I sit in the waiting room at the pediatrician’s office for Logan’s three month checkup. The well waiting room. As I scan the sheet of paper with 10 multiple-choice questions, I debate whether to answer truthfully.
I have felt scared or panicky for no very good reason.
x Yes, sometimes
Four weeks prior, at my six-week postpartum checkup with my OBGYN, I answered the same questions differently. Sure, I felt more overwhelmed with Logan than I did when I brought his sister home two years before, but that’s normal going from one kid to two, right? So I fudged my answers just a little.
But then I went back to work. In the short timespan between my postpartum appointment and Logan’s well visit I’d had two panic attacks. I spent many nights lying awake in bed while the rest of my family slept and my thoughts raced, tacking items onto my mental to-do list, searching Amazon for something I was sure I’d forget to buy if I didn’t do it right this second at 1 a.m.
I need a dress for our family photos next month. We’re running low on toilet paper again. Or are we? Better order some just in case. Gracie’s lunchbox is getting nasty from all those spills. Oh … I should get one of those cute plaid scarves everyone seems to have, that would be just the thing for the pictures. Better do it all now, before I forget.
Weeknights were the worst. Thanks to my husband’s 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. work schedule, I was on my own from daycare pickup through bedtime. Every night I schlepped in the door with kids—Gracie holding one hand, Logan’s carseat dangling from the other arm—and stuff—three lunch boxes, purse, diaper bag, and laptop bag—and was already behind by the time I set the day’s burdens down. I felt like Sisyphus rolling the boulder up the hill.
You can’t handle two kids. Anyone else could take better care of them. You’ve got to get your act together. You’re just not trying hard enough.
Logan is asleep in his car seat, which I nudge with my foot every so often, hoping he stays that way. I tap the pen against the clipboard while I continue down the list of questions and anticipate the conversation it will lead to.
I have been anxious or worried for no good reason.
x Yes, very often
I worry about everything. I can’t walk down a staircase without gripping the railing to make sure I don’t fall down. If I’m carrying Logan, I picture slipping and breaking his neck. I see myself dialing 9-1-1 and trying to remember how to do CPR while I wait for the ambulance. I imagine a tiny coffin and trying to explain to a two-year-old that her baby brother is gone. Countless other morbid scenes roll through my head against my will on a daily basis.
Furniture within a foot of Logan’s head is too close when I’m holding him. What if I lose my balance and hit his head? At night, I worry when the children sleep too quietly. Is Logan breathing? Did Gracie wander out of her bedroom? Is she outside?
I finish filling in the little circles to mark my answer choices. As much as I don’t want to admit that I’ve turned into a basketcase, I don’t want to feel this way anymore either.
The door to the long hallway of exam rooms opens. “Logan?”
“That’s us,” I answer and gather up baby in car seat, diaper bag, purse, coat … and the clipboard.
“Can I give you a hand?”
The nurse reaches out for the diaper bag and clipboard. The load doesn’t feel any lighter.
Logan’s pediatrician brings up the questionnaire and recommends I make an appointment with my doctor. I nod at the appropriate times and plaster on a fake smile.
The truth is, picking up the phone and asking for help is just as scary as the thoughts intruding in my brain. I decide to make an appointment later in the month when I have a span of time off for the holidays.
Two days before Christmas, Logan comes down with a cold. His nose is runny, but he seems to be in good spirits, so the two of us make an out of state trip to a holiday party as planned, while two-year-old Gracie stays behind with Daddy for their own special day.
The drive is uneventful, but when we get inside and I sit down to feed Logan his bottle, I can tell he’s not okay. He takes only a few sips before refusing any more. His breaths are fast and labored. I know in my gut that something isn’t right.
He reacts the same way to his next bottle two hours later. I make a call to the after-hours line and anxiously wait for a call back that doesn’t come. I pace the house and ignore the other guests.
At six o’clock I beg Logan to drink more of a third bottle with little success, then say my goodbyes and start the drive back to Pennsylvania. I set the directions for the ER instead of home.
Thirty minutes into the two-hour drive it starts to pour. Rain is coming down in sheets while I fly down the turnpike. I twist my body to reach my hand into the back seat and hold it in front of Logan’s face every five minutes to make sure he’s breathing.
We finally make it to the ER and the doctors confirm bringing him in was the right call. They give him nebulizer treatments, suction the snot clogging up his nose, and admit him overnight for observation. I spend the night tossing and turning, uncomfortable on the hard couch and guilt-laden for not realizing how sick he was before taking him so far from home.
They send us home the next day, Christmas Eve, and we make it back just in time for extended family arriving to celebrate the holiday. I’m on edge the whole evening and the next day, spent quietly at home, just the four of us. Logan is still sick.
