It’s May. Which happens to be the second busiest month of the year for me. In a month that focuses on Mental Health Awareness and in which Mother’s Day falls smack in the middle, I am scrambling to finalize summer camps, childcare, and to appreciate our teachers, as well as do all those end of the school year things for my older son, I am also trying to remember to practice what I preach. To continue to focus on self-care. To participate in doing the things that “fill my bucket” like blogging, the Atlanta support group, and volunteering at Postpartum Progress, MHA, and in my church.
Balance is too lofty a goal for me, even nearly 6 years into this motherhood gig. Staying at least mostly sane most days is more reasonable, I think. That means in order to care for myself and as a result be able to do so for my family, I need to say both yes and no. A LOT.
Before I had kids I was a strong-willed, rigid, inflexible, control-freak. I admit it. I don’t think that being that way made me completely unlikeable (though perhaps confusing) to others, but it sure made life harder for me. Because my childhood was so unpredictable and riddled with neglect and emotional abuse, I had a) learned to care for myself, others, and the home at a very early age and b) determined that no matter what, once I reached adulthood I would control my own destiny. I was tired of being both neglected and completely isolated and controlled all at once. I was also a perfectionist. I never seemed to be able to earn my mom’s sobriety or freedom from her obsessive grasp, but I continued to try, because what else was there to do? This constant state of anxiety and need to be “perfect” created a whole host of risk factors that were the cherry on top to my traumatic childhood and genetic predisposition to mental health issues.
And so, in hindsight, it was no surprise that after an extremely unexpected traumatic birth I went bat shit crazy. Of course, no matter what your history, no one expects to have a traumatic birth and then to be paralyzed by fear and dread of their own child. To hate themselves so much that even sleep is impossible because it inevitably results in waking to the same disgusting feeling of worthlessness and angst. To be wracked by inexplicable and irrational obsessions for months upon months and to have those impact the family, not only because of the need to care for the mother, but to manage the mother's strange "methods" of scheduling and feeding and complete ritual with the infant. For complete recovery to take nearly three years.
Making the decision to have a another child after surviving a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder is beyond difficult. Thankfully, I had the opportunity to make that decision, though many moms are thrown into the deep end while still treading water during recovery because of a surprise pregnancy. Still, there are a lot of emotions involved in not only the decision-making around "yes or no", but also the details of the how, the when, and the who when it comes to the next time. For me, everything about the second time was different. Thankfully, from how I told my husband, to with whom and when I shared with loved ones the news that I was expecting, nothing about #2 (aside from the nausea) looked or felt the same as with L1.
When I was ill in 2007, every single minute felt like a day. Sadly, I wished that first year postpartum would go away and never come back. With my second pregnancy and postpartum in 2010/11, the months and years of sadness, anxiety, guilt/regret were replaced by feelings of confidence and peace most of the time. Sure, I had a rough patch right at mid-pregnancy that lasted about three weeks. And then days 3-12 postpartum were almost as bad as most of my PPD days in 2007. But by the time I was into week three postpartum I was feeling almost like myself physically and emotionally. I believe that the incredibly intentional preparations and self-care plans I had in place and followed through on were what got me there. Many of these specific strategies were simply exxagerated examples of coping strategies that are important in everyday life as well.
How I cope:
- I say “no” to things that I feel fall into the “obligation only” category. So if my doing something is not absolutely necessary or is not life-giving to my family, I just don’t.
- I say “yes” to help when it is offered by people who are genuinely giving and whom I trust. I’ve learned there are no awards given out for doing it on my own.
- I have one weekly self-care appointment that I never, ever break. I try to add in other things like yoga, time with girlfriends, a date with my husband, reading, etc. But that one appointment? I don’t just try to make it. I DO make it.
- I am open to making changes. I have gotten past my rigidity (for the most part) and so when something isn’t working, I try something different. Eating 100% organic food and allowing no screentime for my kids isn’t reasonable for my family. Not taking any prescription medication ever doesn’t work for me, either. I’ve learned that things aren’t (and can’t be) black and white if I want to be well.
- I prioritize sleep. When I had my second child, that even meant sacrificing some things so that we could hire a night nurse three nights per week. We knew that the greater cost would be me have a recurrence of PPD, and so prevention was worth the financial investment. Now, with two older kids, that looks like me going to bed by 11pm at the latest and taking a nap when the baby does, if possible.
- I read a lot. But, I don’t read or watch the news live. Since both my personal and professional work includes social media, I am online most of the waking day. I read the headlines, but don’t click the links or look at the associated photos. I don’t believe that anything good comes from being overly informed. It is not a moral obligation to know the details of a newstory, local or international, buried or headline.
- I join in-person and online groups and read articles that support a similar philosophy. Ironically, for me that basically means not subscribing to any one childbirth/parenting method and articulating that a variety of approaches can garner a positive result. I’ve learned that it is generally the groups whose mission and vision clearly states their purpose is to promote or stand against one particular thing are usually filled with mommy war minions. If I find that a blog, group, or board begins posting “anti this or that” campaigns (unless they are anti hate or stigma), I simply click “unfollow”. Life is too short to afflict yourself with the judgment of others you don’t even know. There is no one right way to parent. PERIOD. I repeat this so loudly because even now I have difficultly remembering this and at times can be sucked into reading the latest study about how doing/not doing this or that with your child will have “dangerous results”. I call B.S. Short of abuse and neglect, your children will probably grow up just fine if you have their best interests generally in mind and take good care of yourself to serve as a well caregiver and a role model of health.
- I listen to my mind and body. Feeling overwhelmed from running around several days in a row? I make a date with the couch and DVR. Feeling isolated or cooped up? I reach out to friends for a playdate or lunchdate, or I just take my kids somewhere I can get some fresh air and there are likely to be other families. Sometimes just seeing other adults helps to remind us we are not alone in parenting.
Though at times, perinatal mood and anxiety disorders may feel overwhelming or incurable, it is so important to remember that recovery is attainable and that it is possible to feel whole again. In Georgia, Mental Health America of Georgia’s program Project Healthy Moms is striving to raise awareness for PMADs, and to educate mothers and healthcare professionals alike that treatment is critical to recovery. Treatment looks different for every mother, whether it is through talk therapy, medication, or other complementary means (such as exercise, yoga, support groups…). Project Healthy Moms has compiled a Georgia-specific resource list where mothers or loved ones can find help from local experts in the field of maternal mental health. Project Healthy Moms also has a peer support telephone and email line called the Warmline, where mothers or loved ones can speak with a mother who is in recovery from postpartum depression and anxiety, and find comfort in sharing stories. These are ways to find help and comfort in Georgia, but first is remembering that asking for help is OK, and that you are not alone.
Information on the resources available in Georgia can be found here: http://ciclt.net/sn/adm/editpage.aspx?ClientCode=nmhag&FileName=Project_Healthy_Moms
• If you need immediate help, please call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
• If you are looking for pregnancy or postpartum support and local resources, please contact Postpartum Support International:
Call PSI Warmline (English & Spanish) 1-800-944-4PPD (4773)