A Day in the Life…

A couple of months ago, I started a new job. The job is about 3.5 miles from my house (which means nothing in the DC metropolitan area BTW), it uses my degree in engineering, I work with some amazing people and the work is insanely fun and challenging.

Suffice it to say…it’s a dream job. To support this dream, I had to do a couple of things. I ramped back up to 40 hours a week. I started a new world of commuting via bus, rides, walking and cycling, adding effectively 1 – 2 hours per day to my schedule. I pushed up my workout schedule from 7 – 8AM to 6 – 7AM. I tackled my new dizzyingly complex job, barely hanging on as an assault of deeply challenging technical information came barreling my way, causing me to stay at rapt attention for hours on end as I listened and tried to learn.

What…an…adjustment.

Turns out that it didn’t matter that my job is a dream job. It was incredibly hard to make all of those changes. Particularly as I’m not one to handle being ‘overly scheduled’. My days are now scheduled down to nearly the minute.

  • 5:30: I get up
  • 5:40: Brush my teeth, put in my contacts and throw on my workout gear
  • 5:45: Eat a banana, grab my water bottle, shoes and keys
  • 5:50: Walk to the gym
  • 6:00: Lift with my gym buds MWF, Cycle with my cycle buds TTh
  • 7:00: Fly out of the gym like a bat out of hell
  • 7:15: Walk in the door, throw some eggs in the pot to boil for breakfast and wake my husband
  • 7:25: Shower, help with residual baby tasks
  • 7:45: Makeup, hair, get dressed
  • 8:00: Run out the door with husband and baby in tow
  • 8:30: Arrive at work, compliments of my husband AKA carpool buddy
  • 8:30 – 4:45: Work at my awesome job
  • 5:00: Walk to bus station
  • 5:30: Grab the bus
  • 5:45: Walk in the door, greeted by an enthusiastic baby
  • 6:00: Get dinner going while my husband and I tag-team the baby
  • 6:45: Eat dinner while running around with the baby
  • 7:00: Baby in bed, we flop down on the couch and relax for family time
  • 9:00: Me in bed, ready to do it all over again

That schedule took a lot of time to get used to. Initially, I couldn’t do it. The overscheduling made me feel like I had to hit each of those tasks; living in fear if I missed one of my mark. It depressed me. I had a real low week in January as I struggled to get used to my new schedule. It reminded me of the depths of postpartum depression as one particularly hard day, I dragged myself home, laid on the couch and told my husband that I had no energy to cook dinner, put the baby to bed or clean-up.

Like a champ, my husband jumped in and took care of everything. My previous past history of postpartum depression helped me steer through this period of about five days. I recognized the symptoms and knew what I had to do to mitigate it. I felt confident I would get through it and sure enough I did.

But just like the transition you go through when you have a kid, kicking and screaming, you do eventually level up to the challenge.

I’ve worked hard to overcome my aversion to feeling overscheduled. I make sure my evenings are usually free, I don’t do any late activities during the week and I read productivity blogs to invigorate me and gradually shift my attitude. Over time, of course, I’m naturally becoming more adept at managing my weekly schedule. With working on my attitude toward my schedule, I’ve decided to try to be more consistent in getting up earlier to make getting up easier…and some weeks it works and some weeks it doesn’t. A mindset is possible to change, but there are intrinsic qualities of an individual that don’t change. I learned a lot about myself, what limitations I had and how to deal with them.

But probably the biggest point I keep in my mind is that I’m working toward this schedule as a goal, rather than a rigid line in the sand. I’m also constantly looking at ways that I can tweak my routine and I’m staying flexible. For example: if I’m traveling for work (which is OFTEN), my routine looks a bit different but I try to weave in commonality, such as getting up at the same time after the time change correction, working out and going to bed early. The other thing is, I’ve still got a baby who is teething. He’s got nearly all of those suckers out, but that still means that some nights are tough.

