I read somewhere that birth and death carry the same type of energy. I wasn’t present at my dad’s death this year, but my mother describes it as tremendously powerful and heartbreaking and beautiful. Now that I have birthed a baby I can say I felt similar. It's funny, I was so worried about the birth; I thought it was going to kill me but turns out the birth was just a blip on the radar. It is the aftermath that has almost killed me.
I had vaguely heard of Postpartum Depression and Postpartum Anxiety but I really didn’t think that it would apply to me, or if it did, I felt like I could handle it and plow ahead. I was wrong. Anxiety is not a feeling I am familiar with, so Postpartum Anxiety caught me completely off guard. I didn’t know how to talk about what I was feeling. I knew there were imbalanced hormones making me feel weepy and unsettled so I just swallowed the feeling and tried to move forward. The problem was I had some basic needs that weren’t being met: breathing, sleeping, and sometimes eating. Catching my breath felt impossible. I was constantly checking the baby, absolutely convinced that she would die if I wasn’t hyper-vigilant, even through the night. I had zero appetite. Food became a necessary drudgery. After feeding her, I would lay awake, my heart racing, searching online for answers to questions like “2 week old baby breathing rapidly”, “tremors in newborns”, “breast infections” “how do I know my baby is getting enough milk” “newborn refusing bottle” “newborn gagging” “newborns choking in sleep” “SIDS.” I learned the hard way that I will never search online again for anything relating to the well being of my baby.
I didn’t know how to ask for the help I needed. Even though I was with family for the first 3 weeks, I felt completely alone. It was as if no one understood or that I had missed the plot completely. So I spent most of my time in the bedroom with one hand on my baby at all times to make sure she was safe.
I made a conscious choice to turn off Instagram during the first month of Penny’s life. It felt good but it also made me feel even more isolated. What I was craving and didn’t know was a circle of new moms sitting together while breast-feeding. Or a tribe of women sitting under the moon by a bon fire on a beach singing to their ancestors. I was and still am craving a deeper female spirituality. I am an introvert by nature but being a new mom in a shut down city made me feel a kind of loneliness I didn’t even know I could feel.
Then, around week 8 postpartum, I had a really dark night. The baby was up every hour for several nights in a row and I was at the end of my rope. I was literally on my knees praying, “please God, please help me. I am stuck and I don’t know what to do.” And then it dawned on me: I had never truly asked for help. So the next day I went to see a therapist who specializes in postpartum trauma and I decided to hire a night nurse for 3 nights so that I could get some solid chunks of sleep. And it worked. With sleep I was able to get some perspective and distance from the incessant thoughts in my head. The night nurse was able to get my baby to take a bottle (something she wasn’t able to do before) so now my husband could share the task of feeding her. I am still not out of the woods, but things are better than they were.
Motherhood is the hardest thing I have ever done. I so often feel completely alone and full of shame in this postpartum period. Why is this so hard for me? Why does no one talk about how awful this feels? Is there something dreadfully wrong with me? How do mothers balance work and a new baby? Is the pandemic the reason for my newfound panic? Maybe, but I tend to think this would be hard no matter what. Since having a baby, my brain has turned upside down and I am constantly trying to find my footing, constantly trying to avoid tragedy at every turn. So I am leaning into my honest truth here and saying: I am not ok. Maybe honesty is the first step to ending the charade so we can stop censoring photos of birth, stop encouraging women to have miscarriages alone, stop putting women in odd places, under strange contraptions to breastfeed, and to surround women with an army of supportive helpers.
Now all that being said, the love I feel for this new being is so immense, so unbearably beautiful, so massively new. It's possible that my anxiety is an entirely new way of loving. Perhaps it's stirring things inside me that needed to be stirred. When I hold Penny, I have subconscious flash backs to times even before I was born. I get these feelings like I have been here before in a different way. It is hard to describe but something new is emerging inside me, something more powerful than I have ever experienced. Things are being uncovered and our sweet sweet Penny is leading the way.
Here is a list of helpful postpartum recourses that have helped me:
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