A social worker once said to me that parents are in the trenches until their youngest child has turned seven. We are mostly at the beck and call and whim of these young people, who need us to help them develop emotionally, psychologically, physically. It’s thankless work (mostly) and we get precious little time to ourselves for our own endeavors and loves. We have to fight tooth and nail it seems to get five minutes of downtime to allow our brains to have some quiet and we get little support from the outside world. Yes, being a parent is endlessly rewarding, but let’s be honest, it’s hard fucking work.
I saw the truth in these words, how we parents are in the trenches for the first seven years of our children’s lives, with my own daughter. In the last year as she approached and became seven her independence expanded exponentially, to the point of me finding myself on several occasions staring blankly at a wall having no idea what to do with myself: she was contently playing on her own and didn’t need or want me to join her. In the last year I’ve had the space to reconnect to my love of writing and to develop my business in a way I didn’t know would ever be possible being a homeschooling mom. I have to say it’s been bittersweet, watching her grow and not need me or want me as much as, or in the same ways, she once did.
I’ve had time to find me again, and dear gosh, it has been amazing.
And while those first seven years I would agree we as parents are definitely in the trenches, I have to say that for the first month of their lives we are on the effing war-torn front lines.
I hadn’t remembered how hard that first month with our daughter was. It was over seven years ago, and after that first month passed she became the propaganda baby we all remember and talk about: totally zen and calm, easy to soothe, a great sleeper, etc. What followed her first month of life erased the horror of those first four weeks. Four weeks where I was sure we should just give her up for adoption because we were the most unfit parents on the planet and where I questioned myself every moment and constantly had a critical voice telling me how I was screwing her up.
The last month with our son, his first four weeks of life, have brought back some of those traumatic memories. We have relived the sleep deprivation and I had several moments of deeply regretting having a second child. I’ve been in tears and felt like a total failure as a mother, not only to our little guy but also to our daughter who has been truly a young saint in the making as we adjust to life as a family of four. I have snapped and yelled and cried and screamed more than I care to admit and I have felt such deep guilt for all the change in our family. The critical voices came back, along with the intense anxiety and depression and I felt myself slipping into the downward spiral I lived through with our girl.
We seem to be at a turning point now. In part because our little guy’s brain is forming the pathways it needs; he’s becoming more interactive and awake during the day, allowing us more sleep at night. And we’re all figuring out his cues and cries and are able to get his needs met a little faster. He’s becoming the zen propaganda baby his sister was and let me tell you, this is a great relief for everyone in this house.
And while his growing and changing and developing is a part of it all, I believe a major part of the turning point is I recognized I needed help and with the support of my husband and some close friends, I got it.
You see I experienced postpartum depression with my daughter. For over two and a half years. At first I didn’t recognize the symptoms and signs, but eventually I did and then became too proud and stubborn to do anything about it. I also was suffering from hypothyroidism and my adrenal system had all but stopped working, which I found out when I finally did go to my doctor. But it was over two and half years of suffering: mine and my family’s, before I started seeking help and then it was at least another six months before we were able to really start seeing any changes as my body and mind started to heal.
At the beginning of our little guy’s third week of life I knew that I was back on that path of suffering. I had promised my husband before we even got married that I would seek help immediately if the postpartum depression symptoms came back and so after a couple days of feeling the depression and anxiety seep into my core, I told him I needed to get help. He supported me in calling my midwife and last week I started medication and supplementation to alleviate the symptoms.
I’m not 100% yet but I’m sure a hell of a lot better than I was a week ago.
I’m sharing this for a few reasons. The greatest being the shame that surrounds postpartum depression. I had so much shame with my daughter and a desperate need to prove that I could do it all and handle everything. I’ve stated before how this lead to me having a near psychotic break. My husband almost lost his wife, my daughter almost lost her mother. It was the darkest time of my life and while living it I would never admit to anyone what was happening inside my head and body, now I feel the need to share the story.
One of the greatest lessons my daughter has taught me is the importance of self-care, self-love; the necessity to take the time for my own replenishment and renewal. Or more to the point, that my survival depends on the ability to care for myself, to seek help when I need it and to release any misplaced shame around our need for help. That I don’t need to be “super mom” or to “do it all” and that I need to care for myself and allow others to help me with that care. That taking five, ten, twenty minutes to myself is not selfish, it is necessary for me to live.
Babyboy is giving me the opportunity to practice this lesson. It has been a hard month, not only because of sleep deprivation and learning the nuances of a new little person and stepping into caring for him regardless of what I think I need to be doing in the moment; but also because I am stepping into the practice of lessons learned and allowing the space for me to need, ask for, and receive help and remembering that even little bubbles of five to fifteen minutes for me can offer a world of renewal. Taking five minutes to make a phone call for a doctor appointment or to stare out the window daydreaming; or ten minutes to make a yummy refreshing summer drink; or twenty minutes to make a replenishing and nourishing easy meal.
This in-my-face reminder of the need for self-care inspired me to remind everyone of the importance of a self-love practice: the little things we can do to refresh, renew, and replenish, everyday. Self-care is recognizing the importance of giving time to ourselves and knowing that by taking this time we are able to become and be the people we want to be and allowing our own inner glow to burst through.