When those nights are tough: I text my gym buddies and cancel, because sleep is SO incredibly important. I sleep in and then try to go for a walk at lunch or after dinner with the baby, now that he stays up an hour later. Or I add a workout session on the weekend. The other day, I had a monthly dinner date with some of my girlfriends and missed my son entirely as I went directly to dinner from work. So, instead of cycling the next morning, when my son woke up early (again due to teething…when does it end!?!?), I grabbed him and we went for a walk and did push-ups and pull-ups at the park.

OK, OK…well we did about two of each and I don’t think my son’s counted if we consider who was doing the heavy lifting. But my husband got to sleep in and I got my exercise in while staying consistent with my wake-up schedule.

My husband and I have frequent check-ins to ensure that we’re on the same page with what everyone needs and where we are in our weekly routine. He knows it helps me to give me a ride to work; it means I get home a little earlier and I’m less stressed in the morning. But the other week, he couldn’t make that work and was super stressed out, so one day I drove, another day I caught a ride, one day I took the bus and walked (got that exercise in!) and we figured it out.

My biggest project for myself is to continue to make sure that I’m not looking at this as drudgery, but as an optimization plan to get our family safely through the week. Flexibility is key and when that just doesn’t work, well then my husband and I lean on each other to help fill in the gaps. We’re figuring this stuff out. Some weeks look better than others, but we’re getting there…and that’s really what life is, isn’t it? There’s no prize for completing everything on the checklist; just the measure of a healthy, intact family.

Postpartum World_ICON_4C_Yellow Rattle

 

None of this is intended to be prescriptive, it’s just my experience.

It’s also important to remember that you have to be in a healthy mindset to work on this daily optimization. 

Hitting my Stride

The other day, my sister commented that I look so much more at ease with my son. I beamed at the comment because I have to say that in the last two months, I really feel like I’ve finally come into my own as a mother.

It’s something about hitting the 18 month mark for me. I love my son at this age. He’s interesting and inquisitive and learning a new word every couple of days. He is discovering water, puddles and how splashes move. He says thank you, puts his shoes away in the closet (along with mom and dad’s) and helps unload the dishwasher.

This kid is the coolest.

For the first time, I feel myself relaxing, enjoying and looking forward to being around him. Suddenly those nights and weekends just don’t feel like enough time. We run around, go down the stairs, point out buses and cars and laugh. Right now, I’m trying to teach him about colors. I don’t know if he is quite getting it, but we’re having a blast figuring it out.

Home feels quintessentially more like a haven than it’s ever felt before. Home is where my heart is. Though it always was that way to some extent, during postpartum depression, home was also fear, anxiety, doubt and exhaustion. Those aren’t great things to associate with home.

So if you’re still struggling, or maybe you’re not struggling through postpartum depression but you’re still ‘not quite into’ motherhood, fear not my friend. There’s no rule as to when you have to feel like you’ve truly come into motherhood. Maybe it happened right when the baby was born, perhaps it was after the first six months, or maybe it’s when they hit that sweet age of four. Just remember:

In the blink of an eye, everything can change.

Postpartum World_ICON_4C_Green Rattle

Is it the Journey? Or the Destination?

The other day, I was posting on Instagram. I don’t put pictures of my son on Facebook, Instagram or the internets in general to protect his privacy. But I took a picture of his toys and used the hashtag: #damnilovethatkid.

It’s a funny thing, that hashtag. It seems like such a simple phrase that any parent would utter. “Damn, I love that kid”. But as I’ve written about before, love was a hard fought battle for me. My detachment from postpartum depression was the cloud that invaded my every being.

I remember the handful of times that I would drop my son off at daycare and he would wrap his arms around my legs and bury his face. I remember the handful of times that I would pick him up and he would come running to me in joyous rapture. Those moments were precious to me. They were moments that I actually was able to truly believe that he actually loved me and knew who I was.

Those are the problems of the detached mama.

Doubt that her child loves her because she couldn’t love her child enough when they were born…because of the postpartum depression. Doubt that her child would be forever scarred from those first 6 – 12 months. Constant frustration that she isn’t having the same experience that everyone else is; she’s supposed to feel this unconditional love that’s stronger than anything anyone has ever known. She’s not supposed to feel an inability to enjoy and appreciate her child.

