So, it’s been 5 months since my last blog post and so much has happened. My toddler turned two and started preschool, my baby started sleeping through the night and I’ve started to feel like I’ve hit my stride. Part of the reason for the long break has been due to what I will discuss in today’s post but another reason is that I was afraid of writing about this. I was nervous that by admitting something scary about myself I would seem weak, like I was lesser mom. However, I’ve come to the realization that I, like every other mom in the world, am human. No matter how many times life smacks me in the face with this fact, it doesn’t always keep my ego in check and I sometimes pretend I have it all together. The truth is, I don’t. Admitting this is both terrifying and liberating, so with that said… Let’s do this.
Over the past few months, I’ve been struggling with postpartum depression (PPD). Of course the transition from one to two children was difficult but what I experienced went beyond that. I spent my days stressed beyond belief while simultaneously trying to convince myself that I had it all together and doing everything in my power to put out every fire that in my path. The trouble was, I had no shortage of fires. Barrett’s tongue tie, acid reflux and colic were no joke. This left me with a very, very miserable baby who spent most of the day and night crying. On top of that, I had an incredibly active and particular toddler who wasn’t about to cut me any slack either, especially during the rare moments of quiet from her baby brother. It was like playing a real life version of whack-a-mole. Instead of taking time to think through the big picture, I just tried to put out every single fire as quickly as possible. If I lived in a state of constant stress and anxiety, so be it.
Today, I feel so. much. better. It’s like night and day. Looking back at how it felt when I was in that place, there is so much I wish I could tell myself to start feeling better sooner. So, today I’m doing just that. Here are all the things I had to learn the hard way that have been so helpful in feeling better and enjoying my family again.
Get help from an expert sooner rather than later
I will never forget the day in June that I finally had to face what was going on with me. I had been up countless times overnight with Barrett and at 6 a.m. both kids were awake and crying. I was completely frozen – unable to move or even think. I turned to my husband and said with tears in my eyes, “I need help.” He understood that things were serous. He stayed home with the kids and that day I went to my OB’s office. There I was diagnosed with postpartum depression. Taking the step to acknowledge that something wasn’t right was huge for me for several reasons. On one side, it was a big deal to admit that what I was dealing with wasn’t something I could fix on my own. On the other, the freedom that came with naming the issue was immeasurable.
My OB prescribed an antidepressant and I started seeing a fabulous counselor at the Postpartum Wellness Center in Boulder. We worked on finding a way to get out of the “fight, flight or freeze” mindset, what she calls “lizard brain.” For me, this meant taking a moment to acknowledge the simple fact that the situation I was in was stressful, whether it was two children crying at once, my kitchen looking like a disaster or being jolted awake by a hungry baby. This simple step immediately relieved the hot, uncomfortable feeling rising in my chest and neck. What’s more, by acknowledging the stress, I could get into a calm, rational mindset to find a solution. I now often say to myself, “This is really stressful. Breathe. What are we going to do?” It sounds ridiculously simple probably obvious to many but for me, this was a game changing shift.
Outsource whatever you can
Before getting diagnosed and treated for PPD, I had no sense of prioritization. Everything felt like do or die. The children had to be happy, well rested and stimulated. The house had to be immaculately clean and organized. Our meals had to be fresh, healthy and homemade. All of this had to be handled by the person who understood their utmost importance. You guessed it: me! I truly couldn’t rest until I felt like everything was in order, or of course until I collapsed from exhaustion. This was untenable.
After starting treatment, I tried to think of every possible thing I could have someone else handle. We adjusted our family budget to bring in a cleaning lady twice a month and a part time nanny to help me get some sleep. I stopped scratch cooking and started getting healthy premade meals. I found ways to entertain my toddler that wouldn’t cause my baby to completely melt down. When it came to mom-ing, the concept of “highest and best” took on a new meaning, and that was ok. Finding ways to get through the week that allowed me to recover have proven critical for survival and it often involved editing down that list of “essentials.”
Let go of things beyond your control
You guys, I love control. I love it so much, in fact, that I look for ways to exert it on things that will never be controlled. Guess what happens then? I don’t feel good.
