The other morning started with a warm lavender sink bath for little Alfie who woke with the sniffles. He was overdue for a good scrubbin’ and our sink was free of pots and pans, so the timing was right. Stella and Theodore popped into the kitchen just as I started filling the sink with bubbles and water, these two, they never want to miss a beat. They’re both at an age where they’re fairly eager to help me out, especially if it involves food or their little brother. I really love that they want to be such a present part of it all. As we soaped Alf up and let him splash around a bit, I could not help but think about how far we’ve come. Let me be clear. I could not help but think about how far I’ve come. Our sweet Alfie is now covered in delicious rolls and has hit so many milestones, but I too as a mother have taken on a different shape. A much healthier one.
“How is it”, I thought to myself while rinsing off his soft little body, “that just three months ago that I was bathing Alfie in our pedestal sink in the upstairs bathroom, feeling so fragile and broken and in such a dark and unfamiliar place compared to where I am right now?” I think about that mother, that scared young woman, and I think about what she has gone through to get to where she is today. I think about how misguided that woman was. How badly she needed help. I feel so many things for her, so many things I want to share with my daughter one day. Stories that I hope will be of light and encouragement to her, helping her to understand that no matter how lost she feels in her journey of motherhood, that she is not alone. For as long as mothers have been mothering, these feelings…these razor sharp emotions, they have been felt…and that they though are real, it does not mean she is a failure or a bad mother because she has felt them, no matter how isolated or unworthy or broken she feels inside.
I haven’t shared much about my postpartum journey with you after having Alfie. I suppose there are many reasons for this, but one that I am quite willing to admit to you was lack of time while figuring out our new rhythm. The other reason, the much bigger one that requires more courage to think or say or pound out on the keyboard is fear…that gross but all too familiar word that stings, even when you whisper it. The latter quickly took up quite a bit of space in my heart during this past season of motherhood.
It’s scary to tell others you’re scared, to admit feeling out of control. To mention to complete strangers, let alone your own mother, that the one thing that brings you the most amount of joy in your life also brings about so much confusion and pain. It is scary as hell to admit to others that there are times you feel like you are free falling and that there were weeks you couldn’t even make a successful run to the grocery store without turning around early to come back home after having loaded all three kids up in the car, and you haven’t a reasonable explanation as to why. You just couldn’t and that’s all you know. Or to announce, “Yeah for the past month every time my husband leaves home I either resent him for what feels as though he’s abandoning us, or I have a panic attack because I feel so completely alone, yet I’m never without a human on my lap.” That’s all too scary to say or type, so we just go about our lives not saying or typing it. It’s just easier that way.
Until it’s not.
Only until very recently I have been in a safe enough place long enough to realize that that there’s a deep void in this motherhood community of ours that is not being completely transparent about the hard stuff. No, not about an unfortunate succession of blowouts on white onesies, or that week your husband worked late, or dirty homes, or that one time your baby bit your nipple while nursing at four am. Those all stink, but what I am talking about is more about how we feel in our core as we mother these sweet but demanding babies of ours. The void that gives room to explore and share how we are truly coping while on the mend after growing and birthing babies, going through hormonal shifts, not getting proper sleep, and learning how to love our bodies all over again. The painfully wide gap that spells S-H-A-M-E in admitting you’re not okay, because society and social media have wrongfully put these feelings and words in the “do-not-say-bad-things-about-motherhood-or-you’re-complainging-and-ungrateful” category. That kind of hard stuff. Because we live in a society that’s all to quick to pass judgment, sometimes we’d just rather not share that part of ourselves and show you what we’re making for supper instead. I get it.
I don’t know where to start in telling you this part of my story, so I’ll start by saying this. This past autumn I felt like I was walking through a fun house. One giant hall of mirrors. It was a season of my life that despite having three small kids, we did things. Too many things. There were many moments of happiness and delight, but there was also moments where angst and hopelessness collided. There we times I could not get out of bed. There were times I thought horrible things. I hate admitting that but it’s true. Instead of figuring out what was going on that clearly wasn’t right, I threw myself into saying “yes” far more than I ever said “no”. I busied myself with playdates and plans. I marched on with the chorus, trumpet in hand, declaring everything was “fine! fine! fine!” down the crippling path of denial. It was during this time that I felt more out of touch with who I was as a woman than ever before. I lied to myself daily. I lied to those I loved. My body, my mind, my heart were all unrecognizable and heavy, lugging around what felt like iron chains, paralyzing me from dusk till dawn. I was drowning and it was all happening so fast without awareness, that somewhere in the thick of it I lost myself.
