I realize I have postpartum anxiety. I know it by the way that I am compelled to be doing. At all times. I am constantly ready to be doing ANYTHING. There’s a lot to do when taking care of a baby. I am always ready to do any of it. I also project WAY into the future and my heart races thinking about how angry I would be if certain things happened the way they probably won’t happen. Sometimes I spend a lot of time thinking about it.
I also realize I have an issue with anxiety in the way that I sometimes feel really nervous when nothing is wrong. Nervous that I’m not doing the right thing. Nervous that I shouldn’t be doing anything if it’s not for the baby. Intellectually I know it doesn’t make any sense and I can do fun things for just myself. It’s not an intellectual problem. It’s a feeling problem. My feelings are of worry and nervousness even when I know that everything is ok. This is anxiety.
I started realizing that I was having anxiety when I was at a dance event in Fort Worth and a friend who has two kids asked me if I was ok. I said I felt nervous but that nothing was wrong and I wasn’t sure why I felt that way. She asked how old Ezra was (he was 9 months at the time). I was completely sure she was going to comment that it made sense I felt that way since anything could go wrong when you have a baby or that babies always need so much and it’s hard to let your guard down. But instead she told me about her experience with postpartum anxiety and how it took a while for her to realize that’s what was happening because she wasn’t afraid her baby was going to die suddenly. I’m not afraid of that either. Sometimes I’m just nervous to the point of it ruining my good time, and sometimes I project into the future in a bad way, and I’m basically always ready to DO. It’s hard to relax. This is when I started being able to label my inexplicable and good-time-ruining feelings as postpartum anxiety.
One of the delightful things about Ezra is he loves to destroy and take things apart. One of the nicest things you can do for him is organize his toys because he will immediately go to whatever you put straight and tear it apart. I organize his toys quickly. Sometimes artistically. And he takes them apart and I immediately get to work re-organizing them. He crawls away and I deftly set to work regrouping what he tore apart. He loves it. I LOVE IT. Not just because I’m playing with my baby and having a back and forth with him, which is of course so beautiful, but just having constant destruction means I have a bottomless well of being able to organize and clean. I have DOING on tap. I want to be doing and Ezra gives that to me when we play destroy-rebuild.
One of the most transformational skills I’ve gained as a new mother has been “I’m here with you”. When Ezra was a newborn, breastfeeding was a constant 24-hour round the clock endeavor. It was hard and we’d both get really upset. What I took away was “I’m here with you.” I didn’t know at the beginning that he was crying because he was hungry and not transferring enough from the breast so in the meantime it was just “I’m here with you.” Late in the night when he would not sleep unless someone was holding him I was so sleep deprived and felt like I had nothing to offer. All I had was “I’m here with you.” You’re not alone in this.
Its transformed my life. It’s a new part of me that exists. It’s separate from the anxious, incessant “doing” mode of motherhood. Because I’ve spent so much time just “being” with Ezra, I notice that I can now “be” with other people. Becoming comfortable with this being mode has transferred to so many other parts of my life and it feels so good to drive this new part of me around, interacting in the world. A part of me that came to be because of a lovely, beautiful new love in my life that makes me feel tender and soft. I know how to hold space for others because, for me, so much of being a mother is simply holding space for Ezra. I’m listening and feeling and I’m here.
This “being” is so pervasive through all my “doing” that it’s very balancing. I necessarily step out of the mode of extreme “doing” and it still feels like I’m accomplishing something because it’s what Ezra needs from me. To just be there with him. This need for “being” and my ability to embrace it makes my need to always be “doing” feel sustainable. I feel grounded even in my desperation. I’ve taken the journey and learned to feel and listen and wait. And now I long for more ways to embody “being” in other emotionally healthy ways.
A couple of months ago I heard a podcast with Ezzie Spencer, author of Lunar Abundance, speaking about her experiences following the cycles of the moon. I immediately bought her book and started keeping a moon journal which entailed recording the moon phase and what emotions I was having each day. Over the last few months I’ve learned how to use the moon as a natural timekeeper for keeping track of doing and being phases throughout the lunar cycle. These phases, naturally, are aligned with the phases of the moon. During the eight phases of the moon, “being” and “doing” are paired alternatingly together. The new moon begins the first “doing” phase followed by the “being” waxing crescent phase and so on. Further learning about these phases and trying to take action during the aligned phase of the moon has been helpful for me in regulating when it’s time to hustle and when it’s time to take a step back and reflect, plan, or pause. Basically, my attention to this and my willingness to follow the moon as a guide, has helped me build down-time into my month where I give myself moon-sanctioned permission to ponder and procrastinate. The notion being that when you have designated times of concerted effort, it’s more effective than if you were to just bust it full time and burn out. Its also helped in reducing the vague feeling that I should always be doing something or stressing that I need to do more.
THE WAY OUT IS THROUGH
Since having Ezra I’ve become more perceptive of my patterns and feelings. I’m generally more sensitive to my own needs since becoming sensitive to the needs of my baby. I love finding different ways to honor my patterns and through that grow my intuition. Moon work has helped me in balancing my need to do with my my need to turn inward, wait, and restore. This in turn has helped with my anxiety. Its put the mad dash into a context and its challenged me to develop inward while I’m waiting and planning. Daily rituals have become a touchstone during this extremely emotional and at times overwhelming part of my life. Recording my observations while learning how to divide my need for action and my need for calm in accordance with this natural rhythm has become a lovely practice that I look forward to each day.