Right before my very first Mother’s Day, Time Magazine released the controversial article Are You Mom Enough? extolling the virtues of attachment parenting, AKA, baby-centered parenting, which includes breastfeeding well into toddler years, co-sleeping and a strong distain for sleep training. The cover starred a gorgeous young mom breastfeeding her three-year-old son and it made me want to die.
Eight years later, I think the article is silly and sensationalistic, but back then it felt like a personal attack. After all, if I was MOM ENOUGH, I wouldn’t have let my psychiatrist force me to stop breastfeeding after only three weeks and two days to go back on lithium. I wouldn’t have sleep trained my baby because without sleeping regularly I would never stabilize again. And I certainly wouldn’t have let others care for my child so I could get sleep to try to regain my sanity.
I was just trying to survive a-minute-at-a-time in the middle of what ended up being a total of four years of severe postpartum mental illness.
Today I’m the mother of a stunningly beautiful 8-year-old boy who owns every inch of my heart. I’m not the best mother, but I do my best on any given day. My son knows he’s loved. He knows he’s the most important human being in my life. And we laugh… a lot.
Today, I’m happy with who I am as a mom because I’m sane. When I look back on my postpartum years, I’m amazed at what a truly phenomenal mom I was – I mean, truly – I was a much better mom back then than I am now.
I pushed myself far beyond my limits every single day because I was overcompensating for the massive guilt I felt for not wanting to be a mom. For wanting to run from my life. Really, for wanting to run from the pain of my existence. I felt guilt for feelings and lack-of-feelings I had no control over, but I didn’t know that I had no control at the time.
I really thought the tormented internal life I was experiencing was because of some deep character flaw. The problem with severe mental illness is you’re the last one to find out that you’re actually just sick. I thought if I simply prayed hard enough or jogged regularly or drank more green juice I’d magically wake up happy.
But I never woke up happy. I actually got to the point where I never woke up… because I never went to sleep. When my son was three, I had failure to thrive. I lost the ability to sleep and eat. My dark under-eye circles had their own set of circles and I was so skinny you could see my entire ribcage and spine.
Yes, I almost died from postpartum mental illness.
Two mental hospital stays, multiple medication failures and 36 TMS sessions later, I was well on the road to recovery by the time my son turned four. He doesn’t remember the Christmas I missed because I was back in Reno learning how to eat and sleep again with my mom and sister taking care of me. He doesn’t remember me sobbing every-single-day and ripping my hair out in clumps to transfer the pain somewhere else for even a second. He doesn’t remember when I duct taped all the upstairs windows shut to protect him from me.
Actually, the only thing he remembers from that time was the day our dog ran away. And I’m totally okay with that!
Postpartum was the hardest thing I’ve been through besides my abusive childhood, but I’d do it all over again. Not happily, but I would.
Because postpartum taught me there’s no limit to my strength and that I cannot be broken. I’m like the ocean, I break over and over again, but I’m never broken. I’m aware of my depth. Of the deep blue savior inside of me. Of that strength that saved me over and over as I broke over and over again.
Postpartum also taught me to ease the hell up on myself. I’ll never forget the day I finally, wholeheartedly decided to kill myself. I was in my car and the relief I felt – the sheer joy at knowing it would all be over soon – was like a drug. And then there it was – the Christmas tree lot. It was the day before Thanksgiving, 2014 and that small voice told me, “if do this, you’ll ruin every holiday season for him for the rest of his life.”
On that day, I made the impossible decision to stay alive no matter what. To be his mom, no matter what that looked like. I was committed to my third (and hopefully last) mental hospital two days later.
If you’re in the storm right now, I love you. I understand. And you know what? You’re an amazing mother. You’re a much better mother than I am. You’re winning at motherhood because you’re still here, fighting another day.
Moms with postpartum mental illness are miracles. You are brave. You are a warrior. It takes incredible courage to walk into the darkness and unknowing of pregnancy, hormones, parenthood and lack of sleep with guaranteed mental instability and you did it. By God, you did it and you are still doing it.
And you are MOM ENOUGH. Fighting for some unattainable (for most) ideal of motherhood is silly. It’s defeatist. Motherhood for many of us – especially in the early years – is about suffering with mental illnesses and showing up for our children in whatever way we are able. It’s about the truth and the triumphs.
They won’t remember what parenting methodology we used – they’ll remember that they were loved. Now go love yourself. You’re a kick-ass mom.
Related Resources & Info
Postpartum Progress is the most widely-read blog on postpartum depression and all other mental illnesses related to pregnancy and childbirth. http://postpartumprogress.com
NAMI article on Postpartum Coping & Healing. https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/January-2018/Postpartum-Depression-Ways-to-Cope-and-Heal