There would be evenings when Andrew would come home from work and as soon as he’d step foot in the doorway I would hand him a baby, usually Alfie, and go upstairs to sleep. Or at least I’d pretend to sleep and throw the covers over my head for a good few hours, demanding silence. We wouldn’t exchange words or barely make eye contact, and I’d just fade off, promising myself that disappearing would make it all better, whatever it was. I’d soon come to realize after having a horrible breakdown on the side of the road all because I couldn’t find a damn parking spot at Chipotle. I had circled the parking lot maybe fifty times? With each go round my heart raced and my mind flooded with worry. I called Andrew just gasping for air, unable to speak. Not sure where to turn. I needed a doctor.
My bursts of anxiety and sometimes rage were happening almost daily at this point and I was exhausted and burnt out. My family was too. It was during this season not so long ago that I’d stay up late at night Googling articles on how not to be a “resentful wife” or an “angry mother” or “a moody as hell for no reason mama” before giving up and going to bed far too awake, lying to myself that what I was experiencing would just go away on its own. But no. Not true. What I was feeling and experiencing during this short but painful season of motherhood was not diminishing with time but in fact growing, plummeting me deeper and deeper into despair. This time of my life was horribly debilitating and it lowered me into a fog of indescribable fear. I had postpartum depression and I was afraid to believe it.
That day of the roadside panic attack, I made an appointment to go back to my OB. A few days after, I found myself in the waiting room with all the other pregnant mamas, this time no bump under my skirt and scared out of my mind. My heart raced when I was asked to explain “what was going on” to my doctor because to tell you the truth I was in such a blur that I couldn’t piece together a solid timeline. I could’t articulate the situation that led to me being fearful or out of control, just that I was. I told my doctor and her PA who were jotting down what seemed like far too many notes, that I didn’t want my husband to leave us in the morning…so I’d panic…all the while thinking that they were thinking, “What mother wants her husband to leave!? That’s normal!” But it was more than that and I know they could sense it, even with my defensive rationalizations. So after talking it through, I agreed to go on medication to help balance my weary mind. As I was leaving the office the receptionist at the desk recognized my all too familiar face (three pregnancies will do that to a mama) and said much too loudly, “Is that you, Amanda? Why are you here? How old’s your baby now…two months?” To which I replied, “Almost four.” With puzzled eyes she asked half jokingly if I was back because I was pregnant again. “Nope.” I shook my head in disgust. “Just an appointment,” I whispered, not happy to be there and mad at myself for having to ask for help.
But thank God I did. Turns out, that that “just an appointment” is what saved me. Alfie is now over seven months old and I am finally starting to really feel like myself again. This past month I have been able to look in the mirror and see me staring back. There is a familiar lightness to my overall attitude and outlook on life again, and I’m working hard in therapy towards being more honest and more compassionate with myself. Although I could go on and on about all the good that has resulted because I sought help, I won’t, because that’s not why I am writing this.
I am writing this for my future self that will inevitably get caught up and sucked into the muck of comparison again. I am writing this for Stella, for one day she may be blessed with the gift of motherhood and I want her to know that her own mama made mistakes, lots of them, but that doesn’t mean she was one. Because our worth does not reside in the fact that we will fail every day. We are human, after all. It lies in the strength we have to get back up and do better next time. I am writing to mothers out there who may be feeling anxious or lonely or afraid. I am writing this to shed light on an area of my life, a not so glamorous one, that I feel is not talked about nearly enough because it’s not particularly pretty…or so I used to think. Because I can now say with clarity and confidence, that seeking help if you have postpartum depression is the most beautiful and brave thing you can do for yourself and for your family. I want to take the time to tell you, that if you happen to be struggling or if you’re reading this and feel as though you have no where to turn, understand dear one and believe (although it’s hard to) that you are worth seeking help or taking time to make a call to simply talk with someone who can provide insight or compassion. You are so completely worth it.