How I’m doing

It’s been quite a few months since I came out as suffering from a postpartum mood disorder (PPMD/PPD) and I was thinking it might be a good idea to let you know how I’m doing.

I am doing really, really well.

In terms of the PPMD/PPD, I’m completely recovered. I don’t have a foggy brain anymore, I’m not anxious and overwhelmed anymore, I’m not flying off the handle with blind rage anymore. I’m controlled. I’m confident in my parenting. I’m taking care of myself. And I am actually thriving as a person, instead of drowning.

I am doing really, really well.

Of course, there was no magic pill or instant cure, there was no lightbulb moment that changed everything, but there was hard work and lots of help. And I wanted to share with you what fueled my success this time.

I stayed medicated. This is controversial, in that I was medicated all throughout my pregnancy with Isaac and even bumped my medication up at the end of my pregnancy. It’s controversial because it means Isaac went through withdrawal when he was born and was at a tiny (read: minuscule) risk for birth defects. But the risk of me committing suicide or hurting myself or my babies or landing myself into a mental hospital were all severely high if I had stopped taking my medication. I have been medicated since after Lillian was born and still am to this day. Will I be medicated for the rest of my life? I have no idea, but at this point it’s working and that’s all that matters.

I asked for help. It’s tough admitting you don’t have it all together. It’s even harder when you did have it together at the beginning and now it’s starting to crumble months after your baby is born. Especially because up until my confession in February, I had been the poster girl for what to do when you have a history of mental illness and you want more children. I encapsulated my placenta and took it as prescribed (no, really). I stayed medicated. I put supports in place for the first six weeks after birth to ensure I healed properly from my scheduled C-section. I got rest. I didn’t act like a hero. My house fell into even further disarray and I was okay with it. I did everything RIGHTAnd yet, everything still fell apart. Asking for help was eating humble pie and accepting that even though we do everything the way we’re “supposed to,” things can still fall spectacularly apart. But I did it. I asked for help. I called my therapist and got an appointment that week. I was told by Toni and Jacqui that I would be getting help from Toni, and I accepted it. Let the leaning and the healing begin.

I remembered what I had learned. I joked when I got to therapy that I was going for my PhD in PPD…that I had been here twice before, that this was my third time, and by the time this was done I would be set for life. Full of PPD knowledge. You know, it turned out to be true. I remembered what I needed to do. I remembered the importance of self-care and how vital it was to my past recovery. I remembered that sleep was a key component to getting through the day in one piece. I remembered that I had to take things one excruciating step at a time, not rush through or jump from step 1 to step 74398574. I remembered that it was a journey full of peaks and valleys. I remembered that the Julia that I remembered from before babies, before the first two rounds of PPD, before the miscarriage, before this moment would come back, that she wasn’t lost for good, that she still existed. And I remembered I had to trust the process, not jump ship just because it wasn’t working. My therapist told me that this would be my shortest journey through PPD. The first round was seven months with no help. The second round was five months with medication and therapy. This round was just shy of four months. She was right. My quickest yet. PhD in the BAG!

I exercised my tushy off. No, literally. I’m 30 pounds lighter than when I started this journey. Exercising, whether bootcamp with my sisters, hiking at ridiculous o’clock, or finding my zen in running, became an integral part of my recovery. It’s no wonder – exercise gives you endorphins; endorphins make you happy; happy people just don’t shoot their husbands.

Or maybe it’s something more like this (although I will argue that the above is COMPLETELY valid):

Exercise-is-better-than-antidepressants

I feel it when I don’t exercise – the anxiety, the irritability, the brain that won’t shut up, the anger that’s bubbling far too close to the surface. And I feel it when I do – the power that exists in me, the calm that comes from achieving something so simple yet hard, the brain break because all I can do is concentrate on my breathing when I run alone, or the friend/sister-therapy that comes from running with others. It is the thing that is gluing me together. It has replaced chocolate and mindless eating. It has replaced napping and hiding. It is the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. Period.

