Let me tell you about the time we took our newborn to the emergency room.
We had been home from the hospital for approximately 36 hours.
Our first night at home was long and dark, and when the sun finally came up I immediately began to dread the next time it would go down. Birth is one thing—our bodies are machines that (usually) know exactly how to get the baby out. But caring for a child is another thing entirely. I’m not talking about caring about and loving my child—thankfully, the hormonal stars aligned for me and I felt connected to my baby (although I know they don’t for all moms, and I want you to know you are not alone and there is help).
I’m talking about the act of keeping the child alive and in a semi-peaceful state. Breathing. Eating. Not crying every minute. That didn’t come naturally. And, like most things in my life, I analyzed every situation until the beginning “issue” had slowly morphed into an unrecognizable near catastrophe. Why is she making that noise? Is she getting enough milk? Is her poop supposed to be that color? Is she supposed to sleep that much? Can she breathe? Throw in some sleep deprivation and a few wayward Google searches, and wham!
I started to notice our baby was breathing quickly that day. They sent home a packet of information about how to care for a baby. Upon thorough review, I started to worry that her breathing wasn’t normal. The information said, “Seek emergency medical attention if your baby is:” and the first bullet point was “breathing quickly—more than 70 breaths per minute.” What the what!? My baby is doing that! I called the nurse and she very kindly explained that my baby’s breathing was either completely normal newborn breathing or she was in distress and we should take her to the emergency room, “but without seeing her, I can’t tell you for sure.” I’m no stranger to disclaimers, but lady, the only thing my anxious new mom ears heard was “DISTRESS.”
When we arrived at the emergency room, I started to doubt that we’d made the right choice.
There were sick people everywhere. The germs were almost visible. For all we knew, the guy coughing into his hanky in the corner had tuberculosis. When our baby got hungry, I decided the safest place to feed her was outside. On the curb. We had not made the right choice. The triage nurse took our baby’s temperature. Rectally. My husband and I looked at each other and screamed into each other’s eyes: THIS WAS NOT THE RIGHT CHOICE. We contemplated walking out at that moment.
The doctor was calm. She was an older woman who handled our baby so gently and commented that she’d “seen plenty of babies only a mother could love, but this one was adorable.” She looked at us, our new-parent nerves all over the room, and said, “This is a perfectly healthy baby.” Exhale.
Looking back, I can laugh about my worry. But if you are currently experiencing or you have experienced postpartum anxiety, you know it’s no joke. You know that in the moment, you’ll do anything for a little reassurance and guidance to ease your worries. I eventually started to dread the nights less and less, and baby care became second nature — but not without a lot of reassurance from my dear husband, my mom, our pediatrician, and resources in our community.
If you’re experiencing postpartum anxiety, I encourage you to get help and reassurance in a less germ-infested way.
Talk with your doctor or counselor about your thoughts and feelings. Visit a Breastfeeding or Parenting Support Group—they’re a great place to talk to a nurse and ask any question related to baby care. There are postpartum doulas like the Iowa Baby Lady who are there to help. You are doing great, new moms! You were made for this baby, and you’re exactly the mom your baby needs!