By: Reese Fernandez Ruiz
Today is October 23, even if I’m probably going to publish this a few weeks or months in the future. My little baby Miguel is blissfully sleeping, my husband is taking a nap, and I’m typing away on the laptop that I haven’t turned on for what seems like forever. It has only been 11 days and I already feel a few years older (and like 10,000 x uglier). Don’t get me wrong though! I know that I am happy and proud that I gave birth to a healthy little boy! BUT, maybe it’s just too deep in my heart right now that I sometimes (or often) could not unearth it.
The past few days have been a blur of breastfeeding, waking up in the middle of the night to pump and regularise my supply of breast milk, crying for no reason, crying for different reasons, crying because of anxiety, and repeat.
Why am I such a ball of negative energy? It seems like there is no reason to be. First of all, my baby is well (and in my opinion, super cute). Second, my husband and our yaya were there to help with the burping, diaper changes, washing clothes, etc. I am so fortunate to have such a compassionate and hands-on husband. I am also so blessed with our helper who was as excited as we were about the baby!
So when I look at our set up from a far, there is seemingly nothing to cry about or feel stressed about. In fact, it seems like I am getting all the help possible especially while still healing from my C-section. But deep inside, I felt (and still feel) sad, trapped, and alone. And because I could not beat myself up badly enough, I also felt (and still feel) guilty for feeling sad, trapped, and alone. And there were days when I knew why, there were days when I did not know why. I was told by our friends and doctors that I may be going through a very common (but rarely talked about) condition known as the Post Partum Blues (different from Post Partum Depression).
See, I have always been an achiever and go-getter. I am SUPER competitive and demand so much from myself. So when my body would just not heal fast enough for my standards, I felt helpless. And I’m not used to feeling helpless. I am used to being the empowered and empowering person who has a plan for everything. So far, my pregnancy and birth plan all went according to… plan. I did not have morning sickness, dizziness, sensitivities, excessive weight gain, or any discomfort that I often hear about. Haha okay, I did not exactly plan not to have all the discomfort but I thought I did. When it all worked out, I thought it was because my plan worked out. While my baby decided to come around 5 days ahead of schedule (still full-term though), that turned out to be a great thing! And my plans, back up plans, back up to the back up plans, all worked out.
But I did not plan to have the post partum blues. I did not even consider the possibility. I thought I have everything figured out and that I was super strong and chill. I was not prepared for it (who would be anyway?) and I felt really bad that it hit me.
Before I knew it though, we are on day 11 and things are a lot brighter and better – but really, I’m coming from a low base. And I promised myself that I would write about this while it is still fresh, even when it is probably not yet over. I hope somehow, my journey will help someone out there who needs some encouragement and inspiration.
Here are the things I learned when dealing and recovering from the Post Partum Blues:
1.) DON’T COMPARE YOUR JOURNEY TO OTHERS
My condition was probably aggravated by my being VERY competitive. Competitive people like me like to look around and compare (so we can compete better), and I did just that. I compared myself to super hands-on moms who look so pretty and effortless on Instagram and Facebook. I compared myself to moms who seem so happy and blissful about their newborn and they could not wait to breastfeed 24/7. I compared myself to the moms who have the resources to hire all the helpers possible to help them take care of their babies. I compared myself to the moms who chose to take care of their newborns themselves without any help. I compared myself to every single mother I know or I encounter even online.
Thanks to really supportive and understanding mommy friends that I have, I was able to process my thoughts and feelings. One of the best pieces of advice that almost immediately made me feel better: Focus on your own story. I can draw inspiration and learn from other people’s experiences, but my story is my own and it is far from over. I am writing it every single day.
2.) REMEMBER THAT TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF IS GOOD FOR YOURSELF, YOUR FAMILY, AND YOUR BABY
Thinking about your happiness does not mean that you are selfish, especially if being happier will make you a better person and a better mother.
For me, I knew that sleep was the one thing that could make me happy and sane. I knew (and experienced!) that I needed at least 5 hours straight or I won’t be able to function in the morning or at all. The “sleep while the baby sleeps” did not work for me as I am always on edge and anticipating Miguel’s cries. I knew I needed help when I started dreading the cries of my baby. It was a miserable feeling because I knew that I have to take care of my little son who I love so much but at the same time, I was dreading it and many times, wanted to hide or run away. To make things worse (this was a major factor), I was still recovering from my operation and could not move about well (or even lie down, change positions while lying down, sit up immediately, etc.) or even carry the baby for a prolonged period of time. I felt like a failure and a selfish person.
