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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Postpartum Depression

Since Eve's first birthday I have been struggling with difficult feelings. Considering that I am a postpartum doula in training one would think that I would not minimize the role of becoming a mother when considering the cause of my feelings, but I have. I've certainly thought to myself, my God I must have believed that if I made it through the first year, everything would go "back to normal." Whatever normal means. I guess in my case it meant that I would be able to do the things I used to do to take care of myself spiritually, emotionally and physically. When that didn't happen, I began to feel the overwhelming sense of doom or maybe even failure and certainly fear that I was (am) going to lose it. How can a person GO ON without sustenance? GO ON while letting go of everything that was. Shedding, constantly shedding and grieving the losses. There have been so many things to let go of: friendships, certain career paths, me time, relationship time, exercise time (did I mention time?) body, especially breasts. I am going to touch on all of these issues but first I want to mention why I am even writing about this. Given that I am a person who often doubts the authenticity of my own experience and is more won't to believe that I am going crazy than that I have a legitimate challenge in front of me, I have not been more direct about the ambivalence I feel about motherhood and the incredible grief I have felt and continue to feel about the loss of the old me. As I have mentioned before, I am living in a neighborhood of Mormons, who do not seem to experience these challenges, which makes it easier for me to think something is wrong with me rather than that this is a normal part of becoming a mother. However, last night I was compelled to pull out the book The New Our Bodies, Ourselves, which is no longer new! I've had it since I was 14 or 15. I opened it to the section called Postpartum, chapter 20 and began to read. What an incredible breath of fresh air. It was like heaven on earth to read about other women experiencing the same kind of internal challenges that I have been over the last six months. Of course most of them are talking about the first six months of parenthood, whereas I whizzed through those months because I figured if I held my breath I'd come up from the sleepless nights and total devotion to my daughter and there would be my old life, waiting. I guess I came up after one year and discovered that nothing could be further from the truth. So I am experiencing what this book calls MILD postpartum depression a year and six months after birth.  I related most to the section entitled ISOLATION (page 405): mother's writing "I think he (her brother) really took the hard parts out of being a mother alone" and "I came to look on the playgroup as an oasis in what was otherwise a somewhat lonely existence." Other women discussed the loss of friends that didn't have kids, the feeling of being pushed to the background in favor of the baby and resentment at spouses who get to go to work and seem to have it all. I really loved a section where a woman wrote "postpartum for me was learning to deal with more anger than I've ever felt in my entire life. It felt like one long temper tantrum--unscreamed" (406). I also could really relate to one mother who wrote this about her husband on page 409:

There I was at home, by choice and liking it, except for this. Every day there were hundreds of small things--great ones like the baby rolling over or playing while I worked. Terrible ones like him choking or falling out of the infant seat. All these things were big to me. But when Marty came home, he'd listen for a minute, then start winding his watch or sorting the mail. I got to feel like a housekeeper and he seemed more and more like the invited guest."

So let's talk about some of the issues from my perspective.

 One of the most challenging aspects of becoming a parent that no one mentioned to me was how difficult it would be to maintain friendships. I LOVE my friends, all of them. I need them. My phone bills have always been high and I've always made sure to keep in touch on a regular basis with a wide variety of close friends. Having a child changed all of that. It showed me how big a role I played in these friendships for one. I stopped seeing many people because I didn't have the time to prioritize them. In the cases where I have tried to maintain friendships and, interestingly, start new ones with people who don't have children, I have surprised at how little people know about the amount of effort required to take a child places and how difficult it is to maintain dual focus. When I am with friends and I bring my daughter, I have to watch her AND give them the kind of attention I used to give them. It is an exhausting effort and often not worth it to me. I don't like dividing my attention that way. It works much better when the other person also has a child there playing. You can imagine why. The other issue of course is that other people are not nearly so interested in my child as I am.