So the detached mama gets help. She recognizes that things aren’t normal. She gets her medication, she goes to therapy. She gets better. She feels like herself again. But still, the love hasn’t come. Having her child feels like a warm affection, but it still doesn’t match the awe and majesty of the love that other ‘normal’ mamas describe.

Her life is a continual long sigh. She feels stuck. She feels like she’ll never love her child the way she’s supposed to. She feels like she’s defective; that somehow something got broken when she was created. She puts on a brave face, but wonders if her child knows of her struggles.

So she marches on, with a smile on her face. She nods when people talk about the glory, the beauty, the sheer awesomeness of having children. She connects with them when they talk about how hard it is, but that common ground slowly dissipates when they go back to talking about how amazing parenting is. She tells herself that she’s just not cut out of this parenthood stuff.

She’s confused. The medication’s working, she feels better, she’s been able to make her life what it used to be. But she’s still…’abnormal’.

But then over time, the switch goes off.

The baby is no longer a baby. The baby is a toddler. The toddler has personality and giggles. The toddler says “no”, “thank you” and “oh shit” (oops). The toddler runs around like a tiny T-rex and dances in the sunshine.

Those warm feelings of majesty and sheer awesomeness and beauty finally hit her like a ton of bricks. The struggles and the doubt have been forced out and she can finally say, “It’s so hard, but yes…it’s so rewarding” and truly mean it.

Postpartum World_ICON_4C_Green Rattle

If you’re struggling with detachment, hold on to hope. Be patient with your treatment. Attachment takes time and there’s nothing wrong with you if you need some extra time to get there. Don’t expect an immediate spark once you start to feel recovered from the depression. Be kind to yourself.

 

It’s OK to Acknowledge the Dumpster Fire

Frequently when people are going through some pretty tough shit, we have a tendency to minimize people’s problems by informing them that other people have it worse.

It’s true. There are always going to be people who have less than I have, who have worse problems, who have been through more. But are we really doing our friends, families and moms a favor by reminding them of this?

This type of stuff is exacerbated for moms too. I see it all the time on baby boards on the internet, comments that others make, etc. Often folks tell moms suffering from postpartum depression to just ‘focus on their sweet little baby’ and just remember that it is going to get better and ‘at least you [insert something about you having it better than some other person on the planet]’.

Is that really helpful? I mean, I know mindfulness is a great tool for people. But when you’re going through a chemical aberration that (in my case) keeps you from even being able to form an attachment with your ‘sweet little baby’, this advice rings hollow. Moreover – this type of advice is actually intended to be a distraction. It’s supposed to distract you from the misery you’re feeling by giving you perspective.

But why can’t we focus on the fact that we’re just having a tough time? Why can’t we acknowledge that yes, we had a baby but our year was kind of crummy? It’s almost like there’s this fear that if we acknowledge the last year was a rolling dumpster fire, that we’re subconsciously applying that descriptor to our child.

Of course that’s not what we’re doing. Sometimes life is just hard. Sometimes you can’t see the silver lining in the clouds. And sometimes, for postpartum depressed mothers, you just can’t see how great your little baby is because of the illness that has wrapped its talons around your brain.

2015 was awful for me. 2016 was kind of a dumpster fire too because it started off with suicidal depression. I’m acknowledging that. I’m owning it.

But the cool thing is: I know how bad it was for that year and a half. Now that I’m better, I can sit and say, you know what? My life is SO amazing now…because it is exponentially better than it was 10 months ago. I can see and feel the difference. I’m so incredibly proud of the fact that I fought so hard to get better. I’m so incredibly proud of the fact that I have the energy to care for my son and actually like doing so now.

Acknowledging the bad helps me appreciate the good…SO much. So if you (or your partner) are having a tough time and going through the hell that is postpartum depression – acknowledge it.

Because when you get better – it’s going to be INCREDIBLE.

Postpartum World_ICON_4C_Yellow Rattle

PPD Parenting Milestones

So a couple of weeks ago I did something that was completely unimaginable 6 months ago. I parented the little guy, all day, by myself on a weekend day.

