I cried all the way to Target today. For absolutely no reason at all, and yet for ALL the reasons. Not even the Target by my own house. I went to the furthest Target in the area on purpose to get that extra, much needed crying time.
I never thought it would happen to me. Postpartum depression sounds like a label. It seems like such heavy words, a weight to carry if you are labeled with it. Like you’re just a number. I never had it with my first born so I incorrectly assumed “It couldn’t happen to me”. I used to think, can’t people with postpartum depression just do something to make them happier? Like a hobby of theirs, or go on a walk, or talk to someone? I am a nurse and I know all the signs, the symptoms, I know what resources are out there to help people with PPD—and yet, when it happened to me, suddenly I felt at the bottom of a dark well and I left all my “resources and knowledge” about it up at the top. Suddenly It was just me. I am aware of my own self enough to realize that it truly did feel like a shift in my brain, like it wasn’t my normal self operating it. Like a malware virus had been installed and was running the operating system. That’s why I couldn’t just “go do one of my hobbies, take a walk, or do something fun”, because it felt like I didn’t even like those things anymore. I was lying dormant underneath this virus in my brain. And it didn’t make any sense. And it’s going to be hard to explain.
Most of my blogs I try and come on here with humor and make light of the craziness that is raising kids. But its not all light. And I want to normalize these darker parts because none of us talk about it. Whether its postpartum depression, or depression, seasonal affective disorder, or just feeling down in the dumps thanks to COVID, we all do our best to put on our “I’m fine” face and our friends and family sometimes are none the wiser. If something happened right now where each and everyone of us suddenly felt depressed, would we even know that it happened to all of us? Or would each one of us feel isolated and alone because we aren’t reaching out to others to find out none of us are alone?
Let me start by saying I have not officially been diagnosed with anything. I am not on any specific treatment although I will talk below about what has helped me. I don’t know if it is ‘postpartum depression’, or if it is “just” the baby blues. Or lets mix in the fact that we are 10 months into a global pandemic and have all been cooped up in our houses. As a new mom in COVID this really puts a damper on the help that we are allowed to reach out to and accept, whether resources being closed or changed, or the fact we are afraid to let friends in and expose each other to COVID. Let’s ALSO mix in the fact that having a baby in the middle of winter feels a LOT different than having my first born August baby. In August we could go out walking to get out of the house, sit outside, get fresh air, etc. That mixed with seasonal affective disorder is a recipe for anyone to be feeling in the dumps right now. I am also getting very little sleep which highly contributes to these feelings. And it is a lot different this time caring for a toddler AND the newborn- as I can’t just sleep when the baby sleeps because I need to be on 100% of the time to care for my toddler. And it wasn’t like this from Day 1 either. In fact I was doing really well- it felt like I was doing too well- I recovered much faster physically, I wanted to “do all the things” around the house, I felt ready to jump back into learning new things and skills… but literally it was one day- one day- I woke up and felt so different. Like I stated above, it like I wasn’t myself. I could barely talk to my toddler as I got her ready for the day. I could only mutter small one word answers to her innocent questions. All day I felt like I was behind a foggy glass cage and couldn’t see out. I tried watching my favorite tv shows but felt like I was falling further. I literally spent $20 to get my favorite lunch delivered to my house in hopes of cheering me up, and I only ate half of it. I just wanted to cry profusely for no absolute reason at all. So regardless what I am actually suffering from or feeling, it doesn’t negate the fact that these feelings are real and we are not alone. I know I am not alone.
This will likely be my most vulnerable posts I will ever write. I struggled with deciding whether or not to write this. By admitting it, it felt like a weakness, like somehow I was admitting I was not a good mother. That I don’t have it all together. By admitting defeat it felt like to me, was it a mistake having two kids? If I can’t handle the heat why did I step in the fire? Will my friends and family that read this suddenly think different of me? Will they think I am weak? Will they treat me different? But even at the bottom of the dark well, I know enough that those thoughts are the ones controlled by this malware virus. It is an imbalance of hormones, it is not US. But If I can help put down in words what its like to have this imbalance of hormones in the brain, If I can help make even just ONE other mom out there feel less alone, to see that someone else knows exactly what they’re going through, then it is all worth it to me.
