Marlow turned one last month and we couldn’t wait to celebrate. We ordered a cake from a local bakery, hung the birthday banner, and invited our family over. As I was dressing her for her party in a blue and white pinstripe dress, I caught a glimpse of us in the mirror. “Look at us,” I whispered to Marlow. “We did it. We are strong.”
When Marlow was born last September, I immediately knew something was wrong. Not with her—she was perfect, warm, and gentle. But there was something very wrong—with me.
The first six months of motherhood were the hardest months of my life. I was inexplicably sad, insecure, depressed. I was sure I was incapable of raising this child. The depth of my loneliness and fragility was confusing, and I was unable to articulate it. I was sleeping only an hour or two a night, pained by anxiety and desperation. It was foreign, like I was trapped in an emotional experience that wasn’t my own.
The week before Christmas, I couldn’t get out of bed. I am so sad, I thought. I am just so sad. I couldn’t pinpoint what was making me so sad, but it covered me like a blanket. Blackout curtains had been hung around my brain, and no light could get through. It was so debilitating, I found it difficult to even go to the bathroom. I called my Mom on Facetime. “I am so depressed,” I said. She immediately looked up plane tickets to Kansas City.
I still had a newborn to care for—to nurse, change, nurture. How do I nurture a child when I am so fragile myself? I was reminded nearly every minute that what I was feeling was shameful and not normal. Instagram and Pinterest are chock-full of perfect moms with perfect children and perfect lives. That was not my experience, and it caused a deep amount of shame. I should be so happy right now, I thought. Why aren’t I happy?
Obviously, I didn’t understand what was happening–that I was experiencing postpartum depression. My brain was mush, I was sleeping 1-2 hours a night max, and since this was my first child, I didn’t know what was “normal.” We were having an extremely difficult time nursing, so I had a lot of things to blame the stress on. My best friend flew into town when Marlow was a month old, and I remember handing Marlow to her and going into the bathroom to cry. It was such a relief to have a friend there with me, not asking any questions, not judging my fragility.
I realized this wasn’t normal when I wasn’t able to talk about it. I became paralyzed in conversation when people asked about the birth. I took significant detours to avoid driving by the hospital. I became a stranger to friends, and only confided in very few.
I eventually made it to the doctor. It was a frigid, dark, February day and the fluorescent lights in the waiting room were too harsh. I closed my eyes. Maybe they changed their bulbs, I thought. Maybe I should get glasses. I had been in her office practically every week for a year and they had never bothered me. Suddenly they had become too much. Everything around me seemed more intense, like someone had turned up the dial on my surroundings.
I got help and started to feel better. Winter turned into Spring, and as the flowers bloomed, so did I. I started to sleep through the night, I looked forward to nursing, and the sadness was replaced with a deep love and joy. I was starting to understand the miracle of motherhood, and I felt alive.
Now, a year later, I am proud. I am a woman who fought hard for herself and her child and her family. I asked for help, which doesn’t make me weak. It makes me brave.
Asking for help does not mean you failed. For a long time I thought that by articulating these feelings into words, it made them real. It actually does the opposite. Talking about experiences removes them from our identity. You are not your pain. Get those “I am” statements out of your belief system.
Asking for help is one of the bravest things you can do. It makes us brave. It acknowledges your worth. You are worth it. Receiving help separates you from your experience—just because I felt like I was failing, did not make me a failure. This is the greatest lie we tell ourselves, which we must work hard to undo: we are not our circumstances or our experiences. We are our choices, our bravery, and our love for others. We must remember this.
Life and motherhood and spirituality are life-long processes. The most important life work will never be tied with a bow because the work worth doing never ends. Show up for yourself because you believe you are worth it. Do not stop. If we stop working on ourselves, we stop growing. If we stop growing, we restrict access to the deepest joys of life.
We must keep showing up for ourselves. We are all worth it, after all.