Growing

Baby #1: I was excited. I was in awe. I read all the baby updates in all the manuals on the assigned week. I brought my legal pad of questions to each appointment. I was petrified of labor. I cried the hollowest cries while my husband slept beside me on the couch cradling our baby. Who would now console me?

Baby #2: I was excited. I was exhausted. I worried about my first baby with a new baby. I began to look forward to those late night/early morning feedings for the quality one-on-one time they provided. I was so fiercely devoted to protecting baby’s soft little skull and sacred nap time from boisterous big sister, I screamed a lot.

Baby #3: I was blindsided. I was in shock. I was overwhelmed, agitated, obsessive, irritable. I still hadn’t come to terms with the idea of a new baby even as I lay on the delivery bed. I loved her so fiercely I was afraid someone would take her from me. I flipped out at hair elastics stretched over finials of dining chairs. I swore, I flew off the handle, I hid in the bathroom. I cried, begged for it all to be over.

Baby #4: I was surprised. I thought I was done having babies. I have moments almost daily where I think, ‘we’re doing this again?’ and yet, I’m strangely at peace. I still get irritable. I hurt from the physical toll of four pregnancies. I put myself to bed before my children sometimes. I see a therapist. I take meds. I go to acupuncture. I do yoga. I pray the rosary.

But I’m okay.

When I look back at the timeline of my pregnancies, I can see the mounting mental anguish I couldn’t at the time. What could’ve been the ‘baby blues’ with #1, escalated into moderate mood dysfunction with #2, and plunged me into the deepest despair of postpartum depression and anxiety with #3. It still irritates me that something that was probably underlying all the time was manageable for me until I kept adding layer upon layer. However, I am not superwoman.

I am a woman, a mother armed to the teeth with resources and self-knowledge. Fighting, clawing out of that hole after #3, I will never let all that hard work be in vain. I will see the signs early on; I will know which preemptive strikes to take; I will make self-care measures so that I hopefully won’t even need the interventions.

I do not feel strong as a victor shining brightly; but stronger in my resilience, in my survival, my steely will to not succumb.

There is life after postpartum depression. It is different. It’s not easier – but somehow it’s clearer. The unrealistic mist of life as we thought we knew it dissipates. The real, the ugly, the harsh – and the beautiful – are etched crystalline. We see it all – and appreciate the beauty that much more.

To the life, growing inside all of us

Not PPMADetermined

Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PPMADs) rob mothers of so many things, but perhaps the cruelest thing they take is the joy. The joy – which makes the overwhelming job of motherhood worth it – is replaced by fear.

Fear that you’ve made a terrible choice in having a child
Fear that you don’t deserve this child
Fear that someone may take this child from you
Fear that you may do something to hurt this child
Fear that you won’t survive another day without hurting yourself

The fears of the early days will pass – through time, gentle care, therapy, medical intervention. You will be able to envision a bright future for you and your child

Even still, there are some things PPMADs may steal that can never be replaced. The memory of the pain and anguish, the trauma linger on. There is no peace to ever be associated with that time in a mother’s life. So much so, that she will never, ever attempt it again. Women who dreamed of large families stop at one child, not because they are bad mothers or lack the desire, but because their pospartum experience was so bad.

There are the women who achieve pregnancy fully armed with the warning signs and therapeutic tools available to them, should PPMAD strike again, yet are paralyzed by the anxiety that it could happen again.

There are women who must face the scrutiny of others who deem them crazy for even attempting pregnancy after their previous experience. They second-guess their own intuition and self-knowledge and the fact that they’ve come out the other side beat-up, but stronger – all because of the well-meaning souls who give critical advisories for mothers’ own good. Well-meaning souls who have never inhabited the dark spaces of these mothers’ individual hells, who have not fought the daily internal battles it takes to stay out of them, and who don’t realize that every negative comment saps one more drop of the mothers’ resolve.

PPMADs are an insidious band of thieves. They take without provocation, without discrimination, without consideration. They come under cover of dark; they aren’t cloaked because they’re faceless. But with help and support, mothers can choose to face them. And take back what is rightfully theirs: their own vision of motherhood.

This Ain’t Any Ol’ Con

So I am living the hipster life. Typing on a table so repurposedly wonky my laptop rocks back and forth disconcertingly. In sun-dappled shade as I wait to sip my freshly prepared cafe mocha and eat my just warmed vegetable quiche.

Jennifer Butler Basile

Jennifer Butler Basile

It’s delicious.

All of it.

The flaky crust. The gooey egg. The sugary froth. The warm breeze.

The ability to notice such details as the vaguely distant whoosh of traffic. The inability to safeguard little people.

I can’t.

They’re not here.

I am alone.

Which, even though it was an acupuncture appointment I had this morning, was blessedly just what the doctor ordered.

I’m at the back-end of a weekend packed with emotionally-charged, mentally-draining conference work.

The Postpartum Progress Warrior Mom Conference.

Lest you get the wrong impression, I enjoyed this conference immensely.

I so looked forward to connecting with fellow survivors of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders (commonly lumped together and referred to as postpartum depression). I expected to commiserate and trade war stories. I expected to get amazing fuel and ammo for advocacy – a role into which I thought I’d fully transitioned.

I did not expect to be so completely enveloped by the emotions I thought I’d left behind.

All throughout the first day of workshops, panels, and speakers, I teared up and misted over when particularly poignant points were made. But I was good. While I still danced with depression and angled around anxiety on random occasions of my everyday life, my period of postpartum depression was done.

And then, on the second day of the conference, Annette Cycon of MotherWoman got up to talk. As she described what transpired after an inexplicable bout of rage during her two young daughters’ bath time, my grief bubbled up and out of my body.

“I went into my bedroom and curled into the fetal position on the floor. I held my head, rocked back and forth, and sobbed. I said, ‘It’s either homicide or suicide – and I can’t do either. I love myself too much. And I love them too much.’”

Hearing this raw account, I sobbed. My face contorted into the grimace of one silently choking back tears. My shoulders shook. I experienced this incredibly intimate moment of grief in the midst of a room full of mothers. I felt so incredibly alone and yet dreaded anyone noticing and reaching out to me.

And yet, I wasn’t embarrassed.

There was no need.

I was in a room full of women, mothers who, while their own grief/rage/depression/disappointment/detachment/love/mania/compulsion manifested itself differently, had all been at the bottom of their own deep, dark hole. They were all at various footholds on their way back up and out, or sliding down and scrambling for a hand to hold – to stop them – to stop the pain, the agony – to spark the love they needed to feel for themselves and their children.

I may not have expected to awaken the grief, guilt, shame, and pain I thought I’d left behind – and apparently only buried – but I also didn’t expect to find a tribe of mothers instantly and deeply connected by their shared experience. And that was such a life-giving and validating surprise.

Soon, I will have to leave my empty coffee cup and the flaky crumbs of quiche crust behind. Soon, I will have to stop pretending I am an unencumbered hipster who can write alfresco for hours. Soon, I will collect my children and return home to our ‘normal’ lives, our harried routine, my possibly high levels of anxiety and masked depression.

But there will be hugs around the neck and hearty belly laughs. And there will always, always be my tribe of warrior mamas who’ve got my back.

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