It never occurred to me, the complete, physical, mental and emotional toll that having a child has on a woman. I never really thought about it prior to finding out that I was expecting. Social media often shows us the glitz and glam of pregnancy: The creative pregnancy announcements, beautifully crafted maternity shoots and the impeccable newborn pictures to show off the end result of months of waiting.
I had what many would consider a fairly easy pregnancy. One that, I’ll be honest, many would envy. Despite being horribly sick early on, I was able to maintain a healthy life-style, working out/ weight lifting 3 to 4 days per week, all the way up until the day before I went into labor. I was able to eat whatever I desired most of the time. I had no complications during the pregnancy itself and I gained just enough weight to look like I was pregnant. I was preparing for an all natural birth experience. I Attended birthing classes, read everything I could find to read, and from the outside looking in, I appeared to be holistically well.
In other words, I did a really good job of hiding the not so good parts of the journey that I was on. However, I won’t even focus on the pregnancy journey here, because the true disconnect didn’t start until after my little one was born.
I knew that I had Postpartum Depression the day that I was released from the hospital. All of the symptoms were there. I felt sad, hopeless, empty and overwhelmed. I would go on to cry every day for weeks, for reasons I couldn’t identify. I felt overly worried and overly anxious. I was irritable, angry and questioned my ability to even care for my child. I got up every day for eight weeks and I learned to be a mom, because I had to. Although there were plenty of good times and although my baby girl was just the sweetest from day one, I couldn’t shake the feeling of sadness. I felt like a failure. I felt like I had brought my baby into a bad situation, and I feared the unknown.
There were many times that I felt like I couldn’t do it. I wanted to call my mom and just cry. I wanted to hand my baby girl off and just run away, because I felt like I didn’t deserve to be her mom and like I was not good enough for her. I would hold her tight in my arms, while sitting on the floor and I would just cry… and after I was done, I would get back up and start being her mom again.
I kept telling myself, I’m a mental health therapist. I can get through this. I can handle it. I don’t need help. I have this under control. The truth was that I didn’t. I was spiraling. It wasn’t until it was time for me to return to work that I really had to get control of my mental state,because well… i’m a mental health therapist and I can’t be out here helping people when I myself am not in good shape. On top of battling Postpartum depression, I was then faced with the mom guilt of having to leave my child at daycare every day for strangers to basically raise her. I would literally cry after dropping her off and then multiple times throughout the day. I was a mess, all while telling everyone that I was fine.
It’s true what they say, the troubles of a strong friend often go unnoticed. I wasn’t myself for months and no one noticed or if they did, they didn’t say anything. (Note: I’m not bashing anyone. I do a really good job of pretending all is well, even to the point of lying to the one person who knows me better than anyone else, my mom).
I knew that I wanted and needed to be my best for myself, my baby and my clients, so I finally got to a point where I was ready to face the fact that the therapist needed therapy. So I called up my therapist and thank God for her willingness, I was able to do a few over the phone mini sessions (my schedule as a working mom, just simply didn’t allow me face to face time with my therapist although I am certain it would have been more effective for me). Through these mini sessions, I was able to truly acknowledge my disconnect and I was able to process the experience I was having and well, the following is what I found as it pertains to motherhood, childbirth and mental health:
- No one fully prepares you for how significant of an impact that motherhood/child birth has on your physical, mental and emotional well-being and I’m not so sure it’s something you can really prepare for. It’s one of those things where you should prepare as much as possible, but ultimately be prepared for a roller coaster ride that could change directions at any given moment.
- When you are the primary care giver, your whole life literally changes, and ready or not, you have to find a way to boss up and handle it. This can have significant impact on your mental health and it’s important to recognize the warning signs of when you need help. (Fortunately for me, I’m a therapist and had the knowledge of what was going on with me. Others may not be that fortunate.)
- One of the things that got me the most was the first time that I looked at my body in the mirror, after having my baby girl. It was literally a culture shock. One that was traumatizing to even think about. To even fathom that the super fit girl from the gym, now had to face the reality of how her life now, as a result of childbirth. The stretch marks (that weren’t there during the pregnancy, might I add), the darkness of your abdominal area, the acne, sagging skin and omg, the hair loss!! Many would say, just work out, eat healthy… even so… it took 9 months-ish for your body to change in such a dramatic way, you can’t expect it to snap back overnight, but listen… I was distraught. My postpartum body was far worse than my pregnancy body. If you know me and how health conscious I am, then you will know why this one was really big for me. In fact, this by far was my biggest hurdle and I’m still dealing with it almost 7 months later and after having lost all of my pregnancy weight. I became self-conscious and ultimately insecure and I’m having to learn to love myself all over again.
