I have five friends who have given birth to their first baby this year. (You go girls!) Seeing a new baby makes me think back to the days when I was a new mommy. She was perfect. Ten little chubby toes and ten little fingers. A head of hair that had us gushing. And those cheeks! I could kiss them for days. Yes, I was in love. Like never before. What more could I ask for? I had delivered a healthy baby. So why did I feel so hollow sometimes?
As a new mom I was consistently asked two things. The first question was, “Was your hair like that when you were a baby?” The second question was, “So how do you like being a mom?” To that question I would smile bright and say “Great! I love it!” But inside I wanted to say, “Can you hold my baby while I sleep for 14 hours?”
I read that sometimes in postpartum depression a mother is mourning the loss of the baby she imagined. For me, I realized I was mourning the loss of what I pictured being a new mom would be like. I knew it was going to be hard. I knew it was going to be exhausting. However, nothing prepares you for the reality of it. Never in my life did I have daily (ok, more like hourly) anxiety and worry. Is she breathing? Is she hot? I swear I feel a fever! Is she eating enough? Am I producing enough milk? Am I a good mother? Never in my life did I experience disrupted sleep like this. Exhausted was too weak of a word to describe what weeks of three-hour naps here and there can do to you. (Hey moms, we should make up a word for that!) To top it off, I started feeling guilty that I wasn’t enjoying the experience of motherhood. I felt guilty that while I loved my daughter so much I felt my heart would burst, I also wanted to run away from her.
I also wanted to run away from this new me and find my old self again. I had lost my mojo. I was no longer my happy self. I was no longer confident. I no longer had great pregnancy skin and hair. I still looked four months pregnant. I was doubtful of my abilities. I felt like I couldn’t make a decision about anything to save my life. I felt so blah.
I could relate to everything I read regarding postpartum depression but I was in denial. I actually felt that I was above it, that I was too strong to succumb to that. I never thought in a million years that my naturally positive and optimistic self could be depressed. But accepting that I was vulnerable set me on the path to forgiveness. I had to learn to forgive myself in order to battle the constantly negative voice in my head. My mind would dwell on all the things I hated about myself at the moment. I had a long laundry list, which also included things I was mad at myself for not doing or accomplishing before I had a baby. Oh, yes, I can be mean to me.
As corny as it may seem I started saying words of encouragement to myself daily to change that negative voice in my head. About a week into my decision to be nicer to me, I randomly came across this awesome 30-Day Affirmation Challenge from fitness pro Sophie Guidolin. (Hey, the universe really does conspire to help you!) It was exactly what I needed. A how-to-give-yourself-a-pep-talk guide. It helped because it gave me a battle plan. I felt like I was working towards a solution.
I also decided to let things go, to live in the present and to focus on what was important. Once I realized that the household chores and all the other minutia was not a priority I started to feel less guilty about not getting them done. This freed me to focus more on enjoying the fleeting, precious moments I had with Auburn at this age. These were the moments I wouldn’t be able to get back but dirty dishes always find a way back into the sink, don’t they?
I also started reaching out to my friends who were moms about how I felt. It was relieving to know that I was not alone in this. Many of my friends had similar experiences of defeat, exhaustion and frustration in coming into their own as a mother. It was then that I discovered the power of motherhood bonding. The mommy club is real and it is strong; it is a safe and open space for celebrating every success or bellowing any lament imaginable. Moms got your back!
So, my new mommy friends, the following copy of the 30 Day Positive Affirmation Challenge is my gift to you along with these words of encouragement from a mom who has put in 14 months in the club. Be nice to yourself. Forgive yourself. Stay positive in your thoughts. The first year is hard but it is also one of the most wonderful and beautiful experiences ever. Live in the moment and enjoy it. Each day gets better and better as you and your baby work towards finding your own pattern and schedule. There really isn’t a love like this!
Be happy, (yes, really!)