“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.

About Sarah Pinnix

I'm a mom, blogger, vlogger, libertarian. I love Jesus, and my husband, too. Social Media Strategist for a Non-Profit (All statements here are solely my own)

Comments

  1. I’m so glad the doctor was supportive when you went for help. Both the pediatrician (male) and OB-GYN (male) had made me feel guiltier when I had to make the hard decision to stop pumping and switch over to formula full-time. It wasn’t until years later that I realized I had PPD. One of the reasons I talk about it now is so that other women won’t have to suffer in silence. I’m sure you feel the same way.

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    Sarah Pinnix Reply:

    Oh, yes, Christina! I get fiercely angry when professionals make moms feel guilty for decisions they need to make for their health. I’ve had friends inadvertently say hurtful things, but it’s easier to forgive them. Thanks for commenting!

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  2. Beautifully written because its truly from the depths of your heart ~ love it Sarah!

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  3. Becky Webb
    Twitter: beckyjwebb
    says:

    Sarah,
    This is an amazing post! It is empowering to be able to speak out about these struggles. It is so true to say that birth, living life, parenting, struggling can’t be done alone. And, it wasn’t meant to be done alone. Until we are able to stand up and say we just can’t do it how else can we find help? We truly can’t even connect with God until we cry out in need. Thank you so much for sharing your heart, who you are in this post. May it empower mothers everywhere to seek out the support and care that they need to help them to succeed in whatever it is that is pulling them down.

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  4. Jennifer Carter says:

    I can’t begin to tell you how much I can relate to your story. Thank you for sharing! When I was going through it with my son, I had no idea at the time how many other women were going through, or had gone through, what I was going through. Through this post, you have comforted and validated my experience, as well as provided invaluable advice to all the new moms out there; ‘Do what is best for your child and your experience no matter what “the book” says!’

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  5. Sarah! I’m so, SO glad you wrote this! Your story is similar to my own in many ways. I delivered my daughter (emergency c-section) at 33 weeks, due to pre-eclampsia. And it was severe like yours (which they didn’t really tell me until afterward). I had mini panic attacks in the hospital afterward, but it was only years later that I realized my numb-ness, apathy and general shock in the weeks following were likely undiagnosed post-partum SOMETHING. To be honest, I’ve been terrified of having another baby…and having that happen again. But now I’m pregnant…so, here I go! (I realize this pregnancy could very well be normal and healthy and everything good. I do.) Anyway, THANK YOU for writing this.

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  6. Laura Oliver says:

    I am astounded, it’s like you have read my mind. This is my experience and I’m gradually finding that it is many women’s experience but only a few are brave enough to own up to this fact!
    The more people who talk openly = fewer people feeling alone, scared, bewildered and ashamed BRAVO!!

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    Sarah Pinnix Reply:

    Thank you Laura, you are SO right! We need to come out of the shadows and bring others with us!

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  7. BAh! Pumps! If I had to use a pump, I’d switch to formula, too. My mama fed me formula. We’re still friends 34 years later. 🙂

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    Sarah Pinnix Reply:

    And look how brilliant you are! Haha, Love ya.

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    Cindy Reply:

    Aw, now yer makin’ fun of me! 😉

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    Sarah Pinnix Reply:

    Nah, girl. I’m serious. You’re awesome. 🙂

  8. Courtney R says:

    I felt the same way. I got very sick after my son was born and I wasn’t producing breast milk. By 6 weeks after having him I was on all kinds of meds, getting bloodwork, running tests trying to figure out what was wrong. It took over a month to discover I had developed a very rare autoimmune disease that causes an array of problems. I hate to admit it but when I was finally diagnosed I actually felt better, like I could stop punishing myself for not being able to breastfeed, like I finally had an excuse and I wasn’t a bad mother. My son is now two I think he is a genius and he is and was a very healthy baby. I like you, have friends that breastfed and their children, not mine, have allergies. One day I decided no more mommy guilt and every time I start to panic about what I am NOT doing for my son I just remember I love him unconditionally and that (and me as his mother) is enough.

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    Sarah Pinnix Reply:

    Courtney, thank you so much for sharing your story! I’m so glad you were able to kick the mommy guilt! We all have areas we need to work on, but accepting undue guilt is not going to help! Bless you and your sweet son!

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  9. Thank you for sharing your story. Mine is quite similar, except my baby was full term (so I felt I had even LESS reason for feeling the way I did). I try to talk to as many people about it as possible because I know it’s very isolating. And I try to check up on my new-mommy friends and watch for signs that they are struggling. Pumping is AWFUL, but the guilt about stopping was equally horrible. I had to get a different pump for my second baby because my old one caused anxiety attacks too- I cried as soon as I heard the sound of the motor. I so so know exactly what you are talking about, and I’m thankful to hear more stories to reiterate that I’m not the only one!

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    Sarah Pinnix Reply:

    Oh, my gosh, Jessica. I think you’re the first person I’ve heard other then me who had ACTUAL panic attacks triggered by the pump. It’s so important to talk to others and let them know that you’re there if they need help.

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  10. You know I went through this after Vivian’s birth when I had to have surgery on my gall bladder and my liver was shutting down, etc. Yes my organs were beginning to fail also and there was no one I could feed her on what I was being given. I was able to secure some donor milk and gave her one bottle of breastmilk each day and supplemented the rest.

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  11. You know I went through this after Vivian’s birth when I had to have surgery on my gall bladder and my liver was shutting down, etc. Yes my organs were beginning to fail also and there was no one I could feed her on what I was being given. I was able to secure some donor milk and gave her one bottle of breastmilk each day and supplemented the rest.

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  12. Great post Sarah. Thank you for sharing!!

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  13. Thank you for writing this. Makes me feel like there is a light at the end of this storm. I, too, suffer from PPD. I was an unplanned c-section and breastfeeding made me feel worse about myself and my life. I wouls breastfeed my baby crying. I was in so much pain. Her pediatrician saw the signs and made me stop and swtich to formula. Formula saved us. But I still battle with the feeling of “I can’t do this” every day. 🙁

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  14. Thanks, Sarah. My baby stories are so similar to yours. It’s so helpful to know that I’m not the only one who couldn’t breastfeed her children and suffered PPD. Thank you for writing this.

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  1. […] “I Can’t Do This” and Other New Mom Myths :: Real Life Blog 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. […]

  2. […] I wrote about my battle with postpartum anxiety disorder (http://www.reallifeblog.net/i-cant-do-this-and-other-new-mom-myths-postpartum-anxiety/), I did not anticipate how many other moms it would touch. I received so many messages from people […]

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