This is the face of postpartum anxiety.
I know, I know. The seemingly genuine smile. The eyes full of life. The way it all seems so inviting and put together.
That was the idea.
Keep it together. Don’t acknowledge it. Paint on a smile and go through the motions. Show up physically, check out mentally.
But the truth was, I wasn’t happy or at ease. Sometimes it felt like someone simultaneously sucked all the air out of the room and sucker punched me in the gut. And the rest of the time, it felt like I was trying to breathe through one of those coffee stirrers that is way too narrow to function as a straw, yet for whatever reason is made like one.
So, what does it look like? Well, postpartum anxiety shows up in all kinds of ways.
It’s the lactation consultant who tells you to “calm down” because your stress is only causing more problems for the baby.
It’s the night-shift nurse who assures you you’ll ruin any chance of breastfeeding when you call out of sheer desperation to request a pacifier.
It’s the well-meaning acquaintance who asks you if the baby is sleeping through the night, or rolling over, or sitting up – any milestone really it doesn’t matter, just so long as they pick the one you’ve already been a little bit concerned she hasn’t met yet.
It’s alarms set throughout the night just to make sure she’s still breathing.
It’s other people. God bless you, but YOU’RE HOLDING HER THE WRONG WAY.
It’s change. Unpredictability. Unfamiliar places and territory.
Get-togethers that run long and interfere with the schedule.
It’s questioning every single decision you make, and oftentimes, feeling so paralyzed by those decisions that you can’t make one at all.
It’s isolation. Out of fear. Out of shame. Out of guilt.
And it’s real.
We live in a culture where moms are afraid to ask for the help they need. Afraid they’ll be judged. Afraid they’ll be seen as incapable of being a mother. Afraid that somehow, someday, this admission could be used against them.
No one told me about the darkness.
And y’all, we have to step it up. We have to rally around mommas when they struggle just as much as we do when they post their pregnancy announcement. We have to show up for them in the postpartum haze just as much as we do for their baby showers.
We have to talk about the darkness so that when we find ourselves there, we’ll know how to make it back to the light.
So, keep your eyes open and try not to get hung up on what you see on the surface. If someone you know seems to be struggling, offer her a hand. An encouraging word. A loving smile. Tell her she’s a great mom and that she’s doing a fantastic job. Respect her wishes and her boundaries even if they seem like an over-the-top, ultra-protective level of crazy. Sit with her in silence – no judgement – and simply just be there.
And if you’re in the thick of thick of these feelings as you read this, hold on. Remember your worth. Confide in someone, anyone, who has your back. Start talking about it and don’t feel pressured to pretend anymore. And if that doesn’t cut it, call your doctor, because there’s nothing shameful about asking for help. In fact, I would argue it makes you a better mother.
We have to change the narrative surrounding postpartum mood disorders. We have to erase the stigma that surrounds asking for help. We have to start being real about our own struggles so other people don’t feel so alone.
We have to. Lives are literally depending on it.
This piece originally appeared at Daylight to Dark, published with permission.