[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]
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