They say that motherhood should be one of the most joyful times of your life. They say that once they place that precious baby in your arms for the first time that it should be love at first sight from that moment forward. I’m not sure who exactly the people in the “they” group are, but they say a lot of things that don’t always ring true for all moms.
When my son arrived after 36 hours of labor and 30 minutes of pushing, I absolutely did love him to a level I didn’t know existed within me. From that moment forward, all I wanted to do was hold him, love him, stroke his full head of hair, and kiss his forehead a million times over. I was ready to give him any and every thing he ever wanted.
Once we got home from the hospital, a wave of emotions came over me. Back then, I thought it was just the baby blues or simple feelings of overwhelm and uncertainty, which would make complete sense for a mom no matter if it’s your first child or seventh. Bringing home a baby is a big deal, and there is a lot to do from the moment they’re in your arms. But, as the months went on, things didn’t feel easier or lighter; if anything, they felt harder and heavier.
Our son was a pretty typical baby, and we are so very grateful that we never had any medical concerns with him. He cried, he slept (sometimes for only an hour or so), he pooped, and he ate. Nothing with him was really out of the ordinary or made us or our pediatrician worry about his health in any way. So all that to say, my less-than-positive feelings truly weren’t about him or anything he was doing. Yet, I couldn’t seem to get and keep my spirits up as time went on.
As the months went on, things didn’t feel easier or lighter; if anything, they felt harder and heavier.
While I didn’t have any mom friends in my city due to the fact of just moving here about a year ago, I had a few from back home that I would text to keep in touch with from time to time. We would send pictures back and forth of our little ones and talk about the cute little things they were doing now. But I couldn’t bring myself to share what I was actually feeling inside. When it came to my son, I had nothing but great things to say: “He’s finally rolling onto his belly!” or “We just started solid foods–he hates green beans!”
But to share that I was physically, mentally, and emotionally struggling? Those words didn’t come out so easily. So, I stayed silent about it.
Months and months went by. My 12-week maternity leave ended, I went back to work and left four months later due to a toxic environment. Then, I stayed home for two months before I accepted a new full-time position. Day in and day out, I was just trying to keep my head above water. Without family nearby to help, a lot of the responsibility of the household and parenthood lied solely on me and my husband’s shoulders.
Truthfully, I didn’t do very much else besides work and take care of my family. I no longer could remember what I liked to do for fun outside of zone out in front of the TV. I knew I was overeating and leaning pretty heavily on salty and sweet comfort foods to get me through each day. After a while, I stopped reaching out to friends and sometimes family, and while I knew I could be a better wife too, I just didn’t know how to do that at the time.
Speaking of my husband, while I’m sure I could’ve said it out loud a hell of a lot more, I’m so grateful for him through all of this because I know my struggles couldn’t have been (and probably still aren’t) easy on him. I know this because one night, 10 months into being new parents, we were laying in bed, and he turns to his side and asked, “Babe, what’s going on? Are you OK?” Immediately, I got a knot in my throat and tears started streaming down my face, and I choked out, “I’m not. I’m really, really not OK.” We talked for a long time about all the things that worried and upset me, and I spoke at length for the very first time about the true feelings I had inside.
To share that I was physically, mentally, and emotionally struggling? Those words didn’t come out so easily. So, I stayed silent about it.
I never knew anyone who had postpartum depression, and many of the things that I read talked about it in extremes. What I was experiencing wasn’t thoughts or feelings around harming myself, my child, or anyone around me, which was often the narrative I’d heard or read around postpartum depression. My experience was more around feelings of helplessness, that I wasn’t doing enough or being a good enough mom, that I couldn’t handle all that was expected of me as a mom and a wife at the same time, and that I had no idea how I was going to wake up the next day and do it all over again. There were times that I didn’t have enough energy to play with my son, so we’d watch another episode of Paw Patrol. Some days I couldn’t even find it within me to leave the house to do anything.
After that conversation with my husband and the realization that what I was experiencing was a bigger deal than I thought, here’s what happened next.
I found a motherhood support group
In Ohio, where I live, there is a support group called POEM: Perinatal Outreach & Encouragement for Moms. This group alone has been a major part of me starting to figure out how to manage my depression and anxiety. Each month, we come together and talk about everything that we’re going through at that time. We don’t interrupt, offer advice unless specifically asked, or judge each other in that space; we just show up, share, and support. Finding a support group of your own—whether it’s in your town, through a group text or on social media—can maybe help the feelings of isolation that come so often and so quickly on this journey.
The one thing I’ve learned from this group is that I’m not alone in what I’m feeling and experiencing. The phrase “you’re not alone” has been said to me a lot so far in motherhood, but to actually speak to the women who have or are currently experiencing the exact things I talk about is truly validating.
I spoke up about how I was feeling
Up until about a month ago, only my husband and two friends knew that I thought I had postpartum depression. I decided to start sharing more about this because I didn’t want to be ashamed of my feelings. With the help of a therapist (more on that later), I’m learning that these feelings are normal and that I’m not broken because of them. The people closest to me should know what I’ve been going through and know that I may need help seeing the brighter side of things while navigating these tough times.
I debated a while about sharing my story right here on The Everymom. To know that thousands of people may know that I have been struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety makes me feel ashamed and embarrassed. But I know that there is at least one other mother out there who may be shaking her head “yes” while also feeling a sense of isolation while reading this story. And if that mother is you, you are not alone.
I sought help
I am a strong advocate for therapy and investing in your mental health. I knew that to be a better woman, wife, and mother I needed help from a mental health professional. Another great benefit of the POEM program I mentioned above is that they have additional mental health resources. They were able to give me a list of therapists in my area who specialize in parenting, motherhood, and postpartum depression and anxiety. This was key in me having a therapist who aligned well with the type of help I needed. I wanted a therapist who truly understood the ins and outs of parents and motherhood and could provide guidance and assistance with those in mind.
Each and every week, I look forward to meeting with my therapist. We’ve laughed and cried together. I never knew that someone could understand the depths of what I’ve been feeling until I found my therapist.
I’m learning to give myself a ton of grace
I am not perfect. I never have been, and I never will be. But sometimes I wish I was. There are times that I wish I could have smoother morning or evening routines, that I would cook just the right meal that my son would love and not fuss about, that a meltdown wouldn’t ruin my entire morning or send me into an anxiety attack. But sometimes, chaos is my reality, and I’m not always navigating it really well. I worry a lot, and when something doesn’t go as planned in my head, the negativity rabbit hole can be fast and deep. When this happens, I’m learning to give myself a tiny pat on the shoulder and say “That wasn’t your best moment but, that’s OK.” Because it absolutely is OK.
I may have a harder time picking myself back up and dusting myself off, but it does eventually happen. And for the times that I’m struggling to do it, I lean on those closest to me—my husband, my family, or my therapist—to pull me through.
One last thing: to you, the mother struggling to get through the highs and lows of motherhood, I’d like to tell you something. You are not broken. We are not broken. Experiencing postpartum depression or anxiety doesn’t mean you are a bad mother. Continue to remember, as I so often do for myself, you’re doing the best you can with what you currently have. Please speak up to a loved one and get help so that you can learn to navigate what you’re thinking and feeling.
Sending love from one mom to all the others.