My brain makes sense of analogies. It always has. So that’s kind of the way I think and how I can best explain how this feels. The first analogy that seems to make sense of this to me is to picture a big, underground pool. One of those where there are a nice set of steps, then a nice shallow end, and about 6 feet in your feet can feel where it starts to slope downward and then there is a portion where you can kind of stand but it’s a lot more effort. Then there is the full deep-end that requires constant full swimming. Can you picture it? Okay.
Let’s say for the purposes of this analogy, its not good to be in the pool at all. The best place to be here is outside the pool, lounging on a nice chair in the sun with a good book. But if you are in the pool, the best place to be is the shallow end- where there is chaos, splashing, but you can stand. You are grounded. You have all the right coping skills. The stairs are right there for you in case you are tired of the water and want to lounge outside the pool a bit. But you start to feel yourself inching towards that downward slope. You think you’ll be fine. You can swim, after all, right? Its not a big deal. I’m fine, we’re fine. Everything’s fine. You don’t want to sound the alarm just yet. You fear that if you start asking for help now people will think, “but did you even try to swim?” or, “If you can’t swim why did you get in the pool?” or “buckle up buttercup, welcome to parenting”. So you want to test the limits, you want to try and swim to see how strong you are without asking for help. You want to show everyone your Olympic swimming skills and that you’ve got it all under control. But once you’re in that in between area- that space where you can barely touch your toes to the pool liner and you have to kind of uncomfortably tread water to stay afloat- that isn’t fine. Its fine for awhile, maybe. But when you feel like you’ve been in that space for awhile and don’t see any end in sight, that my friend is the ticket to the deepest end of the pool. So you start looking for the lifeguards for help. After birth the “lifeguards” were all over you asking if you needed help and were screening you for “your ability to swim”, but now- one month in the pool, the lifeguards all seem to be on their lunch break. Sure, you could holler them over to come save you, but you aren’t sure if that is necessary. I mean, you aren’t actually drowning, right? You’re just struggling. You’re afraid of causing unnecessary concern, or causing a scene in the pool. You are afraid the lifeguards will turn you away and say “you’re fine, we’re busy saving people that are actually drowning.” So, you keep swimming. And you see your friends and family on lounge chairs outside the water also. Occasionally one throws you a pool noodle for you to float on which feels good but you know its only temporary. What you really want is to ask those friends and family to help get you out of the pool, but with them too- you fear that they will either not be able to help or wont want to. You envision excuses of why you shouldn’t ask them, like, “she’s too busy with her new business to help”, or “she’s got a lot going on at work right now”, or “I don’t want to burden her with my problems”, or “she’s never even been in the pool, she won’t understand”, or “we only know each other online, it would be weird to pour all my feelings out to her”, or “I don’t want her to feel sorry for me”, or “am I close enough to this person to tell all this too?” or “she had her kids many years ago, will she remember what this time was like?” or worst of all, worrying if that friend/family will simply just throw you a life jacket full of “positive” thoughts like “well at least your baby is healthy”, “at least your toddler sleeps”, “but your baby is sooo cute”, or any other combination of “at least this, at least that”. You know they mean well, but you’re still in the damn pool, struggling to swim. And then there are the friends and family that you wonder, can’t you see me struggling here? But then you realize that they aren’t mind readers—and you haven’t asked them for help so how are they to know that you’re struggling to swim? It is like we just expect people to see us struggle and pull us out of the pool, but in reality that doesn’t happen until we either ask for help, or its too late and you’re in the deep end. I won’t even talk about the deep end because frankly I haven’t been there. I am still in that in-between space, struggling to swim but occasionally can reach the bottom of the pool, occasionally I get a pool float, and I see hope of returning to the shallow end- hopefully sometime soon.
The other analogy that feels right to me is standing in a pitch black room. You feel all alone but at the same time you KNOW there are other people in the room, you just don’t know who they are. You know that by simple law of probability, there’s gotta be some of your friends and family in the room with you but you don’t know which ones. So eventually you fight, you fight your way with every possible shred of hope and coping skill you have, and you light a match. And with that match you light a torch. And with that torch you carry you shine the light upon others and now you don’t feel as alone anymore. And neither do they. And together you light more torches and find more people. And now the room isn’t dark anymore and you all can see that none of you have been alone this entire time, just in the dark. That’s how I feel- that if 1 in 10 moms suffer like this, that we are all in the dark room and if we just lit our torches and looked around, chances are we would find unexpected friends and family there that are right there with us and we can help each other, even if its just the simple fact of knowing we are in this together, even if we don’t have the answers.