Mark and I found a way to help me sleep straight for a night at least, but it entailed introducing a bottle of breastmilk to my son for the night. And of course, because I was on “beat-myself-up” and “I’m-such-a-bad-mother” mode, I googled “nipple confusion” like crazy (as in CRAZY! The folks from Google were probably worried already) and felt bad for not trying harder, not enduring the pain of my incision, and sleeping for more than 3 hours. While my son did not get “nipple confused” and we have been successfully doing latching and bottle feeding without any issues, I was still beating myself up for a good number of days.
Then eventually, I stopped feeling bad. This was because 1.) I was able to sleep a bit better and because of this, healed faster – which was made possible by my amazing husband who took care of me and found ways to help me sleep more and recover, and 2.) I had conversations with lots of moms who had to make choices for their children and themselves too – and these choices were different for each mom, but all fuelled by their desire to do be the best people and mothers they can be to their children
Each mother is unique. We are built differently and we have different needs. Some could endure long sleepless nights and still be able to function well. Others are sick or recovering and may not be able to care for their child immediately. But regardless of how we are built, we all have so much love to give. And we can and will give this love not just for the first few days of our child’s life, but for the rest of his/her life and our lives. There will always be do-overs and every new day is a new beginning. We’ll be more effective in showing this love when we nurture and nourish ourselves as well. My son deserves the happiest and healthiest mother I can be.
3.) ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR FEARS AND FEELINGS, PROCESS THEM AND TRY NOT TO FEED THEM
Easier said than done. I spent a few days just being afraid of absolutely anything and crying about anything and everything I could think of. I had a couple of panic attacks too. I thought of all possible scenarios of our lives with Miguel, even the highly unlikely ones. I drove myself to crying spells with these thoughts and then felt guilty afterwards for letting myself get down the rabbit hole too deep.
What helped me climb out from the rabbit hole slowly were 1) Going out for a drive with the husband even for 30 minutes – being outside and seeing streets, traffic (yes, even traffic!), other people, birds, leaves, falling leaves, fallen leaves, absolutely anything – taking a break puts things into perspective., 2) Putting on lipstick – seriously! It made me feel a little bit like myself again, 3) Writing down my fears and “talking” to myself (and people I trust) about not living in fear. I told myself that if these fears happen, and I spend now until then just being afraid, then I missed time and opportunity to enjoy the moment and just be with my family. If they don’t happen and I spend now until then just being afraid, then being afraid will be my default and I will always be anticipating the events that I’m afraid of. I might as well be actually living in them.
4.) SURROUND YOURSELF WITH PEOPLE WHO CAN SUPPORT AND HELP YOU – AND DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK!
As an independent woman, I am used to doing things by myself and for myself. But motherhood made me realise that I could be independent without carrying the weight of the world. In fact, if I don’t carry the weight of the world, I could be more caring, nurtured, and nurturing.
5.) FIND YOUR MOMMY PEGS – THE ONES WITH PHILOSOPHIES AND LIFESTYLES THAT YOU ACTUALLY WANT TO LIVE (DON’T COMPARE YOURSELF BUT FIND BITS AND PIECES OF ADVICE THAT YOU CAN ADAPT)
Moms have been around for forever. I mean, that’s common sense but I think for the past few days, I forgot that mothers have been doing this for centuries! There is no shortage of role model mothers out there with different parenting styles and lifestyles that I could draw inspiration from.
I am so fortunate to have a group of friends who are moms too, who replied to my frantic FB messenger/Viber/Whatsapp messages for the past few days.These mommy pegs were able to raise their children well while nurturing themselves and their craft/work/career/vocation. They shared their own stories, techniques, tips, and tools that made me feel a lot less alone and a lot more equipped.
Regardless of their choices though, they encouraged me and told me that I should do what feels right for me and not compare (again) my journey to others.
I have a new found deeper respect for all parents out there and promised myself to withhold judgment, be kinder, be more compassionate, and share what has been so generously shared with me.
So if you are an anxious new mom, feel free to reach out. I don’t have all the answers and I’m new to this too but it helps to know that you are not alone. Even if we have different journeys and stories, we are in this together.
SUPER IMPORTANT: There is no shame in seeking for professional help as well (especially when you are having thoughts of hurting yourself and others). Remember that you are not alone in what you are going through!
You may call the contact numbers from the Natasha Goulbourn Foundation (click this link) or visit/call your doctor (you would probably be surprised, as I was, that they are have encountered the blues and depression in their patients many times) for recommendations.
For family and friends of mothers (or anyone really) who are going through this tough time, they don’t need the “it’s just in your mind”, “be thankful for what you have”, or “change your mindset” advice. Some of you may not have gone through this, but it does not mean that it doesn’t exist. Try to understand, show your support, be there for them, and encourage them to seek help. The world will be better if we show and share more love (less judgement) to each other.:)