New to the Two Newborns story? Catch up by reading the Introduction, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. Also, I want to kindly remind you that these posts come with a *trigger warning.* Thank you for being here.
I spent two days in the hospital in a drug-induced sleep and with many visits from psychiatrists. My husband, the saint that he is, slept in a chair by my side the whole time. Hoping and praying that somehow his wife would return. My stepdad filled the room with treats, relaxing music, and advocacy during this time. My in-laws rushed to my side. I was finally getting the tribal care that I needed. I never knew that motherhood required help. I thought I could do it all by myself because I’m a “big girl.” I was so relieved to have the help, even though it meant that I would be away from my son for a few days at just six, fragile days old.
When it was time to return home…I knew there was no way I could go back to the place that had so badly failed me. There was too much hurt there. Too many ghosts of postpartum past and I needed more than just nighttime support. I continued to need 24/7 care for the first two months of River’s (and my) life.
This newborn (and I’m speaking about me) needed the care of her tribe. And that’s exactly what I got as I lived at my childhood home for eight weeks.
Home from the hospital. Shocked. Sickened. Relieved. Confused. Frustrated. Feeling guilty. Happy to see my son. Thankful he doesn’t really know what happened…yet. Wondering how he will react to the news once he’s older…or, worse, how I’ve energetically affected him already.
My mind was still in overdrive chatter mode, but the anti-anxiety drugs watered them down. The anti-depressant wasn’t working yet, they say it takes a few weeks or more to feel something, and just being prescribed them made me feel like a crappy failure that wasn’t in charge of her own feelings. Not to mention the fact that I had made a pact with myself to keep breastfeeding wasn’t helping…I was worried the chemicals would break the breast milk barrier and screw with my son.
There I was…centimeters from losing it all and worried about milk. But, I was told, as society deems so, that it wasn’t about me anymore. When you become a mom, it’s all about your child. And that’s all I thought I should think of.
Yes. Life shifts. Perspective changes. Priorities are altered for the better. But, we still need to honor, respect, and love ourselves. As the individual woman we still are, even though there’s a new soul here needing all of you (and sometimes more). Not even being hospitalized for two days could make me remember who I was. It was too painful…the shift was too seismic. I would never be an individual again. And in some ways I was right, but in other ways, I still needed to feel that autonomy.
Another big hurdle I had to mentally leap over was the fact that my family settled on me not taking any night shifts. This continued for two months and every night I agonized about this. SO. MUCH. GUILT. I felt guilt for River, guilt for the people supporting me throughout the night, and guilt for not feeding him (we switched between pumped breast milk and formula).
It was hard…but oh boy did I need that sleep. A time to recharge, a time to feel a sliver of independence. Amazingly, I still experienced a lot of difficulty getting to sleep and staying asleep. I would hear phantom baby cries, feel mild panic attacks and shooting adrenaline, but eventually, no matter how long…I would be at peace. It was glorious, but the unbearable guilt shadowed it too often.
Bonding with River was difficult in those first few weeks. My postpartum depression, anxiety, and yes, psychosis (the latter I experienced those first few days before I got help), still knocked at my door multiple times a day. I really just wanted to be alone. I was very concerned over the “What ifs” about getting good sleep, and I was still reeling about “Is this what motherhood really is all about?”
To be honest, I was not liking being a mother. I didn’t want to do it. It was too hard. I had no idea it could be this hard. Was it this hard for everyone? Maybe I just wasn’t meant to be a mom…did I make some ginormous mistake? It shouldn’t be this hard. How are there so many people on this Earth?! They all came from a mom!
This guilt was so wrenching, my mind dabbled with more thoughts of suicide. I thought…”I’ll just end my life so River can have a better mom. He wouldn’t want someone as awful as me. I’m doing a horrible job and someone could do him better.” I eventually shared these thoughts with my husband and family, and I had to have someone sleep in the basement with me to make sure I wouldn’t do anything to hurt myself.
The depression and anxiety lured me into a slow dance into hell. I needed support around me to tap the negativity on the shoulder, and steal me away for a different dance. A dance that let me know that as scary and horrible as this was, it was very normal for someone experiencing extreme postpartum woes.
Thankfully, this tribe continued to remind me that this all is normal. Normal, normal, normal. There was still a strong voice inside me that screamed: “BUT, BUT, BUT…my mom said this was easy for her. It hasn’t been for me. Look at all my friends on Facebook…they’re doing so well. I’m not. How could this be NORMAL???”
I felt like I just had to sit in the eye of the storm and wait for it to pass. Again, I just wanted to close my eyes, bundle myself up, and go away for awhile while the storm ran its course. In a way I did, and in other ways, I tried to help myself the best I could.