Career: quitting the history department resulted from many convergent factors and certainly was not CAUSED by becoming a mother. I do, however, think that the loss of time to invest in studying (so necessary for me to do well) caused me to fail my exam (among other things). I could have continued on. I was simply asked to rewrite the exam in the fall but this is what I knew. Because of finances, I would not have the time necessary to study for three prelims AND write a dissertation proposal. I also knew that I had applied for funding from everything under the sun and that to continue in the history department I would have had to pay my own way--loans. Furthermore, I had been told that I could not write the dissertation that I had proposed upon my re-entry to the PhD program and would instead have to go for at least a year overseas. In an ideal world for the PhD program, that year would have been this coming year. Yes, John's second year in graduate school. So John would have had to take a year off, not so terrible, but nevertheless a *factor.* I also knew that my language skills in Serbo-Croatian continued to be less than ideal in spite of the many years of my study and that this would prevent me from having the kind of conversations that I wanted to make my dissertation out of. Being away from my family for that year also did not seem very appealing, nor did the many challenges of taking a child overseas and leaving behind plants, dog, credit card debt, belongings and a car. It just seemed to be the farthest thing from what I wanted out of life. A year later (I failed the exam in April of 2010) I wonder at my "over reaction." Was it one? Or was it the final push I needed to help me make a decision that would lead me to finding a new path. To opening a new door? You know how that saying goes...

Whenever I see people from my cohort getting their PhDs I feel like hurting them. I feel incredible envy and jealousy and a lot of it has to do with the fact that they could do it. They did make the choices that allowed them to get it. They wanted it. Perhaps I find that I am most jealous of their certainty, not necessarily in their proclamations, but in their actions. We get places not by making plans, but by taking actions and for whatever reason(s) I did not take those actions. I have taken other actions. Different ones. Unexpected ones. And sometimes I mourn the life I had in my head, in my fantasies, and hate the people for whom that life is reality, not a fantasy. That it worked/works for them. That they worked hard and it unfolded for them.  So career, career. Right now mine is professional house wife and mother and that is so far from what I imagined myself doing and becoming that it almost makes me want to throw up. Sometimes I'm so grateful for my lack of ability to predict and other times I am truly terrified by how easily my PLANS can disintegrate into failed exams, lack of funding, injured tendons and bunions.

Loss of time. It is absolutely impossible to describe this loss to someone who has not experienced it because in a way it is only in part the result of a loss in real time. The real loss seems to come from the loss of mental/emotional space. I used to be the kind of person that needed large chunks of alone time where I could detach myself emotionally and mentally from other people. Now I have a child that I simply can never detach myself emotionally and mentally. Her life and well being depends on my consistent emotional connection and physical proximity to her. At least in my books. I know some people have no problem sending their kids to daycare and/or leaving their children for extended periods of time, but I cannot do this. I know the life long impact of a severed attachment. I don't want my child having that experience. I refuse more strongly than I refuse my isolation, loneliness, exhaustion and loss of time and space. That's the truth. I know I've created this rock and hard place, but it is a decision that I value and believe will make a difference in the long run.

However, the fact that we don't have a lot of money does mean that we can't create a lot of time to "get away" that would not impact Eve negatively. And that feels like a major challenge. It means that every time I have free time I have to decide between the five hundred things that I need and want to do. Should I go exercise (body and mental health)? Get the bills paid (when are they due)? Call a friend (don't want to lose those people)? Clean the house (ah, it's a disaster!)? Walk the dog (she hasn't been walked in days!)? Go to a meeting (mental health and friendships)? Work on a hobby (what's that?)? Eat (ah, it's lunch time!)? Write this blog (sanity)? Do some homework (something is due!)? You get the picture. There is never enough time to get everything done or even a lot of things. For a person who gets a little high from having everything in order, this is a particularly challenging aspect of motherhood. It really makes me feel good to have the house clean, to work out, to be sane, to have friends...but it costs money to get the time needed to do many of these things. This is a really, really tough one. And it's all a big mess because each issue is tied in with the others. If I do homework, someday I will have a career that will allow me to have more money. If I exercise, my body will look and feel better and my mental health will be better (the same goes for friendships, meetings, hobby and cleaning the house). This is an area in which I have no answers and nor does my sponsor. In fact, she is one of those people that can't really understand what it is like to have a child and how that impacts time on many levels.