I am kind to myself. There are bad days. There are days when I feel like I’m not a great mom…or maybe not even a good mom. There are days when I feel like there’s no way I’ll ever be able to accomplish all the things I need to do…days when Isaac is screaming and Lillian is pooping on the floor and Sophie is late for school and we haven’t even left yet. These are the days I practice being kind to myself, not shaming myself. I don’t berate me for not having it all together (i.e. no poop, no screaming, on time school kid). I don’t sit there and fume and fight with the babies who only dig their heels in more when you rush them. I don’t let it ruin the whole day. I accept my fate in that moment (we are going to be late). I remind myself that no one is dying, that this is by far not the worst situation, that I’m normal and this is nuts and it’s hard because it’s hard, not because I’m failing.

Life is hard. Not because we're doing it wrong, just because it's hard.

Glennon Doyle Melton (Way-back-play-back because I LOVE this quote so much.)

I have a village. There is no supporting cast as important as the village that helps you raise your babies. It is the thing that we turn to when we have a question, want perspective, or need an ear to just listen and then respond with, “I get it. You’re not alone.” In one of my earliest therapy sessions, my counselor said that I needed to create a village for myself, that without it I would be eternally lost. And she’s right. My village is HUGE and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Shout-outs go to The Mothers, both Ben’s and mine, for loving us and our babies, for providing second homes and soft places to land when things get out of hand, for hugging and listening and never judging. Props over to my sisters, my soulmates, the people that God saw fit to put in my permanent family, especially my nanny Toni, my dopelanger-in-spirit Jacqui, and Kim, my sister-in-broken-brainedness. To my dear broken brain friends, both past and present, thank you for never letting me feel crazy…but rather, helping me feel normal. To my kindred spirit Laura, for crafting with me, praying for me, and listening to me – love you! And to the ladies of the drop-off brigade – Heather, Bethany, Andrea, Michele, and Danika – without you holding Lillian’s hands, being second moms to Sophie, sharing in the school experience, this anxiety-ridden gal would have no friends at school. Thank you thank you thank you.

I have Ben. Beyond the village, you also need a good man in a storm. Ben is that good man. He watched me sob on the couch as I worried they would take away our babies and lock me up when I confessed to the third bout of PPD. He held me and told me we’d do whatever it took to get better. He never left me, even when I was being an asshole to him (PPD brings out the worst in people). He never blamed me, even though I felt like every crappy moment was my fault (I own the brain, ergo…). He has never stopped loving me, even when I made it impossible for him to love me. He let me run. He gave me time to regroup. He’s taken 50% of the night feeds since the 7-week mark. He is awesome. And to top it all off – he’s a great dad to our crazy kids. To the moms who are fighting this alone, I don’t know how you’re doing it. You are my heroes, because this is hard and hellish with a partner…without one, you must be made of steel or something. Seriously. I bow to you.

To the moms who are still fighting – don’t lose hope. I got my PhD. I survived my third round. I’m a confident, well-adjusted (most days) mom of three kids. I am still here, better, stronger, more vivid than I was before, and you will be too. Promise.

Babies and Mama

~ Julia

 

Tell her she’s awesome

I talked about the idea of feeling bad for people who want children and who have announced that they’re pregnant – worrying over their mental health, the blow to their sense of self, and the permanent upheaval of their lives that they will experience – and how it is wrapped up in my own battles with PPMDs. But is it completely restricted to me or other moms who have experienced mental illness or something traumatic? Or might I be onto something bigger?

I read an article on HuffPost Parents (seriously love following them) called: Throwing a New Mom Pity Party. The author, Kate Rope, a two-time mother and PPMD warrior, postures that maybe, just maybe, it might not be such a bad idea to talk about the bad stuff, the hard stuff, the stuff that makes you think, “What the HELL have I gotten myself into?” with as much zeal as the sweet-baby smell, the realized dream of being a mother, and the all-encompassing love you’re supposed to feel.

She says:

…I don’t think it’s a bad thing to acknowledge the tragedy that can accompany this socially recognized miracle. Why do you think Zorba called having a wife, kids and a house “the full catastrophe?” That’s what life is — messy and filled with highs and lows. And, when it comes to motherhood, we need to normalize the lows. There is no shame in talking about how it sucks (albeit not around your friend who is on her second round of IVF) and in reaching out for help at any stage of it.