So what is this pool, exactly? I use it as an analogy, but for what? Well, I think its different for all of us. Perhaps we are each in our own little pools, in a vast sea of pools side by side, full of different water droplets that make up each of our own pools. Maybe that’s why its so easy to feel so alone and isolated because we are each in our own pool despite all being in A pool. Does that make sense? I’m exhausted, so I don’t know lol.
But, if I can try and define some of my water droplets that make up my pool, it’s:
- Being so exhausted to a whole level that you didn’t even know possible. Right now Ryland is up every 3 hours overnight to feed and that means I get about 2 hour intervals of sleep. Then when I wake up I am up with toddler all day so I maybe get a half hour nap all day (sometimes more if my husband is able to help), until a bedtime of about 11-12 pm. Sometimes it takes me literally more than 20 seconds to figure out what MONTH we are in. Or if I already put sweetener in my coffee. I hate that feeling of pure exhaustion where you think if given the chance, you could sleep standing up.
- Being so exhausted BUT when given the chance to nap, you cant sleep.
- Being so exhausted but you have to carefully time out when your caffeine intake is, and how much you can have, due to breastfeeding.
- The guilt that you probably did give your baby too much caffeine through breast milk by accident.
- The extreme mom guilt of letting your toddler watch movie after movie or youtube video because its all you have the strength to entertain her with.
- The mom guilt of TRYING one activity a day with your toddler but this ends in tears, for both of you.
- When you are trying your absolute hardest but someone else (often the people closest to us) make us feel less than and a terrible parent.
- It’s knowing your husband is in the pool with you, but he’s also struggling and neither of you can help the other one out. The only thing you can each do is keep throwing each other the pool noodle so one can get relief at one time—but yet when its your turn to float on the pool noodle you are over consumed by guilt that you’re letting your husband struggle to swim while you float.
- The uncontrollable snack eating, unclear to yourself if its breastfeeding replenishment or eating my feelings, or both.
- ^Having to respell replenishment multiple times because you’re too tired to know how to spell replenishment. Thank you Microsoft Word.
- When your toddler falls asleep but then the baby is inconsolable.
- When the baby falls asleep but then the toddler wakes them up by accident.
- When the baby falls asleep but then the dog wakes them up by barking for the millionth time that day.
- When the dog eats your lunch that you walked away from for just a second.
- When the dog eats the toddlers snack, and then eats the toddlers bowl, rendering another bowl unusable.
- When the toddler won’t eat the lunch you made for her. Or breakfast. Or dinner.
W- The mom guilt of just giving your toddler the same old things each meal because you don’t have the strength to fight her on begging her to eat what you made.
- The mom guilt of knowing that it could be so much worse, in fact you know of other people that are in way worse situations than you right now, and so why do I feel like this? Why am I not strong enough?
- When you feel like you literally just fell asleep and the baby is awake again.
WWhen you're trying your absolute hardest to keep it together, but your 2.5 year old says "What's the matter, mommy?" and it shatters your heart into a million little pieces.
- The mom guilt of LOVING breastfeeding, truly, but when your boob is “on tap” literally all the time, its hard not feel some resentment.
- The repetition of it all. Change baby diaper. Get peed on. Again. Change outfit. Feed him. Feed toddler. Play with toddler. Change toddlers diaper. Repeat everything over and over.
- Toddler constantly asking you to play, even though playing with legos (or whatever) is literally the LAST thing you want to do right now, and that makes you feel so guilty.
- Its endless scrolling through social media and comparing yourself to all the other moms you know who seem to have it together and wonder why aren’t you doing as well as them.
- Toddler asking you for a snack all.the.time. but doesn’t eat her meals (without a fight).
- When your brain feels like mush, not just from the exhaustion but from the lack of learning any new material or participating in adult, intellectual conversations or activities instead of just rewatching the same Disney movies.
