On processing the pain…


Photo Credit: Amanda Glenn Photography

“Mothers cannot give from a depleted source. Every mother needs emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual validation, nourishment, and support. When a mother is respected and well cared for, she and her whole family will benefit.” ~ a motherwoman principle. 

I am nearly eight weeks into raising my second daughter. Which means I am nearly eight weeks into my second battle with post partum depression. When we first found out I was pregnant again, my husband and I had several long conversations about how I and we would manage my PPD, should I have it again. The likelihood greatly existed that it would present again since I’d already had it one time. This just gave us the opportunity to plan for it in ways we just couldn’t last time.

First pregnancies, first labor-and-deliveries, first children…it’s all kind of a shit show. I just had no idea what to expect so I either expected the best or the worst.  And I wound up with both…just in the opposite way. I expected to have a movie-like pregnancy and delivery, complete with horrible morning sickness and a labor that would last days and days. Nope. I had a  super dreamy easy pregnancy and my L&D experience was nothing short of miraculous (to me). It was short and it was relatively painless (in the grand scheme of the horrible pain that is labor and delivery). I also expected that I’d have an easy baby who would nurse easily and love to snuggle and generally just sleep and be chill. NOPE. She was (and remains) kind of bonkers. As soon as she was out of my womb, it was a disaster that lasted over a year.

And the whole time, all I thought was, “Okay, everything I’ve ever read or been told was a lie and that’s fine. I hate you all, but it’s fine. This is obviously what’s actually normal.” So I went with it. I accepted that my body was just taking a really long time to heal and that it was normal to feel that much pain weeks after delivery. I accepted that my baby was just a shitty nurser and I’d probably be using a nipple shield the entire time. I accepted that I would be tired for the rest of my life. I accepted that I had a short temper now. I accepted that my marriage was suffering because a baby will do that to a couple.

It wasn’t until my husband forcibly made me talk to my midwife that I realized absolutely none of this was normal. My body wasn’t healing properly, my baby didn’t know how to nurse, I flew off the handle way too easily, and while a baby will strain a relationship, it doesn’t mean a baby should up-end and damage my marriage. But tired? Oh yeah. That’s definitely normal. I’m planning on being tired for the next eighteen years, minimum.

So I got the help (and medication) I needed and I started talking much more openly about my struggles as a new mother. I started talking crassly about my issues. I made caustic jokes. And frankly, I started feeling normal again. I demanded time for myself every so often. I asked for (and got) more help with my chores around the house. I was filling my cup.

But here’s the thing with my second go-’round with PPD: I am experiencing it much more acutely.  I am painfully aware of the state of my mental health. I know what my triggers are and I feel them so much more deeply. When I start to feel the weight of my responsibilities, it’s like I’m having an out-of-body experience. I feel like I’m watching myself shut down.

My second daughter is so much more chill than my first and for that I am eternally grateful. But she has her moments of epic meltdown. She won’t nurse, she won’t sleep, she wants everything and nothing all at once (I have no idea who she gets that from). She’ll just scream and shriek until she konks herself out. All I can do is hold her and wait. I have to wait while she screams in my ear and I just sit there and stare at nothing.

I feel so overwhelmed and sticky and unshowered and flabby and sad. I felt all of those things the first time and thought it was normal. I thought it was just part of the territory. I assure you, it is not. So when I feel it this time around, I have the wherewithal to hand the baby to my husband (or my parents, since we’re living with them for a few weeks) and go take a damn shower. Just because I have a newborn doesn’t mean I’m not entitled to care for my own basic needs. I will happily hand over the baby so that I can drink a full cup of warm coffee, so that I can shave and put on lipstick, so that I can take a quick nap.

Post partum depression needs to be taken seriously.

I’m what I call a “Mount Vesuvius of Rage.” I will stay dormant for a very long time. But that means I’m building up an explosion and there’s really no telling when it will go off. And there are two things that can set me off very quickly: chaos and excessive noise. Guess what a baby comes preloaded with? Yup. I get ragey a LOT, even if it’s just internally. I feel like I’m going crazy. I have the fortune of retrospection when it comes to this + PPD. I’m able to see that while this is a normal part of my person, it’s a) not healthy and b) much more exacerbated because of the PPD.

I’m able to recognize what I’m feeling as “not normal,” but that also means I’m feeling much more deeply. I’m finding that I’m much more emotionally in tune with my person and my mental health this time than I ever could have been last time. It’s this weird self-empathic thing I have going on. Because I feel out-of-body so much of the time, I’m able to react a little more empathically to myself. I’m able to have a measure of grace with my emotions that I wasn’t able to have before.

It also means I find myself much more sad and lonely and overwhelmed sometimes. While it’s true that I’m able to more quickly recognize my PPD symptoms and behaviors, it’s also true that they affect me more than before. And unfortunately, my current set of circumstances aren’t really allowing me the time and space I need to fully process my emotions. I have experienced some fairly profound loss and disappointment in the last several weeks. There just hasn’t been time to process anything. I think that’s what is making it the most difficult this time around. I thought I’d be able to process leaving my last home. once I got to my parents. But then I had to rehome my dogs. Then we move to another country. Then my husband deploys. Then he’ll come home (and have to reintegrate in our family) and then we have to move again. Seriously, there just isn’t any time to process everything that I’ve experienced in the last two months.

