I didn’t know it was possible to have postpartum anxiety without delivering a baby—until it happened to me

My path to motherhood was not simple. It was not just sunshine and roses. It was heartbreaking, gut wrenching, and made me numb at times. Since 2016, I have been pregnant every single year—but it is not what you think. I have three children in my arms, and four that did not make it with us. Four losses between the births of our first two beautiful boys. Four losses that I did not want to accept for a while. Like many going through infertility, I did not allow myself to process the pain or grieve my losses in the moment—I just kept pushing forward, desperate to become a mother.

But it caught up with me.

On December 18, 2020, on my 32nd birthday, our second son was finally born. Thanks to surrogacy, he was finally with us. As I heard him cry for the first time, I breathed the deepest sighs of relief. I held him in my arms and I felt like I had known him forever. But even with all of the happy feelings I had, I also felt instantly terrified. This hit me out of nowhere, a feeling I did not expect.

Related: Postpartum anxiety robbed me of the early years with my kids 

Over the next few months, I experienced terrifying nightmares and horrible thoughts that something would happen to our two boys. I was constantly worried and my anxiety was at an all-time high, but I did not think I was allowed to have these feelings. After all, I wanted our boys so much, and I was not the one that was able to be pregnant with our second son—so how dare I feel that way?

At first, I ignored it. I told myself it was normal to feel that way. It was normal to be overwhelmed and feel slightly disconnected at first. It was normal to feel terrified. It was normal to have nightmares about your children. It was normal to be anxious all of the time. It was normal. But even reading this now, I cannot believe I thought that was normal at all.

I had never grieved the loss of the pregnancies that ended too soon.

Luckily, I started to realize I needed professional help. At first, I opened up to my husband, but I quickly realized I also needed to talk to a therapist. I needed someone who could help me cope, and help me figure out why I was having these thoughts and fears. I needed someone to help me stop feeling this way. I wanted to be able to enjoy my children. And on top of my anxiety, I felt an intense amount of guilt for feeling this way.

My first appointment with my therapist was mind-blowing for me. She told me that I was not alone in these feelings, that many women experience them. She also told me that no one deserves to feel this way and everyone deserves help. She asked me about my history, and when I explained all of the loss I had endured, she validated my pain. She validated my thoughts. She validated my fears. She told me that it completely made sense that I was feeling this way—I had never grieved. I had never grieved the loss of the pregnancies that ended too soon. I had never grieved the trauma I had been through with infertility. I had never grieved not being able to carry my own child.

I was sobbing on the phone with a woman I had never met before. And I started to feel so relieved. It is extremely powerful to have your deepest fears and thoughts validated. It is extremely powerful to be told you are not alone, but your individual story still matters. It is extremely powerful to seek out help, and not feel shame for doing so.

Related: I experienced pregnancy loss—but for a moment, I was a mother 

I continued to speak with her regularly, and she explained that I was having symptoms of postpartum anxiety. I did not know it was possible to experience this since I did not give birth to our second son myself—but it was. And I needed help.

I am here to tell you that if you are struggling postpartum, you deserve help. If you experienced pregnancy loss, you deserve a chance to grieve. If you have finally had a child you have been waiting years for, you still deserve support in motherhood. If something feels off, seek out help. There is no shame in asking for help. There is no shame in needing help. Everyone thinks of the baby after you give birth, but you deserve to be taken care of as well. The mother matters too—whether you have a child in your arms or not.

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