Perfect. The word that can consume people. The word that can fuel some, but is so unrealistic. May 22, 2019, I reposted my husband’s IG post with the following caption: “And just like that, we have another little branch on our family tree. Leonard “Leo” Michael Horn was born this morning early to the party, and he is a tiny little guy, but he and Erin are both doing great!”
While all this is true, what you will not see on my IG post is a picture of me one week later sitting in my OBGYN’s office barely holding back the tears as they took my blood pressure. The sound of the blood pressure machine has become a huge trigger for me. The sound as it inflates. The fear that the number will be high. The questions swirling in my mind if the number is high. Is this my fault for not working out more? Should I have changed my diet more? Did I do something wrong? Why wasn’t my BP in the “perfect” range? The anxiety that takes over. The difficulty controlling my spiraling thoughts. This might sound very odd to you, but it is where I was.
The three weeks leading up to my delivery, I was on “restricted activity” as we (me and my doctors) struggled to keep my blood pressure under control. During my second pregnancy, I ended up undergoing magnesium treatment because my doctors were concerned I was developing post-partum preeclampsia. My fear of going through that experience again didn’t help my blood pressure. So, as I sat in my OBGYN’s office holding back the sobs that wanted to escape and the tears that I was holding back, it is no surprise that my blood pressure was through the roof. Hospitalization levels to be clear. My doctor walked in and said, “So how are we doing emotionally?” and that was all it took for me to let the sobs and tears pour out. When asked if I had experienced post-partum depression and/or anxiety with previous pregnancies, I hesitated. Is this weak?
I’m a huge mental health advocate. After I lost my brother to overdose as a result of his mental illness, I’ve become a champion for others to seek help. Yet, in those moments, I felt this need to cling to being strong. Being stronger than my thoughts. Being stronger than my anxiety. Maybe clinging to that word: perfect.
As I hesitated to say, “Yes, I’ve had struggles with post-partum anxiety”, my husband quickly (and loudly) said, “YES!”. At that moment, I needed an extra person reminding me that I don’t have to be perfect. I don’t have to get through these moments alone. When I mentioned I wasn’t sure I could keep breastfeeding because I felt like I was going crazy, my doctor calmly said, “that might be a good idea for you.” It was the encouragement I needed. Yet, it took me another few months to truly be OK with not breastfeeding. Another nagging thought that I was less than a perfect mom because my child is on formula (side note: he is THRIVING on his formula). In the wake to normalize breastfeeding, there is a bit of a feeling of shame if you pick formula. When our pediatrician asked if we were formula or breastfeeding, and I shared about my anxiety and blood pressure problems, she said, “A happy and healthy mom is far more important than breastfeeding.” Bless her.
Back to sitting in my doctor’s office. My doctor prescribed me a long-term antidepression and short-term anxiety medicine (a benzodiazepine). My anxiety about the benzo quickly jumped to the surface–this is one of the medicines my brother abused at the beginning of his substance abuse journey. After a long discussion with my doctor and a therapist, I knew that I could stop taking both medicines if they made anything worse. I knew what signs to look for.
I’m happy to report that after a week on the short-term anxiety medicine and a change in my blood pressure meds, my blood pressure started dipping very low. My anxiety was truly linked to my higher blood pressure. After two weeks, I was able to slowly wean off the benzo as the long-term meds started to work. I was then able to slowly wean off my blood pressure medicine as well. I now take an anti-depression medicine every morning, my youngest son has tripled his weight on his formula, I’ve been able to start working out again, my blood pressure has returned to normal levels (normal, not perfect), and I AM A GREAT MOTHER to my three sons. I am able to be a great mother because my anxious thoughts are now under control. Because I am able to get the sleep my mind and body needs.
I am actually grateful to my post-partum anxiety as it has forced me to learn more about myself and helps me be extra grateful to the positive people in my life. I have learned how important prioritizing myself is for me and my family. My husband continues to be a great support and helps me prioritize going to my mindfulness yoga class (thanks @modoyoga), having time with friends, and just generally being a listening ear. I am so grateful to my family, friends and co-workers, and doctors that helped me during those weeks leading up to Leo’s birth and the first four weeks when I struggled to function. My anxiety reared it’s ugly head and threatened to paralyze me with fear. But with medical access, mental health help, and prioritizing myself, I am able to THRIVE, not just survive. My five-year-old still thinks I’m the worst mom in the world when he has to go to time-out, but that just means I’m doing something right, right?
To anyone out there fighting their anxious thoughts—you are so worth the effort. Keep fighting. Keep searching for what YOU need to help you thrive. And remember, Instagram doesn’t show the entire story. Progress, not perfection.