I was sitting on a small wall in my backyard gazing out at the city view that had once brought me great joy and a sense of accomplishment, now feeling empty and without purpose. I had wondered if I would ever enjoy my life again. I wondered where all my excitement for life had gone. I pondered running away and just desperately wanting to escape this feeling, this place, this new role.
My husband and I had been trying to get pregnant for a few years after undergoing IVF to finally get pregnant and I had just given birth to our son. I was a perfectionist, a planner and someone who had everything ready to welcome our new baby. I even opted for a natural home birth because that would obviously be “what’s best” and set us up for some ultimate perfect parenting experience (HA!). I had all the “things” from the best bouncer, the best bassinet and the best stroller. I was set up for success, right?!
Once my son arrived, I felt so lost and trapped. I couldn’t enjoy anything I had previously found enjoyment in. All the things I had purchased for the baby felt pretty useless. I even passed the clinical Postpartum Depression survey because I wasn’t thinking of endangering myself or my child, I just felt lost, listless and wanting to run away from this life I had worked so hard to “achieve” after many years. I felt so much guilt and shame for feeling this way, especially when we had worked so hard to get pregnant, how could I ever share these feelings with anyone without looking totally ungrateful?!
After that afternoon sitting on the wall in my backyard and pondering how it would feel to “just hunker down for the next 18 years to survive” and realizing that didn’t sound ideal, I started googling therapists. I found an amazing therapist who helped me begin to understand why I felt the way I did and understand myself on a new level. After going to therapy for 8 months I felt like I was beginning to understand who I really was, what I needed and how to climb out of the hole so I didn’t end up back in it. Along the way I learned a few interesting things through my experience with postpartum depression and below are 5 surprising things I had no idea would surface.
I wasn’t prepared to let go of my “old-self” and welcome a “new-self”
Well, I am here to admit, and cringe a bit, that I was one of those people who thought and spoke smugly about how “my baby was going to fit into my life and things wouldn’t change.” I honestly felt like something would click with my life when I became a mom, like things would all make sense once I joined the “mom club.” I dug my feet in that my life would be the same, just enhanced with a child and everything would be effortless. My reality couldn’t have been farther from the truth.
I had to learn to let go of who I was; and I was holding on to who I was with the grip of someone who hates flying holding onto their plane armrest in turbulence for an entire 10-hour flight. I was holding on to Sunday-Fundays, the idea of backpacking through SE Asia, Friday happy hours with friends, work dinners and out of town conferences for networking, quick weekend getaways with my husband and being spontaneous at anything in general. I didn’t realize I had to let these things go, not forever, but that they would look and feel different for me. I had to become someone new, with new hobbies, a new schedule and a new role at my job.
Once I let myself let go what was not serving me and making me feel like I couldn’t “win”, I felt better and better by the day. I had to allow myself to grieve the loss of who I was and what used to bring me entertainment and rewrite my mental hard drive on what was fun for me. Once I made the conscious choice to enjoy simple things again like reading a book at home, journaling during baby naps, enjoying a college football game at my home with just a couple of close friends and going on a domestic “vacation” (which I now call “trips”) with my in-laws to help I began feeling lighter. The truth is, I am even different now than I was during that time in my life and I am allowing that evolution and getting really comfortable with change. After all, it’s the only constant right?
My old forms of coping with difficult situations did not work any more
Oh coping. I am here to admit my old forms of coping with difficult situations were generally to escape them, hence why I was sitting on the back wall of my house planning my midnight run away from this new life I thought I wanted. I never realized until I had my son that when things were difficult in my life I pretty much ran from things, I had a hard time “sitting in it” for any period of time. I would change jobs, move out of apartments, drop classes, stop talking to people, plan vacations to physically escape and even bike through my neighborhood as a kid to “run away” when my parents were upset with me.
Realizing that escaping this time would mean abandoning my husband I love, the home we built together and this precious baby who didn’t do anything to me wasn’t going to happen I felt totally trapped. I went to therapy with such naiveite asking for “the tools” to just cope with this situation. Looking back now, I didn’t think I could enjoy it, I was only hoping to survive. I had to develop a new emotional coping repertoire with all the crazy “ice bucket to the face” type of situations being a mom throws at you.
I now know where I am at emotionally and mentally when a difficult situation arises and I can pick a positive coping mechanism to move through it. My first go to is positive affirmations and pulling some daily affirmation cards as a part of my morning ritual. There is something so grounding and meaningful about shuffling and pulling a few cards for an uplifting message to get my day going or to help pull me out of a spiral moment. Other times I can walk outside and get some sun of my face, pack the kid(s) up and go for a drive or walk and sometimes I just need some alone time with a bath with some Oprah Super Soul Sunday playing to fill me back up. It took a lot of “sitting in it” during difficult situations and asking myself what I needed in that situation to figure out my own coping recipe.
