***I feel like I need to do a little disclaimer before you read this post. If you have never experienced postpartum depression (or loved someone with postpartum depression) some of the things talked about in this post will be unfathomable to you. Please try to have an open mind and to not judge, being honest about motherhood is hard enough without being shamed for being human.***
Before I had Paxton someone said to me, “With your mental health you might not be a good mom.” That person clearly knew nothing about mental health or motherhood, so I tried to give them some grace. But to be honest, I got in my car and bawled my eyes out after those words were spoken. For a moment I let those words take control of my mind and heart. Who wouldn’t? From the time I first found out I was pregnant the thought of “What if I’m not good enough?” has been circling my head. Every mom has that thought but for me it’s a little different, a little more extreme. I have struggled with anxiety and depression for most of my life, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder a few months back, and I’m a recovering drug addict. How could I possibly be a good mom?
I dwelled on that question for a bit, and then I challenged myself to reframe it. How can my mental health, along with my past experiences, help me be a good mom? That’s right, all those years of struggling will actually help me be the best mom possible for my son. Because out of struggle comes strength, and that is exactly what I am: STRONG. First and foremost I had to remind myself that I can be strong and struggle simultaneously. I also had to remind myself that my mental health does not make me a bad person, and neither does my recovery. Let me repeat it, MENTAL HEALTH DOES NOT MAKE YOU A BAD PERSON.
However, because of my history I knew that I would need to have a good plan in place as I entered into the postpartum period. While I was pregnant I spent hours every week with my therapist preparing for the 1 in 5 chance that I would be diagnosed with a postpartum disorder. For me this meant maintaining my regular sessions with my therapist, finding a postpartum-specific therapist just in case, learning new coping mechanisms, and compiling a list of people to reach out to in time of need. Before having Paxton I felt like I was completely prepared for what was to come, and in a lot of ways I was. But, quite honestly, I’m not sure that you can every be fully prepared for the unknown that is postpartum.
Aside from becoming a single mom and all the trials and anxieties that came along with that, my pregnancy was a dream. I was the happiest I have ever been in my entire life thanks to all of the good pregnancy hormones. Then when I had Paxton my entire world changed for the better. I was exhausted and would get overwhelmed easily, but other than that I would say my first two months home were so good. I had visitors coming all the time, I was trying to soak in every last newborn cuddle, and I was just so in love with my son. I loved being a mom and I finally felt like I had found my purpose.
Then when Paxton was about 2.5 months old postpartum depression hit me like a ton of bricks, although at the time I didn’t recognize that that’s. What was happening. I went from over-the-moon in love to overwhelmed to uncontrollably sobbing to extremely angry (nobody tells you about postpartum rage, it’s a real thing) within a matter of minutes, and it seemed as if the happy moments were few and far between. It was terrifying and exhausting, but I didn’t think much of it. I just assumed that every knew mom felt this way and that it was completely normal. It wasn’t until my son was 3 months old and I was sobbing on my bathroom floor, wondering what my life had come to, that I realized maybe what I was feeling wasn’t normal anymore. I suddenly felt like the connection I had with my son was gone, like nothing I was doing was right, and that I was failing at being a mom. As a new mom it is completely normal to feel overwhelmed, exhausted, frustrated, some anxiety, and even a little sad from time to time. What is not normal is to be paralyzed by your emotions, to feel like you can’t go on, or to hate your life. Those feelings are not normal, but they are common and they do NOT make you a bad person or a bad mom. They just mean that you need a little extra help regulating the hormones that are causing them, and that is perfectly okay.
When I first realized what was going on I was ashamed of what I was feeling. I didn’t want to admit that I wasn’t loving being a mom or that I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore so I kept it inside and let this turmoil build inside me until he was 4 months old. The financial stress of being a single mom had sent me over the edge, and I spent the next 3 days crying and having panic attacks all while still managing to take care of my son. On the first night of my meltdown I texted my mom and all it read was, “Being a mom is so hard.” So she spent the next two nights sleeping on the couch with me making it known that I wasn’t alone. And that’s when I knew I couldn’t do it on my own anymore. I realized that I needed help so I reached out to my therapist, my psychiatrist, my midwife, and a couple of other people to let them know what was going on. I upped my therapy sessions to multiple times a week, I vocalized what I was feeling, and I went back on medication.
Paxton is now ten months old and I feel like I am finally starting to feel normal again. I have put in a lot of work the past couple of months to make sure that I am the healthiest version of myself possible. I began working out daily, taking time for myself, and even started a new job. My love for being a mom is resurfacing and it feels like there is finally some sunshine back in my life. I still have my hard days, but the bad doesn’t outweigh the good anymore and that was my ultimate goal. Today I am strong, I am brave, and I am capable. Today I am also overwhelmed, I am exhausted, and I am full of emotion. And today I am a damn good mom, mental health, feelings, and all. Moms often get shamed for showing any sign of “struggle” when it comes to mental health in motherhood. We get labeled as “bad moms” for being human. Humans feel emotion, it’s what we’re designed to do and it’s not something that anybody should ever be shamed for.
So to the mom who’s struggling right now, I see you. I see you having to remind yourself to take deep breaths, I see you having that panic attack in the bathroom, I see you crying yourself to sleep, I see you feeling alone in a room full of people, I see you fighting back tears because your child won’t stop crying. I see you because I am you. We’re in this together. And with that being said, if you are struggling and you need someone to talk to my inbox is always open. I will sit with you in whatever way you need so that you feel a little less alone. I will watch your kid(s) so you can have a few hours to yourself. I will make you a meal or vacuum your house if that’s what you need that day. And if you reach a point where you need more professional help than me, I will help you find someone. When I say I’m in this with you, I mean I’m IN THIS WITH YOU – through the good times and the hard. You’ve got this, Mama, and you’re doing a damn good job.
Fight for yourself. Always.