There was a time in my life when I made excuses for my actions and thoughts, when I would say to myself(and others), “that’s just who I am/what I’m like”. Today’s attitude of “take it or leave it” and “live your best life” doesn’t help, either. I see far too often how my peers/friends on social media are in actuality, very destructive and harmful not only to themselves, but others, how they brush off their bad attitudes, abusive tendencies, and disrespectful demeanor as “living their best life”. Justified as merely “that’s me, yo”. To be honest, I find it sad. I don’t mean to come off as high and mighty, or holier than thou, but the blessing of having a lot of free time as a stay at home mom means that I get to research things at leisure that interest me, particularly psychology. I’ve listened to hours of podcasts and videos on a wide range of subject matter, read many studies, articles, and blogs, and have come to realize that I needed to take a hard look at myself. It’s easy to find flaws in other people, it’s human nature. It’s easy to look at your partner and say “you’re lazy, arrogant, you never do X,Y,Z” and dismiss or justify your own shortcomings with ease. I found, after a while, that I wasn’t so golden as I would’ve once believed. My actions and words could actually be pegged as manipulative, resentful even. Things I was doing or saying matched up shockingly well with the makings of toxic behavior. To increase your emotional intelligence is to humble yourself, in the most brutal of ways. There were many times in my passive research and interest in emotional psychology, relationships, and toxic behaviors that I quite literally said, “Well, shit, that’s what I do, and that’s why I do it, too”. Being the type of person I am, once something “clicked” for me, I had to dive in headfirst, meaning once one of my weaknesses got identified, I felt empowered by it, and I had to start identifying more of them, right all my wrongs if you will. An emotional purge and spring cleaning of my psyche. I enjoy when things make me uncomfortable. It’s an emotional workout that I relish, it’s a strengthening of mind that increases my confidence in who I am as a person. To look at yourself, and say “Yes, I’m weak in this area, BUT I’d like to make that area strong” is both vehemently frightening and exponentially empowering.
Oh, moms. We have such an immense amount of pressure resting so precariously on our shoulders, don’t we? Pressure from ourselves, our partner, our families, society. To be the perfect this, the perfect that, the mom carting her smiling kids off to class after class so that they’re well rounded, good members of society. We run ourselves ragged attending appointments, cleaning, ensuring all the bills are paid on time, stress over finances and budgets, stay up late making sure things are prepared for the following day, counting down the hours of sleep we might get if we fall asleep right NOW. I was on FaceTime with my mom complaining of my exhausting and lack of time to shower for the past 3 days when I realized how ridiculous I sounded. Mind you, I’m a mother of a newborn and a 2 year old, so most days I do feel pressed for time to pay attention to myself, but let me tell you, that is the LAST thing you want to forget about. I realized I hadn’t showered in 2 days, I was wearing the same clothes, that had spit up and various things wiped on it from my toddler, I could smell my BO every time I lifted up one of my babies, yet kept telling myself that I’d shower as soon as they were asleep, only to get caught up in clearing the sink of dirty dishes. Moms, and people everywhere really, STOP! Self care is so incredibly vital for you to continue doing what you do. As mothers, I’m very aware of the judgment that comes with pretty much every move we make. Go out one night, and you’re hearing the backlash saying all you do is party and you’re never with your kids. Go out, and enjoy yourself. Have that extra drink, eat that last mozzarella stick and laugh and joke about completely inappropriate topics, your kids will have a better ‘you’ tomorrow because of it. I let my 2 month old cry it out for 20 minutes while I showered and lathered on my nice lotion, something minor, but also something I usually skip to tend to one of them. And you know what? I’m more relaxed, I smell good, and that 20 min was enough to make me lovingly pick her up and soothe her quickly, whereas 30 min ago I was ready to tear my hair out and hurriedly rock her to stop the screaming. If you’re not taking time for yourself, you WILL burn out, you WILL yell at your kids out of frustration, and your relationships WILL start to deteriorate. For me, I had to humble myself immensely and understand that while I could ‘do it all’ it was leaving me exhausted and empty, and for my kids, myself, and my relationship, I had to accept help, and start pouring into myself again. For me, that first step was seeking professional help. At first, I was embarrassed. I was scared of the stigma that comes with “therapy”. I didn’t want to seem crazy, like I was incapable, or that I was having serious issues. I sought help at church, but felt like I was brushed off and dismissed, to “let god handle that” wasn’t a good enough answer for me. I researched a little more, and found a therapy group called Winter Solstice, that I was willing to try. After my first session with Dr. Renee Winters, I felt motivated, understood, and like I had a plan to move forward and get shit done in my life. I felt for the first time, that I wasn’t the only one going through the hectic ness of life and maybe not coping so well, but, through a few sessions, that began to turn around for me. While I personally, have been going to her for issues with my relationship, her guidance has leaked into all areas of my life. I know many of my mom friends, and family members can relate to things that I’m going through, nothing helped me more than hearing things from an objective, psychological point of view. Therapy isn’t just for crazies or anger management. I want to lift that stigma from seeking help, and talk openly about these things. No one should ever be looked down upon for wanting to better themselves, and hey, we can’t all do it alone. I truly believe that going to counseling, for whatever reason in your life, is the most beneficial thing that you can do for yourself. Finding the right therapist for you is half the battle, and I can’t recommend Dr. Winters enough. I was skeptical and frightened that I was going to be forking out money to sit on a couch and be asked “how I felt about that” over and over again, but was pleasantly surprised to realize that sessions with her were more likened to venting to an old friend, who instead of listened sympathetically and told you what you wanted to hear, offered constructive advice that produced tangible results. Mamas, daddy’s, family member, old coworkers. I implore you to take care of yourselves before all else. Yes, even before those sweet babies. You can’t pour from an empty cup.
