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Overwhelmed with a newborn: ‘I felt out of control, lost and unable to cope’

Woman diagnosed with postnatal anxiety after birth of her second child tells her story

Geraldine Walsh with her daughter Devin. “I’ve learnt to let go of certain situations, be kinder to myself and pat myself on the back for everything I have achieved.”

I’ve been pregnant twice. Both times were nine-month rollercoasters ending in worrying, but successful, caesarean sections. We have two beautiful daughters and, after our second baby was born, we knew our family was complete.

I was expecting life to find its routine and for reality to kick in once the waiting for our baby was finally over.

Life had other plans, however, and the rollercoaster continued, threatening to veer off the track.

When Devin was born I felt an amazing euphoria I had never felt before. I was on top of the world with sheer happiness. I felt strong, in control and content. In the weeks before her birth, however, I was suffering from anxiety and apprehension which I assumed was due to being incredibly nervous about the scheduled C-section.

Within weeks of her being born, I lost my focus, my routine and my positivity. I wasn’t necessarily worried about how I would cope with the baby and our three-year-old, Allegra. I was managing quite well, but it felt much more than being overwhelmed by birth, recovery and family life. And it was slowly but surely taking over.

Devin was only two weeks old when I recognised something was not right. In the beginning I questioned whether it was the baby blues as the pregnancy hormones left my body and sent me into a spiral. It felt greater than the surge of hormones that created a chemical imbalance in my worn out and damaged body.

Panic

My husband, Barry, had two weeks’ paternity leave which he took as soon as we were home from hospital. He was there to help me recover from the birth as much as possible and care for the baby as well as our eldest. Those two weeks went by far too fast and as the Monday approached when he was due back to work I began to worry.

I dreaded that first day.

Those anxious feelings and spates of panic came back.

Geraldine Walsh: “I thought the desperation would go on forever.”

My first day alone with the kids went by surprisingly stress free and anxiety free. It was on the second day that I broke down after feeling an overwhelming panic and pressure which seemed to be conjured up from nowhere. I felt out of control, lost and unable to cope. I cried incessantly, I couldn’t breathe.

I thought the desperation would go on forever.

When I was five weeks postpartum and still experiencing the painful pang of what felt like depression mixed with anxiety and confusion, I realised I needed help. But still I tried to rationalise it.

Was I simply trying to deal with the upheaval of having a newborn and a three-year-old?

Was I suffering from the incredible exhaustion that comes with night feeds and being on the go all day long?

Was I regaining my normal hormone balance as the pregnancy hormones said goodbye?

Was I overwhelmed?

My GP diagnosed me with postnatal depression and anxiety. I was offered medication, but after discussing options with the public health nurse I decided to seek counselling first.

Worthless

In those first three months of our daughter’s little life, I was unable to understand what I was feeling and I certainly had no idea how to manage the stress, panic and anxiety that bubbled over the surface. Most days, as I tried to make sense of the anxiety, I recognised feelings and thoughts that were out of character for me.

– I felt worthless, pointless, as though no one would miss me.
– I felt scared and hopeless, like I couldn’t cope.
– I worried that I was doing everything wrong.
– My insecurity skyrocketed.
– I was unable to explain how I was feeling most of the time and I felt pathetic in attempting to make sense of those feelings.
– I felt isolated and alone, even when I was surrounded by family.
– I felt incredibly happy one moment and desolate the next.
– I had bursts of anger that were incomprehensible and out of character.

Speaking with a counsellor helped me to confront my feelings, understand my anxiety, and put the attacks into perspective. I will admit, every counselling session was hard. A lot was brought to the surface in order for me to control what I was feeling and understand why. But I learned strategies to find the balance and focus my mind to see me through any attacks.

Geraldine Walsh’s daughters

Devin is one in May and, thankfully, I can happily say that the anxiety has significantly lessoned, but there is no quick fix. Daily, sometimes hourly, I have to work hard to stay mindful, be positive, breathe, recognise my feelings and avoid being overwhelmed to the point of anxious. I’ve learned to let go of certain situations, be kinder to myself and pat myself on the back for everything I have achieved.

It takes a lot of mental effort but I’d rather that over an anxiety attack any day.