At 2 a.m., after losing count of the times he’s woken, I load him in the car and go back to the ER. I spend the rest of the week in the hospital with Logan while Mark takes toddler duty at home with Gracie. Despite the doctors and nurses streaming in and out, I never let Logan out of my sight. I pee with the bathroom door open and have trays from the cafeteria delivered to the room.
Two days in, the doctor explains Logan isn’t taking in enough fluid to stay hydrated and needs a feeding tube. After he leaves, I crumple and cry over the baby I hold.
“It’s too hard, Logan. I’m not strong enough to do this. Please, baby, you’ve got to get better.”
This is the week I’m supposed to make the phone call and get help for myself, but I can’t even take care of my baby.
Things have been getting on top of me.
x Yes, sometimes I haven’t been coping as well as usual
A few weeks into the new year, after finally getting up enough courage to pick up the phone and make an appointment, I sit in the waiting room of my doctor’s office.
I get up and follow the nurse, but want to run in the other direction. Following through is a tall order.
They’re going to tell me I’m overreacting. They’ll think I’m just being dramatic or after drugs. I don’t want to be a crazy person. I’m so ashamed.
After the usual weight, height, and vitals check, I sit in the exam room. And wait, and keep waiting … over an hour after I arrived for my appointment, the doctor finally comes in.
“So tell me what’s going on. I see you think you have postpartum anxiety? Why do you think that?” She says it in a neutral tone of voice, but to me, it feels like an attack.
She thinks I’m making it up. She doesn’t believe me. I should get up and walk out. Is it too late to run?
I begin my explanation with a shaking voice. My face gets hot. Tears well up and fall.
I have been so unhappy that I have been crying.
x Only occasionally
Her body language softens. I relax a little. We talk.
I start medication and see a big improvement in a few weeks. The worst-case scenario thoughts that had been running non-stop through my head slow down to occasional intrusions and become easier to brush aside.
A few months into my new normal, the kids play in the living room. I can hear their giggles from the laundry room as I transfer wet clothes into the dryer. I smile to myself.
I start the dryer and dump another load of dirty clothes into the washer. As I pour in detergent I register that the sounds coming from the living room have changed. Logan is making strange noises like he’s struggling against something, but it’s muffled and I can’t figure out exactly what’s going on from what I’m hearing.
I close the washer lid and walk over to the living room.
Gracie sits giggling atop a comforter on the living room floor. The comforter is moving and crying.
I put the pieces together and scream in rage-panic, “GET OFF OF HIM!!”
Gracie looks up at me in shock, climbs off her brother and starts wailing. I dig Logan out of the blanket and find him sweaty and crying, but unharmed.
With the danger past, my adrenaline dissipates and I realize I’ve just terrified my two-year-old.
We’re all crying. I’m shaking. I scoop up both kids as I sit, trying to reassure them and myself that everything’s fine. “I’m so sorry, Gracie. I shouldn’t have yelled. I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“Logan was having a tough time breathing all covered up with that blanket. We never cover a baby’s face or climb on top of them.” I hope I sound calm, but Gracie cries harder.
Guilt rushes in to fill the space adrenaline left behind. I shouldn’t have left them alone. I shouldn’t have screamed. I shouldn’t have left that comforter in there. The living room should be cleaner. I should do laundry when the kids are in bed. I really scared Gracie. She’s going to be messed up from this. I’m the mom who screams at her kids.
I have blamed myself unnecessarily when things went wrong.
x Yes, some of the time
We all calm down with time, and I think I’m okay too. I leave the kids in the living room to resume play (after removing the comforter) and head to the kitchen to finish up dinner.
There’s a pit in my stomach and a dark cloud in my brain. The familiar “what if?” scenarios play out in my head while I set the table. What if he had suffocated? I don’t hear anything, are they okay? I should make them play in the kitchen. I shouldn’t leave them alone together. I shouldn’t let the baby out of my sight. What if, what if? The underscoring certainty is that my children are not safe and if anything happens to them, it’s all my fault.
I have been anxious or worried for no good reason.
x Yes, sometimes
By the next day, the shock has dulled, and the monstrous thoughts retreat to dark hole they were banished to. Most days they stay there.
I can see a future where I’m not controlled by anxiety.
x Yes, I think so
Guest post written by Laura Pruitt. Laura is a full-time wife and mom of three who logs 40+ hour weeks as a marketing director and is slowly coming around to the idea that “work-life balance” doesn’t actually exist. Unread emails and red notification bubbles make her twitchy, and Starbucks lattes are her favorite little luxury. When she's not at the office or chasing after little ones, she flexes her creative muscles by writing, cooking, and taking photos. Follow along on Instagram and themakeitworkmom.com.
Photo by Lottie Caiella