It was October, two months after I had my second baby. I was sitting in that small room at a doctor’s office, mask on. Clutching my notebook full of my current maladies. In addition to the hemorrhoids and the flared tendon in my ankle, I had come armed with a list of symptoms. Things like irritability, racing thoughts, taking 30 minutes to an hour to be able to wind my brain down enough to sleep, even in the middle of the night. I knew my family history also made it more likely that I would experience these symptoms. I was fairly certain I had postpartum anxiety, and I had come to plead my case for starting medication. This was a brand new doctor for me, so I had no idea what to expect.
In addition to the symptoms above, there was another that was adding an extra layer to my anxiety…breastfeeding. The absolute pressure of keeping a human alive with my body. The resentment and burden of being the one to get up yet again to feed the baby. The physical pain and changes. And the calculating. I was always calculating. When did the baby eat? For how long? How long until they would need to eat again? What did I have time to do in the meantime? Should I sleep? Shower? Spend some time with my other kid? Eat? And then it would be time to feed again and the cycle would repeat. If I was going to try and go anywhere….would I need to pump? Was it worth the work of pumping to leave? Or should I try to time it where I wouldn’t have to?
I told the doctor these things. I remember saying “I know I’m fortunate that breastfeeding hasn’t been hard. There are so many women who struggle to make it work.” She looked at me, eyes kind and full of empathy above her mask.
“Just because everything is working,” she said, “doesn’t mean it isn’t hard. What you’re doing IS hard.”
And just like that, the floodgates opened, and I sobbed. I sobbed with exhaustion, with relief, with the blessed joy of being seen. I was discounting and downplaying my own suffering because in my head it wasn’t as bad for me as the women I knew who desperately wanted to breastfeed but couldn’t. Physically, everything was going well. Baby was eating and gaining weight. It was working. But other people’s suffering doesn’t lessen my own. It’s not more or less. It’s just different.
I had been prepared to advocate for myself, convince the doctor about my need to try medication for my postpartum anxiety. It turned out I didn’t. She immediately prescribed me 25mg of Zoloft, going through the side effects I might experience and explaining when I was to call her, and setting up an appointment to check in a month in to see how things were going.
It took only a few days to feel it. I could drift off to sleep after getting up to feed the baby within ten minutes instead of having to read for half an hour at least. I could let small things go where before I had to take care of them all. The racing thoughts, the constant calculations, they weren’t gone completely, but they weren’t taking up all the space in my brain. I could do things like decide it was worth it to take my big kid to the park and pump to get that one on one time without agonizing over the cost benefit analysis. I could do things just because I wanted to rather than it having to be the best way, or the most efficient thing.
I wasn’t irritated all. the. time.
I don’t have regular worry-all-the-time anxiety; I have cool anxiety. The kind that drives me to plan for everything. The kind that says everything has to be just right. The kind that makes me organize closets. The kind that drives me to do a deep internet dive to find the best…anything really.
My cool anxiety is tricky, because a lot of people celebrate it. They celebrate my attention to detail, my ability to get things done. My organizational skills. And those are good things sometimes. But when they are my entire life? They aren’t. When I’m so busy planning ahead I can’t be present with the child in front of me? It sucks.
I’m six months into taking medication for my postpartum anxiety, and it’s working for me now. Will this be a long term thing for me? I don’t know yet. I plan to keep taking it until I’m done nursing at a year, and that burden is lifted for me. Then I’ll decide where to go from there.