I could repeat this title to myself over and over in hopes that it would sink in. In the depths of my postpartum depression and my postpartum anxiety, I could not fathom doing anything that did not involve my husband or my daughters. I felt so much guilt about being a working mom that I did not want to spend any time apart from my family. I was hyper attached and miserable. In order to be the wife and mom I want to be for my family, I need time to myself. I need time to be physically active, and I need time to nourish my creativity. Fitting in exercise and time to journal or write seemed like an insurmountable challenge to me at the time.
Now my husband and my daughters force me out the door on weekends to get in a run or a workout if I start to become irritable. Fitness has made such a difference in my life and my mental health. I can run or sweat out my frustration and my anxiety. I have found a fantastic group about local mamas who are runners. We meet up to run together a few times a week. These women inspire me, and I so wish I had gotten to know them sooner. I isolated myself so much when I was struggling. The more I practice self-care, the more resilient it makes me. I keep stepping outside of my comfort zone which is where all the magic happens.
So my challenge to my readers is to try something new – take a class, join a group that you’ve always been interested in, submit your writing, audition for a show, read at a poetry slam, take a new exercise class. I would love to hear all about it.
P.S. It was my week over at Postpartum Progress. The lovely Becky Schroeder of Sunny Imperfections posted this, and A’Driane Nieves of Butterfly Confessions shared a survey to help increase our outreach to moms of color and underserved communities. Then I closed out the week with a post of my own.
My late paternal grandfather, John L. Pody, served as part of the Army Corps of Engineers during World War II. He in the Aleutian Islands just off of Alaska. His skill in fishing and hunting helped keep his fellow soldiers warm and dry throughout the harsh Alaskan weather. He also got reprimanded for hunting seal while on guard duty, so he wasn’t always an angel. He did not talk much about his time in the service. I tried to engage him in storytelling, but he preferred to talk about his family.
Grandpa loved to tell stories about his children, his grandchildren, and his beloved wife, my grandma Marie. He seemed calm amid the chaos of a busy household. The noise and the commotion never seemed to bother him. My grandpa was most at home in the outdoors, hunting and fishing. I spent hours with him in nature.
He made such a huge difference in my life. Grandpa helped a nervous first time mom feel more confident in my decision to nurse when he mentioned that my grandma nursed all seven of her children. I felt like someone important to me validated this decision.
When I suffered the loss of a dear friend, I went to be with my grandpa to regroup. We didn’t talk much. We just fished. I needed the company and presence of someone who would not hover. My parents are amazing, but they tend to hover when I’m in crisis. At that time I needed quiet to reflect and grieve. My grandpa and his cabin did just that.
When my husband and I got engaged at my grandpa’s cabin, Grandpa spent an hour talking to us about his marriage with my grandma. His advice on marriage was invaluable. It brought tears to my eyes when I heard the love that he felt for her. I knew then that I had made the right choice to marry my husband. Thank you Grandpa for your service and your unconditional love!
As I started to research more about postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety, I discovered that depression and anxiety have a genetic component. I started doing my research and polling all of my relatives. Had anyone struggled with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders like I had? None of my aunts had struggled like I had. I knew that I was missing something.
I realized that my grandma had two nervous breakdowns before she was even twenty years old. Grandma took “nerve medicine”. I finally found out that she was on anti-anxiety medication at the same time that I found out she had struggled with postpartum depression after one of my uncles was born. I just remembered pills that were two different colors – black and turquoise. Grandma had her medicine, and it never occurred to me to ever take those pills.
As I look back on her life, she practiced the ultimate form of self-care – an afternoon nap. She has been gone over twenty years, and I can still hear the echo of her voice in my ears. As I struggled to come to terms with needing to stay on my medication for the rest of my life, I realized that this is part of a chemical imbalance in my brain. It is genetic. I wish I could go back and talk to her about what it must have been like to struggle with postpartum depression when no one acknowledged it, when people only whispered about mental health. My grandma had a number of risk factors – a miscarriage, an alcoholic father, an unplanned pregnancy, and a previous history of a mood disorder. I cannot begin to comprehend how she raised seven children while helping my grandfather run our family business. An accomplished piano player and a former schoolteacher, she adored watching her children and grandchildren perform. I relied on her steadying influence as I struggled with the transition of my mom going back to work full-time. Grandma always made me feel like I was her favorite. I received her undivided time and attention. I feel her influence every time I sing and dance with my girls. She truly was a Warrior Mom whose love is reflected in her large extended family who still tell her stories years later.
Winter is coming to Wisconsin; we woke up to snow on Halloween morning! We spent our weekend preparing for winter. We raked the lawn, and we started cleaning out our closets. My girls both had their birthdays, and we knew it was time to clean out the clutter. It is time to make room now before the holiday season gets any closer.
