Woke up feeling happy and blessed today. We had a great family day yesterday for my husband’s birthday. We had a few friends over, ate lots of food, laughed and relaxed. I don’t say this to paint an idyllic, FB-washed version of my life. I just am still caught by surprise sometimes, quite honestly, when I review the weekend and realize we had fun! That’s funny isn’t it?
I don’t know exactly why things are so much better for me nowadays (ok not every day, but many days), but I do know I am enjoying it.
When I reflect on the past 8 years since I was married and then pregnant with my son, I have to say that there weren’t many weekends where, when Monday rolled around, I wished there was one more day. Or days I would wake up feeling like, damn, that was a fun weekend!
The reasons why are probably too many to list. Was it the fact that I ended up arguing with my husband over almost everything? Was it the never ending needs of a toddler? Was it sleep deprivation? Depression? Postpartum depression? Was I just a b*tch making my husband miserable? Well maybe it was all of it. Life stressors are real for everyone.
The first couple of years of being a new mom are so intense. You worry about every single decision you make, whether your child is developing normally, and if you are doing a good job. On top of that, our family situation was different, since my first son was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect at around 20 weeks gestation. That meant surgery within the first week of life, and several weeks before we could bring him home. That added another layer of stress and worry. And what I did not realize at the time, was that I was struggling with anxiety and trauma from the whole experience. I thought I just didn’t have very good coping skills. I beat myself up for that A LOT. It would have been great if I had gotten help from the very beginning. I made it through the first 18 months, but I was definitely struggling. When my husband told me about the chance to move abroad, and that I would have help, I didn’t hesitate to say yes.
Thankfully, moving and getting more support helped. I was able to get time to recover. Even still, I didn’t feel ready for years to consider adding to our family.
I remember chatting with two ‘been there, done that’ moms whose children are much older than mine a few months back. Their words were so honest, validating, and funny, in a sad, we don’t support new families enough, kind of a way. As I was doing my usual over sharing, telling them that I didn’t think my husband and I could stay married if we lived in the U.S. (we currently live abroad, where it’s the cultural norm to have help in the house, and it’s quite affordable, as compared to America), they both told me they could relate. One mom told me that she and her husband referred to the time when their children were small as ‘the dark years’, which I thought was both clever and perfect, and the other said she was pretty sure she was ‘not a very nice person’ back then.
So that brings me back to me…Was it my PPD that made life so hard back then? Well I definitely think it was the main cause of my unhappiness. When I compare how I felt about motherhood/life/marriage over the past 8 years to the more frequent, positive, happier days I am experiencing now it’s kind of hard to reconcile.
I can remember at least three times over the past 24 hours where when I cuddled with my kids to comfort them or respond to their request for attention, and I ENJOYED it. I didn’t bristle and think ‘ugh, I’m too tired, too worn out, why does someone always need me’. It’s astonishing to me that 1. I am feeling these feelings, and 2.i wasn’t feeling these feelings for so long?
I think other people who have experienced PPD can likely relate. As I mentioned in my previous post, I was always able to take care of my oldest son. I did nurture him and did all of the things a ‘good mom’ does. 5 years later (and some fertility struggles later), I had twins, and they were also well cared for by me and some other loving ladies that are in our lives, our nannies. It’s just that I felt more that it was an obligation, not that gooey feeling that you ‘can’t get enough of this wonderful little creature you were blessed with’ which I could never really relate to. I didn’t realize until much later that perhaps I was actually numb most of the time. There was lots to do, and I didn’t realize that it was as if there was a block to even accessing my feelings, or lack of feelings. I was exhausted. every.single.day. I think that I was going the motions of life and was not able to get much joy out of it. Life felt so heavy and I could not bare for any issues or problems to come up. I knew something was wrong, and I remember I kept asking my husband if he didn’t also think something was wrong with me. I should have reached out then, but I didn’t. I ended up getting help when the twins were 9 months, when sleep deprivation during a visit home pushed me over the edge. Thankfully, I was able to talk to an amazing therapist, and my family was able to help me through the really rough patch.
Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to express here is that I feel so lucky. I’ve had the chance to grow, learn and heal from some troubling times. I believe that all of the obstacles put in our path are meant to make us better people. So even though I feel sad and guilty sometimes that I wasn’t healthier for my kids at a certain time, I feel grateful that we are all doing better now. And maybe my words will be of comfort to someone who’s experiencing their ‘dark years’.
If you are feeling more down days than good ones, or feeling like you cannot cope, please reach out for help. postpartum.net is a great resource. Your Obstetrician can help you figure out what to do next. But don’t be afraid to tell them how you are really feeling. They might assume that you are ok. And we know that depression is an invisible illness.
Being a new mom can be quite isolating. Moms, try to get out! Don’t make it worse by staying inside. Get out, even for a short walk. I remember trying to go for walks with a screaming baby, and retreating to the house because he cried more outside. And he SCREAMED in the car, a lot! I tried to always keep the car moving by taking lots of right turns at traffic lights. I had ‘Row row row your boat’ on repeat because it seemed to calm him down! Nothing really helped, but stopping the car made it worse! It stressed me out to be in public with such a fussy baby, but if I had to do it over, I would have told someone I could use some support, and made more coffee dates or whatever just to get out.
Friends and family of new moms- visit the new mom and help clean up or hold baby! Offer to care for baby so mom can go get a blow dry or a manicure! Ask her how she’s really doing! I need to thank all of my friends and family who did show up and do those things! I remember every single one of them, and will be forever grateful.
I just had a nice chat with a good friend and we were comparing experiences, after she mentioned someone who recently gave birth and was having a hard time. Seems like we were feeling a lot of the same things after our first children were born, and both of us experienced births that were far different from what we planned. I’m starting to see a pattern, the more I speak to people, with moms struggling and seemingly falling through the cracks, moms not knowing the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression, and moms who experience traumatic births not being checked up on. I think there should be automatic referrals to follow-up counseling in these cases. It wouldn’t take that much effort to arrange an appointment before discharge. We are worth it, moms and families! Let’s keep an eye on our fellow mommas and let’s keep the conversation going! I’m including a link here from a great resource called postpartumprogress.com