Aspect Ratio

I can put myself in the labor bed for the birth of my third child.  I can see the scene unfold.  I can hear the conversations with my midwife.  I remember how, even at the height of contractions with delivery imminent, I still hadn’t come to grips with the fact that I was pregnant.

I remember thinking, but wait, I’m not ready.  I haven’t reconciled this with myself yet, with the universe.

The universe didn’t care.  Nature didn’t care.  My body and the baby didn’t care.  It was time – whether I was ready or not.

I think on a cellular level I knew that pushing out that child without owning the pregnancy would only lead to trouble.  The basest parts of the body do not lie.

I grew that baby with the utmost care.  Once she was this side of the womb, I was only attentive.

But my soul was squeezed by internal pressures; my own mind that couldn’t accept this path only because I hadn’t carved it.

And so, I was amazed by the wonder that accompanied an unplanned fourth pregnancy.  Simply bowled over by the joy that flooded me when they placed her on my breast.  While I had been afraid to plunge into the depth of my love for my third, for fear that someone would take her from me, it just happened with my fourth.

And yet, because any footprints make deep imprints on the psyche, a year later now, I look at my pregnant self and cannot believe that is me.  Was that my life?  Was that a mere year ago?  How can I reconcile that exhausted, frumpy, wallowing-in-her-own-skin IMG_20160430_150358162person with who I am just a year later?  I hate that I look so miserable when pregnant.  Because of my problems in the past, I look at any such photo and second-guess myself.  Was I feeling that same way then?  Struggling the same?  So paranoid, scared, to fall into that trough – even on a timeline that has already elapsed – I doubt what’s right in front of me.

My grey matter muscle memory worries that if I have a hard time measuring this last year of my newborn’s life, that I look at this picture of me a mere year ago and see an alternate reality – am I not in just as much denial this time as the last?  If I am still getting used to the idea of having a baby and she’s turning the corner to one year-old, doesn’t that mean I am putting up some of those same walls?

NO.

Will I forever be haunted by the dark feelings and stilted growth of my postpartum depression?  Yes.  Will it make me paranoid and second-guess myself?  Right now anyway.  Is it possible to have mind and heart blown during any childbearing and rearing experience – ‘normal’ or otherwise?  Yes.

It’s so easy to let past experiences form new fears and worries.  Just like losing it with the older kids or having a low day makes me worry I’m having a relapse.  Knowing the signs and how to help ourselves is key; expecting perfection and punishing ourselves is crap.

So maybe I’ll just look at those pregnant photos of me and say, no wonder I look like rough; growing a kid is rough work.  Maybe I’ll just seal them in her baby book and never look at them again.  I certainly need to stop looking at them trying to find signs of trouble.

Notice, though, that I haven’t even begun to look at the newborn photos for this go-round.

Recovery Contd.

In an online forum, a mother asked if she was the only one who thought about her experience with postpartum each and every day since she had given birth four years earlier.

I am six years out. While it’s not an everyday occurrence, it often comes to mind. In many ways, it has and continually shapes who I am – as an all-around human, not just certain aspects of motherhood.

Though I wouldn’t recommend it as a means of self-discovery, my postpartum experience taught me a lot about myself. I realized, that while I had been managing it, I’d been suffering from low-level depression and anxiety for years. What I thought was a failure to contain, control, was actually the event horizon of a long-simmering beast’s debut.

So I find it hard when people talk about postpartum recovery. I don’t feel as if I’ve recovered from postpartum depression. I feel like I’ve learned to manage it, but it’s the new normal. While I took an extended hiatus, I’ve returned to my therapist. I never stopped taking my meds. I still have low points that make me wonder if I’ll ever be healed; that make me seek out new treatments and pray for cures.

A cure lies somewhere within the intersection of self-acceptance, medical marvels, and divine intervention. I think it’s impossible that any one will work without the combination of the others.

I need to accept that this may (notice I’m not quite ready yet) be how my chemical makeup operates. That I didn’t fall short on some courage or stick-to-it-ness factor. That I didn’t fail to attract good things through my thoughts. I cannot will myself better with positive thoughts. Though my heart works that way, my mind simply is not wired for that.

Taking medicine to augment your mood is okay, even acceptable. It’s beneficial to your quality of life. It quiets the rage and keeps the nervous energy at bay.

And to fill the gap that always is – there is God. A spiritual dimension to the healing process is essential – and one I was missing for a long time. Unfortunately, this is not a one and done. I must continually seek this solace.

