I’m under no illusion that my fears are “normal”
Looking a doctor dead in the eye and telling them that your baby is laughing at peculiar times when there is nothing funny to laugh at is not a “normal” maternal response to a laughing baby. Most people would film it, but I’d had bad experiences with that too.
The problem with thinking that normal exists when you’re a parent is that, if you ever feel anxious you will constantly feel like you’re not normal. I can however, almost guarantee that if you’re honest about how you’re feeling with other parents then voices will answer you back saying “oh fuck yeah, me too.” and you might even end up having an anxiety off over who has done the most ridiculous thing whilst under the spell of anxiety. You see, it’s not necessarily your specific fear that is normal, but the way it makes you feel totally is.
Considering the amount of time I had spent looking in to postnatal depression, I was the last person to notice when I had it. I had spent hours reading articles advising me of skin to skin contact and telling me the “signs” that you weren’t bonding with your baby. I wasn’t showing any of them, in my opinion. I loved Arabella.
In fact I really loved Arabella. I loved Arabella more than I knew my soul was capable of loving. I loved her so much that I would stay awake and make sure her breathing was at the right pace. I loved her so much that I didn’t want anyone in my house that might burst my bubble of everything being ok. I loved her so much that I would spend nights praying to any God that I had ever heard of that nothing bad would happen to her. I loved her so much that I would run up and down the stairs as a ritual to make sure that nothing could harm her. I loved her so much that it gave me postnatal anxiety.
A postnatal anxiety that left me with a feeling that was a distant memory. The feeling I had just before the shot would sound for the 100 metre race at school. A feeling of adrenaline was constantly in my stomach, I was ready to fight whatever it was that was going to harm Arabella and because I had no idea what it was that could harm her I was constantly ready to fight anything. Having had the term “trust your gut” drilled in to me by midwives and health visitors it was all I could do to believe that incredibly rare diseases were showing symptoms in my daughter and I had to catch it early because I had to protect her.
Trusting your gut when you have anxiety is impossible and often leaves you feeling completely unsure of yourself. Doubting yourself and your body is basically like waving a flare at depression and then giving it the GPS location to all your weak spots. Anxiety on the other hand, is the cheating lover of the gut instinct. Your gut knows that anxiety is telling it what it wants to hear and that it shouldn’t be trusted but it’s just going to give it one last chance to prove itself and then that’s it, you really won’t give it another chance after that.
But you do.
And so I would end up on the phone to my health visitor, having trusted my gut, only to hear myself saying “I know we haven’t been to the Congo or even out of Europe but I really think she might have something” Even in those moments, hearing myself say it out loud I would recognise it was absurd but what I wanted, what I needed, was for someone to tell me it was alright. I needed the tiny, minute possibility ruling out for good. I almost wanted her to laugh in my face as I raised these concerns as that would have calmed me for perhaps a few hours. Her professionalism was always on form though.
Alternatvely you have a “good day.” You don’t feel as anxious but something actually does seem to be wrong.
Aside from the ridiculous phone calls and a couple of appointments I rarely actually make it all the way to the doctor, by the time I have worked myself up enough I’ve usually made such a hysterical scene that there is an intervention. However, recently I found that Arabella’s symptoms did seem to be realistic and had persisted longer than a week so I decided to take her in. Within 2 minutes of being there all symptoms had subsided and she was on top form. Within 3 minutes of being there my anxiety had shifted completely from her health to my mental health. I knew for a fact that she had shown definite symptoms only half an hour earlier. As I sat in the doctor’s room with a child who was being positively flirty with the doctor I felt myself begin to panic. I had wasted NHS time on an unnecessary visit and now I wouldn’t be taken seriously the next time I came in, when it really would be serious. My life had become The Boy Who Cried Wolf with the help of Arabella’s laughing and jiggling. I could practically see the “New Mum Syndrome” she would write in capital letters on the notes section of my file.
That feeling of being judged based on my moments of panic is something that floats above me at all times, ready to rain on me when my recovering gut instinct kicks in. Because that’s what my gut instinct is actually doing. Recovering. This volatile relationship it has had with anxiety has left it broken and torn and now it’s trying to find a way to piece itself back together. So although I can see I have come from some of the darker days, I still have my health visitor’s mobile number in my frequently called and she’s still probably telling the story of my fear of African diseases on her lunch break.