I have written and deleted many attempts to this post before, but it seems that today may be the day in which I find the words to express what has been locked inside for so long.
The idea of having children was always a dream of mine, something that brought excitement and goosebumps to my life. After becoming a mother for a second time, I was in love, energized, content with what I had. Until one day I just stop feeling anything positive. It was as if the part of my heart that held everything precious to me, had been frozen only to intensify the part that held the guilt, nonconformity, and self-criticism.
How could I give my son what I gave my daughter when she was a baby? He didn’t have the one-on-one time she had aside from when he was being nursed. He didn’t have the mom with free time to teach him sign language or to put him on top of my chest to take a nap. He didn’t have the undivided attention and the constant interaction.
He was the second bundle of joy in the family and I had a demanding toddler to keep up with. I felt so guilty. The house was messier and messier, my energies lagging more and more every time. My joie de vivre on stand-by. I was a mess and in denial of the clear symptoms of postpartum depression. How could I not be happy if I had everything I had always wanted?
A friend confronted my symptoms and thanks to her, I found the courage to call my doctor and get the help I needed then.
Years later, a few hours after having given birth to my third child, my second daughter, I was engulfed in a cloud of ecstasy. That true and complete happiness that I have only experienced after giving birth and holding an infant for the first time. I was feeling strong, powerful, prepared for what was to come when a nurse made me think of the scary prospect of facing postpartum depression a second time.
I was screened in the hospital and then once weekly for two weeks after I was home. I was feeling perfectly happy and accomplished. I had left my unrealistic views of motherhood behind after learning how to care for more than one child. I thought I could leave depression at bay. But depression isn’t something one can control or prevent with wishful thinking. Many times is something that goes way beyond our intellect and in our feeble attempt to rationalize our emotions, the negative feelings and sadness come out of their cage and surround us like a fog that never dissipates.
Postpartum depression for me was a mix of bad chemistry, of hormonal imbalances. I had no “reason”, like some people “kindly” pointed out, for feeling the way I felt: sad, dissatisfied, under accomplished, overwhelmed, ugly, fat… Yet, I couldn’t shake those feelings.
The second time around, the signs of depression where easier to identify so I got treated early on. I wanted to do it in a more holistic way so I went to see a doctor who tweaked my diet and supplements to help with the symptoms, and who helped me put together an exercise program that would give me energies and keep me motivated.
Things were going O.K. but this time around, my body image was something that weighed on me like an anvil on my head. I was not happy with my weight, with my clothes, with my inability to lose those excess pounds that other friends, who had babies after me, shed like nothing had ever happened to them.
I spent every hour I could at the gym. Finding myself hiding the tears that rolled down my face with the sweat pouring out of my every pore while leaving all my energies on the elliptical or the static bike. There is nothing worse than following a strict exercise and nutrition program for months and months without getting the expected results. This lack of achievement drove me crazy and was the cause of a sea of tears that could have filled the kid pool at that very gym.
In the midst of my insecurities and my failure while confronting the scale and my closet, I still had to perform my motherly duties. It wasn’t my kids’ fault that I hated the way I looked in a bathing suit (or to be more honest, the way I looked, period). They still deserved to have a fun summer and to go to the pool. I had to push myself so many times but we did it. I tried my best this time to put all my guilt and negative feelings in a ball and compartmentalize it into just the issue of my lack of love for myself.
I tried giving my children my very best, my happy times, my loving embraces and my positive energy. But at the end of the day, I barely had any energies for me, to fix my insecurities and dissatisfaction. It was as if I was just living for them, my poor husband just got the leftovers and then I was left with nothing.
Then, six months postpartum, I was cleared by my doctor to start practicing yoga again. At the beginning I felt clumsy and useless on the mat but the more I went and the stronger I got, so did a little chunk of my confidence.
As it goes with depression, some days you are doing great, but some others, it is evident to everyone that you need a hug. During one of my bad days, my yoga instructor kept repeating a phrase at class that became my mantra: “you are stronger than you think”. She kept saying this during the class because she was going to have us attempt to do a hand stand (assisted by the wall, mind you). I, lacking any confidence and self esteem, sat on my mat ready just to watch other people do it. However, my instructor had other thoughts for me. She looked me in the eye and said: “you are stronger than you think, you can do this and I will help you”.
A little positive reinforcement is all you need sometimes. I did get her help but I also was able to do something I never thought I could, a hand stand! That moment during yoga practice changed me in so many ways it is hard to explain. It empowered me and gave me a little insight on what was happening not only on my mat at the gym but perhaps with my own mind. I was giving up without actually giving it all what I could, without asking for help, before allowing my postpartum body and mind time to heal.
I have continued to go to the gym and to that yoga class consistently and I have found great people who keep me motivated and challenged. People who help me see how some of the important goals in life, like being the kind of mom I want, are and will always be a constant struggle. As far as my weight goal goes, I still have a few more stubborn pounds to go and I do not feel great and powerful just yet, but at least the fog of depression has moved on and I can see life with gusto again.
I am happy I have found friends who always know how much to push me, when to console me and when to tell me that I’m stronger than I think. I’m confident that as my youngest daughter approaches her second birthday, I will get closer to leave my insecurities behind. In the mean time, thank you to all of you who have helped me and held me in this journey. I would still be hiding fleeting tears if you were not with me.