It takes a village

*This post was written for and published in the Living Rite Newsletter, April 2017.

I was pregnant before I was ever truly pregnant. By that I mean that even before we conceived a child in my uterus, I was taking prenatal vitamins, reading pregnancy books, buying clothing, and contemplating baby names. When it was official and we were going to have a real baby, I revved it up to eleven and my tunnel vision narrowed towards one thing: baby. Everyone who knew me spoke of how I was so “good at pregnancy” because I was so well educated and prepared myself so well. This was a feeling I carried with me up until the second my child was born.

Pregnancy books can prepare you for many things, but one thing that no book can prepare you for is how you, yourself as an individual, will react to becoming a mother. For every moment that I felt prepared during my pregnancy, there was a corresponding moment where I felt out of control and anxious after he was born. The understanding that you have created a person with their own personality, wants, and needs, is only something you can truly feel when it’s happened to you. Suddenly all your planning for what kind of child you will have and what kind of mother you will be is out the window, because you simply cannot plan a relationship. And it is a relationship in its truest form.

Another thing I did not plan for was realizing at 4 months postpartum that my “baby blues” had become postpartum depression. I felt lonelier than I ever had, even though I was never alone, not even while going to the bathroom. When he cried, I frantically attempted to nurse him in the quickest way possible so that I didn’t have to hear the screams of my tiny baby anymore. This only made him more upset and caused me months of back pain as I hunched over my son trying to shove my nipple in his mouth. I blamed myself for everything; he was crying because I was a terrible mother who didn’t know how to soothe her child, he was not sleeping because I was too nervous and he was picking up on that, my house was in shambles because I couldn’t handle the responsibilities I chose when I decided to have a baby.

Fortunately, my sense of self-preservation kicked in and I went to seek help. The doctor offered me a kind ear, a suggestion of medication (if I wanted it), and a stronger suggestion of visiting the hospital’s breastfeeding support group to meet other moms. This was the best piece of advice I could have ever received. Within a few weeks, I had met other mothers of babies the same age as mine, who complained of the same sleepless nights and guilty feelings, who wore milk-stained clothing, and who felt like they had no control over their lives. The sense of validation I felt when I met those women was life-changing, and, combined with a low dose of a breastfeeding-safe antidepressant, I started to feel more like myself.

This wasn’t an overnight process, in fact, as my children grow I’m still finding myself revisiting the pit I dug over 7 years ago, but when I dip a toe in, I remember the things that got me through when I was vulnerable and learning how to be a mother. The most important thing I did and can still do is realize that nobody is supposed to go through hard times alone. It was that overly confident pregnant woman, never entertaining the possibility that she might need some help, who found herself lost when life didn’t look the way she planned. But the moment I relinquished control, even for a second, I allowed others to impact me in ways that inevitably allowed me to heal. It was a lesson that I never intended, but always needed. If you are experiencing feelings of life not being how you expected it, and confusion and guilt because of it, I encourage you to take a step back and seek out help. It takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to support a mother.

Take care of yourselves, ~Suzi

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