The Dark Days
I am writing this post 5 months to the day after the birth of my beautiful baby girl, Riley. It has been a bit more challenging to write than I had thought it would be. The idea behind writing this blog came during the first two months post partum. In fact, during that time I had written this blog many times in my head but never got around to putting pen to paper. I really wish that I had found the time and the energy, of which I had neither, to write this blog then, because my feelings and experiences were so raw and now I feel much different, both physically and emotionally. However, despite the delay, I have found it cathartic to write. I also wonder if my writing may provide a fuller perspective for new and expectant moms now that I have lived through the postpartum dark days and have come out the other side alive and even happy.
I want to back up for a moment and share my back story as it started long before the birth of Riley and, I think had a strong influence over the thoughts and feelings I had post birth. My husband and I started trying for a baby over a year and a half before we got pregnant with our daughter. We went through several rounds of IUI and one cycle of IVF before getting the exciting news that we were pregnant. So needless to say, we were more than ready to welcome our little girl into the world with open arms.
As with most moms-to-be, I got an abundance of advice and stories from other moms. I heard the conventional wisdoms about how much my life would change, how tired I would be, how wonderful parenthood is, and so on and so on. And, a lot of what I heard was both accurate and helpful. However, despite all of this sharing, not one person warned me about the dark days. Now, I realize that not every mom experiences the “post baby blues” or postpartum depression, but I found that many moms experience some version of the dark days. I was shocked by the lack of conversation around this topic. However, maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised. Looking back, I had experienced the same phenomenon around IVF. It was happening to lots of women, but no one was talking about it. But why? I don’t know if it is the therapist in me or just a personality trait, but I have always found it helpful to talk to others about what I am going through. Sometimes it is because I am looking for support or advice, and other times it is because it is just helpful to get it out into the open. I am hopeful that this blog may start a dialogue and help moms feel comfortable opening up about the struggles of motherhood.
So what are the dark days you might ask? Well, the dark days for me lasted about the first month and a half of motherhood. I had expected to be so happy about having Riley, especially since we fought so hard to have her. However, I found myself drowning in negative thoughts and feelings. Some days were better than others and I was very lucky to have the support of my immediate and extended family. However, everyday at about 4pm, like clockwork, I would get overwhelmed by feelings of sadness, regret, fear, and anxiety. I mourned the loss of the life my partner and I had before our baby. I felt suffocated by the responsibility and the needs of Riley. I felt intense loneliness, despite having my husband and family around most of the time. And, on top of that, I felt immense guilt for having these feelings. I remember crying, sometimes for hours, everyday and wondering if we had made the right decision to have a baby. I couldn’t believe I was even thinking that, but I was. I was in a dark place. A place I had never been before and didn’t know how to get out of. I kept thinking, hoping, it would get better. But I felt the tunnel keep growing, longer and longer, no matter what coping skills and supports I used. However, as I said at the start of this post, I have made it through the tunnel. There is light at the other end and I can now say that I am having those motherly feelings I had expected and longed for.
When I thought about writing this blog, I thought about sharing my experience in hopes of normalizing it for other moms, but also about sharing some thoughts on what helped me get through this time. So, here are my thoughts as mom and therapist.
- Know that what you are feeling is normal. Regardless of whether or not you have the “post baby blues,” postpartum depression, or are experiencing the dark days, know that you are not alone and that it is a common experience. It helped to remind myself of all of the changes both physically and emotionally I was going through and give myself permission to feel how I was feeling. Between hormones, lack of sleep, a significant life change, and the physical recovery from birth, it should not be surprising that new moms go through extreme highs and lows. Know that the feelings will pass, some with time and some with additional assistance.
- Reach out. One of the things that helped me the most was reaching out to family, friends, and other mom’s. Not only did it help normalize my experience, but I got great support and advice. I was blessed to have parents that called me every afternoon at 4pm, during my lowest point of the day, to just be there for me while I cried. Also, lean on your partner. They can take things off your plate and be there to support you emotionally. Bottom line, you don’t have to struggle through alone.
- Ask for help. Don’t ever be afraid to ask for or take offered help. I found it too hard to nap when Riley napped (which is often the advice given), so, I napped when my parents came to visit. They enjoyed the time with her and I caught up on sleep. I was also grateful for any meals offered. Don’t try to be super mom. Think of the old adage, “it takes a village to raise a child.”
- Use self care. Make sure to take care of yourself. I always use the analogy of the safety instructions they give on an airplane. Always put on your oxygen mask first and then help others. You can’t help anyone if you can’t breathe yourself. The same applies to motherhood. If you are not taking care of yourself, you’re not going to be as available to be the best mother you can be. Take any opportunity you can to go for a walk, run to the store, get a massage or go out with friends. Your needs don’t cease when you have a baby, so make sure not to ignore them.
- Join a mom’s group. Best thing I ever did! I not only got out of the house, but I met some great moms who are now my good friends. We were able to talk about our experiences and I was able to get advice from them on how to approach things like sleeping, feeding, and what gadgets to get. I also gained confidence as a mother from being in the group as I experienced a lot of firsts with them like nursing and managing a crying baby in public. There is a lot to be said about the confidence you gain when you are out and about with other moms and their babies. There are a lot of ways to find a local mom’s group. I found mine by just googling. But, a lot of hospitals have groups and you can always ask other moms in your area for recommendations.
- Seek professional help. Don’t be afraid to make an appointment with a therapist or psychiatrist. Don’t wait until you have been struggling for months or even weeks before getting help. You know yourself better than anyone and can recognize when something isn’t right or when the feelings and thoughts are too much for you to manage. I reached out to a psychiatrist quickly when I realized that the coping skills that normally help me feel better weren’t working. Professionals are also a great resource when you don’t have a local support network or just don’t feel comfortable telling people you know about what you are going through.
In the age of social media, it can be easy to feel pressure to be “super mom.” I hope mothers can remember that that is just the facebook façade, and most moms are actually struggling with many of the same things. So, let’s change the conversation and the image to reflect not only the joys, but the struggles of motherhood. Let’s support one another and leave the façade where it belongs. Becoming a mom is amazing, but it is also very hard. Be patient and loving with yourself. Reach out for help. And remember, you are not alone.