As I sit here trying to begin this post, I get really afraid. Afraid of being judged. Afraid of being hurt. Afraid of what people will say, to me or behind my back. But, ultimately, it doesn’t matter if any of those things happen because they already do, in other aspects of my life. So, here it goes, my maternal mental health story.
P.S. If I could attach a soundtrack to this for you to listen to as you read, it would be “Head Above Water” by Avril Lavigne followed by “Rise Up” by Andra Day.
May is “Mental Health Awareness Month” and thanks to The Blue Dot Project (@thebluedotprj) I discovered the awareness of Maternal Mental Health among the attempts of others normalizing and shutting down mental health in general. The community is developing, but it is overwhelming the amount of other mothers who are also experiencing postpartum depression; hiding, either from it or from others.
I am one of those mothers.
I have dealt with postpartum anxiety and postpartum depression. It is dark, scary, and lonely. But above all, its frustrating.
This is suppose to be the happiest time in our lives! Or so everyone says. We are suppose to be overwhelmed with this unreal connection, full of love and hope. But what happens when that fades? When the newborn bubble pops and everyone’s gone home. When the phone calls stop and your friends move on. What then?
For me, I was happily in the newborn bubble after my son for about 3 months. We were joyfully living our lives as a little family of 3 through the holidays. I knew I struggled with separation anxiety because I wouldn’t let Oliver out of my sight, but slowly overcame that. Until one Monday when my son was 10 weeks old, my husband came home and said he was going to Puerto Rico for a storm job and would be gone from anywhere between 6 – 12 weeks. This very rudely popped my bubble and shot me into the reality that I was going to be the only only one to raise our son for the next 2-3 months, 400 miles away from any and all family, with almost no friends in a new town we basically just moved to.
Cue the anxiety in full force.
I first thought it was general anxiety. You know, the normal heebie-jeebies about being apart from my spouse for so long, or the idea of being the only one “on call” with the babe at night for weeks on end. I was so worried how I would handle it on my own with Dustin in a different country. I thought I would go mad within my own mind, with me, myself, and I, since no one would be around to talk to.
I finally packed a bag that basically had our entire life inside and we drove to my parents 7.5 hours away, which actually took 8.5 with extra stops and a lot of crying, from both me and Oliver. When I got to my parents, I tried to paint on a brave and happy face. I mean, I was finally around other people; people who could help. But the crying continued … and I had a meltdown in front of my parents. I admitted I felt like I was crumbling from exhaustion, but refused to leave him with anyone else so I could “get a break.” What was wrong with me??
We went to his regularly scheduled appointment and after talking with his pediatrician she told me there was nothing wrong with me. I went and spoke to my doctor and asked her about how I was feeling and why I was feeling it. She told me I was technically not dealing with postpartum anxiety as it had been longer than 12 weeks – the supposed “postpartum time frame” (that’s up for debate) but that I was experiencing normal anxiety with all the changes happening at once and was given guidance on ways to get myself back to working out for “me time” and release natural endorphins to get it under control, assured it would surpass once life returned to normal. Sure enough, once I started a workout routine again, it did, and I was reassured that I wasn’t doing anything wrong.
Fast forward 10 months and I am right back in a new round of postpartum feelings. This one was different. This one was harder, almost immediately. There was no newborn bubble for me this time. My daughter’s birth was fast, resulting in fluid in her lungs so she was swept off to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unite (NICU) for extra breathing assistance, while I was left back in my room, overcoming my own bout of complications from such a fast birth, alone as Dustin was with Nora. There was no bonding, and for the first few hours, the only one there to help me through my own complications was the incredible nurse I had, whom I strongly believe deserves an award for her undeniable bedside manner.
Once I was cleared to go see Nora, roughly 10 hours later and after a heated discussion between me and the new nurse on duty, I saw her hooked to a ton of machines and I wasn’t able to hold her. Then once I was able to hold her, I refused to put her down. I was terrified our bond was ruined and she wouldn’t love me. The crying saga began here and lasted for about 14 days.
14 days of sadness, feeling disconnected, overcompensating, lonely, dark, and overall frustration as everyone enjoyed their holiday season. I was straight up pissed at anyone and everyone. I wanted to be left alone in a room with my two kids, unbothered, and unaware of the life that was continuing on outside because that’s where I felt happiest and safest.
But on the outside, I looked happy. Like most other women at this stage.
At my daughter’s 2 week check up just after Christmas, I admitted to my children’s pediatrician what I was feeling and she sent me over to my doctor to immediately be seen. I was given guidance and the “all clear” to workout again since I was healing appropriately and we both knew that was what helped last time, as long as my workouts were less than 30 minutes and low impact.
I felt embarrassed.
Like, okay, neat. Now, I have to go home to my perfect husband and explain to him he has this depressed wife who needs meds and a workout regimine to be happy. Winner. This is not what he signed up for. I thought for sure he’d resent me and want to leave. But, instead, he said “okay, let me watch the kids, go do your thing.” And that was that.
I was fortunate enough to find what helped me and within days I was back to feeling like myself again. I was able to get a grasp on who I was and what my worth was all over again.
Here I am, 17 weeks pregnant with baby #3, and honestly terrified to go through another postpartum journey. This will be my last postpartum journey. So, I keep telling myself that I know my history and I know what helps and to do that immediately and don’t waste time thinking I will “just get over it.”
It’s horrible to feel ashamed that I went through such a dark time after birthing my babies. Does that mean I don’t love them? Absolutely not. I love them with every fiber in my being; that’s what caused it. I gave everything left inside myself to them to secure this loving, mother-present environment and had nothing left to give myself. Ever hear the saying, “you can’t pour from an empty cup?” That is 100% true. That is why my kids are on a strict bedtime schedule. That is why I workout daily and they now go to the childcare at the gym. That is why I started this blog in the first place over a year ago when my husband was away on storm work.
Working out saved my life.
Writing saved my life.
Creating a schedule saved my life.
I am not being dramatic, I am being honest. Not everyone has help. Not everyone has a team minutes away to come when they need it. Not everyone has the cookie cutter postpartum life you read about. I sure as hell didn’t.
And that doesn’t make me any less of a mother than those who do.
I had to overcome a lot. 3 unplanned pregnancies, back to back to back, with a lot of criticism. Two moves, each one farther away from family than the first. I have had to give up my career temporarily to raise my children because my salary doesn’t support daycare for 3 under 3. I have had to find my identity all over again, because I am more than someone’s milk blending, snack making, house cleaning cutout.
Mama – you are enough. You are worthy. You are not doing anything wrong. If your bab(ies) is(are) fed, loved, happy, and warm, you are doing your job. If you are feeling down in the trenches, more than the average overwhelmed feeling, ask for help. There is nothing to be ashamed by it. It is not forever, and there is a way out.
— xoxo samantha
If you are one to judge another mother, one to tell her what she’s doing is wrong, or talk poorly about another mother’s parenting or lifestyle, you are the one who is in the wrong and I pray you find a better place in your heart to change, because I can guarantee you are not perfect either.