It’s a weird term I’ve heard a lot lately and it makes me laugh. Women place this huge pressure on themselves and others to look, feel, and act their prepregnancy self instantly after childbirth and it’s so ridiculous. The only one I managed was to look my pre-pregnant self and that’s solely due to my body’s physiology. As much as I’d like to say that I dieted hard, worked out harder, and am reaping the results, the reality is that I haven’t done any of those things, my body just recovers well and quickly from childbirth. I don’t feel or act the same as I did by a long shot. I’m still suffering from the hidden disease of postpartum anxiety, still dead tired from caring for a newborn and toddler nearly all by myself, still trying to convince myself and everyone around me I have my shit together. It’s ok! I’m ONE month postpartum. If I learned anything from my last pregnancy and recovery, it’s to give myself a fucking BREAK. I just went through a major life change, and my body went through a traumatic event (a 2 minute delivery does a number on ya). As much as I physically look normal, I don’t have even half the strength I did prior to pregnancy. It surprises me sometimes how weak my body actually is right now, combine that with my off and on anxiety and you’d imagine I don’t feel my best right now. Throw in a fiancé that works nights and sleeps days and suddenly, maybe you’re not so envious of my seemingly perfect life. My instagram is the good stuff. The funny stuff, the cute kids and the made up face and skinny bod. Rarely do I show the unshowered-for-3-days face, the screaming fits, and the poking of baby faces (I’m looking at you, Aaron). While I think it’s normal for everyone to show the good side of things, I’m also here to show the bad and the ugly. Why? Because sometimes I felt so inadequate, so lost, and so confused because everyone was always only telling me and showing me the good things. When things got hard, I felt blindsided and alone. My goal for blogs like these is to help at least one mama, one person, feel like they’re not alone. That this shit is hard, frustrating, and sometimes just plain ugly. But it’s also kind of amazing, and we can get through anything.
In an attempt to normalize postpartum depression/anxiety, I’d like to talk about my personal experience with both. With my firstborn, I suffered severe postpartum depression for about 6 months. I didn’t tell anyone about it, not even my significant other. I felt a deep sense of shame; in a time where I was supposed to be a glowing new mother, I instead felt anger, sadness, jealousy, and frustration towards my new life. Not to say that I didn’t love my son, I did, more than I could ever imagine I could. But here I was, 21 and a new mother, struggling to accept my new identity, struggling to be the ‘ideal’ mom, and perfect fiancé, another title I was still getting used to. My whole family sensed that something was wrong, but especially my mom. I snapped at her a lot and never wanted her around my baby. I convinced myself I had to be the one to comfort him every time he cried, feed him every bottle, and change his every diaper the second it got damp. Naturally, the exhaustion that came from taking on literally every task caught up to me. It exaggerated the postpartum depression tenfold, and every aspect of my life began to feel the negative effects. Somehow, without seeking help or even talking about it, I began to feel the weight of depression lift. I realized what an ass I was being towards everyone, and began to accept help and visit family again. Postpartum depression is real and more common than you think. I wish I had been more prepared for it before I delivered, and I wish the people around me had also been informed about it. Give the new mom in your life some grace, and a helping hand, even if she doesn’t want it.
