Continued from Beauty and the Beast (Part I)
Less than 12 hours after giving birth to my beautiful baby girl we were back at home and I was so grateful and relieved. I felt immensely blessed to have this sweet little being who insisted on sleeping in a bundle on my chest.
Yet underneath it all there was a familiar and unwelcome feeling. Like the evil fairy that we “forgot” to invite to the party. It surfaced as a tightness that constricted my breathing and felt like a giant lump in my throat. I forced myself to swallow hard and I tried to push it away but it had taken root and the more that I stuffed it down and tried to ignore it the bigger and more powerful it became.
It was fear. Fear that I wouldn’t be able to love both of my children the way that they deserved to be loved. Fear that I would fail one or the both of them. Fear that I wasn’t patient enough or kind enough or resourceful enough. Fear that in the end, I wasn’t enough.
The insomnia returned and sleep deprivation made me weepy and detached. I was anxious and irritable and all of these things only reinforced my personal myth of failure and unworthiness.
My little girl was only happy when I held her or carried her so I wore her in a carrier constantly. This was supposed to be calming for both of us but instead of being this beautiful bonding activity it made me feel over-touched and over-taxed. I felt like I was suffocating or drowning, I needed to breathe but couldn’t get any air.
Then the guilt of wanting to get away from my baby weighed me down even more. My older boy, not much more than a baby himself clung to me more than ever, he needed reinforcement of my love, reassurance that everything was okay. I worried that my connection with him would suffer so I did everything that I could possibly do to maintain his routines and to continue to be there for him. But in all of my caring for my children I completely neglected to care for myself and suffered for it.
The fear and the guilt led to panic attacks. At my best I was tense and anxious and worried, at my worst I was afraid to leave the house. It got to the point that even going as far as the backyard was a panic inducing event.
When my daughter was 4 months old, my grandmother, my mom’s mom, passed away and I was unable to go to the memorial service. I could barely make it to the mailbox so getting on an airplane was a feat beyond comprehension. I was so devastated by not being able to go that I finally broke down and sought help.
It took 30 months. Two and a half years of living with some degree of postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety before I finally reached out and said, “I need help.”
I had been stubborn but mostly I had been deeply ashamed. It was like admitting that all of my fears were true. Admitting that I needed help felt like a confirmation, “I’m not good enough.” The truth is though that asking for help when you need it isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s an act of strength and courage. Getting help didn’t mean that I wasn’t good enough, it meant that I was good enough.
At first I didn’t want to take medication but I felt like I was falling down a dark and scary chasm and I needed a way to find my footing so I reversed my long-held belief about not taking meds and agreed to start on anti-depressants.
I hated taking them yet in many ways I feel that I owe my life to them. They provided me with a net. They caught me in my fall.
I didn’t feel like me again yet but I was finally able to get my feet back under me. I sought counseling; I improved my nutrition and started on a variety of different vitamins. I started doing yoga again and learned to meditate. Then I started weaning back off of the medication. It was hard. One of the hardest things that I’ve ever done but I wanted to be me again, I wanted to feel again. I wanted to let the pain back in, to feel it and let it wash over me and know that it was okay. I was okay.
By my daughter’s 2nd Birthday I was completely off of medication and celebrated my birth as much as hers.
I wasn’t perfect. I was messy and raw and some days were definitely better than others. I discovered that it’s okay to be a beautiful mess. I learned that I was both the beauty and the beast and neither needed to win or defeat the other. I embraced both aspects of myself and learned true self-love.
I am publishing this story on the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, in solidarity with the brave warriors at Postpartum Progress as they climb out of the darkness from shame to pride.
In the courageous words of Glennon Doyle Melton from Momastery, to all of those celebrating having overcome postpartum depression or anxiety or any other profound personal struggle and to all of those still fighting to overcome whatever battle it is that you fight, “carry on warrior!”
By the way, if you haven’t seen Glennon’s Ted Talk about coming out of hiding to tell the truth about being a messy, honest, fully human being, it is so worth your time!