Although I have blogged here and there about being a mom, I haven't really revealed much about my own emotional journey during the past 8 months. I guess this is primarily because I have defined myself by my role in raising Evvy, which has been all-consuming in more ways than one. It makes my own life, interests and emotions seem inconsequential in comparison.
It is also because I have trouble admiting to my own weaknesses and shortcomings and don't like people worrying about me, tiptoeing around me or seeing me as a victim in any way. I haven't really talked in-depth about my emotional struggles except to Peter and some medical professionals, but now that things are getting much better, I think it's time for me to blog a bit about things I figured were better left un-blogged.
Motherhood took me by storm. The anticipation was palpable - I knew when and exactly how my baby would arrive - and I was scared to death about the process. The c-section was indeed a strange and terrifying experience for me, which culminated in the most incredible surge of happiness I've ever experienced. Then I entered an emotional roller-coaster which involved the usual copious hormone surges and the problems with nursing. Basically, the whole SNS, pumping, breastfeeding insanity took over the first 3 months of Evvy's existence and my main concern was feeding Evvy.
In a way being crazy-busy with struggling to nourish my baby kept me from thinking too much about how I was coping with my postpartum self. The changes in my body and emotions were almost incomprehensible. I certainly did not feel like my pregnant, or pre-pregnancy self.
I was up and down like a yo-yo. Sometimes I would look at Evvy and feel an aching love for her, other times I felt nothing at all. Yet other times, especially during the difficult nights, I wished I could just vanish. Someone more capable, better equipped than I could raise my child - and I thought about harming myself in order to escape the overwhelming panic that I felt. In the privacy of my own mind, I became constantly preoccupied with this and that and worried a lot about how Evvy was doing. Was she eating enough? Gaining weight? Sleeping enough and at the right times? I often felt impatient, restless or frustrated. But I figured that this was a part of being a new mom and assumed that it would pass with time.
I spent a lot of time talking myself down from my own self-grown tree of anxiety. Getting out for walks, being around friends and family and spending the odd moment on my own were things that I knew would help and most of the time they did. It was important to me to keep going - I'm not one to sit around feeling sorry for myself for very long.
On the surface, everything improved. Evvy got easier. Things smoothed out after a bumpy ride on the real-estate wagon. Around 6 months postpartum, Evvy had weaned herself. I had lost the rest of my baby weight, we had bought and sold our house(s) and we went on vacation.
Life *should* have been ideal, but I felt drained. Even during my Hawaii trip, I was worrying constantly, sleeping poorly and feeling panicky about the smallest things. I wanted my life, my body, my baby, my house to be perfect, felt like I needed things to be just right, RIGHT NOW and anything less was a shortcoming on my part.
In March, I didn't feel like being social or going to dance class anymore, even though I forced myself to put on my game face and proceed with my existence. Peter told me I was "inventing problems". I constantly felt like crying, "what is WRONG with me? Why am I not feeling normal again? My life is great, why can't I just relax and enjoy it?!"
At Evvy's appointment for her 6 month shots, the nurse came to see me and had me fill out a couple of questionnaires, then asked me some questions. She took me into her office and explained that she wanted me to see my doctor because I was showing many of the classic signs of postpartum anxiety disorder, a type of postpartum depression.
My first reaction was to take offense to this suggestion. I felt like I was being labeled a wimp. "Failure to cope with motherhood" was the first thing that came to mind. As the nurse started talking about how PPD works and affects new moms, I started nodding my head. She was describing EXACTLY what I felt.
She explained that many things can worsen or trigger PPD, including the change in hormones from weaning the baby and external stress, such as moving could generate. I soon felt a sense of relief, calm even. The knowledge that this emotional ball and chain I could not shake off was not my fault was somehow comforting.
I was reluctant to try medications, preferring instead to get some help through counselling, but with my doctor's encouragement, I agreed to take a very low-dose medicine which targets anxiety. I also attended a group called "moms who worry too much" for mothers with PPD and anxiety problems. I could relate to the ladies I met there and appreciated their honesty and humour when describing their own problems. I have also been seeing a counsellor who specializes in working with postpartum women. She gave me some strategies and assured me that when the medications "took the edge off" my anxiety I could start to implement them.
It took nearly 5 weeks for me to start feeling a difference, but slowly I began sleeping better and getting less wrapped up in whirling hurricanes of worry. Less obsessed with getting everything right. More patient with myself and others, especially Evvy. These days, I am finding that I can let things go easier, especially when I use some of the strategies I've been given.
Lately, I have been truly enjoying our new house. I am able to take things slower and feel pride in what I accoplish every day, even if it is only a little bit. I am able to stop and marvel at my child and how quickly she is learning. I am able to breathe when I feel worried or overwhelmed and wait for the feeling to pass. Soon I hope to have company over more regularly and get back into my dancing again. All in good time.
I wish I had possessed the courage to talk more about what I was going through when things were at their worst, but a part of me knew it was not normal and worried that even those I loved most would not understand, or would think I was being weak or dramatic. I know this isn't true, but that too was a part of the anxiety I was feeling. I know that many other women have been through PPD and will go through it in the future. Maybe even some women I know and love. I guess that's why I wrote this.
Motherhood is supposed to be this rosy, sparkly, glowing, happy experience. To admit that it is anything less or different makes me feel like a rotten mother, which seems unfair. After all, most valuable and important things in life are achieved through blood, sweat and tears. I'd like to think that motherhood is made real, is polished and burnished by the struggles involved. It may not be rosy, sparkly and glowing, but motherhood feels rare, rugged and beautiful like a desert flower.