All three spokes of the wheel need continual attention. They all need periodic tweaking and developing. Much to my chagrin, my recovery and learning to live a full life is not a mountain to be scaled and topped with a banner of victory. I have to drag that flag with me wherever I go. As long as it still flies, I guess, there is still hope.

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Crispy, Barbecue Self-Care

Less than 500 words of writing

Eyes closing

One hour and twenty minutes worth of recaptured sleep

Salty, savory snacks

Humorous programming

Mindless knitting

Are my muscles spasm-ing or atrophying?

Is this self-care or lethargy?

A day of needed slacking or anhedonia?

Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

In my Resting, In my Rising

I chase down cures in my dreams,
seeking the open office door,
the present practicioner,
but they’re never there, never open.

Test after trial, trial after tribulation
No solution in sight.
Tablet, pill, capsule.
Needle, scale, survey.

No magic bullet.

There are symptoms, there are diagnoses,
but no cure.
No point of origin to return to and restart.

I want someone to fill this hollow inside –
but the only cure is in there as well.
It lies at the core of me,
but I am so very tired . . .
and cannot wake from this nightmare.

This is YOU

When you come across a picture of oneself and are impelled to use it as your profile pic, you know you’ve hit a good one.

Scrolling through the images my daughters snapped when they commandeered the family camera, I found one such picture.

One hand on my knee, other on that hip, I am leaning into the camera. My face is the first thing the lens encounters. I am smiling, my laugh lines and crow’s feet in full effect. My eyes alight with joy and love.

People who’d seen the photo commented that it was lovely, adorable, beautiful, terrific. One friend said it made her smile. Another said:

This is YOU, very much alive and ready… Love it

All very wonderful, but it wasn’t until I gave photo cred to my daughter that I realized that was why this picture was so successful. It wasn’t how gorgeous I am or how fashionable my scarf was; it was the love radiating toward my daughter through the lens.

Now, the average parent – or grown child who fully grasps the connection between parent and offspring – might think this explanation is obvious, unnecessary. To me, it’s a huge a-ha moment.

Amidst the anguish and uncertainty that followed me through the postpartum period of her birth, I was afraid she wouldn’t feel loved. I was afraid that soft yet strong, gentle yet fierce protector of a mother would never show through all the layers of dark, depressive, disgusted and disgusting matter hiding it.

Yet, here I am, five years later, beaming at her radiantly. Looking the best I have in awhile and all lit up because of her. If I ever doubted whether my love shone through, now I have photographic evidence.

YOU* Please note that simply smiling will not heal postpartum depression.  I am still shoring certain parts of myself up after five years.  It’s okay if you don’t feel like smiling right now.  There are other ways your baby will know love and there are ways you can get help.  Talk to your physician, your baby’s pediatrician, or sites like postpartumprogress.com

Work in(g on) Progress

When I started this blog chronicling my survival as a mother postpartum, I sought out other blogs with a similar focus.  My research took me all the way to South Africa.  I found Lebogang and her blog, For His Love.  A woman living a totally different life in a totally different part of the world felt the exact same way as me.  I was so glad to read my story on her pages with a different set of characters and timeline, especially since she was further along in her story, which meant I, too, would make it.  After all, that’s what the badge in the bottom right hand corner of her page said:

I survived postpartum depression.  You can too.

This image was like a magic talisman to me.  I clicked on it, half-expecting, I think, the spontaneous appearance of the how-to handbook for solving all my problems.  This mythical handbook did not appear – but Postpartum Progress did, which is, really, the next best thing.

Postpartum Progress is the brainchild of Katherine Stone.  She has built and branded a maternal mental health empire.  It started, as she says, with the blog, then a conference, and is now building its nonprofit status.  But while it started with Stone and her own struggle with postpartum OCD, its success is in the amazing community she’s created for women who all-too-often feel completely alone.

Simply their social media feed is enough to inspire hope, with affirmations, informational tidbits, and links to in-depth articles.  The blog and website offer a wealth of information and resources, that would help any woman while away the wee hours of the panicked postpartum morning before the doctor’s office opens.  And that may be precisely the point that Postpartum Progress exists.  To offer a voice and ear 24/7 to a struggling population whose problems do not adhere to office hours and are not as cut and dry as a short symptom list.

A disclaimer on all their pages states that the information and advice is not a substitute for professional care and consultation.  However, it is a place to start the journey and a companion throughout it.  It offers a place for women who have no vocal allies in their everyday lives, due to stigma, to find friends and examples of success despite struggle.

It is organizations like Postpartum Progress that give me hope for the empowerment, validation, and vindication of all women suffering from perinatal mood disorders.  Even ones like me, who are post postpartum.

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