Body: I have to admit that aging and loss of my old body has been tough. It's not THAT different but I know. I know that my stomach is bigger and puffier. Okay, more on this later. The wee one has just awakened.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Resisting the Change

I've been trying to pinpoint what this feeling is.

I did a fourth step yesterday and I discovered a few *uncomfortable* things: I want people to be who I want them to be (I don't accept people as they are), I really dislike when people see the *real* me rather than the *image* I created for them to see. The so-called real me, I believe, is defective and I am deeply concerned about being important to people -- I apparently want to matter to people and when I perceive that I don't matter to people--that I am unimportant--I become angry with them. Then my sponsor reminded me of what she has been saying to me repeatedly in the past year. I have to have a desire to do things differently. I can't change myself fundamentally, though I can change my behavior.

We also got into a discussion about how the dog, who I once loved and now seem to hate, may be a constant fourth step for me. Tipper (the dog) mirrors back to me my rage -- the rage laid out in my fourth step. I am reminded that just beneath the surface of this "new mother" is the old person clawing to get out. The one that didn't have brown sun marks on her face, whose bum didn't hang low, whose stomach wasn't stretched and who had fewer bags under eyes. The one who could work long hours and not feel she was stealing the childhood away from someone. The one that got more than eight hours of sleep at night sometimes. The one who knew her energy could take her anywhere. The one that felt grounded and stable. The one who knew the routine. The her that was once me. And even beneath that old person, is an even more suffocated one, the pre-marriage girl, beholden only to herself (no husband, dog or child), whose body wasn't broken down, whose teeth weren't yellowing, who felt, in spite of periodic severe depression and anxiety, that death was not inevitable, that life would go on indefinitely and that she would always be in her twenties.

I am reminded that I can't seem to let go of these hers. When I look in the mirror I imagine what I would look like if the brown sun marks were erased and my teeth were whitened. What would happen if the frontalis muscle were stilled and the wrinkle between my eyes faded? Somehow it seems like heaven. What's so funny about this is that when I WAS her, I didn't want to be her. I wanted to be someone else. Someone better, thinner and smarter.

Then today I was listening to a CD about change by Marianne Williamson and she was describing something I've heard in many different ways over the years but needed to hear again. She said that the ego dies hard. An arrow in the heart.

The bottom line is that I haven't figured out how to DO this new life I have, to be this new me. So in place of the more grounded, accepting spiritually oriented person is a person wracked with fear and anxiety. That person grabs at straws. Constantly compares herself to others and to other versions of herself and absolutely refuses to just be with how uncomfortable this transformation is. To acknowledge that a funeral needs to be had. It is hard work being a mother. It is hard. But it is also exactly what this momma believes she is supposed to be doing with her life. It's exactly what she wants to be doing! It's time to realize that it is okay to grieve the loss of the other person -- the ego driven one or the spiritually oriented one -- and to deeply love Eve. Profoundly love Eve. And it is okay to struggle with the process of finding out how to be this new person. It's okay to fear shedding the old skin. It's okay to romance the rags that once made up a stunning gown. For a little while, now and then. But I can't be on this bridge forever. Eventually I have to wholeheartedly stride through the open door.

But until then, I have to continue to pray and hold this feeling I have as gently as I do my baby. This feeling I can't name and which I've never experienced before. This sensation of not being anywhere anymore. Of no longer being her.

And it's all really a circle. The fourth is a microcosm of the larger transformation I am undergoing. The loss of time I've experienced as a result of becoming a mother has prevented me from maintaining the image that I used in the past to make other people think of me as important. I am thus faced with the so-called defective real me. We've been doing a lot of dancing this year! And through it I have been given an incredible opportunity to let go of both my "image" and my belief in the defective "real" me.