Being a well-seasoned mom, I've spent countless months preparing for postpartum in every way I can think of to care for myself in this delicate transition in life. Having a game plan for what's ahead makes it a little easier to navigate the priorities within the fresh changes of a new normal.
I've prepared freezer meals to throw into the crockpot to make my evenings a little easier when the baby wants to nurse, but dinner needs to get done. I enjoyed weeks of help from my husband, family, and friends. I created a bedside postpartum basket so I could rest in bed as much as possible after birth. I had my placenta encapsulated to help even out the raging hormones after birth. In small spray bottles and glass rollers, I prepared perineum sprays and cramp-reducing essential oil concoctions. Emotionally, I prepared to keep my load as easy as possible for a few months — not stressing to take the kids out for activities daily or taking too much work load on. I tried to give myself grace when the laundry was still sitting in mountains or we were eating cereal for a meal once again. I enlisted more help from my children to distribute the house duties more. I aimed to go to bed early to get enough rest, and eat healthier meals. It all was going good for several months.
I wasn't prepared for anxiety attacks, however.
At five and half months postpartum while driving down a major highway with five kids in the van, it struck. My hands, legs, and face went tingly — a sensation much like when circulation is being restricted from sitting in a position for too long — but in my face. My chest physically hurt, and I worried my heart would give out. Poof, and my kids wouldn't have a mom. I felt dizzy and faint. I feared I would crash with all my babies in the car. With an hour left of our drive home, I knew I had to pull over and calm down. Thankfully a shopping center was near, so we all got out to stretch our legs and breathe the fresh air of a craft store. Crafts fix many things in life.
For several weeks, this would happen if I drove pretty much anywhere, and would come out of nowhere. My car became my anxiety trigger. I felt trapped at home, scared to leave unless I absolutely had to for appointments. I resorted to buying groceries through online ordering and drive-throughs because I couldn't bear the thought of wrangling five little ones into the car, keeping them safe from those scary child abductors out there — let alone dealing with any attitudes when I said “no” to an item being thrown into the cart — and focus on my grocery list. Perhaps if I was an octopus with not only eight tentacles, but eight eyes, I could manage it. Sadly, I am not.
Having dealt with postpartum depression before and having beat it with counseling, time, and learning many tools to keep above it in subsequent pregnancies, I thought I was well prepared. In fact, I thought I was doing just fine and still using all those coping skills. Just a month before my anxiety-crash, I was riding high on life, feeling blessed by the joy my children brought me in the easy-going summer time and the heart fulfilling sensation my work and traveling brings me.
So why the sudden shift? What happens when what was working suddenly doesn't work as well anymore?
I don't know the cause. Maybe it is a normal hormonal shift, since this hit at the same time as it did in the past, and many of my momma friends with babies the same age are suffering as well. It could be exhaustion setting in deeper from sleep debt sinking lower into negative balance. Maybe it's my overflowing planner with so much to do and feeling like not enough hands or time to do it in a society that isn't built on a village structure, but a do-everything-yourself mentality. Most likely all those things creating the perfect postpartum storm.
All I know is that I'm back in survival mode, paddling like a tired dog, trying to reach the shore of happiness again. The anxiety chokes me somedays, even if I stay home. The to-do lists are constantly written in my mind's eye. The guilt presses in on me that I can't do it all; I can't be it all. The ability to give myself grace has diminished. I want a clean-ish house, happy children, a romantic marriage, a successful writing career — yet I feel like a failure at most everything. Even my cooking fails according to the inevitable (at least) two kids out of five who refuse to eat it. Around and around it goes, lies feeding into the anxiety and the anxiety into guilt. I cannot escape.
My world now feels overwhelming and hopeless — from the news on TV, as new health issues arise within our family, or my daughter's own anxiety challenges. I just want to escape to the mountain side and hide away with my family and all our responsibilities — but life doesn't work like that. It never will be perfect or trouble free, I know, but surely it can be easier than this pit I'm in now.
What I do know is that I cannot live like this anymore. I deserve better. My family deserves better. What I've learned this time around is not to be afraid to seek more help than before, even if that means medications that I'm always trying to avoid. I'm all for natural remedies and will nearly always try them first — and I have. But there can be a place for western world medicines. I have five kids and a husband who need me to be the real me. Not the overwhelmed, angry, holed up me. I need to be strong not only for myself, but for those who depend on me. Right now, being strong means setting aside my pride and asking for help.
A part of me feels like that's accepting defeat — yet at the same time I am grateful that I have the ability to ask for something more to release this weight upon my chest and find joy again. Even if it's only for a season, even if it's only for now. There is hope that I can rise above this.
There is hope that I'm not alone, even when the lies make me I feel alone.