- It’s a different kind of feeling to be needed 24/7. I had been doing me for 27 years. If I didn’t feel like it, I didn’t. If I wanted to do something, I got up and I did it. Having a child changes all of that, and because I was not fully prepared for this mentally, I felt as though my freedom was stripped away. It didn’t help that I watched my daughter’s dad continue to, for the most part anyway, live his life as normal, going and coming as he pleased (because lets be real, men don’t carry the responsibility that women do when it comes to children, in most situations). I was resentful and I had some lingering anger even from the pregnancy due to the fact that, I was the one who had to walk around with the evidence of getting pregnant (duh, I’m a woman) outside of marriage, and well… he didn’t.
- Lets pause for a min as I go off on a tangent here. A bit of my background. I’m a preacher’s kid. Grew up in church. Left church for a short time as an adult, but later returned. Accepted my calling into ministry. Left again, for a short time and then ultimately returned and was serving in church at the time that I became pregnant. Aside from that, my mom had us at a young age, and for a good amount of our lives, she was a single parent, who through some struggle, hard work and determination made it happen for us, always educating us on risk and the potential dangers of making some of the same decisions that she made.
Okay back on subject. So given that brief history, let’s just be honest. I was embarrassed. I wasn’t supposed to get pregnant outside of marriage. I was supposed to marry, indulge in my successful career and then, when the time was right, plan to have children with my husband. It didn’t work out like that, and while I had full control over whether or not it did. One decision led to another and well yeah, a baby. This had negative implications on my mental health because I felt as though I wasn’t living up to the standards that I and probably others as well, placed on my life. I had to get to a place of being able to process all of this so that I could effectively deal with all of this. So, in my mini sessions, and some work on my own, I let it hurt and then I let it go.
5. Fear! In the mental health world we often talk about fear in terms of different phobias or subconscious fears as our minds process experiences and things around us. For me, I had postpartum fear and a clear postpartum panic disorder. I spent a great deal of time, okay, let me be honest. I spent an obsessive amount of time, researching things like SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), How to avoid baby choking, different diseases a baby may have and more. Dr. google became my worse enemy because at every sign of anything, I feared that something bad was going on with my baby all the while, she was perfectly fine! I was overly anxious about things that had not happened and I constantly worried. Through some self- work, I was able to identify this and I began to use therapeutic tools to help manage my anxiety and panic.
6. While I have experienced a lot in the postpartum journey and have had to deal with my mental in more ways than I can fully explain in a blog post, the last thing that I will mention, although it hasn’t negatively effected me too much, is how invisible you become when you have a child. In many cases you have to learn to accept the fact that most people will no longer reach out like they used to and when they do, they often wont check on mom. They are going to want to know how the baby is doing and will be interested in all things baby. Other people will no longer reach out at all, because lets face it, people tend to turn ghost when you have children. I often find myself answering my video calls telling the people on the other line, “you are going to talk to me today,” knowing they are video calling to see the baby. It’s quite comical for me at this point. You see, for me, my sweet girl gave me what I have for quite some time, desired. Less attention on me and what I am doing and more attention on something else. I understand that many people won’t process this the way that I do, because many people are not as comfortable in their solitude like I am. When you are a person who likes to be left alone, it’s kind of exciting to have people asking about someone else and not all in your business. I did however, want to add this point in because most people need to feel like they haven’t been forgotten. Most people need to feel as though they are still important and when they don’t, it can tamper with their mental health.
Whew! So that was a lot. Bottom line is this, pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum and motherhood are all darn right hard. Depending on your situation, you may have a better or worse experience than someone else, but regardless of who you are, it’s an adjustment. When we don’t properly deal with adjustments, we can find ourselves battling some of the hardest times in our lives. Your status, title or experience does not eliminate you from the possibility of dealing with mental health issues. If something feels uneasy or not right, chances are, you could greatly benefit from mental health services. It’s okay to not be okay, but it’s not okay to stay not okay. You are responsible for your healing, and if you happen to become a mom, you are responsible for doing your absolute best to give your child a childhood they won’t have to heal from.
It’s tough. I get it. I’m living it. Disappointments, let downs, labor not going the way you would like, people crowding your space and ultimately the isolation you feel as people stop showing up and become less and less concerned with your new experience. I became very transparent in this post, just as in others with the hope and prayer that people who are not mom’s will read this and be encouraged to better support new mamas. No one can adequately prepare you for an unknown experience, but prepared or not, you have to get through it.
I’m committed to doing the work to make sure I am well and i’m committed to doing the work to make sure other’s have the knowledge they need to become well.
So If you know a new mama or even a seasoned mama, I urge you to hug her just a little bit tighter. Offer up a thank you that she likely hasn’t heard. Let her know she is appreciated. Not because she’s looking for it, but because it could be the very thing that does wonders for her mental health. I cried the first time that my mom told me that I was a good mom and that I was doing a good job with my daughter. That alone helped me to make strides in getting my mental health in tact, and that alone is what I constantly replay in my head when I’m having a rough moment.
Remember, life happens and there is nothing that we can do about it, but the goal is to overcome every mental encounter.
~ Oddesty Kyara Langham, MS, LPC, NCC