The overwhelming smell of antiseptics choked the air as I waited for the doctor’s results in the emergency room. As nurses buzzed past my door, I found myself reconsidering if having it all is worth it. My heart was racing and my mind could not reason what my body was experiencing. When test results came back normal, I was relieved and frustrated, but left with questions and concerns.
Four months after the birth of my youngest son, my maternity leave ended sooner than I wanted with a business trip to the Virgin Islands. I was heartbroken to leave my newborn baby and not-yet two-year-old twins behind.
Anxiety stricken, I hardly slept the night before my flight. I was torn between doing the work I enjoy and caring for the people I love and who needed me. Determined to work and to spend time with my babies, I would have it all—the family, the marriage, the children, the faith, the work, the community, the life. I was relentless to pursue whatever it took to live seamlessly, flowing from one thing to another.
Despite my courage, the feeling that something was not right overwhelmed me. My life was lived on all cylinders blasting on high, and I was gasping for breath. Becoming a mom was the largest transformation of my life and I had little energy left to fight a lurking monster in the dark. My high performance mindset could not help me outrun that beast.
After only a day on the island, I was overwhelmed with panic. I caught the first flight back home.
As my compassionate, loving husband drove me away from the hospital that day, he gently opened the topic of everything I was trying to do. I defensively interrupted: “I’m okay; I am still doing it all.” He patiently responded, “Honey, you were in the ER.” For that brief second, my pride melted away, as I was forced to embrace my brokenness. Having it all at the cost of not having any of it is hardly worth it.
Two months later, I hit bottom the day I realized I could not care for myself, let alone my babies. Although seven different specialists had assured me I was fine, I knew deep inside I wasn’t. I was anxious every day, my heart and mind were racing. It felt like my clenched fists were losing their grip on the things I held dear. Could no one help me?
That fateful visit to the emergency room confirmed the beginning of a postpartum anxiety battle. I learned that anxiety affects about 10 percent of women following childbirth, according to Postpartum Support International.
Finally, with the help of a knowledgeable postpartum therapist, we began to unravel my broken mind. I wept, we talked, I pushed, she listened. Even though progress was being made, the bad days outnumbered the good.
I chose to approach my healing process holistically and find restoration in all areas of my life. As a business management consultant, I manage organizational change in the marketplace and believed I could apply some of the same principles to my own healing.
I prioritized my health, made sacrifices, and negotiated my work schedule to create required time for the healing to take place. My circumstances allowed me the privilege of alone time each day to regain my strength. I am grateful for an understanding client who accommodated my request to work virtually and less than full time. Without the kindness of the people I worked with, my journey would have been different.
While many women benefit from medicine to manage postpartum anxiety, I chose to regain my healing through natural remedies. The following are key areas that contributed to my overall recovery and perhaps can aid in positive progress for others:
Nutrition. I started by altering the way I ate. I gave up my daily cup of coffee and the occasional glass of wine, and replaced them with copious amount of water and a daily protein drink. Eating became a carefully orchestrated labor of love, with the addition of vitamins, probiotics, organic food and meats, nuts, no sugar and no bread. My wellbeing depended on it, and I anchored into my new routine.
Physical health. I cleaned up my bedtime regime since my anxiety increased at night. I drank calming teas, read pleasant books, and stayed away from negative news and stressful TV shows. Getting proper rest was crucial to my recovery. I also got more exercise, incorporating yoga and, when possible, nature walks and sunshine.
Mental health. I learned to manage stress and seek joy. I learned to paint portraits. I read new books, tried new recipes, wrote, and embraced my creativity. Anxiety had declared a full-fledged attack on my mind, and I used cognitive behavioral therapy to fight the irrational, distorted thoughts that flooded my mind.
Emotional stability. It was like the tide—it came and went, leaving me uncertain and unhappy. As a working mom, I had to forgive myself for not holding my babies longer than I wanted. Self-awareness brought perspective on my circumstances. Essential oils helped bring balance in my mood and calmed me.
Social connection. Isolation was my enemy. I tried to make new friends and reconnect with old ones. I joined a therapy group. I opened myself up to new connections. I leaned on my friends and family for support and became vulnerable about my struggles.
Spiritual health. My faith needed restoration too. I recharged through prayer and reading my Bible. Friends supported me through prayer and encouragement. I listened to God’s whispers, believed that He gave me strength, begged for my life to be restored, and received my healing daily.
Months passed and the good days finally began to outnumber the bad. I surrendered my obsession with perfection and gave thanks for being stronger each day. It is easier to find balance when there are fewer things to juggle, so I focused on the essentials.
This journey grounded me. I gained a new perspective, which detangled my aspirations, defined my dreams, renewed my soul, restored my mind, repaired my body and, in the most unexpected way, transformed my heart. These days I carry a symbol of the journey, a necklace near my heart. A gift from my loving husband who joined me on this journey and carried me when I could not walk it alone. The simple circle on a chain reminds me that what matters most are the people closest to me. It also reminds me that how I choose to live, what I choose to pursue, which dreams I choose to chase all have to align.
These days I no longer strive to have it all. I want to have the most important things in life and be completely satisfied in being who I am now: a more compassionate, mended, loving person with visible scars on my body and spirit full of hope. I learned to respect and honor my body, which went through an amazing transformation to create three human beings. The postpartum season was a battle, but now I know how to fight it, how to knock down the sea monster, and trust this too shall pass.
For those who were also thrown into their own postpartum messiness of life, take courage; you are not alone. Being a mom has changed you in a million different ways. As you seek your healing, remember to be kind to yourself, embrace your brokenness, surrender perfection and control. Instead, re-focus your energy on the most important things and people in your life. There is no shame on this journey, there is no guilt, there are simply moms and dads, babies and siblings, grandparents and family and friends, supporting each other as we embrace life’s joys and struggles and do our best to parent our children and enjoy life.
About the Author
Pam Harmon is a mother of three young boys. She and her husband reside near Chicago, IL, and find great joy in seeing their children grow, play and learn. Pam’s passions include restoring organizational effectiveness and health, teaching, entrepreneurship, creativity and faith.