postpartum depression

When the Nursery Walls Start Closing In

I’m crashing again. Dropping out of the bottom of a wave that feels like it might smash me to pieces.

It’s 9pm and my beautiful, round-cheeked, incredibly perfect 8-week-old has been resisting her bedtime for almost two hours now. Her nursery feels more like a prison to me with every passing minute. I feel claustrophobic within these four walls, hour after hour. Baby is snorting and snuffling like a tiny pink piglet against my chest, having been sick for a week now. She needs me so much, and yet my mind seems unable to focus on HER. I’m five moves ahead in the next scene—the one on my couch. God I want that couch. With my husband. I want whiskey. I want to numb out the groundhog days and stretched-out nights of newborn life with whiskey and TV, and I want it an hour ago.

Naturally, I hate myself for these thoughts. I can smell my own weakness. My ingratitude. Impatience.

Why am I so focused on what I want her to

do

instead of how fleeting this moment is? I berate myself. From today until forever I will have neither the ability nor right to control her, I think. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?

Even though I know I can’t control my newborn or her sleep or my thoughts about the situation in this moment, I try to anyway. 

I try to coach myself through it.

“What is the end result you are trying so hard to control right now?”

Her sleep schedule.

“Do you actually have control over this?”

Apparently not.

“What can you focus on that you DO have control over?”

I try focusing on my breath for a change. It seems like the obvious choice. It is steady. I focus on my love for this child. It is fierce. Solid. Anchor deep. I ground in this moment long enough to notice how much easier it is now than it was just four short weeks ago when I felt the crushing isolation of newborn life. When breastfeeding still felt like cruel and unnatural painful torture. When instead of four or five hour stretches of sleep, I had to be content with two or three. And still . . .

It’s not enough in that moment. I cannot be still. Gratitude feels forced and shallow. It doesn’t feel real for me right NOW.

And then, shit. I’m falling again. Back under that wave and drowning under the weight of my thoughts—my own toxic thoughts. I would do anything to rid myself of these merciless postpartum thoughts.

I dream of weightlessness. Selfish, self-satisfying freedom. Joy. Where is my joy? I am a joyful person. Shiny and happy. Where am I?

What is happening to me?

Postpartum thoughts are not like ordinary thoughts. Under no circumstances may they be trusted. They are unforgiving and rash. Anxious and irrational.

A woman postpartum is adjusting to imbalanced hormones that can take up to a year to right themselves. Our sanity’s delicate reliance on 8 hours of sleep, moderate exercise, sunlight, self-care and healthy diet is reliably disrupted by a newborn’s needs. I don’t have the solution to this. I can’t figure out a way to realistically balance all these things with the demands of a new baby and a toddler. At least not right now. Not yet.

I find myself trying to relentlessly, anyway.

mom and baby
mom and baby

Suddenly, the breath of the tiny body on my chest slows. Deeper inhales; longer exhales. The weight of her warm, soft body sinks into my chest. I’m suddenly aware of the fact that we’re attached—My heart, her whole body, snuggled in like she was before she joined us earth-side.

I take in the quiet and feel my own blood pressure slow in tandem.

I focus on her breath now. I anchor into it. And then . . .

Oh my God, THIS IS MAGIC. How could I ever NOT want this? Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for sweet silence and this moment. The silencing of her cries silences my own spiraling thoughts, and I’m back. Back to this moment. Back to gratitude and overpowering love.

Yes, YES. This is me. Here I am. I like this me. I'm addicted to this discovering of myself amidst motherhood. To the endless personal challenge of growing bigger than myself and becoming more of who I want to be. Raising tiny humans helps me do this. It plants me firmly in soil that DEMANDS my own personal growth. Demands I be still. Demands I look within. Demands I grow bigger and do better and find the teachable moments. This mothering soil tests me and shows me that yes I can DO this. There is no right or wrong way. There is no perfect or imperfect. There is only THIS. Like a devoted farmer who will not be discouraged by a passing storm, I keep planting the seeds of the kind of woman and mother I have chosen to be. The type of strong and resilient daughters I hope to raise. Sometimes I plant in neat little rows. Sometimes I just throw them out and pray they root.

That same wave that dragged me under is now cresting and I’m riding it, buoyant and gleeful. I CAN HANDLE THIS. I sit in the moment and let it linger. I inhale the intoxicating scent of her milky breath and feel her warm, smooth cheek on mine. God I love her. So much love it hurts. I am so so grateful.

Less than 30 minutes later I’m back on that blessed couch with my partner. I’m more relaxed than I’ve been in weeks. We’re connecting. Laughing. Present.

“This is my favorite moment I’ve had since I can remember,” he tells me.

“Me too,” I whisper. And I mean it. I mean it so so much.

