Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Post-Partum Pardon

This is a blog that is a long time coming. It's one that I've struggled with a lot since my son was born over two years ago and I think I'm ready (finally) to talk about it. I was inspired by this blog I read recently about "Don't Carpe Diem" and conversations I've had with moms who have had similar experiences with new motherhood. I thought maybe it was time I shared my story in case there are new moms out there who are struggling and need to hear how someone like them survived.

I struggled with being a new mom. Really struggled. I was not blissful or happy with my newborn. I was heartbroken, tired, and (in retrospect) depressed. I did not feel instant joy when he was placed in my arms and I was unable to "treasure every moment" as I was so often urged to. Maybe it was the circumstances of his c-section birth; maybe it was the intermittent depression I've dealt with all of my life; or maybe it was the fact that we initially had a very small support system in the state where we lived but the first six months of my son's life were probably the hardest six months of my life.

I think what made it especially hard was all the shame I felt about not being the mom I thought I should be and would be. It wasn't about what I was or was not doing. Technically, I was doing everything that I thought I needed to do. I was a stay at home mom who wore my baby upwards of 16 hours a day and I was up for hours and hours every night with him. I breastfed him, I cloth diapered him, I was attentive to him day and night, I dramatically changed my diet to help his reflux, I was really trying to do my best. I did everything I thought I could do to be the best mom I could be for him, but I did not feel like I thought I should. I was not blissful and it seemed like everywhere I turned there was another person telling me how I should "love" every second of the infant stage because it would all go by so quickly.

I would go home and cry every time I heard someone say that because in my heart of hearts, I felt like I must be the world's worst mother not to be capable of "loving every second." I felt like I was just letting precious time pass me by and was throwing away all of that wonderfulness because I just didn't feel like I loved it. I loved my son; but I didn't love caring for all of his very intense needs. In fact, the love I felt for my son as a person only made things worse. Intellectually, I "got" that he was a wonderful angel who had health problems that made it difficult for him to sleep and that his crying was an expression of how he felt. I "got" that I was lucky to be his mom and to be able to stay at home with him and yet . .. and yet I felt overwhelmed and heartbroken. I found myself unable to escape the absolute blackness of sleeplessness. I felt overwhelmed more than I ever had in my entire life! I remember in my most desperate moments almost wishing someone would put me out of my misery so that my husband could remarry and my son could finally get the good mother he deserved. I loved my son, but I did not love being his mother. I felt like no matter what I did, it was never good enough! I was terrified of whether or not I had made the right choice in becoming a mom. Surely God had made a mistake because I definitely wasn't half the mom my son deserved to have! The experience left me so scared that I was absolutely terrified of having another baby. For an entire year, every time someone told me they were pregnant, my first instinct was to say "I'm so sorry!" and if it wasn't their first child, I wanted to scream out "Why?!?!? How can you do that knowing how tough it is?"

How could this have happened? I am a very sentimental person. I've looked forward to having children for most of my life. I began crying about what I would do when my last baby leaves for college before I even had children! How could I be anything other than completely honored to mother my son? I had been wanting to have a baby for at least six years before I actually had one. I have been campaigning for a third baby before we were even pregnant with the first because my husband was clear that he only wanted two and I wasn't sure two would be enough. I love children. I've worked in education for years. I helped my mother in her home daycare all through my middle school and early high school years. I was an awesome babysitter! I make it my mission to make the choice to be optimistic. I believe whole heartedly in seeing the best in everyone and in every situation. How could I be that depressed after having my greatest dream come true? What was wrong with me? How could I see nothing positive about myself as a mother? I felt so ashamed.

I was afraid of going to counseling because I didn't want to be more of a financial burden to my husband and my son had the tendency to scream for hours unless I held him and I already felt he was stuck with a horrible mom; I didn't want to make him stuck with a nut case mom who had to abandon him every week for counseling. I didn't know how to ask for help because I didn't want the world to know how little I deserved my son and what a lousy mom I was. I beat myself up worse than anyone around me could ever imagine. I loved my son with all my heart and I loved being near him, but I hated it at the same time because of how awful I felt about myself and my inadequacies as a mom. I felt hopeless. I would pray desperately for God to hear me, but then would wrap myself up in my depression before I could feel any relief. I was in a bad place.

It took a long time, but eventually, I opened up to my husband. Eventually, I allowed myself to open up a little to friends and eventually my son became able to sleep a little more at night and I began to function more like a person again, but still some shame remained. Every day, I fell a little more in love with my son and every day I tried a little harder to see in myself what my husband (and increasingly, my son) seemed to see in me. Eventually, I learned to accept myself as a flawed mom, but also a good one (or at least a good hearted one).