With my second child, I was scared during pregnancy that I’d suffer through PPD again. I did a little more research into it, and told myself I’d seek help this time if I began to feel the same way. Well, while I did prepare for PPD, I did NOT prepare for postpartum anxiety, which is also incredibly common and affects somewhere between 30-60% of women. The first couple days were bliss. I felt great! Natural childbirth was a hell of a lot easier recovery than medicated birth. I was happy, confident in my abilities as a mother, and just generally more at ease. We went home, showered, ate, and hopped into bed to catch up on our shows we missed while at the hospital. Suddenly, I felt a sharp, searing pain throughout my abdomen that instantly made me lose my breath, sweat, and start to shiver. “Oh god”, I thought, “my uterus is detaching, or I’m about to hemorrhage to death”. I’d never been one to be a hypochondriac, but the hormones and pain combined convinced me that I was in mortal danger. I began to panic, my heart racing, dizzy, and I had suddenly become hyperaware of my breathing. I’m breathing too fast, I can’t get enough oxygen, my heart is failing, I thought morbidly. I quickly called my mom to come and take me to the ER, as I wasn’t about to take my two babies to a germ filled hospital. Isaac tried his best to calm me down, but all I could think was that I was having a severe complication from delivery and my panic continued to escalate. Once at the ER, I was told it was just a reaction from the antibiotics they had given me, and I was actually healing great from delivery! I went home feeling a bit stupid, but relieved. As the days progressed, my anxiety and panic rose and fell to the point where I couldn’t sleep anymore. I was constantly monitoring my heart rate and breathing, convinced that I was somehow about to have a bad complication that would require medical attention. Another day or so later and I found myself confused and irritable. When I spoke, it came out not making sense. I heard myself talking and was confused as to why it wasn’t what I was trying to say. Isaac had to call 911, because they feared I was having a stroke. 2 days in the hospital, a panel of blood work, an MRI, CT scan, and EKG later, and I was deemed perfectly fine. Turns out, sleep deprivation is a real thing, as well as dehydration and malnourishment. Postpartum anxiety had quite literally rendered me incapable of remembering to take care of myself. While I was busy taking care of a newborn and toddler, I was forgetting to eat or drink or sleep for days at a time. When I wasn’t caring for the kids, I was busy riding waves of anxiety. I’m now almost 1 month postpartum and I’m happy to report that my anxiety has all but disappeared. My hormones seem to be going back to normal, and I’m eating and drinking like a normal human being again. I wish both of these conditions had been talked about more while I was pregnant, maybe then I wouldn’t have been so blindsided by either.
To be fair, I don’t have that many friends. I have maybe 2 friends from high school that I’ve actually seen since graduation, a few friends from work that I’ve maintained contact with, but overall, my wedding is going to be pretty cozy (better food!). But, of those friends, up until recently, I was the only one with a baby. And that means you’re the ‘mom’ friend. Comments like “no Angelina can’t she has a baby now!” or “why do you think that random baby over there is crying?” Girl, I don’t know! I’m just glad my baby’s not crying right now! It has been quite comical for me to see the transformation that people undergo when they’re expecting. I have the pleasure of being pregnant at the same time as my sister and close friend, both who are expecting their first baby, as well as a few friends whose SO is expecting. Suddenly I became the go-to baby guru who now didn’t seem all that boring talking about baby shit (literally). I feel like I’m mom to all of these unsuspecting poor souls about to embark on the rollercoaster that is parenthood…gently guiding them to do’s and don’ts of a baby registry, advice on handling overbearing in-laws, reminders to support their SO in their own ways during this time, as well as a few ominous snippets of wisdom about what happens AFTER their bundle of joy arrives. It’s surprised me, but also given me a warm sense of pride that quite a few people have trusted me enough to confide in me their worries, problems, and fears about a range of topics. I try my best to remain a person of integrity, I have a firm set of beliefs that I hold myself accountable to. I’m not perfect, but I sleep great at night. Realistically, I think the reason that I enjoy when people ask me for advice is because I feel like I can help them in someway and escape my own problems at the same time. It’s easier to tell someone else what you think they should do, then actually do it yourself. Anyway, being the mom friend isn’t so bad, I love where I’m at in my life right now, and I love being able to help others, even if it’s in the smallest of ways.
