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Understanding the Anxiety All New Parents Have

By: Stacey Ellis

No one tells you how hard it is to have a baby. Sure they tell you that “your life will change forever” and “it’s really hard.” But no one tells you how HARD – I mean really, really HARD it is to adjust to having a baby in your home – in fact, now that I have joined the baby club, all my close friends who have children have come clean. Now they say, “It’s not hard, it’s HORRIBLE.” These are parents who love their children with all their hearts and would never say this out loud to anyone else who would judge them. They admit this is the best-kept secret of motherhood.

Something every truly introspective parent knows but never says to anyone, ever. More than one girlfriend has even said, “Some days I just see that pillow and I just want to put it over my baby’s screaming face.” One girlfriend even said she sees the knives in her kitchen and has had horrific thoughts. She is not postpartum or psychotic. She would never do anything and these thoughts scared even her. None of these mothers have said any of this out loud to anyone else for fear of being committed. So why did they say this to me? Because I am struggling…and they wanted me to know my struggle is normal.

All we wanted to do was have a child. I pictured us taking walks as a family: me, my husband, two dogs, and baby. I pictured us all nestled in bed together. Sure I pictured changing diapers and feedings and the lack of sleep too but I didn’t picture, anticipate, or even dream of what it was truly like to lose all control over every aspect of my life. Finding “me time”? Impossible. I can think of a dozen times already that I had to use the bathroom but held it in way past the point that I should have. Finding time to pay bills? Good luck with that. Finding time to sit here and write this blog? Right now it’s 4:30 AM on Sunday morning. Yes, this is “my time.” Oh, I have already started a load of laundry, paid bills, cleaned off my desk, and cleaned bottles. I am actually thankful for the very few days that my daughter arises before 5AM so I can feed her and get “stuff” done.

Note: She woke up just as I finished that last sentence and I am finishing this blog at 8:30PM, now that she is back down, since I found not one minute the entire day to finish it.

I struggle daily. On the one hand, I can’t wait to get home from work because I want nothing more than to spend my daughter’s last three awake hours with her. I want to hold her, feed her, and look into her deep brown eyes. I relish in her pulling my hair and watching her stare at any little light-up play toy. And when she’s not overly tired and fussy, I love when she snuggles in close. On the other hand, I find myself in my car on the commute home wanting to drive far away. Just disappear. Just have my alone time. In fact, when I was single, I was quite the loner. I LOVED being alone. Saturday nights –me, a nice home-cooked meal, a good book or movie alone in my apartment –heaven. Now, I never see one minute. And I cry, a lot. I feel manic yet not depressed. I feel stressed yet not postpartum. How can I be? I adopted! My hormones aren’t out of wack!

A friend recommended Brooke Shield’s book “Down Came the Rain” which is her journey through postpartum depression. For someone who can’t find one minute, I devoured this book in two days (two days my daughter just happened to sleep a lot). I realized while I may not have true postpartum depression or true anxiety, I could relate to everything she said about being a working mother. There were many poignant statements that I could relate to and for some reason this book put what I was feeling in perspective. Or maybe it merely showed me someone with all the money and all the resources in the world felt exactly like I do…overwhelmed and full of guilt.

I feel guilty when I leave for work. Guilty when I am home and distracted by my blackberry. Guilty when I put her down to pop dinner in the oven. Guilty when I simply don’t want to spend time with her and want to hide. A little research online about “adoption and postpartum” made me realize that I even feel guilty for being my daughter’s mother. Some adoptive parents do go through a “kind of” postpartum guilt in which we feel like we “stole” the child from parents who simply couldn’t care for her. I remember my instant reaction when we were matched with the birthparents was “part of me wants to send them money so they can keep their child.” They had a two-year-old son –my daughter’s full biological brother –and they couldn’t afford a second child. I was torn – shouldn’t we just help them? That type of thinking leads to this postpartum “depression”, aka guilt. Guilt that I did not do something to help them be able to raise their child and even if they could have cared for her and still gave her up for adoption, guilt that I said I would be the best mother for their baby and I was not living up to my end of the bargain.

I can rationalize it all and say, “I am a good mother trying to do everything and, like most working moms, it’s impossible to do everything to perfection. So live with less than perfection.” But to a perfectionist, Type A personality, this is unacceptable. I can rationalize it all and say, “My daughter will know she was loved and cared for and that foundation alone will be enough.” But that is not enough for me. I want her to be loved and cared for BY ME, not by the nanny, the bulk of the time. I can rationalize it and say, “When she can sit up, we’ll play more. When she can crawl, I’ll follow her. When she can walk, I’ll be able to be there more.” But I know with every stage comes new challenges. And with those stages, I will still feel guilty for not being there as much as I want to be there and guilty when I feel like I want to run away.

My daughter is exactly four months old now and I noticed just this past week I have reached a state of calm. The panic and nearly manic feelings I have had the past few months are all but gone. Is it that I finally told my husband what has been circling in my head? Is it that the new job has calmed down and I am getting a good handle on it? Is it that my daughter is sleeping through the night? No. It’s that I have finally surrendered…

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