Postpartum. That blissful time where you get to bond with your child, be pampered by everyone in your community, and step into your new role as a mother to this baby. At least that’s what I thought it was going to be. Actually, I’m not sure that I envisioned much about that time right after having a baby before my first was born. Maybe that was part of the problem.
How I got into motherhood in the first place
For a lot of my life, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a mother. I wasn’t against it and couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but something about it brought up a resistance in me internally. Then I married a man that knew he wanted kids, and I figured I would get there eventually. However, I wasn’t in a hurry because I had 4 more years of school left.
I remember a year and a half into grad school (the halfway point) God really bothered me about needing to prepare to get on board with having a baby. I have a distinct memory of me in the office of our tiny 2 bedroom apartment saying to God, “Can we just table this right now? I’m at the end of a busy semester and have so many final projects, I just can’t be focused on that now.” I imagine God laughing that fatherly laugh, patting me on the head, and just nodding, “Okay my child, we can do that.”
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be a mom; I just knew it would drastically change my life, unsettle our rhythms, and be a huge, long commitment. None of which I innately like or welcome in any part of life.
What I didn’t know…
is that this innate resistance to any kind of long-term commitment is both an integral part of who I am and what makes the commitments I do make really matter.
What I also didn’t know
is that this natural resistance towards responsibility and change was the first ingredient to the deep anxiety I felt the whole first year after my daughter was born.
Is it okay to feel this way?
We all have natural tendencies: propensities towards perfection or curiosity or justice. Mine is towards freedom. The utter loss of freedom I felt after becoming a mother sent my whole system into shock. So much so that I couldn’t even identify the cause for a long time afterwards.
When I look back now, I can see that this deep loss I felt over losing my ability to come and go as I pleased, eat when I wanted, sleep when I wanted, and plan my life around my own needs and desires laid the foundation for the battle I fought mostly within my own mind postpartum.
What’s your flavor?
I think these innate drives—these inborn values that fuel our personalities—are the reasons each person’s journey with postpartum depression/anxiety is different. One mother may struggle because she is not mothering perfectly, one may struggle because she now sees the world as full of danger for her helpless child, still another may struggle because she feels a deep loss of control over her life.
This is the foundation I want to lay before I go any further into sharing my story. We cannot judge the reasons why one struggles simply because they are different from our own. We may not think we judge, but I bet that’s because we do it more subtly (or in true southern style: a judgment wrapped in a warm smile). I think our judgments sound more like, “I wish that was my problem.” or “That’s so easy to fix [insert unwanted advice].” We might mean well, but the words are dismissive of the other’s experience.
How I find freedom now
There were definitely some other circumstantial factors that built the prison of anxiety that I lived in that I plan on sharing. But the most freeing part has been learning that my high value on freedom is not a bad thing. I will not feel shame for it. I will also not feel shame for the fact that becoming a mother assaulted that value of freedom.
My longstanding value and my new role were bound to come into conflict with one another. Freedom needs minimal responsibility to run its wild heart out. Motherhood is the definition of responsibility. And I do not fault myself for not figuring this out before becoming a mother. How could I have known what was truly required for a role I had never fulfilled?
The life lesson
The life lesson here is that even though you have been through difficult things, you do not need to feel shame over them. See yourself as God sees you. If you need forgiveness and have sought it, then live in the forgiveness God has declared over you. It is only then, that we can look back on dark times with compassionate objectivity, dissect the reasons why, and give ourselves some bumpers for the next roll down pregnancy lane.