- Rewatching Frozen, Frozen 2 and Tangled for the 184,281,104th time.
- Feeling so helpless that your baby has bad gas pains and you feel like its your fault, and you don’t know how to help him.
There are a million other water droplets to make up the pool, but I will leave it at that. The point is, is that none of these individual things is what fills the pool. No, we can handle each one, if that were it. Even if there were a few, its manageable. Its when literally all of the above in that list happens in ONE day, and every day, is when it feels like you’re in that space of not being able to feel the bottom of the pool anymore. Everyone tells you these days will pass, and I know they will. I know that before I know It he will be a toddler and I’ll be missing these days and I will forget how hard it was. I know it will pass. I know its temporary. But when you’re in that headspace, sometimes it feels so hopeless and it feels like these days will go on and on and you will never get sleep again. I literally fantasize about the potentially glorious sleep I will hopefully one day get when these kids are both in college lol. Hopefully I get sleep before that…
So, what HAS helped me? Well, a lot. And that’s part of why I wanted to share all of this with you and open up, not just to show other moms that none of us are alone, but to try and share some resources that may help other moms too.
1. This happy light has helped a lot. It doesn’t have to be this exact one, but there are multiple ones on the market. I used this during my pregnancy at my work desk and it made a HUGE difference in how tired I felt. But then postpartum, well I obviously wasn’t sitting at my work desk anymore, thus not sitting by my light. I don’t know all the science behind it, but it needs to be within 15 inches of your eyes, and it replenishes the façade of sunlight, tricking your mind to be well, happy and less tired. Maybe its just a placebo, but who cares if it is, if I DO in fact feel less tired on days I can sit by it for at least an hour if not more. This is challenging when caring for a baby and a toddler, but is possible if you can baby wear and put a movie on for the toddler. Amazon.com: Light Therapy Lamp, Miroco UV Free 10000 Lux Brightness, Timer Function, Touch Control, Standing Bracket, for Home/Office Use: Health & Personal Care
2. Music. Music is the one thing for me that no matter how deep in the water I may feel, it’s the tiny thing that can come find me underwater and pull me back up to the surface. Its my pool noodle. It’s the thing that can make me cry, which is a good thing. We need to cry, its healthy to cry to get it all out and release that pent up sadness and anger. I have dedicated playlists on my music streaming service for my moods. I have one dedicated for those times I want to cry and really sit in my feelings. I have another for releasing some pent up anger and just want to scream. I have another that has really good dance music. Another that has inspiring/uplifting music. I highly encourage the use of music if that’s what works for you, and creating those playlists so you have a better chance of listening to exactly what you need in the right moment for you. And I highly suggest playing this music really, really loud in the car (without your babes) and just sing at the top of your lungs.
3. Friends! FRIENDS! Yes. So despite all my talk above of feeling so alone, I have had many conversations with friends that feel like those pool noodles- those momentary times when I feel like I’m not struggling, or at least contently floating with a friend, because of a connection with a friend. Now, with COVID, I can’t SEE any of my friends, but I’ve noticed a different positive trend (maybe thanks to covid, maybe not) is that through social media and posting how mom life truly is, the humor, the good, the bad- its brought me together with friends- some that I haven’t even talked to since middle school- and yet they’re going through the same thing! And you end up talking for hours through social media! If you can find a friend that is going through a similar situation as you, it helps SO MUCH. Not just “being in the pool” but just a similar situation as yours. I have a friend that I went to all of grade school with and high school- we lost touch throughout college and our twenties but reconnected through social media because we both had a girl about the same age (5 weeks apart). We started talking and bouncing strategies and tips around with each other, helping each other through night time terrors, picky eating, potty training, or just being there for each other online to vent to. Now we both have baby boys , also close in age (about 10 weeks!) so we are going through a very similar situation. But having her is so invaluable knowing that she can emphasize with exactly what I’m going through and I can help her too. But not just her- I am lucky that I have a lot of friends online that also have young kids and have been able to receive and share sooo many tips with these other moms and have great conversations.
