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How mindfulness helped my postpartum anxiety


When I was a child, I remember sifting through my father’s collection of meditation books and being both impressed and puzzled by the images inside. “Don’t they get bored?,” I had asked, unable to reconcile the smiling faces I saw with the tedium of the lotus position.

I have always been a nervous, type A human. Understatement: I am the person who once wrote a “Self-Care” to-do list on my notes app and then promptly deleted it after it gave me anxiety. For the majority of my life, having everything under control has been the way I have felt comfortable navigating in an uncertain world.

Enter parenting: the absolute opposite of certainty.

After having my son, it became abundantly clear that not only would things not go according to plan (hello, emergency C-section!), I would also have to better acquaint myself with long stretches of quiet desperation. In between the grueling round-the-clock feedings and fractured sleep, there was another less-talked-about nemesis to parenting: the anxiety-inducing wait before bedtime.

At the end of each day, as my son tossed and turned for copious hours on end (with no hope of sleep in sight), my pulse raced. I had read about postpartum depression, but what I did not know was my already-there anxiety would spike tenfold. Those first few months, I was beyond frazzled. Instead of resting when my son did as was recommended, I kept tabs on my never-ending to-do list. Did we need more diapers? Should I clean the kitchen OR fold clothes during his daily naps?

By midnight, my frayed nerves led me to Googling, “Can new moms have nervous breakdowns?” More than anything, I craved that maternal glow of calm sold to me by books and TV shows when I was pregnant. All of the articles I had read depicted bedtime as a cherished routine that brought comfort and joy to both mother and child. I had envisioned a sacred time of bonding, not a jolt to my nervous system.

Growing up, I always rushed through one activity to the next — a short attention span exacerbated with the emergence of smartphones and social media. Becoming a mother changed all of that: I was forced to slow down, to pay attention.

After many nights that felt like a “curse” of waiting, it dawned on me that my growing frustration was only adding to my son’s restlessness. The more aggravated I felt, the more he resisted sleep (a seemingly cruel Catch-22).

Watching his small limbs thrashing in his crib made me realize I did not want our days to end with dread. I wanted to be present for my son, not just biding my time until he dozed off. That night, I nestled my hand on his back and instead of mentally rehearsing the next day’s to-do list, I began reflecting on everything I was grateful for: having a roof over our heads, spending time in our small garden, the nutritious lunch we ate. I counted one by one until my heart stopped racing.

Over the next few days, I repeated the same routine. After reading my son his bedtime story, I closed the curtains and sat next to his crib. When his arms and legs began flailing, I stroked his hair and took deep breaths. With each inhalation, I remembered the images of peaceful smiles I saw as a child and began counting my blessings. I thought of each small joy I had encountered during the day and exhaled — from my son’s sweet giggles to a funny meme a friend had texted. I pictured the way my husband had gleefully bounced our baby on his lap and felt a rush of calm wash over me.

During the following weeks, I came prepared to sit for as long as it took my son to fall asleep without worrying about the future or whether I was adequate.

As children, we are taught there is power in movement, in doing. Now as a parent, I see how undervalued patience has been. Learning to mindfully wait helped me release the illusion of control I had built over the years. Perhaps for some, this comes as prayer, for others, meditation.

For me, submerging myself in gratitude felt like an armor against the unknown.

Cindy Lamothe is a writer and journalist.

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