I may or may not be a self-proclaimed expert on being overwhelmed. I feel as if I’ve been in a perpetual state of exhaustion and being overwhelmed for over a year now, and as such, have found some ways to relieve stress and cut back on being in that state of crisis at least, some of the time. Personally, the reasons for me being overwhelmed and overstressed vary from financial burden to relationship issues and nearly everything in between, not to mention that fact that I’m pregnant and that just multiplies everything by about 10. The first thing I do to relieve some stress is resort to my planner. Yes, I’m 22 years old and I use a good old fashioned, pen and paper, PLANNER. They make one that is very goal/achievement oriented (even if your goals are as simple as making sure there’s no dishes left in the sink every day) that I use and love! I’m a firm believer in setting goals and coming up with plans to achieve them. Again, your goals don’t have to be HUGE and seemingly unattainable. Start small, start crossing things off your list, and you’d be amazed at how accomplished you feel and how motivated you are to crush the next thing. Planners also ensure you know the due dates to all of your bills, yours and your kids doctors appointments, and for you SAHMs, it’s a great way to keep track of housekeeping chores and logistics. I used to spend hours a day cleaning house because I didn’t have a good system of maintaining it. I’d let the house get trashed, then spend days cleaning it. Now, I have a rotating schedule of sweeping/mopping/bathroom cleaning/trash days, that makes it much faster and simpler to have the house in a clean state at all times. Which means less stress when you have unexpected guests! As silly as it may sound, now that my mind is in a more organized place and my house is clean, I feel a bit more in control of my life. The next thing I do is to try and reflect on things that are weighing heavy on my heart, you know, those reoccurring negative thoughts or annoyances that just keep resurfacing every so often that instantly put you in a sour mood. Or maybe it’s the things that you feel guilty about, not visiting family enough, feeling like you haven’t done something special for your spouse in a while, etc. Sit and think when you have a moment about it all, what you can do today to start to remedy these bad vibes. What can you do right now that’s going to right a wrong? Is it a text to a family member saying you’re thinking of them and would like to make plans soon? Is it a phone call to your grandparents saying you love them? Is it flowers sent to your wife’s work with a sweet note? Is it something as simple as taking time for yourself to feel what you’re feeling? It’s okay to be angry/sad/resentful/guilty about things, it’s not okay to pretend everything is okay and not think about these things because they evoke strong emotion. The last thing I do when I’m feeling overwhelmed is to remember this: every time period in this life is a season. You may be in a beautiful, wealthy season of your life! I’m in a tough one, a trying one, a season that makes me want to bury my head into the blankets and resurface when everything is easy again. But I’m in a season nonetheless, and I know from my short 22 years in life, that nothing lasts forever. As they say, it doesn’t rain forever. It also doesn’t shine beautifully forever. This feeling of overwhelming tidal waves of responsibility, hurt, financial strain will end. Maybe not today, tomorrow, maybe not next month. But it will end. We cannot control everything in this life and many of us would not enjoy the ability to do so anyway. We can control our reactions, and our attitude throughout it all though. Don’t make things harder for yourself by having a negative mindset.
It’s almost humorous, how starkly different my first and second pregnancies are. My first pregnancy, I was in complete awe of all the changes happening to my body. I pored over article after article on subject ranging from braxton hicks contractions to the effects of caffeine. I had not one, but three pregnancy apps where I was constantly checking on my little eggplant sized baby’s progress. I researched sleep-training, when to introduce solids, the hospital experience, epidural vs no epidural, strollers that stood on their own vs ones that did not. I was a woman obsessed with knowledge, it soothed me. I was 20 years old when I got pregnant the first time and to say I felt unprepared would be a gross understatement. Through those months of research, I can honestly say I prepared myself for Aaron’s arrival. I felt confident enough to brush off well-meaning advice from mothers, in-laws, and friends with the smugness that I was more informed than they ever were, my information was up-to-date, research backed, and endorsed by the Pregnancy Association. Oh man…mom was right! (On some things) My second pregnancy…..I have to check the app to remember how many weeks I am! I don’t think I’ve had one pregnancy related question or thought that I’ve typed into a search engine to find out the answer to. This pregnancy has flown by for me, probably because I’m not counting down the days to each week change this time. I feel like a seasoned pro, I’ve kept Aaron happy, sleep-trained, and hitting his milestones like a champ for 19 months now with relative ease. I’m more willing to accept advice and help from family & friends, but also more wise to the fact that the act of giving advice is more for them than it is for me. People generally like to feel like they’re helping, like they’re special and of value in times of need. Pregnancy isn’t really a time of need in my book, but I have matured enough to let people think they’re helping me in some massive way because hey, who does it hurt? I sit and patiently listen to advice that Aaron really shouldn’t be having a nap anymore, or he really shouldn’t be eating such large pieces of food, they feel as if they’ve bestowed valuable advice upon me, and I smile and say sure! I’ll try that out sometime! While pregnant with Aaron, I used to argue and argue with advice given to me!!! And you know what? It just frustrated me, and offended the advice-givers. I’ve adopted a much more laissez-faire method of dealing with all that BS and let the annoyances roll off of me, I simply can’t be bothered anymore. On being a young mom, and knowing many other former classmates that have kids of their own as well, I know how hard it is. Being a mother in itself is inherently exhausting, but incredibly rewarding. The hard part comes on the judgement that comes with it, or the passive aggressive, snide comments from people you know. Sometimes it feels impossible to do anything right, especially with the magnitude of social media we use. I’ve seen moms reamed on social media posts for a blanket in the crib, a chest strap a bit too low in a car seat, a child not strapped into his high chair. Post one picture of you going out, and the comments and speculation begin on “where’s the baby?”. And to that I say: buzz off. Being a mother isn’t my only title, in fact, it’s one of many. It’s an important one, but I still belong to myself. My baby’s in good hands, and I’m going to enjoy my night out.