way this baby is going to come into this world is if you bring [him]!” I had never been so motivated in my life. With every countdown there was a contraction and a simultaneous push. The moment was coming closer to when I would finally lay eyes on the little “wiggle butt” that I had grown to so lovingly protect over the past 39 weeks.
In between pushing, I would pause to catch my breath and find encouragement in the faces of those around me; my husband, mother, doctor, and delivery team. All eyes were on me and I felt the weight of the miracle that was about to take place. It seemed like an eternity passed by in a span of a few minutes, and weeks passed through a very tiresome year. After 12 hours of labor, he finally arrived.
Through blurry eyes, I got a glimpse of the being who was worthy of every star in the sky. My heart was as full as my breast, and my body was stricken with relief as I relinquished the tension of every muscle. My mind was a merry-go-round of emotions, a rapid whirl of disbelief, thankfulness, and apprehension. I listened intently for the sound that would eventually rule my life, but my ears were met with only the slightest of cries.
As I looked around into the faces of my delivery team to gauge if there was any hint of concern, I pushed my husband to follow our son to the table where he was being examined. I asked repeatedly, is he okay?!, as he would only let out the smallest of whimpers to give me some comfort, but it was not enough. Not even the reassurance from the doctors was enough to quell my fears. It was in that moment that all the fears that had paralyzed me throughout my entire pregnancy came flooding back to me. Was I going to be leaving the hospital without a baby? How would I ever survive that?
In the few moments that it took for me to feel reassured that my son was healthy, my anxiety had birthed its own entity that was bigger and badder than my pregnancy anxiety. During my pregnancy, I felt a lack of control over my body and the well-being of my unborn son. There was only so much I could do to ensure his survival inside my womb, which was mentally immobilizing. My only relief was trying to relinquish my fears to a merciful God and to adhere to our weekly non-stress tests.
I was foolish to think that once I had birthed my son that I would regain some semblance of myself and a sense of control of my emotions. Little did I know that the hard part had just begun. My anxiety was starting to make its presence known as never before and worries about my son tripled. Although exhausted, I would wake up relentlessly to make sure he was not too hot or too cold, constantly adjusting the thermostat and repeatedly checking his fever with the back of my hand. I would glance over to monitor the heaves of his chest or that he wasn’t choking on any spit up. I dare not let his beany slip from either of his ears in fear that he might get sick and have to go to the hospital. Was his swaddle too tight? What if he rolled over on his face and couldn’t breathe? What if I didn’t wake up in time? Every small instance was significant in my mind, and I could hardly find respite in the calm moments of motherhood.
Despite running to his every call, supplying his needs with nourishment from my own tired body, or making sure he never stayed in a soiled diaper for too long, I still often found myself in disbelief over my new role. I was a new mother, and I was overwhelmed. Was I a bad mother? Was I doing too much? Or not enough? What if we don’t bond? Can he sense how worried I am? Does he know how much I love him?
Although this was a new experience for me, postpartum anxiety is a relatively common condition that is more prevalent than its popular counterpart, postpartum depression. It is characterized by excessive worry or stress that occurs after the birth of a child. Even though it is natural to have some degree of worry about a new baby, postpartum anxiety may occur if symptoms become more intense over time and do not go away with significant effort. If you are seeking additional support, please explore the following resources for more information on postpartum anxiety, symptoms, and potential treatments. They say “it takes a village to raise a child” and sometimes moms need the support of the village as well!