From the day she was born, Cody has been an awesome sleeper. Sure, she went through the typical regressions and growth spurts that disrupt any child’s sleep but overall, she’s been rocking the house since day one. Before Barrett was born, I credited this to my amazing baby sleep techniques and my flawless eating and sleeping schedule. I secretly looked down my nose at moms who complained of sleepless nights with their babies thinking, “Wow, I’m a really great mom.” Insert eye roll emoji here.
When Barrett was born, I got a big old dose of reality. I discovered that Cody’s awesome sleeping patterns had little to do with me and much to do with her own predisposition. Barrett, on the other hand, was not prone to sleeping. His reflux and colic made him so uncomfortable that sleep often eluded us. He hated being on a schedule, to the point that he would scream bloody murder half the time I tried to feed him.
After countless consultations with lactation experts, sleep experts and medical professionals, I finally surrendered to the fact that this kid wasn’t going to surrender to my control, at least not in this regard. I followed his lead for sleeping and eating cues. What do you know? I had a way happier baby. Even better, after some time following his lead, he fell into a pretty awesome, consistent and predictable schedule that works pretty perfectly with the way our family already functions. Go figure!
At times before my diagnosis, I would try to take time for myself by getting out of the house to see a movie or go for a walk. This was helpful, but it sometimes felt like a payday loan. I got the payout upfront in the form of time away from the children, but I’d spend most of that time worrying about the kids’ schedules and the state of the house, sometimes for good reason. I’ll never forget the woman who charged me $25 an hour to microwave a dinner, hang up some diapers and leave me with a screaming, overtired baby. When I came home to a complete disaster it felt like the time away was even worse than staying home in the madness.
Part of the remedy came with time and the continued practice of surrendering control. Additionally, having consistent, competent help made a big difference. A big part of this was my husband’s ability to tune into the kids’ needs and mine. For this I am forever grateful. Another help was finding a nanny who could jump in without skipping a beat, so I could really unplug, recharge and come back refreshed.
I’ve taken up the habit of seeing movies by myself, something I would have never dreamed of doing before kids. Let me tell you, spending 2+ hours in a dark room sitting in a comfortable chair with no one touching me or asking me for anything is incredibly peaceful. I can turn off my mind and breathe. This allows me a renewed ability to continue giving my kids and my family everything I’ve got. It helps me be a better mom.
Invest in finding a mommy tribe
Exactly six weeks after Barrett was born, I attended my first Stroller Strides class. I wasn’t feeling totally recovered but I knew I had to start somewhere. Plus, the local Fit4Mom franchise was running a deal for a free month for new members. I figured it couldn’t hurt. I started attending regularly and at first I mostly kept to myself, rationalizing that I was “focused on my workout.” Over time, I opened up. I saw moms all around me dealing with the same things: Sleepless nights. Feeding challenges. Toddler tantrums. Leaking boobs. Whatever!
What’s more, whenever I shared an experience with another mom, I felt acknowledged. I felt like I wasn’t alone in dealing with these struggles. With so much media hype around “mommy wars” it was so refreshing to be around women who didn’t judge me. They accepted me. One day I looked around and realized I was a part of an amazing group of women who supported me. Now, I’m at a place where I’m not just the recipient of love and support from this group, I can give with abandon. I can look at another mom and say, “Me, too sister! You got this!”
I’m honestly not sad I went through the dark moments of PPD. In fact, I feel grateful. The lessons I learned were needed, baby or no. So to my fellow mommies reading this, please take heart. You are not alone. As many as 1 in 7 mothers experience postpartum depression. The more we talk about this scary but treatable thing, the better we all can be together. And those precious babies will reap the benefits.
I love this quote from Jo Ann Fore for its poignance, “Healing begins at truth-telling. Tame your emotions and focus on what matters.” If you or someone you know is exhibiting signs of postpartum depression, don’t wait to seek help from a medical professional.
Being a mom is not a job for the faint of heart. But so far, it’s proven to be my most challenging and rewarding job ever.