What Do Postpartum Anxiety ‘Aftershocks’ Feel Like? This Mother Explains.

Today’s Warrior Mom guest post comes from Jen Bullett, who lives in Chicago.


By Jen Bullett

Hours, days or weeks after a major earthquake hits, the world braces itself for the impending lesser shock known as the aftershock. The tragic nature of the earthquake is drawn out. We wait to see if the aftershock is truly destructive or more of an inconvenience.

If you have experienced any number of challenges with trying to get pregnant, being pregnant, dealing with loss or postpartum issues, you probably know a thing or two about aftershocks. They come in so many different forms and appear at the most unlikely of times.

Like when you are filling out a form at a new doctor’s office and it asks you how many pregnancies you’ve had, followed by how many of those pregnancies resulted in live births. Then there’s the one that asks whether or not you’ve been hospitalized or had procedures. I don’t know whether a D & C is considered a noteworthy procedure. I put it down, just in case, and then cringe a little while a doctor glosses over it. “I see you had a D & C after a miscarriage.” Aftershock.

And then there are the times when marketers, having purchased your name from one of the many pregnancy apps, decide to send you formula in celebration of your soon-to-be-delivered baby. I guess their database didn’t inform them that there was no baby. I remember having to log into the pregnancy tracking site, and choose the setting that noted that my pregnancy was not successful. It was the only way I could stop receiving notices saying my baby was the size of a grape or a nectarine. Aftershock.

If you’ve experienced loss or complications with pregnancies, you may also be hyperaware of other people’s situations. Your heart aches when a friend, colleague or acquaintance has a loss, or complication, or postpartum struggle. When this happens, I remember exactly how I felt in those moments in my own life. I would give anything for this person not to have to feel this pain or sadness. Aftershock.

The author and her son.

Finally, there is the question, “Did you just love your maternity leave?” When someone asks that, the blood drains from my head to my toes. If by “love” you mean I felt like Sisyphus most days and I often felt so anxious I wanted to claw my way out of my own body, then yes. I love my son. He is literally the sweetest little boy ever and he makes me smile pretty much every second I am around him. It was all worth it and yet, I will never forget my lonely and scary maternity leave. Aftershock.

Over a year after the birth of my son, with the accumulation of aftershocks, combined with the normal stresses of life, I got hit with a real whammy. Turns out my postpartum anxiety decided it needed a sequel. In May, I found myself in the familiar spot of feeling panicked, struggling with insomnia, battling a racing mind, and coping with a constant physical buzzing through my body. How did I get back here? Only months earlier, I had cavalierly transitioned off medications. I was cured. But bad habits creep in when you are living your life. I forgot to take care of myself. I forgot to take time to be healthy. I tried to be tough through every aftershock and I never asked for help.

The thing about most aftershocks is that they aren’t as strong as the first shock. Yet it’s a double edged sword — you’ve already pulled yourself out of it once, so you know how to do it, but you also know how bad things can be. When you know what hell feels like, you are petrified of finding yourself back there. You will do anything to prevent that. You might be like me and begin a quest to find a quick fix.

But there isn’t a quick fix. The only path is to start again from the beginning. You make goals. You celebrate small accomplishments. You give yourself a break. You ask for help. You put yourself first. You climb up. You rebuild. You construct an even stronger foundation and reinforce supporting structures so you’ll be ready for the next aftershock.

Aftershocks are going to happen. This is a reality of life. Nobody means for them to happen. If you do find yourself in the middle of an aftershock, I hope that you have the good fortune, as I did, of being surrounded by a spouse or partner, family, colleagues, bosses and experts who are compassionate and supportive. And don’t forget: There is an end. As noted by Winston Churchill, “If you are going through hell, keep going.”

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Comments

  1. This is beautifully and accurately written. I had a full term loss in 2011 then postpartum anxiety after the birth of my third child in 2016. Aftershocks are the perfect way to explain those little moments that catch you off guard sometimes.