In the article, she talks about wanting to give a weary-looking mother of a newborn a hug when she spots her in a coffee shop. But she refrains, because truly she doesn’t know what’s going on with her and she’s looking at the mom through the lense of someone who has suffered in her motherhood. And maybe this mom isn’t suffering, per say, but she’s a mother of a young baby, and that is not inherently easy.

But that’s just the point – young babies notoriously don’t sleep, have trouble eating or latching, drain you, throw your schedule for a loop, cry because they don’t know how to pass gas and sometimes scream for no reason at all. Why can’t we talk to a stranger about that? Is it the same reason that we say “Good!” whenever we’re asked how we’re doing in passing?

I get it – you don’t want to freak out some poor defenseless person on the street with your insistence they talk about their feelings right now, but maybe we should relax a little about talking about it in our circles of friends, or family, with our own parents, or with people in our baby yoga class. Maybe we should let go of the idea of perfection and embrace the fact that it’s crazy messy and we’re all doing our very best.

A dear mom-friend of mine, Sara, texted me saying that I should write about “creating a new mom environment – supporting not critiquing – how to create a village”. I think there might be three blog posts in there, but she’s right: as new parents, we’re bombarded with a hundred different ways to do the smallest of things and each of those options claim to be the RIGHT WAY because the other ways just might KILL YOUR BABY. It’s overwhelming. And not helpful.

If you breastfeed your baby, you’re a rock star. If you don’t, you’re a horrible mother. If you make your own baby food, you’re crazy and a health-nut. If you buy jarred food, you better be buying organic, because goodness knows what’s in the ‘other’ stuff.

There is no winning. There is no making the best decision for your family and appeasing everyone else. There is no being perfect.

And therein lies the rub.

No one is perfect. No one has all the answers. No one has ever raised a child completely mess- and stress-free. NO ONE. EVER. PERIOD. But, ads, magazines, well-meaning relatives, friends with children, friends with pets, friends who live in their parents’ basement will tell you otherwise. Will tell you that you’re doing it wrong. That they have a better way. That they are right.

Not everyone will experience my personal pain of surviving a miscarriage or fighting with mental illness. Not everyone will walk the road that I had to in order to become a mother. But everyone who becomes a parent will stumble at some point. Will have a hard time at some point. Will wonder who they have become at some point. Inevitably. No life change comes without challenge. If it did, it wouldn’t be life-changing. It would be hanging out on the couch watching your favourite show. Not doing something awesome and crazy and hard.

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.

I have come across this incredible online community fueled by Glennon Doyle Melton, a woman who has lived a far from perfect life, but who is learning to embrace the truth that everyone has also lived and is living a far from perfect life, called Momastery. Here, mothers from around the world chime in about embracing their flaws and failures and not working so damn hard pretending that life is anything but nuts. It’s incredibly liberating. And comforting.

Because sometimes, days when I’m covered in poop (no, literally), when I realize the pants I have been wearing have been peed on by two different children on two different days, when I can’t remember the last time I had a shower, when I just want five seconds alone without any sound, I wonder if I’m doing it wrong. If I’m not accomplishing some illusive mom-goals. If I’m failing miserably. If everyone else is normal and I’m the exception.

And then I find things like Momastery. And the Messy Beautiful Warrior Project on Pinterest (an ATTAINABLE Pinterest board, people!) And I realize, not only am I not messing up, but I’m doing awesome because I’m doing it. 

So, the next time you see a new mom, or the mom who is yelling, or the mom on her iPhone, or the mom checking out the no-name, non-organic food in the grocery store, instead of judging, or wondering if you’re doing it wrong, maybe tell her she’s doing alright. She’s doing just fine. And then tell yourself, you’re not too shabby either.

Because as Kate writes in her article, “Even if being a parent is one of your most important life goals — it was for me. You are allowed to struggle — a lot. And just because you signed up for a life-changing experience, doesn’t mean you don’t deserve help with all the changes it brings.”

So, help her with her groceries, if your hands are empty. Be truthful when talking about this craziness that is parenthood. Don’t judge when someone makes a different choice than you. And keep in mind that you are doing your best, and that is pretty freaking awesome.

Just show up Be brave Be kind Rest Try again

~ Julia