4. MOM GROUPS. On facebook, there are so many mom groups its ridiculous. But they can be helpful. And harmful too, so just be wary. Try them, see if they help you but don’t be afraid to leave the group if it brings you any negativity, comparison, mom guilt or anything. But there are so many helpful ones, unique to what ails you. Struggling with pumping? There’s a group. Struggling with breastfeeding? There is a group for that. Struggling with postpartum depression? Not only did I find a national resource group for that, but also LOCAL Pennsylvania one so I can potentially connect with moms struggling just like me, near me. I say that they can be harmful too, because I read these other moms stories and the extreme hardships they face (single parenting, lack of help, no money, hard jobs, little to no maternity leave, many children, abusive households, etc) and it makes me feel guilty again that I am struggling internally but feel like I shouldn’t be in comparison to how hard these other women have it.
5. Instagram. No really- it has been a total game changer for me in some positive ways, despite the bad rep social media carries. IF you use it for good, its very helpful. I follow specific accounts that have helped me in so many ways. Here are some to share:
a. @biglittlefeelings helps me navigate how I want to raise my toddler and handle tantrums and her feelings.
b. @thebirdspapaya focuses a lot on body image and how we allllll have that mom pouch and she displays it proudly, and she’s still gorgeous. It makes it feel easier to love my own self and body too, seeing her bravery and authenticity. She also just had a newborn baby and I can connect with a lot of her content.
c. @jadelizroper – yes, she’s from bachelor nation, and she’s an influencer so you gotta deal with some ads, but she also has 3 kids under 4 and I can therefore obviously connect with a lot of what she’s going through. She’s opened up a lot about depression as well.
d. @momsbehavingbadly – this account just makes me laugh, that’s all. A lot.
e. @karrie_locher GREAT resource for new moms. She is a labor & delivery nurse and shares so much great content for new moms.
f. @drbeckyathome – another great resource spanning a lot of different topics for new moms, PPD, anxiety, raising kids, etc.
You gotta find accounts that work for you. Most importantly with social media, if you are scrolling and ANYTHING, I mean ANYTHINNNGGGGGGG-that makes you feel LESS THAN, or GUILTY, or ANYTHING negative, YOU HAVE THE POWER to UNFOLLOW that person, regardless if they are your flesh and blood or a person you don’t even know. Your social media, if you use it, should only be there to show you helpful content or things that make you feel good.
6. Journaling. Journaling is sooo helpful. I often feel too tired to do so, but I do try and write about once a week. There are some things far too private to share on this blog, but I still need to get them off my chest, and journaling is the perfect way to do that. And it doesn’t have to be a scary commitment. Sometimes all you have to do is promise yourself you’ll try and write one paragraph about how your day was. Or write for ten minutes, that’s it. You’ll often find that you’re then on a roll and write a lot more.
7. My last helpful tidbit is this website: Postpartum Support International - PSI . I found them actually through one of the accounts listed above in Instagram. What I liked is that I immediately saw that you can text them. This I liked because I have literally always hated talking on the phone. And remember my example with the lifeguards and the pool? Talking on the phone seems like I was asking a lifeguard for help even though I wasn’t drowning, and that just all felt too heavy and real. Plus I knew if I talked it out, I would probably just start bawling. But texting felt much more manageable. What happens is you reach out to them via text, and they connect you within a reasonable time frame to a volunteer in your area to just talk (text) things out with you. They offer suggestions to help, or just listen as you send paragraphs of venting to a total stranger. They also offered to set me up with a therapist in my area and also sent me links to some mom groups on facebook I mentioned above.
Well, I know this has been a ridiculously long blog. And if you’ve made it this far, wow. Kudos. I don’t even expect anyone to have read it all, but I do feel a weight lifted off of me by sharing it all. Hopefully some piece of it somewhere can help another mom or person, whether it be today, tomorrow or in 10 years. Or even my own children one day reading this. Who knows.
What I really, really want to leave you with- is if you are reading this, whether you are my family, or my friend, or even if you don’t even know me, if any of this content connects with you and makes you feel like you want to open up, I am here for you. I can be your pool noodle or life jacket, or I can help light your torch. We all can help light each others torch if we all just start talking and reaching out. And I know its so hard. But I am here and I will always listen. And I wont try and offer you positive vibes of “at least this, and at least that” but I will listen. I wont try and make it better but I will listen.
Thank you all. Thank you.
The New Motherboard.