My Journey with Postpartum Anxiety and a High Needs Baby

[Editor’s Note: My son had colic, so I know how much it can impact a mother with postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety, believe me. It was awful. I clung to the words my pediatrician told me: that it would resolve when he was around four months old. Those may have been the longest four months of my life, but she was essentially right. Today I’m happy to have Holly Klaassen with us as she shares her story of postpartum anxiety and a high need baby. -Katherine]

My Journey with Postpartum Anxiety and a High Needs Baby -postpartumprogress.com

I’ve struggled with anxiety and with panic attacks since I was nine years old.

At different stages of my life, I’ve struggled to a greater and a lesser extent. And as with many people, periods of stress tend to trigger the periods of anxiety.

The first couple of years after having my daughter (who’s now eight) were great. I had what I would consider the baby blues three days postpartum: Non-stop crying, a ‘dark cloud’ feeling, wondering if I was indeed capable of being a parent. However as quickly as these feelings came, they left.

I was lucky.

Then along came baby #2 a couple of years later. Since I hadn’t struggled with postpartum anxiety following the birth of my daughter, I wasn’t too worried about any kind of postpartum depression or anxiety this time around.

But what I hadn’t counted on was having a baby who screamed nearly constantly. Who had major issues with feeding, with sleeping, and basically with just being alive. Who would sleep in 45 minute increments at night, and with whom I could not seem to build any positive memories.

I felt completely exhausted. Sleep-deprived. On the edge. And so, so full of guilt.

I had no idea I was capable of feeling guilt like that. Guilt that I didn’t know what was wrong with my own baby. Guilt that I didn’t know if I even loved him. Guilt that I was neglecting my two-and-a-half year old daughter. Guilt, guilt, guilt.

It was a very physical sensation, that guilt. I felt it in the pit of my stomach, constantly. I felt the weight of it on my shoulders, literally. I felt oppressed by it, overwhelmed by it.

One day my husband found me on the kitchen floor curled up in a ball, sobbing, put there by the sheer force of the guilt.

The exhaustion certainly took its toll too. The second my head hit the pillow, I would hear Sammy screaming. When I would run to his room, I’d see him fast asleep.

At one point I was so sleep-deprived that whenever I would sit still for more than a minute, or lay down for a rest, I would get a strange sensation of falling. My body was so revved up, it seemed to not know what to do when it wasn’t in overdrive.

I remember taking my son for a car ride one afternoon near Christmas so my husband and daughter could have a bit of time where they didn’t have to listen to the baby crying and screaming.

I don’t remember where we drove, but I do remember listening to a radio program. The host of the show said, “If you’re blessed to have a new baby in the house this Christmas, what a wonderful and peaceful Christmas you’re going to have.” I didn’t feel blessed. I felt cursed.

A thought suddenly came to me:

If I drove off the road, my husband and daughter would finally have peace and quiet in the house. Sure, they would be sad, but mainly, they would be relieved.

Even in my sleep-deprived and anxious state, I knew I would never do it. But I also knew I needed help.

When Sammy was 11 weeks old, I joined a local postpartum depression support group. I knew I didn’t have postpartum depression in the purely biological or hormonal sense: I knew if Sammy’s crying magically stopped, I would be okay.

This brought some solace, as the anxiety and panic attacks I had suffered with my whole life were generally not circumstantial. There was never anything I could do or that could happen that would make them go away.

I felt a bit of an outsider in that group. These ladies were in a very dark place; I wouldn’t say darker than mine, but I knew they were in this for the long haul, whereas mine was more likely to be time-limited.

What I did find in that group however, was comfort and acceptance. I was with women who didn’t sugarcoat parenting. Who didn’t talk about how lovely and joyful it was to have a newborn. Who didn’t only want to chat about all the cute things their babies did.

These women were in the trenches of parenting. I could tell they loved their kids, but that love didn’t always come naturally or easily. They had to fight for it. To consciously and proactively love their kids, even through their own pain and suffering.

The best advice I can give to parents who are struggling with postpartum anxiety or depression and a fussy baby is this: Take care of yourself.

A high need baby demands so much attention and energy, and sucks your emotional and physical resources dry. And if you’re struggling with postpartum anxiety on top of that, it’s a recipe for disaster.

I know many of us always think, “If I really get desperate, THEN I’ll ask for help.,” Well guess what? These are desperate times. This is the time to call in the troops.

To get a babysitter. To go for walks, alone. To take a nap. To ask for support. To do whatever it takes to survive this time.

I got through it, and am, I think, a better person for it. My journey with anxiety is by no means over. I don’t believe it will ever be over.

But that stage of my life is over, and I, my family, and my son made it through in one piece. And that’s all I can ask for.

 ~ Holly Klaassen, The Fussy Baby Site

About Katherine Stone

is the founder of Postpartum Progress. She has been named a WebMD Health Hero, one of the fiercest women in America by More magazine, and one of the top 20 Social Media Moms by Working Mother magazine. She is a survivor of postpartum OCD.

