“Things are chaotic, but good. We’re good.”
After hearing myself reply, I immediately thought, Wow, I just lied. Things are chaotic, yes, but good? Nothing seems good about this postpartum journey. My daughters are well. The baby is thriving, and my four-year-old loves being an older sister, but me? I’m struggling. Why couldn’t I just be honest?
The past two years have been difficult: enduring a car accident, two miscarriages, and a high-risk pregnancy that blessed me with my rainbow baby. The battles with anxiety and depression are newer to me. Having my body fail me is something that I’ve gotten accustomed to. The constant chronic pain I can manage, but the low moods and spikes of anxiety are difficult to manage and remain a challenge to regulate. My husband has been extremely supportive, but I’d be lying if I said there hasn’t been a strain on our marriage.
Our baby is now seven months old and still doesn’t sleep well unless she is held. My husband and I share the night and hold the baby to sleep. We are both extremely sleep deprived and yet people see me and say, “You look great.” I question their definition of “great” and think maybe I have always just looked extremely sleep deprived?
I have looked in the mirror and wanted to say, “Who are you?”
I lost all my pregnancy weight in two weeks, and was back in my regular jeans three weeks postpartum. I’m not saying this to brag. It’s not something I’m proud of. I noted this because even though I was eating well, my cheeks were sunken in and I didn’t recognize myself. The mental battle quickly affected my body, and I felt like I was wasting away, inside and out.
From the outside looking in, I appear to “look great.” All of my strength is used to be functional for my family, or to appear put together while out in the community. No one sees my desire to isolate myself, the mental coaxing it takes to get in the shower, or that I often feel trapped by motherhood.
I’m choosing to nurse the baby, which I enjoy, but prevents me from being flexible with my schedule. I have to make sure I’m not away from her for more than two to three hours as she doesn’t consistently take the bottle. Trapped. My older daughter is struggling with separation anxiety, and it’s often hard to leave the house without her. Trapped. I have to go to the bathroom with a child watching me, or eat with a baby on my lap. Trapped.
I don’t recognize the person staring back at me in the mirror. Three years ago I would’ve described myself as confident, easygoing, outgoing, chatty, and bubbly. The person staring back at me in the mirror today is none of those things. Who is this person that is anxious in large groups, feels so low she becomes non-verbal, and is afraid to be alone with her children?
Motherhood myths tell me that I’m supposed to be happy, that motherhood is the best thing to ever happen to a woman, that motherhood is easy and natural, that I’m supposed to give up everything for the well-being of my children.
If I give up everything for my children, there is nothing left of me. My entire identity is not wrapped up in me being a mother. I am creator, a writer, a dancer, and an educator. I am slowly learning how important self-care is, and that sometimes putting myself first is acceptable.
I want to look in the mirror and see myself again. Anxiety and depression are not me. They are the battles that I face, and the mountains that I climb. While the battle is hard, I choose to keep fighting each day for my children, for my marriage, and for me. I want to look in the mirror and see me again, the real me, the me that I recognize.
Stefanie Tong is a wife, mom, early childhood educator, and author of Chasing Light, a memoir about finding hope through the loss of miscarriage. Between graphic design, writing, dancing, photography, and playdough messes, there’s always a creative process happening in her home. Connect with Stefanie online at www.stefanie.ca.
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