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Monday, September 26, 2016

Self-Care

First things first, I would like to introduce Jonah. He is my whole world, and has been for 9 months now. I promise you, I will write more about him in future posts. Today, though, I have another purpose in writing.

Ever since Jonah's birth, I have been experiencing postpartum depression. It has been by far the most ugly experience of my life. It isn't a feeling of emptiness or numbness. For me, it manifests as apathy and a desire for numbness to avoid the twisted tangle of emotions that hung in my chest. It feels like a weight that hooked into my shoulders and threatened to tow me under. And worst of all, I had a constant fear for Jonah's life. I couldn't carry him through a room without seeing every little thing that could possibly maim or kill him. Falling asleep was hard if not impossible, because my mind told me that every whimper of Jonah's as he slept could be SIDS. For weeks, I kept telling myself to hold out just a little bit longer. Next week wouldn't be so bad. But after two months of it growing worse, I realized that if I wanted to be the best mom for Jonah that I could be, I needed medical help.

Luckily, it was the second hardest decision that I had made recently. The first hardest for me was deciding to have an epidural instead of a natural birth. After 12 hours of labor and lots of tears, I caved and had the epidural. My body had stopped dilating, and the next step was a chemical to make my contractions harder - and more painful. As hard as the pain was to experience, I was still more afraid of that procedure. But after it was in place, I was pain-free after only three more contractions. In fact, I had an hour nap, during which I dilated from a 6 to a 10. The medical procedure that had caused so much anxiety ended up being exactly what I needed to relax so that Jonah could come healthy and safe. After he was born, my doctor said that if I hadn't had the epidural, there is a good chance that with how things went, I would have needed a C-section. That's another story.

My desire for a "natural" birth, to be "strong", could have resulted in a much more painful, longer healing process. Because I had been faced with this so recently, I was able to see that though I might be afraid, it was worth it to ask for medical help with my depression. My doctor was very understanding and helpful, and I was able to start on a mild medication that began helping almost instantly. He counseled me to spend more time taking care of myself in a variety of ways. In fact, he echoed what I have been learning in the emotional work I have been doing. I need to give myself self-care.

In my life, self-care is exercising (especially yoga!), painting my nails, pruning trees (I know, it's an odd one), going on walks, sewing, and baking, to name a few. Learning what self-care works for me was one step, but implementing them is still a struggle. If I go for a while without doing some of those things, I can feel the difference. That weight returns, as does the apathy. Apathy makes it harder to do those things, even when I know that they'll help. So I'm still learning.

It took this to teach me that being strong doesn't have to mean doing it on my own. For me, it took more guts to confess to my doctor what I was feeling than that I couldn't do it on my own. It would have been so much easier to say nothing. If it had been just me and Jordan, I probably would have fought through it on my own. But I couldn't do that to Jonah. He needed me now, and that meant that I needed to have some courage.

My purpose in writing this is not to recommend that everyone run to the doctor today. I just want to let others in this situation know that they aren't alone. I know what it feels like to watch my baby smile, only to have that joy slip away far too easily. I know what it feels like to lay in bed trying to fall asleep because I'm so tired, but the sleep slips away, too. I know what it feels like when I am waking up but struggle to get out of bed even though Jonah is crying in the other room. I know that postpartum depression is a hard and ugly thing to feel.

A while back, I wrote a post about gratitude. I keep thinking about that post. Right now, I can't be grateful for this experience. It has been broken me in ways I never knew before and no matter how hard I try, I can't be thankful for some of the things that I have felt. Though I don't see how I can feel gratitude for postpartum depression itself, I am grateful for the opportunity that it provides to help me build a stronger foundation of self-care. I am grateful for the greater understanding and hopefully empathy that I now have of mental illnesses.

Postpartum depression isn't pretty, but maybe someday I can be prettier because of it.