I never thought of myself as a neat freak, but chaos exacerbates my anxiety. Clutter to me feels like chaos. If my external environment is out of control, how can I keep my internal environment in control? Mix in an artistic Munch who adores creating art – origami, Wonder Loom, Weaving Loom, jewelry making, painting, drawing, and making her own books. Munch’s room is her sanctuary from her little sister, Skeeter. Skeeter adores her big sister, and she wants to do everything she does. My sweet Munch values her down time as a time to read and create. I want Munch to have her sanctuary, but I also want to be able to walk into her room without stepping on a project or tripping over toys.
The compromise that my amazing husband suggested was to come up with a list of projects that we can work on as a family to clean and organize throughout the winter. I know that I am guilty of storing things in both girls’ closets, and I want to bring those projects back into our room. When a project is out of sight, it is out of mind for me. I am hopeful and confident that we can make a dent in purging some of our gently used toys, clothing and books to donate to those in need. We are so blessed, and I want my girls to realize how blessed they are with material possessions.
I had this vision of what motherhood the second time around would look like for me. I would be this earth mother who gently nursed and rocked her baby girl to sleep while reading books and singing songs to the toddler beside her. I would exclusively breastfeed for six months, and I would practice baby led weaning for solid food. My youngest would not have a drop of formula at all. I would have a smooth transition from a mama of one to a mama of two girls. My girls would be the best of friends. I would finally have it all together as a parent.
Cue the entrance of postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety. Reality did not match up with my expectations. My newborn was given an ounce of formula right after her birth due to low blood sugar. Cue the bad mama guilt. I had gestational diabetes, so of course it was my fault that her blood sugar was low. I lived in a constant state of high alert. The only time I relaxed was while I was nursing my sweet baby girl. Just before my return to work after my maternity leave, my baby ended up in the hospital with a bladder infection and a diagnosis of bladder reflux. I tried to pretend like I had it all together. Instead I spent my days and nights fighting back the rising feelings of rage, anxiety, and depression.
My life wasn’t supposed to be measured in three-hour increments at work. I could barely maintain a facade of competence and efficiency as I counted the minutes until I could escape into the lactation room. In the privacy of that room, I could let the tears flow. I could let the waves of panic wash over me, leaving me sweating and nauseous. I would repeat to myself the same mantras “you are okay”. The pit of dread, anxiety and panic sat in my stomach for months.
I finally decided that I deserved better, and my family deserved better. After months, I finally typed in the search terms postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety on Google. I found Postpartum Progress, and I found this amazing community of mamas who had struggled just like me. I found a therapist who validated my concerns and struggles. I learned to adjust my expectations to match my current reality. I do not have it all together, and I never will. All I can do is my best. Motherhood challenges me every day emotionally, mentally and spiritually. It is rewarding and exhausting in equal measure. Motherhood is not like the ads or the movies. It brings me to my knees and humbles me, and I am a better person for being a mom to these two girls.
So I have a confession to make. I’m struggling with the nutrition part again. I am consuming too much caffeine, and I am turning to the sweets again. Sweets and sugar filled coffee drinks (whipped cream, caramel sauce) are my weaknesses in times of stress. I also gave into the dark side of chips again. Yep. In return my body rebelled against all the processed food. I had a heartburn flare up.
So I am turning this ship around. I am continuing to maintain my focus on exercising, but I am increasing my efforts on eating healthier. I feel so much better when I eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and just a small amount of treats. If you are interested, join me and help hold me accountable. I slack off if I don’t have friends to hold me accountable. I know that the holidays are quickly approaching, and I know where my current slippery slope is heading – dreaded holiday weight gain. Eating well is a critical part of my self-care. I need to take care of myself, and I do that through proper nutrition, plenty of sleep, and lots of exercise. Come help a gal out so she maintains instead of gains during the holiday season!
You are seven now. Your birthday was just six days ago. It feels like just yesterday that you were born. I struggle with finding the balance between giving you independence and keeping you sheltered. Seven looks like sending my sweet girl to a lock in party at her dance studio until 9:30 p.m. You are welcome for letting you stay up way past your bedtime on your birthday night. Thank you sweetie for letting me know gently when you are confident enough to spread your wings. This mama wants to keep her big girl little for just a bit more. My tendency is to swoop in and hover.
You value your quiet time to read and create, and you have shown so much maturity in letting us know that you need that time to decompress. Your kindness and empathy know no bounds. Your creativity blossoms forth in your science experiments, your reading, your artwork, and your dancing. You lose yourself in books just like me. Sometimes I call you Jennifer because some of your personality traits remind me so much of myself. It is with love that I do that. We both need to decompress at the end of the night by recapping our entire day. I feel like you sometimes save up all your words for the end of the night. I treasure that time to really connect and listen to your hopes, your dreams, and your fears.
Munch, you made Daddy and I parents. Thank you for showing us unconditional love and a boundless capacity for forgiveness. As the oldest child, you are our guinea pig. We make lots of mistakes, and we continue to learn how to be the best mom and dad for you. Happy belated birthday!
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