My first-born son, Michael, the miracle that made me a mommy, is 11 months old. As we approach his first birthday I’m reflecting on our lives in all of their glory since we found out we became parents. A few of the countless things I have learned in motherhood thus far:
- People can tell you just about anything, and you can read it all, but it’s not until you experience ‘it’ that you fully understand. ‘It’ being the operative word- the love that consumes you when you first hold your baby, the sheer horror in the first fever, extreme guilt for going back to work…
- It takes an army. The time has come to lean on all of the strength that surrounds you. As much as we want to do it all, we cannot, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
- Your instincts are powerful, and boy do they kick it into high gear when you give birth. Trust them when it comes to your baby AND YOU. No google search will tell you what your instincts are telling you.
I’d like to share why these 3 things resonate so deeply within me and why I am sharing their significance.
I’ve been working with my anxiety for about 10 years now. It was very foreign at first, and I resisted. However, over time, I’ve learned something about working with as opposed to against it; it doesn’t have to consume me.
As you can probably imagine, the decision to stop taking anxiety medication during pregnancy was one that came with much thought and added stress. In the end, I decided that I would stop taking it with the promise of open communication to myself, my husband, and my doctor.
Ironically, I don’t remember ever being as calm, cool, and collected as I was during this pregnancy. Given my history I think everyone, including myself, was waiting for me to lose it, but that moment never came.
Fast forward to Michael’s arrival and the days and weeks following. Unexplained bleeding and a drop in heart rate led to induction 2 weeks prior to Michael’s due date. Labor and delivery went from about 11 am until Michael was born at 5:52 pm. It hurt like hell until the epidural kicked in. The rest was bliss. Michael entered the world perfectly healthy, and he spent his first moments on the outside in my arms.
Then…it hit me like a ton of bricks- the unexplained tears and sadness took over. The baby blues were striking. How could I feel anything but pure joy and happiness in these days? I brought a couple of my favorite gifted books to read to Michael in the hospital. I couldn’t get through any of them without crying. I’d done what I could to prepare for this, but the only thing that really helped me in all of the preparation was knowing that these feelings may find me.
Because I’ve spent so much time getting to know my body, physically and emotionally, I was able to recognize what was happening almost immediately. Was I able to make it go away? Absolutely not. I was going to tackle the only way I knew how- by not ignoring it.
I reached out to family who were also recently blessed with their first child. She gave me just what I needed to see through the fog. She told me that the first couple weeks are hard, I really needed to take it easy on myself, and that I would begin to feel normal again. I think because of my history I was able to accept that and work with it, not against it, the best I could. I didn’t pretend it wasn’t happening- I knew where that would get me as I had been there before. I continued to talk about it and quickly discovered that it was more normal to experience the baby blues than to not experience them at all.
And then I started writing about it. The same family that helped me through the initial baby blues sent me a ‘One Line A Day’ journal, because that was helping her. I write in that journal every day to this day. The feelings and memories I wanted to release but never forget are stored in that bind. The baby blues subsided, and pretty soon I was feeling the normal anxiety that I atleast recognized.
I wish I could say my 12 week maternity leave was worry free after the first couple weeks, but that would be a lie. I was blankly staring ahead at week 13 and going back to work. The guilt and fear was overwhelming some days. Again, I turned to writing (and still, lots and lots of talking to my soldiers). Continuous reminders of why I work and benefits of daycare were preparing me. The dreadful day eventually came, I cried a lot, and we all survived. A friend, a really really good friend, sent me a journal with pictures of Michael randomly spread throughout. Once I was back to work I took time every single day to write what I was feeling, happy or sad. It forced me to take a few moments to think about what I was feeling and refocus. I don’t write that extensively every single day, but I recognize when I need to take some time to be completely honest with myself and write.
Anxiety is a part of who I am, and it always will be. I’m far from ashamed of that. I will be the first to admit that mental illness stole joy from my life before I had any idea what was happening. Now, I refuse to let it steal anything else from me. I’m proud of how far I’ve come. While some days and weeks and months are harder than others, I know I can face the demons and win. I’m blessed with bullet proof support and no longer ashamed to ask for help.
What I used to consider my greatest weakness has become my greatest strength. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the people walking beside me every day and my commitment to taking care of me from the inside out.