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Comments

  1. SUCH an important topic. Thank you!

  2. Thank you for writing this piece.
    I too have always suffered from anxiety since I was young and my first son had serve acid reflux for 10 months and never slept because of it. The guilt was such a horrible weight because there is simply nothing I could do for him. I would sit with him propped up on my chest, rocking and singing to him, and he would just scream in my face and claw my chest. There was nothing I could do, but cry (and drink). When strangers would say to me how precious he was I could feel the scratches on my chest burning and the ringing in my ear, and I simply could not agree with them. I thought I was incapable of taking care of him and was certain I had "ruined" him, since he was picking up on my anxiety (my therapist would remind me that a baby only feels pain and comfort not anxiety).
    But, you are so right, getting out and doing something for yourself is really the only way to make it through. Going for a walk alone, taking a drive with the music blared, or even sitting in peace and quiet at the library are ways to re-amp the soul and to remind yourself that your baby needs you to take care of yourself.
    Parents that have survived a baby with colic deserve a badge of honor!

  3. I can totally relate!!!!! I KNOW that if my son hadn't cried non-stop, and that if I had been able to get some sleep (he didn't sleep through the night till he was 15 months old) that even though I still would have had PPD, it would never have gotten so severe and so out of control, and would not have lasted so long.

  4. Love love love the Fussy Baby Site! Check it out if you have a fussy/high need baby or had one and are still processing it, or you might have a baby in the future! I had a history of depression and anxiety, so I was prepared for some PPD – but having an inconsolable screechy baby with feeding issues was THE HARDEST thing I have ever gone through. The Fussy Baby Site and Post Partum Progress websites have both been lifesavers for me.

  5. My fussy high needs baby is now a fussy high needs preschooler. Ends up maybe it’s just her personality. And my anxiety is the real life lasting kind. Prayers for me.

  6. I just came across this website and thank you so much for this article. Both my babies have been high needs babies but I’m having such difficulty with my second because nothing seems to calm her. Even my sure fire solution with Baby #1 isn’t working: breastfeeding. It has been so difficult to bond with her and so many times I tell her how much I hate her and I regret having her. And then exactly, I feel guilt. So much guilt. She’s 3 months old and I’m just waiting for her to reach 4 months and to Cry It Out so I don’t spend 3 hours calming her to sleep. šŸ™

    • Heather King says:

      I had very colicky babies. It is so hard. The exhaustion is like nothing else, and the frustration with not getting the crying to stop is torture. I’m sorry you’re going through this. Please try to think about all the good you are doing in caring for your babies. Make lists of all the work you do and all the good you do. You are human and you’ll have moments where you feel rage over the exhaustion and frustration, that’s normal. I hope you can get help when it is all just too much. Taking breaks is so important. Sending peace to all of you…

  7. Andrew, a ppd/ppa dad says:

    So…I know there are a lot of moms here that suffer and struggle with this. Props, blessings, and prayers be with all of you. Stay strong, and as the article stresses: take care of yourself. God be with you all.

  8. Oh my gosh! There is so much truth to this. Thank you so much for sharing! It is so encouraging to hear that I’m not alone and for you to remind other moms of the same. I recently wrote a blog about my experience with PP anxiety and the combination of hardship and joys after having my little boy. Please read if you get a chance! <3 Hugs to you momma! http://www.sparrowsandlily.com/familylife/postpartumanxiety/

    • I was the mom of fussy baby/high need baby for years.. Well into childhood. I just want to tell you my how our story has changed. It was probably when he was Entering school that I realized he just wasn’t going to be like other kids. He was my first boy and I was anticipating a roll around in the dirt happy carefree kid. Sorry. I got the exact opposite. Crowds and very active kids overwhelmed him. Forget busy playground. So things like birthday parties were no fun for him…. Even his own! I stopped trying to get him to go. I didn’t fight him when he didn’t want to do organized sports. I accepted his march to his drum. BUT the tide completely turned when he was about age 10… This child that I had so much trouble with, guilt over, cried for years, seemed to blossom. He is the most wonderful 16 year old boy I could ever hope for. He is the most empathetic person and has a strong sense justice and right/wrong. For whatever reason he seems to connect with people and is in tune with their moods and emotions. I really didn’t know how to parent him. It was really stressful. If I only knew how much joy he would bring in the future maybe I wouldn’t have struggled so much. Probably the thing I love the most is his humor. He makes me laugh so hard!! He happily goes to parties, (but is content staying home too) and he has lots of friends. He eagerly searched for his first summer job, he volunteers in organizations to help the community.. All the normal kid things that I never envisioned him doing all those years ago. And funny thing, we discovered he is actually very gifted in music.
      So I wanted to give you hope. My little fussy baby goat, who cried for years, completely changed our life and turned it upside down, grew into truly a wonderful person, someone I am very proud of and homestly enjoy spending time with.
      Hang in there.

      • Thanks for this message. I have a 10 month old baby girl who is very high need. I can’t leave her alone with my mom or my sister for even an hour without her crying/screAming until she sees me. Its soo draining and I really want it to stop because it gets me angry and makes me feel that my life is over. I exclusively breastfeed and does not really like taking the bottle.

      • Thank you so much for sharing that wonderful story Jen. You described my little boy (and possibly my second child too). I can TOTALLY envision him being like your son when he’s older..I see that in him already. It’s wonderful to read something like this after worrying about the ‘world’ eating him up in many ways.

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