I see it in your eyes and your posture. The moment you come up to me, I can see that you are struggling. I see it in the way you react as your baby gently calls to you. He might just be dreaming, might be readjusting his body in the cradle of your arms, might just be mewling softly to let you know that he’s almost ready to eat, but it’s like you’ve been burned. Your breath speeds up, your eyes dart from side to side, your shoulders tense. Your thoughts are racing; I can tell you’re worried. “Am I doing this right?” you wonder. Or you think, with certainty, that you are not. Maybe sometimes, in the wee hours of the morning, you wander the halls, babe in arms, pondering things that make no sense, like banging your exhausted head into a wall or a door to help to stay awake. But then, in others, you sit staring at her wondering: “Will she wake up?” I have been in your shoes.
When my oldest son was just 4 days old, an earthquake rocked our world. Coming in at 7.2, it was the largest earthquake to have hit the region in 18 years. As my little guy slept in his rocking seat that Easter Sunday, I recall the ceiling fan beginning to shake violently above us all. Without thinking, I grabbed him and ran outside to the driveway and sobbed as the world continued to roll and shake around us for over a minute. It was the first moment I realized that I was not fully in control and that I had a small person who needed me, completely and utterly. I was terrified of failing him.
Six days later, we found ourselves in Children’s Hospital to have his little heart looked at. A couple of days after that, I cried at a La Leche League meeting, completely overwhelmed, wondering if I’d ever be able to take a shower or do dishes again. When we struggled with breastfeeding, I drove all over the county seeking support groups. But when we left our house, I wondered if I’d turned off the oven or locked the door. I stressed about other drivers on the road, certain that our lives were in danger all of the time. I was inexplicably exhausted, and yet struggled with sleep. I wore a smile, but it was false; insecurity echoed in empty chambers of my mind.
I want you to know that I understand. I know that you may internally be questioning your decision to become a mother while, with every breath, you claim that you are overjoyed by it. You may feel unable to focus and concentrate, disconnected, overwhelmed. You may sit listlessly, or be unable to find the drive to eat. You may look at your baby like a stranger or an obligation. You may not be able to find the words you used to have at your very eloquent disposal. You may not care about brushing your hair, washing your face, or going outside. I just want you to know that you are not alone. You are worthy of love. And there are resources for you.
I found my way into motherhood intentionally, and yet those first months were an incredible challenge. I felt isolated, helpless, and at times incapable of being the strong mother I’d always imagined. I attended workshops, classes, doctors appointments, and therapy. I worked hard to find my sense of self and to bond with my child. Although I returned to work full time when my son was only 4 months old, being the mother I wanted to be took constant attention and sacrifice, but it also took something more: it took community. That’s why I was honored when Erica asked me to guest blog on my experiences as a mother and postpartum care provider; I know exactly what made the difference when I was in those dark early days. It was human connection.
What made the difference for me was connecting with support groups… connecting with other mothers. It was gathering tools for my toolbox like babywearing, nursing lying down, and not being afraid to ask for help. It was creating experiences that my baby and I could enjoy together, whether taking classes or simply getting some fresh air. It was learning patience: not with others, or with my baby, or with my circumstances, but with myself. It was in finding the bits of sunshine in every day, the love for spending time in fresh air at the park with other mothers, the cups of tea in the evenings that soothed my soul, the quiet moments tucked in hot showers that helped me find the deeply buried pieces of shiny me that were hidden under the layers of motherhood. It was a reintroduction: the woman that I once was coming to terms with the experience that I had now. And it was a catalyst for growth, change, and support as I would eventually embark on a new adventure: providing love and care to other new families as a babywearing educator.
And this is why we are here now, you and I. You, with your tired, anxious eyes. Me, with a soul that aches to take you in and mother you, anxiety level at a 10 and all.
And, at the end of the day, I just want you to know that it’s okay to reach out. We are here as a resource for you. It’s going to be alright.
A special note: you are not alone. If you feel that you are struggling with challenges related to postpartum emotional health, know that this happens to 1 in 7 of us, and it can even happen to dads, too. Please do not hesitate to call the Postpartum Health Alliance Warmline (619-254-0023), visit the website to learn about where you can go for help, or email me directly. I am happy to help anytime.