I am so happy. So completely MYSELF on this couch, with the power out post-hurricane and candles burning and everything that felt so utterly upside down and overwhelming just an hour ago is suddenly exactly everything I need and more than I could have asked for. I feel so so lucky and happy and I’m aware that I’m cresting yet another wave. Two in a row?! Hell yes. Here I am. This is me. This is us. We are good. I am good.

And then the lesson hits me like a hurricane. Down one minute and up the next and nothing is wrong or bad. I’m not doing it wrong.

Hard doesn't equal wrong or unworthy or weak. Sometimes hard is just human. Our pain is our greatest teacher, if we spend enough time sitting with it instead of running from it, judging ourselves.

I am that woman in the nursery and I am this person with the whiskey and the candles and the romance. I am too much and just enough and maybe THIS is actually normal? Maybe I’m not the only one?

Maybe I can just accept myself as the perfectly worthy and imperfect woman I already am and keep riding these waves with as much grace, courage, gratitude and love as possible to become more and more of whom I’m meant to be. For my daughters. For the man on the couch. For me.

It’s a few nights later and I’m back in the nursery. I’ve been in the glider for another two hours with the baby. Midway through, husband rushes in to relieve me for a spell but I shake my head and smile a NON-passive aggressive smile.

“I’m good. I’ve got this,” I say.

I am presence, patience and gratitude. No wave riding tonight. We are still. As I feed and rock and snuggle our creation, the love overpowers the overwhelm for a change and I smile recognizing some seeds have taken root.

I am better today than I was yesterday and still holding on for the ride.

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This article also appeared on

The Huffington Post.

I Just Get Sad

My daughter’s tiny delicate features scrunch up as her face begins to redden. “You make me sad!” she cries out as fat tears start to drop from her big beautiful eyes.

“Why are you sad?” we ask her.

“I JUST SAD,” is her simple, emphatic reply.

Toddlers are such incredible beings. There is no shame around emotions for them. Even when there seriously ought to be. “Oh, you’re just sad because you smacked me in the face and had to eat your favorite snack? Well you’re insane.” But, seriously.

Except I totally get it. And I’m learning to work through my feelings as swiftly and gracefully as my two-year-old.

Recently I spoke to a good friend and she noted that my energy was considerably lower than my usual perky demeanor. “You definitely sound sadder than you usually do,” she commented without judgment.

“Yeah - I’m just kind of sad today,” I observed from a safe distance with an equal lack of judgment.

Releasing the judgment is key. It leads to the liberation.

What if you were just sad because you were just freaking sad? What if you didn’t need to apologize for feeling any of the human emotions that are literally programmed into your body as a HUMAN? What if my toddler has it right, and we’ve got it wrong?

Sometimes I’m just sad, and I’m letting that be more than okay. I’m letting it BE. More being, less thinking. I’m riding that wave and seeing where it takes me and acknowledging that this is only a temporary emotion of the human experience and it will likely transform into a different feeling by Sunday. I’m probably as moody as a two-year-old, after all. Ask my husband (DON'T ASK MY HUSBAND).

I’ve spent more than a decade hiding from my human emotions. I recall my mother recapping her student teacher conference with my 4th grade teacher way back when. The only feedback the teacher felt compelled to give was, “Gervase is extremely sensitive.”

Well, thanks for all YOUR help, woman. And so I bottled up that sensitivity for the next 20 years, scared that it made me weak, different or "dramatic."

But, really . . . sometimes I just get sad.

Today I’ve been quietly celebrating a big win for me. It’s been 5 months since I weaned off my anti-depressants, and I had almost forgotten I could feel this great—naturally. I feel stronger, happier, more intuitive, more whole and more human than I’ve ever allowed myself to feel. And I’ve released the self-judgment that has historically blocked me from accepting those good and human feelings. I used to think my mind was poisoned. I was born flawed. I had shame around my family’s history of mental illness, even though 1 in 7 women experience postpartum depression and that’s only the number that seek treatment. Every time I felt sadness, I spiraled into deep self-loathing and berated myself for slowing down or retreating from my social life or bringing a different energy to my work and relationships.

What if I had just let it be okay for me to be my sensitive self?

I’m learning to not only love ALL the parts of me, but to also just BE those parts without judgment. It’s the internal commentary that makes us reject certain "human" parts of ourselves. But we are perfect just as we are. Nothing needs fixing. No one is “being” better than another. Especially in motherhood. We’re all just trying to raise tiny humans and be decent grown-ups.

I ask my daughter to put her blocks away. She whips around and says, “Leave me alone!” furious that I’ve interrupted her workflow. My face falls and she can see what I say before I even say it. “It makes me sad when you speak that way, Aria.” She thinks on this for 5 seconds and then pivots and launches herself into my arms. With a huge smile and squinty eyes she squeezes me in the best hug of the day. Then she pulls back and looks at me, “You happy now, mommy?”

Yes, baby. Now my heart might burst.

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