“I Can’t Do This” and Other New Mom Myths

With the appearance of those two little lines on the stick comes a flood of emotions ebbing and flowing over the next nine months. Excitement, wonder, and joy make their appearance, accompanied by uncertainty, lack of control, or even downright fear.

When I was pregnant with my first baby, well-meaning people would say things like, “Oh, a woman’s body was made for this, you’ll know just what to do.” I guess it is like that for some women.

Six weeks before my due date, sensitive to some warning signs for the life-threatening condition preeclampsia, I felt weird. “Weird” was the only way to describe it. I heard a still small voice deep inside, saying, “Something’s wrong. Call the doctor.” I called my doctor, rushed to the hospital, and within an hour I was in the operating room having a C-Section. The nurses didn’t tell us how serious it had been until we were out of the woods. My organs had almost shut down. Seizure, stroke, multiple organ failure and death were not out of the realm of possibility. My baby – sweet little Emma – was healthy, for the most part, but we had to deal with incubators, pulse ox machines, oxygen tents, feeding tubes, alarms and dueling nurses.

I didn’t know what to do. Having this baby solidified for me a valuable lesson: that I can’t control every life situation. And lack of control is scary.

A Change of Plans

postpartum anxietyMy plan – oh, yes, the all-important PLAN – was that my baby would breastfeed, but my baby didn’t have a sucking reflex at 34 weeks gestation. I don’t do well with lack of sleep, and she had to eat every three hours in order to gain weight. Of course, I had to pump breast milk every three hours. I just had to, right? I would NOT risk my child being less intelligent, sickly, ill bonded, plagued with allergies. That’s what the lactivists tell us anyway. Incidentally, she has been generally healthier than her breastfed sisters.

Two weeks before, I had been our school’s 2000-2001 Teacher of the Year as I went about my tightly scheduled days. Now, I was alone all day with this tiny creature that I didn’t understand in the least. The book wasn’t right! You know, the book that tells you how your baby should sleep through the night at six weeks old? The one that says breastfeeding will happen if you try hard enough? The one that says you must have more faith and then you’ll have perfect peace and happiness?

No, they were wrong. And then I uttered the words that no mother publicly admits have popped into her brain.

“I can’t do this.”

“I don’t want to do this!”

And I meant it. I curled up on my bed and cried for days.

Each time I settled in to pump, my body felt fiery hot; my breath eluded me; my skin crawled. I would rip the $300 state-of-the-art breast pump off my chest and weep. Finally the panic attacks lasted way too long, and I was sure I was done for. My husband rushed me to the doctor’s office as I begged for help. My pride and unwillingness to reach out finally gave way to the crushing weight of my post-partum (possibly PTSD) anxiety.

It was the best thing I have ever done for myself, for my husband, for my baby.

A Change of Heart

Healthy Bottle Fed Child
My 34-week preemie at age 12

Coming face to face with anxiety disorder paved the way for true change. When I admitted to my pediatrician that the breast pump triggered panic attacks, he freed me with his words. “Sarah, breast milk will not benefit this child if her mother can’t function. Nurture your mental health and your child will be healthy.” And she was. Let me repeat that: Bottle feeding my baby was the best thing for her.

I finally realized that medication, in addition to faith, was one way God would fix my brain chemistry. My husband and I made a plan for how I could get enough sleep and still care for the baby. My friend Kim started walking with me to release some stress and give me someone to talk to about the challenges of having a newborn. I can’t imagine what it was like to spend time with a terrified, anxious new mom – but it helped save me.

And then I uttered the words.

“I can do this.”

“I want to do this.”

And I meant it.

I won’t paint an impossible picture and tell you there haven’t been struggles along the way. I’ve had relapses of debilitating anxiety, adjusted medication, reached out for counseling, and prayed hard. I have close friends on whom I can lean. When I start to sink into the abyss, they won’t let me fall- they’ll come after me.

You Can Do It, Too

Free yourself from the following myths that hold us in bondage to our own minds:

1. “I’m the only one who feels this way.”

Isn’t it a shame that we women aren’t honest with each other? Free yourself by speaking out – to one friend, to your doctor, to your husband, to the whole world on your blog. Honesty is freedom, because you can finally get some help!
2. “I have to go through this alone.”

Chances are your friends and families know something’s not right. They are aching to be able to help, but they don’t know how. Tell them. Don’t be afraid to ask, “You might not understand what I’m going through, but can you please come sit with me while I do the laundry?” Wouldn’t you do that for a friend? See?

Now, what are the steps you need to take so that you can say, “I can do this”? They may not be the same steps I took, but just put that foot forward. You can do it. I’ll be praying for you, dear mom.