My journey to motherhood
Hey friend- I wanted to introduce myself in a much more real way than my "about" page allows. I always feel like that page is meant to be the cute, upbeat cheerleader of a blog, drawing you in with a friendly wave and a smile. And while I am a friendly-wave-and-a-smile type of girl, I want this blog to express something deeper than a passing greeting from a stranger. I want to be real with you. I want to share my struggles. I started this process in April 2018 during a bright spot in my year but I never got it off the ground. I made a website and started a blog post but there was always a reason why I couldn't finish it. A reason why I couldn't devote my time to this endeavor. That reason was about 9 months old at the time and I felt like I was just starting to dig myself out of a dark hole. That week in April, when I thought I was finally going to be able to do something new that could act as my therapy, well, that was a short week. Darkness closed in again and I gave up.
I had my first kiddo, my only son, August of 2013. The year before, I had spent a few days every month crying when I found out I wasn't pregnant. Again. (*Now this isn't a story about fertility, I know people who have struggled through that and I do not want to compare my experience to the kind of pain they go through. I can never relate to their anguish, nor would I try to equate myself with them in terms of turmoil. I see you friend, I ache for you, and I know my pain is small compared to yours. But I feel like my story 'then' is important to my story 'now'). We spent a year trying for him and every cramp was a reminder that the desire of my heart wasn't in my belly. When I did see those little blue lines in November, I was overjoyed! New life, a new chapter, someone who would love me and give my life purpose (which was a wrong and naive mindset, by the way)! At the time, my marriage was on an upswing from a rocky winter and spring, we were finally getting healthy, both physically and mentally. While I had wanted a baby for the past 2 years, we weren't ready. I had spent a good portion of our early years in a depression. I had adapted poorly to becoming a wife and felt the change of my name as a loss of identity. I had planned a wedding and prepared for grad school at the same time and later, when I felt like I had to choose my marriage or my degree, I chose my marriage. That choice, while the right one, still sends pangs of regret into my chest. Obviously, I do not regret making my marriage a priority, but dropping out of school had repercussions that I could never have imagined. I felt a strong death of the life I had always wanted and I was suddenly tied to a stranger. A stranger I loved, but a stranger nonetheless. I felt as if I had given up everything I had worked towards because I couldn't see how the life I had planned for was going to fit within the confines of my marriage. I was over stressed, overwhelmed, and anxious. Fast forward two moves later and 2000 miles from family and I officially get diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. That was one of our rock bottom moments. Not the diagnoses of course, but that time period. It was dark. I thought a baby, which I had always wanted when I was younger, would make things brighter.
What people don't tell you when you're pregnant though, is that it can make things like anxiety and depression much worse. Or maybe people told you that, but I had no idea. I thought the knowledge and joy of having a baby would trump all of my other chemical imbalances and I would be happy! I admit, I was stupid and naive. I had a void I needed to fill and a child wasn't going to fill it but I was lost. My depression and anxiety got worse. We moved across the country when I was 7 months pregnant so that we would be closer to family and I remember sitting at dinner with my mom in the middle of that trip, crying. Crying about things I couldn't explain, crying about hypothetical situations that were irrational but totally probable in my brain, and feeling like my thoughts were crazy and justified all at the same time. I'm pretty sure she thought I had lost it. I just knew something terrible was going to happen on our trip- we were going to get in a car wreck and I'd lose the baby, or my mom. Or my husband, who had traveled ahead of us, was going to die and our son would never meet his father. I feared going into crowded public spaces because there had been a recent mall shooting in the town we moved from- I didn't want to go into big cities because I might get robbed at gunpoint or be a victim of road rage. The panic attacks increased.
We finally arrived at our new home, unharmed, and two months later we had a baby. The joy of my heart brought very little joy. Postpartum depression hit me hard but I didn't realize it. If someone mentioned it, which was only one person, I denied it. I refused to acknowledge it. I didn't realize my perinatal experience wasn't normal until I was able to look back on it with clear eyes and PPD was the same way. I didn't refer to my son as 'my son' for months. He was just 'the baby'. A co-dependent human that I was solely responsible for but whom I felt very little maternal instincts towards. His needs were met and I couldn't bear to physically part with him, but there was an emotional detachment; a mental wall when I looked at him and saw my own eyes staring back at me. That level of detachment lasted a while but eventually tapered down. I could refer to him as 'my son' and it felt slightly less awkward, although not natural. It wasn't until he was almost one year old, at a friends wedding, that I realized I probably shouldn't still feel that way. When I realized I should probably be able to find more joy in things and my anger and sadness should have subsided by now. That I shouldn't have been so zoned out and empty inside when I watched him play. But by then, I was embarrassed. And ashamed. And who would even believe that I had PPD a year after he was born anyway? No one was going to be able to help me by then. All lies I told myself because I didn't know what to do. Then when he was 15 months old I got pregnant with our first daughter. The cycle repeats.
