Before we tried to get pregnant, I consulted with a perinatal psychiatrist to go over my medications, their risks, and changes that needed to be made to take care of baby and me through pregnancy and postpartum. See, I have stubborn depression and anxiety. After years and years of struggling, my psychiatrist and I found the perfect “cocktail” to keep me relatively stable, alongside therapy. We decided that I needed to make a few medication changes and assess the risks of other meds, and my husband and I got pregnant.
Then our son died.
Having a well-established treatment plan saved me. My therapist called me every day for six weeks. My psychiatrist saw me frequently to make sure I didn’t slip from the expected grief to something more.
When we got pregnant with our subsequent baby, I saw the perinatal psychiatrist again. Everyone was understandably concerned that pregnancy after loss would trigger my depression and anxiety. I worked closely with my team through my whole pregnancy and postpartum, and it seemed that all of our preparation worked.
But, here I am now with my 19-month-old daughter, and I’m struggling with absolutely crippling anxiety. I barely left the house last week.
About six weeks ago we finally transitioned our daughter to her own room. I prepared myself for a rough two weeks. Most of what I’d read said that sleep transitions take about two weeks, and I thought, “I can do anything for two weeks.” Ten days in, she slept until 5:30AM, and the two weeks seemed like a reasonable expectation.
Then all hell broke lose. All at once she hit a developmental leap, the 18-month sleep regression, molars breaking through, as well as starting to work with an early intervention physical therapist on her gross motor skills. And that two weeks has catapulted into six weeks. She only wants Mama in the middle of the night. I feel more sleep deprived than when she was a newborn. And that sleep deprivation has amped my anxiety. Even the nights in which she sleeps better, I can’t sleep. I lay awake waiting for her to wake up and need me, anxiety increasing each minute that I fight sleep.
Lack of sleep has always been the breaking point for me. I just didn’t expect this at 19 months postpartum. It has caught me completely off-guard. I keep expecting things to get easier, but they don’t.
So, I’m waving the white flag. Anxiety, you’ve won this round, but I won’t let you completely win.
I’ve been here before. Sadly, I’ve had times that were much worse than this. Because of this, I know it does get better. Thankfully, it always gets better. I have to fight my own brain and insecurities—the lies the anxiety tells me. I have to ask for help, which I’m not always good at.
My parents called me on Saturday morning to see if I’d like my mom to come visit and help for a week. In one breath I felt like a failure, and in the next I felt complete relief. I might sleep again, I thought. I might recharge enough to beat the anxiety back, I hoped. The two weeks turned six might not turn 10 or 12.
Saturday afternoon, my husband prescribed some fresh air. It was warm and sunny, and I needed to get out of the house. I took a shower and put on my “Courageous Mama” t-shirt. I put my daughter in her matching “You’re looking at a rainbow” bodysuit, and we headed to a local shopping center. We strolled and browsed, then had dinner and ice cream. The afternoon exhausted me, but I slept a little better last night.
Courageous Mamas, I’m in the muck of this right now. I’m not going to lie: it’s brutal. I may reflect more on this experience later, but I decided to share it with you now in case you’re in the muck too.
I knew parenting would be hard. I knew there would be sleep deprivation. I made plans and did everything I could to make it as manageable as possible. I thought we’d passed the worst of it. In the newborn stages, I expected to be constantly exhausted. Everyone says, “Nap when the baby naps,” and in the beginning I did. I still occasionally nap when she does. But, at 19 months, I expected to be functioning and able to get more done. My days and weeks are busy, not allowing for napping when the baby-now-toddler naps. That’s when I schedule business calls and write and shower.
But, I have to stop. I have to breathe. I need help. I need sleep. I can’t maintain this level of anxiety. I can’t take care of my daughter when I’m not taking care of myself.
So, Courageous Mamas, stop when you need to. Make sure you breathe. Ask for help when you need it—even if you’re 19 months or 8 years postpartum. Know your triggers, and try to catch them early. And, as a mama who has been here before, let me reassure you, as I reassure myself: it does get better.