My husband went out with the guys for a day at a local amusement park and I stayed home because a girlfriend was visiting from out of town. Plus I figured taking a toddler to an amusement park would be fun for…no one.

In the past, I’ve struggled with weekends. They’re a mix of relaxation, frustration and delight. It’s nice spending lots of time with the little guy but good lord is it exhausting. He basically comes through like a tornado, tearing up anything that isn’t nailed down and locating any possible dangerous object in the room, before finally crashing hard. He leaves the living room like a frat house, post-party. Come to think of it, he kind of is like a little frat guy. He staggers from table to chair, tripping here and there while he stops to throw his head back and swig some sweet, sweet milk from his magic munchkin cup.

But Sunday was amazing. I had a blast.

I’ve learned that getting out with the little guy is critical. So I planned for us to go over to the middle school and do sprints (I do them every Sunday as part of my fitness plan). I sprinted with the stroller and then walked over to a coffee shop to meet some friends. The little guy was ready for a nap, so we walked around the neighborhood and window shopped while he snoozed in his stroller. We got back to the house around 1PM. I tried to put little buddy down for a second nap but he opted out, so we hung out in the living room and played with trucks, stuffed toys and assorted loose items in the living room. A girlfriend came over to hang out and shortly thereafter, I put the little dude down for bed.

It was such a simple day, yet such an incredible milestone. Here I was, parenting my son and enjoying every bit of it. I wasn’t tired, I wasn’t irritable, I wasn’t a hot bag of self-doubt.

It’s amazing to feel that I’ve finally arrived as a mother. Sometimes it hurts that it took so long, but then again there are so many beautiful days to enjoy in the future.

Postpartum World_ICON_4C_Yellow Rattle

Postpartum Depression Doesn’t Define a Mother

Postpartum depression doesn’t define you as a mother.

Just like the newborn phase of your child’s life doesn’t define you as a mother.

Just like the baby phase of your child’s life doesn’t define you as a mother.

The truth is, who we are as mothers is defined by a lifetime. It’s defined by who we were before we had children. It’s defined by our child’s (or children’s) early years. It’s defined by the decades that follow the birth of that child.

When women express atypical experiences during pregnancy and postpartum periods, we look at those women and wonder about what’s wrong with them. Or at a minimum, we just assume that they’re just not ‘into the baby thing’ or in more extreme cases, they’re just not ‘into the whole having kids thing’.

So what are we doing? We’re writing those women off. We’re determining who those women are, based on a scant two years (more or less, depending on the severity of the perinatal depression or anxiety) of experience in the role of ‘motherhood’.

When you think about that in the life of a child, it’s ridiculous. It buys into this myth that life isn’t about change, growth and redemption.

Children grow over many years until they reach adulthood. As they grow, different events, conditions and experiences shape them. Sure, you can bring up the whole nature vs nurture argument, but if you believe that nature trumps nurture, well than it really doesn’t matter what type of parent you are, period. So we’ll assume that nurture plays a role.

Children change. I like my baby a lot in this stage that he’s in. It seems like each month gets better as I get glimpses into what makes him tick and I watch him explore his world. When he was a tiny baby, I didn’t know who he was. I still don’t, but with each passing day, I’m getting a better idea.

I don’t worry about how those first months will impact him. He’s like a sponge. He absorbs new and different things each day. While his mother may not have been able to be there for him, his father was. His grandparents were. His friends at daycare were. He didn’t lack for love – not a single bit. But even if he did, I’ve got days and months and years to make that up to him.

I feel like I’m starting to hit a stride as a mother. Who I was six months ago is completely and wholly different from who I am today. What I think about motherhood is completely different now than it was months ago. I expect that I will continue to change as my child changes too.

I’m also not the only person who will impact the man that my baby will eventually become. He will be profoundly impacted by his peers, his classmates, his teachers, his coaches and mentors. These experiences will shape him and create who he is as an adult.

I almost wonder if it’s arrogant to assume that we, as parents, completely shape our children’s lives…that every little thing we do has a resounding impact on them. While it’s certainly true that we have an overwhelming role in shaping our children, our role is finite as our child does not exist in a bubble. Much of our influence isn’t even within our control, when we consider the traits of ours that our child inherits. Given this vast world that our child will move through, our presence is a mere piece of the puzzle that will give our child the tools to move through this world. All we can do is hope to give our child the tools to be successful, resilient and content.