This time around, the emotional and mental aspect of the pregnancy felt a little less intense- maybe because we weren't house hunting, moving, and remodeling. But knowing what I went through after my son was born prompted me to have a much more open conversation with my midwife. I was very clear about my mental state during my last pregnancy and during recovery. We talked about medicinal options I would have once the baby was born and I felt a little hopeful. At my six week check-up, I was prescribed an anti-depressant. Six months later I had to wean myself off of them. At the time, I didn't tell anyone except my husband that I was medicated. Still embarrassed and feeling like a 'failure' because I couldn't handle motherhood. Thinking that my mental state was a reflection of my success as a parent. But the medication worked for a while- 3 weeks in I was able to play with my two awesome kids and actually be present! Eventually it stopped working though and I found myself staring at them from a rocking chair, physically and mentally distancing myself from them and feeling apathetic about everything in my life. I don't remember much during those first three years of motherhood, but I remember that moment of clarity. That little voice inside my head that said, 'this isn't normal'. So I said goodbye to the drugs and eased off the anti-depressant with the help of a high dose of inositol, some diet changes, and my doctor, of course. Six months after that, I was pregnant with our final baby.
My third pregnancy was the worst. I think the depression may have peaked with my son but the anxiety grew tenfold with my second daughter. I have never experienced anxiety like that in my life. And it wasn't the intensity of it as much as the frequency. It was a daily battle. I had tension migraines and constant outbursts of anger, all of which I credited only to being pregnant. The last month of that pregnancy was riddled with panic attacks. Anywhere from 2-5 a week. Three days before I gave birth, and was unknowingly leaking amniotic fluid, I went to H-E-B at 11PM to take my blood pressure. I just knew I had preeclampsia and was going to die before I could get to the ER. Obviously, I didn't. I was so ready to have this baby so I could start to feel normal again- although, in all honesty, I didn't know what that was supposed to feel like anymore. And I didn't feel normal. I had PPD again but I refused medication. Based on the fact that I breastfed all my kids, my medicinal options were limited. Since I wasn't a danger to my children or a risk to myself, the doctor didn't push it. I tried to fix it on my own and I knew things that would help, in general, to increase mental health. Granted, I didn't do them- but I knew what they were.
That's the kicker about depression- you may know what you need to do to feel better but you just can't make yourself do it. I waited seven months before I went back to the doctor, but I did go back. Because during that entire time, the panic attacks didn't stop. I thought they would pass, I thought I could control them, but I couldn't. I needed help. And honestly, I was just tired. Tired of being the angry, short-tempered, stressed out mom. Tired of being joyless. Tired of feeling utterly lost and hopeless. Every day ended with 'I can't do this' and between waking up and going to sleep, I felt like I was drowning. I couldn't wait for my kids to go to sleep and I was self- medicating with wine on a nightly basis. Just wanting to be able to let go and relax and maybe forget how terrible things had been that day. I don't do that anymore, one good thing about my anxiety is that it makes me extremely paranoid I'm going to die young. So I've tried to kick unhealthy habits, unless it's chocolate. I don't think you can get liver cancer from chocolate...
I was able to get medicine for the panic attacks that sometimes worked, sometimes didn't. What helped the most, for me, was my baby turning one and going to a church/pre-school program twice a week. During that time, I went to therapy and started working out. My food choices see-saw a bit but I'm learning what works for my body and what sends my mood plummeting (alcohol and sugar are not my friends). She turned two this past July and I wish I could say I feel totally fine. But my panic attacks have greatly decreased, for a while I was only having them about twice a month. They've recently increased to a weekly occurrence but it's still not as bad as it was two years ago (and this feels circumstantial, not hormonal). This I can handle. The lack of joy and that feeling of hopelessness though? That one's hard. I'd like to be able to get my joy back. I'd like to be able to look at my kids and see them for who they are- see them as blessings. As wanted, fulfilled dreams. As the miracles that they are! But that's a struggle for me. I still see a life I didn't get to have, which is no fault of theirs, but I'm working on it. My goal is to see them the way God sees them: worth dying for. Precious. Valuable. Important. Not as a burden or an inconvenience. Someone told me recently 'Don't let the devil steal your joy." And I hadn't thought of it like that. But I keep playing that in my head, over and over again.
So, that's the basic outline of my journey these past 6 or 7 years. It's been a dark road and sometimes it's really hard to see the light. In those moments when I can think clearly and really asses my mindset or my circumstances, I'm able to instill some changes or at least take some steps toward change. Talking about it helped. I didn't talk to family or friends about it until I was out of the worst parts. I want to say that was only about a year ago. But I realized I didn't need to be ashamed of it- I couldn't control everything about my mental state, although I desperately tried. That's another I discovered after becoming a mom- I really like being in control. But that's a topic for another time. I hope that through these posts, whether they are written or short videos (because I don't know what I'm doing!), that someone can find a kindred spirit in me. I felt very isolated and lonely and, really, there is no better word than 'hopeless'. I just wanted someone to actually understand me. Someone who wouldn't look at me with pity in their eyes or see me as something broken that needed fixing (although, I do need some fixin'). Really, I need love. I need compassion and grace and joy. And hope. Which is so much harder to attain than I ever imagined. Maybe, just maybe, one person can see this and it can be that tiny flicker in the dark recesses of their mind. Because sometimes that's all you need to make it through the day.