I was never one of those people who always wanted kids. In fact, it was not something I gave a lot of thought to. On that particular issue, I was a fence-sitter at most. However, once my partner and I decided we wanted to try for a baby, I was firmly in the two-or-more camp. Having had siblings growing up, I just could not imagine my own child not having the fun and fights that comes with having a brother or sister. And so I embarked on my child-bearing journey, with happy thoughts of lively dinner table discussions, and a backseat full of little ones.
I remember my pregnancy being a really blissful period. Ok, so I threw up pretty much every day for at least six months. Still, I was one of those glowing, happy pregnant ladies that you read about. In fact, my mood was so level that, for the first time in over six years, I was able to stop my anti-depressants without feeling it in the least.
Oh yes, did I mention that I suffered from depression before I got pregnant? Well, I did. It was not too severe, but just enough that I was on medication to keep me from dipping into that deadened, apathetic place. Being a research-oriented person, I had read quite a bit about depression and pregnancy, and I knew about the heightened risk of postpartum depression for those who had previously suffered from depression. I had talked with my partner about it extensively, and planned to resume my medication immediately after having my baby. I thought I was prepared. I was wrong.
The delivery of my baby was difficult, and breastfeeding afterwards was a bit of a nightmare. By the time I came home from the hospital I was exhausted and worried about my baby getting enough to eat. Is there any new mom who hasn’t gone through that? But that’s when my postpartum self threw me a curve ball: postpartum anxiety. Depression I was prepared for, but this? This was something entirely different.
When I write out the words “postpartum anxiety”, it does not seem so bad. After all, what first-time mom doesn’t have anxiety when she brings her baby home? However, anxiety is really a misnomer. What I was experiencing was full-scale panic. It was terrifying, exhausting, and debilitating. Not only did I have frequent panic attacks that woke me up whenever I tried to sleep, but I was also constantly in a state of fear, if not outright terror.
For someone who has not experienced this type of relentless, ongoing fear it is hard to explain what it feels like. The best I can do is this: think of something that you are utterly and completely scared to do. Perhaps it is skydiving, or maybe it is public speaking in front of a huge, unsympathetic audience. Now imagine that you are standing at the plane door, or walking to the center of the stage. You know that trembling, cold fear that you feel? That is what post-partum anxiety was like for me. Constantly. Twenty-four hours a day. Except I did not know what I was so scared of, or if it would ever end.
To put it mildly, I was a bit of a mess. I was not sleeping more than three hours each night, I could not nap during the day (it was a struggle just to lie down and close my eyes), I gagged whenever I tried to eat, and I started shaking and sweating whenever I had to do anything with my baby (except for feeding, ironically enough). Not only was I not myself, but I thought the old me was gone forever. For most of that time time, I honestly did not think it was possible that I would ever “get better.”
After a difficult journey, which included two trips to the hospital, therapy, changes in medication, and an incredible amount of support from my amazing family, I have made it to the other side. Postpartum anxiety is almost like a distant memory. I say almost, because the after-effects still haunt me. And nothing haunts me more than the thought of going through it all again with another child.
I am not sure that you ever completely “get over” postpartum anxiety. While I do not suffer from it now, I remember what it was like to be suffering from it. I especially remember it when my baby is up at night sick, and needing to be rocked and soothed for hours. I remember it when I am throwing up with the stomach flu and all I really want to do is go to bed, but my little one still needs playtime, dinner and a cuddle before bed. And I remember it when I see harried looking new moms (and dads) carting their precious little bundle into the doctor’s office.
I know there is a good chance that postpartum anxiety will recur if I have a second child. So I remember all that, and I think: what if this time is worse? What if this time we have a colicky baby or, even worse, a sick child needing lots of additional care? If the first time around was so difficult, how will we ever cope with that? I remember, I worry, and I know I do not ever want to go back to that place. And though it is not a happy decision for me, that is why I will not be having another child.
Some people might see that as a selfish decision. I suppose it is, in part. Postpartum anxiety is, like its name implies, a pretty scary thing. However, it is also a choice I am making for my partner, and for my current child. I was not the only one who felt like I went through hell last time around; my partner was right there with me. How can I expect him to try and support both me and a new baby through it again, when this time there will be an older child needing care and love? Of course, my child was too young to remember me going through it, but what about this time around? How can I be there for that child when post-partum anxiety is crippling the person I am?
The decision not to have a second child is not an easy one to make. I worry my child will be lonely without siblings, and I worry I will miss the sound of multiple voices laughing and, yes, even screaming. It is not an easy decision to make, but for my own health, and the health of my family, I think it is the right one to make.
(Image: getty Images)