An amazing group of women came to my new home to support me with energy healing, acupuncture treatments, warm food, and even stories of their own experience with postpartum depression. It was so beautiful to be healed and heard and seen in those ways. I felt very special and loved and for the first time, bundled up in peace.
Yet, something loud inside of me was still letting me know that this was all so abnormal. I felt this for many, many weeks. Months even.
Living with my parents again, and my husband, dog, and brand new baby boy was not what I had in mind when I pictured motherhood. Our culture values independence in such a die-hard way, I thought losing my mind was bad…but this…how could I ever tell anyone that I was living with my parents? I was wearing shame like an itchy sweater that I couldn’t take off.
Somewhere along this winding journey, I had also become obsessed with ritual. Let’s see…did I have a good night’s sleep yesterday? Well, then I’d have to do the exact same thing in order to be issued the same night’s sleep. Two cups of Tazo Calm tea, three calcium-magnesium pills, two fish oil pills, a shot of tart cherry juice, the list went on and on. OCD was coming in for a big ol’ bear hug. What other mental ailments could I compound upon? Sigh.
If something went out-of-order, or wasn’t available to me at the time, I was sure I wasn’t going to sleep well and that just snowballed my emotions into one giant pile of crap. I was a beast to be around. I didn’t even want to be around myself.
Here’s where I decided I needed some therapeutic help besides popping pills.
I was referred to the Postpartum Counseling Center of Minneapolis. I met with a therapist for weeks and she helped me professionally understand that what I was experiencing was, in fact, normal. We walked through scenarios I was experiencing or thought I would experience in the future, and she helped me see with clarity the, in my words, ridiculousness of the situation. I was creating problems in my mind that never existed. It’s not a fun way to go about life.
Back to that pill-poppin’, I soon realized that my low dose of Zoloft was not helping me feel better. In fact, it was making my suicidal thoughts worse. I promptly weaned my way off of it, and decided on a more holistic approach to hormonally treating my depression.
[Please know that everyone is different and finding your own path to wellness is key. As long as it’s working for you, keep it up!]
A large part of my therapy too was what I called “Little Tests.” Going back to do the things and places where I experience a large amount of trauma. Simple things, like taking a goddamned car ride with my son (yes, I could not imagine doing this), going to the grocery store or mall, celebrating Easter with family, taking time away from River and breastfeeding, being a bridesmaid in my sister-in-law’s wedding. Social events were very difficult for me. Very…huge triggers of shame, guilt, and disgust. But the biggest test for me was spending time at my home…where all the shit went down.
I remember the first time I headed home with the “assignment” of taking a rest or nap in my own bed. My beautiful, comfy, inviting, safe bed. Well…it wasn’t any of those things anymore. It was the first place where I began to feel unsafe. A place that stole my sleep. A place where I would panic, be manic, and the most unlike myself I’ve ever felt.
Attempting a nap there started well. And it ended in a full blown panic attack. My fight or flight instinct drove me to flee.
I never thought I would be able to live in my own home again, and neither did my husband. Again…everything was spinning out of control.
I retreated back to my nest. Never wanting to leave.
Finally though, I realized that River needs me. He needs a mom. And he chose me. HE CHOSE ME. Yes. He did. I AM doing my best. He gets my best. I love him so much. I need to make a difference in his life. He’s made such a huge difference in mine.
So, I learned how to gently stand up to my fears…saying “You will not control me the way you have before.”
It took a lot for me to come to this. Self-acceptance, trying harder to see through the postpartum fog, family tensions at the home, my husband leaving the country for a week with no way of communicating with him, support from those who care for me and River, many other factors…
But I decided to move back home after two months. Right around June 1.
I had done hard work, started to feel hints of getting better day-after-day, and felt a stirring inside me to just pull the ripcord (er…umbilical cord…sorry…bad joke).
It was emotional. Hard. The right time. Exciting. Scary. Heart opening.
But it was so great to see River in his home.
My heart started to feel full, and capable, again.
But days continued where I needed more care than ever before. There are still days like this. But, as cliche as it is to say…every day truly gets better and better. And easier. And more fun. And more amazing. And now life is more than I could have ever imagined. Like…I see things in technicolor now.
Part 5, the final installment in my Two Newborns series will talk about life now.
Know that you too…will. get. through. it.
[Maybe you don’t believe me, or anyone right now, but…]
YOU WILL GET THROUGH THIS.
YOU WILL BE STRONGER AND HAPPIER THAN EVER.
Keep holding on. You’re so, amazingly worth it.