Life After Loss,  Mental Health,  Parenting

Anxiety After Loss

This post was written when I was about 4 months postpartum. I have since been in therapy and consulted with doctors regarding the anxiety and resulting physical symptoms. I still wanted to share for anyone who has dealt with pregnancy-, postpartum-, and/or loss-related anxiety. You’re not crazy, even if you feel like you are most of the time. You’re not alone. Help is available. Don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor, partner, friend, or family member.

I had my first anxiety attack a few days after finding out I was pregnant for the fifth time. I was sitting on the couch with my husband, listening to music, waiting to leave for church, and I just started sobbing uncontrollably. It seemed to come out of nowhere and I couldn’t make it stop. It was becoming difficult to breathe. My husband just stared at me with a concerned expression. I managed to finally realize that he probably thought things were going badly again, so I tried to reassure him through sobs: “I have no reason for this. I don’t know why this is happening. Nothing is wrong.” Eventually I got it together and we went on with our day. This was just the first of many meltdowns during my rainbow pregnancy.

The first several doctor appointments were filled with tears. Fear tears, relief tears, hormonal tears…but everyone was understanding. I was always holding my breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Each bit of good news was reassuring for a few hours before the anxiety would start to overtake me. I’d push it out of my mind, try to forget about being pregnant. But really, how can you forget something that consumes your every thought? All I wanted to do was make it to the next thing, and surely then I’d be able to relax.

If my HCG is over 500, I’ll be okay.

If my progesterone is at least 15, I’ll have a chance.

If we can see a flicker of a heartbeat, we’re doing good.

If the heart rate increases next week, we might make it.

If we make it past the point of loss, we might be fine.

If the midwife finds a heartbeat, I’ll feel okay to tell people.

One relief only gives way to yet another worry. There’s always another worry. I thought the more milestones we met, the easier things would be. But it just made things harder. Getting to the “safe” zone of the second trimester, reaching viability at 24 weeks, being able to count the kicks…none of those things provided the reassurance I craved. But there was one milestone that I thought would provide the ultimate release from the fear that had been gripping me for years:

Giving birth.

Or, more specifically, giving birth to a live baby. Surely, once my healthy, living, breathing, screaming baby was placed in my arms, everything would melt away. We’d finally feel safe. With my baby outside of my unreliable womb, I could better ensure his well-being, right? While I regained some sense of control, I soon realized the anxiety wasn’t going away.

We had issues with breastfeeding right from the beginning. Turns out more than just my womb is unreliable. A low milk supply eventually resulted in my son losing weight, and I couldn’t get the thought of him fading away to nothing out of my mind. Once we made it past our rocky start, my mind filled with many other rational and irrational fears.

What if someone drops him?

What if he stops breathing?

What if he gets sick?

What if he drowns?

So many other paranoid thoughts I can’t bring myself to type…

The more he grows, the less those thoughts consume my mind. For the most part, my anxiety seems to have scaled back to the normal parenting worries. He’s growing, thriving, and we do everything we can to keep him safe. Just when I thought I could ease back on worrying about him, just when it’s sinking in that maybe he’s here to stay… anxiety came back in a brand new way.

It taunts me…

Things CAN’T just be good. Something bad MUST be about to happen. And if I have no rational reason to believe that my son will die, maybe I’m the one who is going to die. Maybe my son will live a long, full life–just like I prayed for. But maybe I won’t be around to see it.

I first had the thought when he woke up in the middle of the night recently. He’s been sleeping through the night since 6 weeks, so he usually only has sleep problems during a growth spurt. As I held him in the dark, sitting on the edge of our bed, I considered how I didn’t mind the extra bit of snuggles. And then I thought it: maybe we’ve been given this extra moment together because I’m getting ready to die. That’s all it took for the fear to send me spiraling again. And that’s when I realized, there will never be a milestone that puts an end to the anxiety.

Just like there is no real safe zone in pregnancy, there’s no safe zone in any bit of life. It’s all so unpredictable and largely out of our control. There’s a lot we can do to keep ourselves alive, but death is inevitable.

I had believed pregnancy or my losses were the reason for my anxiety. That it was situational and therefore something to simply power through. I’ve been coming to terms with the fact that it’s become more than situational and it needs to be addressed–spiritually, physically, and probably with a mental health professional. I’ve realized that a lot of my problem is not only my past trauma, but it’s also a lack of trust–in God, in myself, in others.

Something has to give. I cannot continue to walk in fear when things feel out of control. I cannot continue to wait for the inevitable bad thing to happen. Bad things will happen because they do. I can’t control everything, and I can’t stop bad things from happening. Fear is not going to fix it. Anticipating inevitable pain will not prevent it. I’m always expecting the worst, bracing for impact in an effort to protect myself. But I can’t do it anymore. I can’t buy into anxiety’s lies any longer. For the first time in years, I can hope for a true end to the fear. I’m finding it in surrender. I’ll practice it by choosing to trust that no matter the situation, we will be safe because God is with us through the inevitable good and bad.