I didn’t know

I’ve adopted a mantra in recent years, brought about by my mental health journey and my miscarriage heartache, and my living a small life full of big joy as a stay-at-home mom: Tell your truth. Tell it all, no matter how hard, awkward, painful, or real.

It’s a scary mantra, for sure, and is not for the faint of heart. I know many a mother, all strong, incredible women, who refuse to admit to more than a select few of their journey with mental illness or miscarriage or hardship. That talking about their truth is scarier than the truth itself. That kind of quiet, though, doesn’t work for me. And so, for me, I tell my truth.

I talk about dark days and low lows. I talk about broken brains and medicated pregnancies. I talk about dead babies and wide chasms of grief. I talk about rough patches and the fight of marriage. I talk. I talk. I talk.

I’m certain there are people who wish, sometimes or all the times, that I’d just shut up. (Sometimes I am those people.)

I also know, though, that there are people who have felt a relief that I’m a truth-sharer. That it gives them licence to share their truth – with me, with their doctor, with their partner, with themselves (sometimes, the hardest of all truth-sharing). That it gives them hope because they are not alone in their scary truth. That they are not crazy. And if they are crazy, then there’s hope because other crazy people walk among us and are living seemingly regular lives. (Note I didn’t say normal lives…there is no hope for that, let me tell you! 😉 .)

In keeping with my truth telling, I have another confession for you: I am suffering weaning depression. 

I didn’t even know such a thing existed.

I know tons about PPD and PPMD, about how they are jerks and liars and life-taker-overs, and how you have to be mega strong to fight and win over them, but that winning is possible and that having more babies after them is possible (See?! CRAZY.) and that life after is possible.

But weaning depression? Really?!

Things have been kind of ridiculous at the Mills’ house lately. A little over a week ago, I cut this guy off from my boobs:

Noodle night, anyone?

Noodle night, anyone?

And it wasn’t as hard as we had feared. And it wasn’t as tricky as it seemed. And in magical turn of events, he sleeps through the night now for the first time in 15 MONTHS. 

Guys, we won the lottery. I weaned Isaac at 15 months and there was uninterrupted sleep waiting for me as a prize. KICKASS.

But then? Then? Then I started to fall apart.

As in, the past week and a bit have been brutal. And crap.

Of course, there’s the sore boob problem. The we’re-still-making-milk-what-the-hell-are-you-doing problem. The we-look-like-we’re-surgically-enhanced problem. The if-Ben-so-much-as-looks-at-me-the-wrong-way-he’s-dead problem. They really, really hurt. I think I’m turning a corner with this, but I can’t be sure because I can’t think straight because MY BOOBS HURT. (Cue all the people who’d wish I’d shut up…it’s okay, I get it. And I still love you.)

But there’s this other problem that I don’t remember happening with Sophie or Lillian’s weaning: depression-like symptoms, rearing their ugly heads, as if I had never fought them and beat them all those months ago. As if I weren’t still medicated. As if I weren’t still working all of the steps and tools and processes that saved my life and continues to save my life today.

As if.

I feel like I’m itching in my skin again – I can’t sit still, yet I can’t do anything because everything is overwhelming and hard again. I want to scream at the babies all the time even though the hijinks and antics they’re pulling don’t bring me to my knees anymore. I want to run away from home and become a writer and a crafter and a knitter and an anything-but-stay-at-home-mom-er. I want to eat all the chocolate and butter and bread the world has to offer (Read: bring me a piece of buttered toast slathered in Nutella and you can pretty much have whatever you want). I want to eat nothing because I’m tired and I don’t want to cook or prep or clean. I want to sleep until there is no more sleep to be had. I hate sleeping because I’m having trouble falling into it and staying in it (cruel irony, here – the moment I’m given full nights of sleep is the moment I lose the ability to sleep.)

I’m struggling. And I hate it.

At first I thought I was crazier than normal, like my period was on its way (SHUT UP, JULIA!) and I was PMSing (apparently, symptoms after weaning can feel like a brutal case of PMS). And then I thought I might be pregnant (I took two tests…no fourth miracle post-tubal-ligation baby for us!). And then I decided to Safe Google (i.e. not random googling, educated googling – I went to sites that I knew did less panic-inciting and more researching and educating).

Weaning depression has not been documented in many studies, but it has a lot of anecdotal evidence behind it. Katherine Stone of Postpartum Progress mentions it on her blog and states that through her years of running her website she has “heard from many women whose postpartum experiences were just fine until they stopped breastfeeding.” The Perinatal Mood Disorder Awareness website also covers this topic, saying that “a large percentage of Moms report experiencing mood changes related to weaning, and some Moms dip into full blown depression after weaning their babies.” I also found some fellow truth-tellers (like her, her and them), who bravely shared their stories and gave me hope that I’m not simply crazy and that there are other survivors out there.

I sit here stunned. Stunned that this crappy brain of mine is giving me a crappy experience again. That the life I was kicking ass at is crumbling a little again. That my ability to handle things with little-to-no help has all but disappeared and I’m left reaching out my hand to Ben, asking him to forgive the anger and crazy that’s pouring out of my mouth all the while begging him to let me lean on him (he said yes, by the way…because he’s awesome…and a life saver).

I didn’t know this existed. Had no idea.

But, now, it’s part of my journey. It’s part of my truth. And it is in this vein, this spirit that I share this with you, even the ones that wish I’d stop being an oversharer already.

Feeling low after weaning happens to a lot of women. There is a theory that it is related to the dropping levels of oxytocin, the happy-hormone that is at an all-time high while breastfeeding. The low can feel as awful as a mega bout of PMS or as bad as depression. It should be treated with grace and seriousness and help, as all mental health issues should be.

And it’s happening to me.

If you are experiencing this, or have experienced this and didn’t know what it was, or are thinking about having babies or breastfeeding babies, or if you know someone who has boobs who might use them one day to feed their babies, I’m sharing my truth in hopes that it will lend relief, understanding, and support to the person who feels lost and needs it, just as those brave women that I found as I Safe Googled my way through yet another gift of motherhood. I’m hanging in there, so have other women, and so can you.

~ 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