Perfectionism is absolutely unattainable
I call myself a recovering perfectionist. I grew up wanting to be so perfect no one could get mad at me, blame me for anything or say I wasn’t good enough. If I could just be perfect or so good at things I would always have a job, have a happy partner, have friends, etc. The list goes on. Well of course that perfectionism didn’t stop when I had a baby and it honestly went to a whole other level that I was actually diagnosed with Postpartum OCD, which I had no idea was “a thing.” I was driving myself to insanity with making sure we had the best sleep schedule, the best wooden toys, absolutely no screen time, continuing to breastfeed even when I needed my sleep to survive, having perfect keepsakes and monthly milestone photos, etc.
I won’t say I have completely let go of being a perfectionist, but I can tell when these tendencies creep back and I am mindful to not engage in those behaviors any more. I was forcing myself to live up to an unrealistic expectation I was putting on myself and all moms, that we have to “do it all.” Reading the Power of Showing Up by Dr. Daniel Siegal and seeing him speak at a local event allowed me to see how I was torturing myself. During his talk he talked about how we try to be so perfect as parents for our kids so they can be the best babies, to grow into the best toddlers, to get into the best pre-schools, to do the best afterschool programs and extra curriculars, to get the best grades, to go the best college, to get the best degree, to get the best job, to make the most money, to get the best house, to drive the best cars, to have the best retirement and ultimately to end up where? In the “best” graveyard? Hearing this was a big wakeup call for me and was what cracked me open to give myself grace and just be “good enough.” So ya, I don’t do all the cute photos, have the best matching Halloween family costumes, my kids eat mac and cheese at times, we aren’t in the preschool that teaches them 5 languages before kindergarten and we watch Disney’s Cars almost every night of the week.
Once I was able to celebrate what I am able to do and ask myself what I actually want to do, things became so much easier and it became way more fun to be a parent. I do want to say if those things listed above bring you joy as a parent or you absolutely would never do them, you go girl! There is no one handing out trophies for motherhood, so do it your way!
I woke up to who I really was
I never understood the term “woke” in pop culture until I actually felt “woke.” I had to become a parent to find out who I really was as a person. I had been so busy in my own life achieving things, working towards the next promotion, planning the next vacation and even counting down until the next Friday that I had no idea what actually lit me up or brought me joy. I was sitting in my therapist’s office and she asked me “what brings you joy?” I don’t exactly remember what happened next, but I had her define joy for me and then I started crying, I cried all the way home too. I didn’t know what truly brought my soul joy. She best described it as things I wasn’t doing for a purpose- like to win the race, get a promotion, compete in the dance recital, etc. When did I just do something to enjoy doing it?
Mic drop…I had no idea why truly brought me joy and I feel a bit naked out here admitting that, but hey I’m sure someone else went through this right? Once I felt this great deal of sadness for myself, I began on a journey to discover the things I did just for fun, not for an award or achievement. This forced me to slow down, get to know myself. I learned I was a whole person and being a mom was just a piece- not a whole identity. I started becoming a beginner again, something that terrified me, at all kinds of things. I took surfing lessons, I signed up for pottery classes, I began getting fabric and patterns from the local fabric store, I pulled out some old drawing paper and charcoal pencils, I made a playlist of music I loved dancing to and danced wherever, going for walks through beautiful places to admire wonderful architecture and I began reading and filling my mind with positive brain food. All of these things LIT ME UP! I found ways to incorporate the most fun things into my day-to-day life, like reading, personal development and dancing. I found new hobbies like journaling, meditating and took a series of online certifications and joined several mastermind groups.
Through all of this I found myself, the real me. Funny how when I couldn’t escape and my baby forced me to spend more time being “present” with them, it forced me to do the same with myself. This was something I had subconsciously avoided for many years by staying so busy with life and achieving I never slowed down to figure out if I actually even enjoyed what I was doing.
I understood my childhood so much better
Once I understood myself, why I wanted to escape, who I was and what I liked to do on a soul level I was able to understand why having a child was so triggering for me and allowed me to understand my own childhood. I finally sat with how my parents’ parenting and asked myself if I want to make the same decisions for my child. I was able to really see how certain events in my childhood and the ways I was raised created Grand Canyon-like personality traits, gifts, fearlessness, fears, resilience, coping mechanisms and triggers. It wasn’t easy to sit down with the old stories from the past, but it was freeing to do so.
Being present with my own child forced me to come face to face with my old stories and I was able to see my triggers as the biggest opening for healing and understanding. I finally felt like I understood why I reacted the way I did in certain situations and why I would feel triggered by certain phrases, people or actions in my day-to-day life. Once I unlocked parts of my childhood through being a mom, I was able to make different decisions for my own child that would be more in alignment with my true self, the one I now know! I began to feel free from old stories I had on repeat in my mind and move forward as a confident mom.
All in all, overcoming PPD/A wasn’t what I had expected, but it truly has been one of the biggest gifts of my life. I thought the process would involve therapy and learning tools to manage how I was feeling during this time and just getting back to life as I previously knew it. What I ended up learning was so much better: I ended up finding myself, learning about my old coping behaviors like perfectionism, understanding where I developed those behaviors and evolving into a new version of myself with a much healthier way of living. Raising little ones is the current season of my life, it will change again; and when it does, I will know how to keep evolving and lovingly meet the newest version of myself for that season.