That’s probably what’s hardest and I think that’s part of why I’m feeling everything so heavily. I’m sort of taking my own advice from years ago: Feel every emotion fully. Get it out and be done with it. 

I guess if I can’t process it, I should at least fully feel it.

And so I do.

I feel completely. I rely on my friends, near and far (and most of them are far at this point). I depend on my husband.

But (and this is the important part) I don’t feel guilty for having post partum depression. I don’t apologize for it. I won’t make excuses for it. PPD is part of my story. I’m not less of a person or a mother because I have it. I just have it. It’s as much a part of my whole person as singing and writing are. It’s part of who I am and who I will be.

PPD looks like me.

On owning it….

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Tomorrow at 6:40am will mark the close of what has been (and likely will be, for some time) the hardest year of my life.

Who knew that a 7-pound-5.6-ounce creature could do that to a grown up?

It doesn’t matter how much you read or learn or ask. It doesn’t matter how much advice you seek out (or are given, solicited or not). There is no way to prepare for parenthood. Nothing is as it seems.

From the very beginning, from the moment I found out I was pregnant, absolutely nothing was as I expected it to be.

I didn’t have any weird cravings. I never got morning sickness. I don’t have stretch marks (save the tiny, but fading ones where Godzilla stretched her feet out against me, a thing she still does rather routinely). I didn’t get enormous breasts. My feet swelled only a little and are now back down to their original size. My water broke before contractions started which should have meant a long, painful labor, but instead – from start to finish – it was only 8 hours and 40 minutes…and it didn’t hurt nearly as badly as I was told it would or as I was expecting it to (don’t get me wrong here. It hurt like hell and is an indescribable pain).

That’s where the good stuff ended.

Godzilla literally came screaming in to the world and didn’t stop…for days. I thought it was normal (we all think something is normal when we’ve never done it before). I couldn’t breastfeed for the life of me (or my daughter) and when I did, it was excruciating. We didn’t get the hang of it for nearly five months. She didn’t gain weight at a “normal” rate. In fact, she lost weight – a lot of it – and then didn’t gain more than an ounce or two for several months. My recovery was a pain I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Again, I thought it was normal. It wasn’t. Not exactly. Godzilla did far more damage to me than I initially knew. My doula wouldn’t even give me the complete stats on my labor and delivery until well after I was healed. Which took nearly 12 weeks. On top of that, I had some weird “other stuff” happen during recovery which needed to be chemically burnt off. Twice. I wasn’t cleared for physical activity for ten weeks and for someone who loves to be active, this was a pretty huge set-back. The sailor and I were fighting (or at least bickering) on a near-constant basis. That’s just not like us. Not really. Not that often. And then one final blow: I was diagnosed with post-partum depression.

That’s when the bad stuff ended.

I met with my midwife (at the behest of the sailor, who made the appointment for me and held my hand during all of it) and she said to me something I’ll never forget: “If it’s not normal for you, it’s not normal.” So we talked and she wrote me a prescription for some tiny blue pills. And things started to get better. My body started healing. I started going back to yoga (with Godzilla in tow). Breastfeeding got easier. Godzilla started sleeping and stopped the constant screaming. I was able to laugh and joke with my closest friends about the simultaneous hell and joy that is motherhood. The sailor and I stopped bickering as much (he still loads the dishwasher wrong).

Basically everything was the opposite of what I expected it to be.

But if someone were to ask me (and I’ve been asked a number of times) if I would do this again, the answer is an unflinching, “Absolutely!” I can’t wait to be pregnant again! I love being pregnant! Of all the expectations I had about pregnancy and motherhood, probably the most shocking is how in love with my body I have become. For someone that has struggled with body image issues for as long as I have, this still surprises me. It surprises me for a number of reasons. Because I’m not faking it. Because I’m not saying it because it’s the “cool” thing to do. Because I believe it to the very core of who I am. Because when I’m asked why I love being pregnant so much, I can answer with conviction, “Because I’m a badass.”

Of all the things that have played into my post-partum depression, my body image isn’t one of them. Yeah, I want to lose the last ten pounds of baby weight (or really, twenty pounds), but that’s so I can fit in my clothes again. I have some pretty fabulous threads. And buying all new ones? Not really in the financial cards. Nothing short of a miracle happened inside my body. As Kerry Washington said: “My body is the site of a miracle now.” And it’s true. Once a baby has been born of you, there’s no going back to a “pre-baby body”. It’s just not possible. And I am 100% okay with that.

Here lies and wakes and eats and sleeps and feeds and binge-watches and changes diapers and cries and laughs and makes caustic jokes and fights and loves and hopes for the next shrine to a miracle.