Postpartum World_ICON_4C_Yellow Rattle

Where did my Village go?

I had the privilege of attending a training course as part of my steps to become a volunteer to help women struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety. As we learned all about how we can better serve women who are struggling, we exchanged a lot of stories, some of which were deeply personal.As I sat, listening to these women talk, I began to wonder about the statistics that we hear quoted for postpartum depression.

I’ve heard anywhere from 7% to 10% of women suffer some form of postpartum depression. Obviously my experiences are going to cause me to interact with more women who have experienced postpartum depression, but good lord that statistic still feels low. When you factor in the number of women that I’ve heard say, “Oh yeah, I think I had that”, you’re left with this feeling of how have women done this for thousands of years?

In fact, whenever you talk about the high number of women experiencing a perinatal mood disorder, a lot of times people are confused. It seems like all of a sudden, everyone is getting postpartum depression. One reaction to the openness that we are now starting to see with postpartum depression is that it’s not real. If all these women are ‘suddenly’ getting postpartum depression when women have been giving birth for a millennia then maybe these women are exaggerating it. Or maybe we’re over-diagnosing it. Or something that we’re eating or drinking is causing an increase in frequency.

But maybe the reality is none of those things.

In October, my husband, son and I moved in with my in-laws for four weeks. I wasn’t sure how it was going to go – my son is kind of a tiny hurricane, who bounces around, leaving nothing but destruction and debris in his path. He can be a bit much at times. But collectively we ended up having a blast.

People went to their own corners in the evenings, but in the mornings and before my son went to bed, instead of there being two sets of hands to help, there were four. We cooked together, hung out, spent some time apart but overall enjoyed every minute of it. My son got to spend a ton of quality time with my in-laws. The anxiety that I sometimes still feel about getting him to bed in the evening was gone, as I had plenty of helpers.

I felt cared for and comfortable. I didn’t feel bad if my son’s care fell on my husband, because there were two other people to help out. I wasn’t exhausted by Friday – because I had my village.

Parenting a baby can be so overwhelming. In today’s isolated culture, we as parents feel that we have to take on everything and do all. But it wasn’t so long ago that families all lived close together and all pitched in (in fact, I’ve been fortunate enough to have two sets of grandparents that are close and incredibly helpful!). It wasn’t a failure of the mom or dad’s part, it was simply pragmatism. Moreover, it really gave children a chance to develop deep bonds to their extended family members which is such a wonderful thing.

Often I hear or read these stories of these women who feel tremendous pressure to do it all: to clean their houses, bake for their children, raise their children and cart them all around. When they have to reach out for help (sometimes asking for help involves asking their partner!) they feel a tremendous sense of failure. That, or they feel guilty or as if they can’t do the bare minimum.

On top of all that, we have a false sense of community from the online culture as well. I’d first like to clarify that there are a great amount of good things that our online culture provides, especially to mothers who are struggling with perinatal mood disorders. Online cultures help people feel normal when they reach out with their concerns and struggles. Often we think that we are the only ones going through this. But these online families don’t pick the kids up when we’re sick. They don’t watch the baby when we desperately need a night out. Online communities provide a sense of family and friendship, without the physical support needed to help a struggling parent out. Cleaving to the online community can potentially lull a parent into a false sense of community and then subsequently be left in the cold reality, when it really counts – when the parent really needs their village.

With extra burdens like these in our fast-paced culture, is it any wonder why the postpartum depression numbers are potentially growing?

Postpartum World_ICON_4C_Green Rattle

 

The Medication Conundrum

Recently, Postpartum Progress posted an article that was originally posted on Scary Mommy. The article was about a woman who has suffered from treatment resistant depression for years. Her depression was naturally exacerbated with childbirth and the postpartum period. She expressed her frustration with well-meaning family, friends and strangers when they would advise her on how to treat her depression.

The full article is here.

Continue reading “The Medication Conundrum”