Updated: May 18, 2019
I am compelled to share this story in an effort to raise awareness. Help your mamas-to-be to build a sanga before the blues kick in. It takes a village.
Diary Entry 413…
After 9 months of prenatal yoga, I knew I was ready for whatever labor, birth, and delivery could throw at me. I had sat in Garland Pose for so long, during so many classes, that I felt like the baby would just fall right out of me. As planned and prepared for, the birth went beautifully. No epidural, just like I wanted. Gorgeous baby, exhausted but satisfied mamma, and strong breastfeeding to boot.
What I had not prepared for was motherhood. Friends had shared golden nuggets about the postpartum period (WOW!), and I had heard of postpartum depression, of course. After the constant flood of friends, neighbors, and family in our home subsided, though, there was a lull. The honeymoon phase was over! My mom wasn’t there to dote on me, bringing me berries and water to ensure that I was properly nourished and hydrated while I nursed my baby. Our neighbor across the street didn’t bring us lasagna anymore. My sister-in-law didn’t hold the baby while I did the laundry.
All of a sudden, it was just us. We had to make our own dinner. We had to change every single diaper. We had to make sure that we remembered to take a shower. Two subtle things happened during that transition:
1) We didn’t realize that it was a transition. It wasn’t as though someone smacked us and said “here comes real life.” Our support system simply shifted after the excitement of the new arrival had faded and it is only in retrospect I realize that this transition actually occurred.
2) During this period of transition, a creeping emotional shift occurred within me. I never woke up one day and said “I’m so sad,” or “I can’t do this,” or “this sucks.” Instead, the haunting feeling of “too much,” “spread too thin,” and “is this what I want?” gathered, like rainwater becoming a puddle, drop by drop.
After time, it became saying no to plans. After time, it became “don’t have a sitter.” After time, it became “can’t squeeze it in.”
As I drifted deeper and deeper into this fog, the studio owner who’d taken me in during my pregnancy and trained me as a teacher continued to reach out to me. How are you doing? She would ask. Stop by, she would suggest. Never could I bring myself to pick up my phone and type a response. Many times, I composed a reply in my head, only to have the pit isolation and loneliness I’d dug for myself win out over the desire and need for community and relationship.
I struggled on many levels. I struggled going back to work. How is a baby’s food source supposed to be separated from the baby? How was I supposed to keep it together when I was such a mess? I desperately wanted to be present and available for my baby, but I also knew that I had to pay the mortgage. These worries and burdens grew into a monster so unwieldy that I could not tame it.
The first step was to say it: “I have postpartum depression.” Telling someone, moving toward healing, started the journey. The next step in the process took place 1,366 miles away.
On our first family beach vacation, I sat in the sand, attending to the baby. Suncreen? Check. Wide-brimmed white hat? Check. Pop and play with appropriate shade? Check. The list goes on. I would have sat there, running through the checklist again and again, baking in the sun until my husband offered me his hand.
“Let’s swim,” he beckoned. I looked out at the choppy ocean. The Atlantic side, I knew the water would be cold. I didn’t want to go. I wanted to sit. I wanted to run through my checklist again. I wanted to stay dry.
I placed my hand in his palm reluctantly and got up. We walked through the warm sand until we reached the cool edge. I dipped a toe in, bracing for shock. Easing my way into the ocean, I finally submerged myself, giving way to the coolness.
After that first wave lapped against my legs, sending shivers up and down my spine, I walked in further, the ocean beckoning to me. The crisp water refreshed my sunkissed skin. The foamy crest of the wave, white head rearing towards me, grew closer without time for second thoughts. I jumped, greeting the wave at its peak. The water, the thrill of the jump, it all came together in one gust of life. Those full moments, pregnant with meaning, full of hope and verve, that is how we heal.
Pediatricians have a schedule for postpartum tests. You get checked at 1 month, 2 months, and 9 months. What is missed here is the Fifth Trimester. The time period when women return to work can be the most challenging: managing expectations, dealing with a completely new way of life in addition to old responsibilities, and a shifting support system. Think about how you feel at 4 months. Ponder where you are at when your baby turns 6 months. And community members — gather around your mammas. Bringing week one lasagna is not enough.