By Rachel Gerard @adventurousray
I NEVER thought I’d be one of those Moms with Postpartum Depression (PPD) or Anxiety (PPA). I am the laidback, happy, go with the flow type. I perceived myself as having great mental strength, and believed that only the “weak” succumb to depression and anxiety. Part of it is the society I was raised in. I am betting you can relate to that too. But deep down, I knew better. I had struggled with depression through my teenage years and living quietly with unacknowledged anxieties for a huge portion of my life.
I felt like a lifetime of working on the farm and 12-hour farmers’ market work days would give me all the physical strength I’d need.
Decades as a competitive athlete in figure skating, dance, gymnastics, cheerleading, and all the sports in between would give me the discipline I’d need.
Putting myself through business school while working 30 hours a week (and then 2 jobs giving me 50-70 hrs a week) would give me focus and mental fortitude.
Working in a fast-paced demanding corporate job, ladder climbing to be the youngest manager in the nation in my company would help me be organized and put-together.
Having a single mother who raised her six children on the farm with another job as a realtor as my inspiration would give me backbone.
Until I lost her.
Without her as my backbone, I spiraled. The one person who taught me and pushed me to be all those things was gone. Instead of feeling rock solid I had the strength of jello. Everything that made life’s occasions so special was stripped away and it all felt so… numb. I felt surrounded by death. I was down 2 grandparents, an aunt, and multiple friends who passed tragically young. To be honest, my father was dead to me when he abandoned our family when I was 12 years old (a different kind of grief, but I have come to learn it is valid nonetheless).
What is one more death to cope with? I should be good at it by now.
I had to push the grief down deep, because I can’t balance the grief with having a baby. I’d have to carry on and pretend to be the perfect Mom I always thought I would be. I’ve taken acting classes… piece of cake, right? Wrong. Fake it until you make it does not apply here.
When my first son Archer was born, November 3rd 2016, it was just 6 weeks after my mother passed away. I’d always thought she would be there in the room with us when he came into the world. That she would stay with us that first trying week with our tiny human, clueless on all the little things they don’t tell you in blogs and vlogs with newborns. She was optimistic with a new prognosis from her recent medical exam that the cancer had let up a bit, begging me:
“I can’t wait to meet the baby! Tell me if it’s a boy or girl!!”
Going back to that hospital to be medically induced 2 weeks early due to health complications from gestational diabetes gave me terrifying flashbacks and anxiety. My heart was excited to meet our baby boy but my mind was back in that hospital room with my mom, hooked up to the ventilator. Cuddled up on the bed with her, my pregnant belly between us. Her last breaths rattling amid the hum of the machines.
I’d hear my sweet baby boy’s heartbeat on the monitor… beep beep beep…
then I would flashback and hear hers, too…. beep…beep…beep…beeeeeeep….until no more.
Is there a word for being excited yet absolutely terrified? That is exactly how it felt. I was putting on my bravest face so I didn’t stress anyone out. Inside my head my mind raced on all the complications that could happen during birth and after.
“Please let him live. Please don’t take him from me, too.”
Once he was earthside, I didn’t have the normal experience of bliss and connection. I didn’t know what “normal” postpartum was. And how could anyone, becoming a mother for the first time? It wasn’t until having my second son Leo that I realized how different the experience was. I understood all those mothers who said they felt ‘so happy, at peace, in love,’ etc.
With Archer I would lie awake at night while he slept. Sometimes crying because although I was exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally… I could not switch off. I would be grieving my mother. Wondering if that little cough was actually a choke. Leaping out of bed to stare at his chest and make sure he is breathing.
It heightened my usual anxieties too. It wasn’t until he was a few months old and I ended up going to the hospital with a mysterious (and ultimately undiagnosed) persistent pain in my leg that I realized I NEEDED to make changes. I was scared that it was a blood clot or worse. I want to live a long healthy life with and FOR my family!
While my anxieties might be driven by trauma at a different degree than others, I know I am not alone in my anxieties and fears for my child’s health and safety. So many mothers suffer silently through anxiety, assuming it’s their new normal. Life will forever feel this way. But it does not have to be that way, mama!
Below are some of the strategies I use, and will continue to use when Baby # 3 comes this September:
Meditation and Mindfulness
The past couple years I have practiced writing the experience down as it replays in my head. I let myself have a few minutes to reflect on it. Writing it out helps me acknowledge, feel, validate, and move past it peacefully so I can move forward with my day. My collection of thoughts is kept in my Notes app on my phone because it is always with me (and my kids steal my notebooks and pens, LOL). I also practice deep breaths, taking a time out (make sure kids are safe and let myself have a couple minutes to reset from feeling overwhelmed).
Knowledge is Power
I have learned to harness the negative energies into positive. I research all those things that race in my mind– safety, health, risks. Empowering myself with information (be wary of overload!) is therapeutic for me. I have enjoyed sharing my experiences, finds, information, and products on Instagram, too!
Connect with Community
The months before I had Leo I decided I would start up my blog and put my experiences and life out there on Instagram a bit more. Even if only to document it for myself, it was worth it. I am so happy to be connected to a community of women who message me relating to what I share. Another way I have connected with other mothers, (which was difficult having moved 3 hours from my friends and family when Archer was born) was attending local programs for mothers and babies. The Baby & Me classes helped me get out of the house and meet other moms with babies in the same age group. I was SO LUCKY to find an incredible group that I am grateful to call friends (and little besties for my kids!). I had no idea how much I needed that connection to soothe my heart and feel HEARD by others experiencing similar things.
There are so many ways to practice self-care. One important way to do this is positive self-talk. Whether that is about your body, your appearance that day, mom guilt, your own accomplishments, and more. Speak more positively about yourself and acknowledge when you are being harsh with yourself, even if it sounds like self-deprecating humour (GUILTY!). I have also learned that self-care is building a routine that prioritizes time for ME. For me that is waking up early so I have time in the morning for myself. I rise, do my skincare, fix my hair, put on warrior paint (aka my 5 minute face), put on an outfit I feel good in, do some stretches, listen to some podcasts while I do it all. It sets my day off right! I try to do this in the evening too, instead of switching on the tv for hours after the kids are in bed. I look forward to the Reading Mondays and Date Night In Wednesdays with my husband! I also include a cleaning routine for the house, because as weird as it sounds I have realized my mind feels less busy when there is less physical clutter.
I am so grateful to have shared my story and be a part of this incredible campaign alongside fellow inspiring mamas.
I hope that you know you are not alone, your experience is valid, and that there is a safe space for you here.