Looking back, I see those dark times as my "cocoon" stage. Maybe I'm just the kind of person who always has to cocoon myself up in complete darkness before I can really start meaningful transformation. The woman I was when I gave birth to my son was not ready to be the mom she could be although she really, really wanted to be good mom from the very beginning. That first year or so, I had to learn how to let go of that woman and all of her judgments, expectations, and misgivings. I had to learn how to open my arms to the woman I was becoming and forgive myself for the flaws of the woman I already was. I had to learn how to love myself again even when I didn't live up to the mom I thought my son deserved. I had to learn how to take care of myself by letting go and pardoning myself for my many imperfections, the same way that my son seemed to pardon me every day. I had to learn how to parent myself the exact same way I was attempting to parent my son. When I lost my temper, I had to say to myself, "Okay, you made a bad choice, you were tired and you should have done things differently. Now, go hug your son, tell him you are sorry, make things up to him and LET IT GO AND FORGIVE YOURSELF."

The mom that I am now is better than the mom I was two and a half years ago when my son was born. I have emerged with new wings and new freedoms now that I'm out of my black "cocoon" stage. I now have the power to not worry so much about what pre-new mom me would have thought of me and I don't worry so much what parents who disagree with me think about what I am doing. I have accepted that I will and do make mistakes, but I also have accepted that it is my job to learn from those mistakes and try not to repeat them again. (Tara recently wrote beautifully about this!) It is this new ability to forgive myself that really makes me a better mom. I still may not be the mom my son deserves me to be 100% of the time, but I am the only mom he has and every night I pray that tomorrow I can be a little bit better mom tomorrow than I was today. I don't know that depression won't sneak up on me again. I don't know that I won't start to cocoon again, but if I do, I pardon myself ahead of time and I will focus on learning what I need to from the darkness as quickly as I can so I can emerge transformed. The next time I have a baby (yep, I'm over that fear!), I plan to have a counseling plan in place before the baby is born. I also plan to be more honest with my pain with those who love me and to ask for help more readily (because I'll probably need it even more with two children!).

So if you found this because you are desperate and because you are worried that you are not a good mom, I hope that you will reach out to someone and learn that the core of you is already a good mom. You deserve the baby in your arms. You don't have to be happy all the time or treasure every moment. Just take care of yourself and forgive yourself. Remember that you need and deserve care every bit as much as your baby does! If you suspect you are struggling with postpartum depression check out websites like this one and this one. If there is a group for new moms to go and talk . . . Go! (My mom's group was like a life raft to me . . . other new moms "get" it!) Don't struggle it out alone because you feel like you deserve to feel awful for being a bad mom (yep, I told myself the same lie and probably had to stay in my cocoon longer because I would not face that for the vicious falsehood it was!). Embrace that transformations are painful and you are going through a particularly challenging one. You don't know what a wonderful woman you are becoming! Give yourself a postpartum pardon and give yourself permission to emerge exactly as you are . . .even if you are not yet mom of the year. (After all, you are going to be a mom for the rest of your life . . .you can always take the honor some future year!)

All my love,

Thanks for reading,



Mama Mo said... [Reply to comment]

Oh, my. I read this thinking, "That's me! I felt that way too!" My twins were born six weeks early and I carried around the guilt of their prematurity and coliky, refluxy first months for far too long. I am seeing a wonderful therapist who has done some EMDR treatments with me. It has made all the difference. I needed some help to emerge from my cocoon phase, but Lord am I glad I finally did! Thank you for writing this. I hope more mamas who need it find it.

The Lenne-clan said... [Reply to comment]

Shawna - even though I don't talk about it much I can relate to some of it. I was not prepared for twins and didn't even want twins. Now I'm out of the haze of the first 3 years with them and honestly I feel horrible that I remember/treasure so little of it. It was hard, Braylon was horrible to deal with, but finally now I understand my kids, can predict them better, can work with them and can embrace them for who they are and they love me unconditionally. I didn't bond with them initially but I know I can make up those snuggles and kisses now and they'll even remember it! It did go by fast, and I'm okay with that because what we have now is so much better and each year I learn how to be a mom to whatever age the kids are.

You are awesome. You are perfectly suited for Owen and you are the best parent you can be - and that will change and evolve as he changes/evolves and challenges you in new ways. We are all just little beacons of light trying to help these tiny minds navigate life. Be strong and let your light shine!

Rachael said... [Reply to comment]

You and I have talked so much before about this and will probably continue to talk about it (thank god!) because it is terrifying. Thank you for sharing your story with the world :)

Shawna said... [Reply to comment]

@Mama Mo Thanks! Mama Mo! I know there must be a lot more of us out there than we let ourselves think when we are going through it! I just hope it does reach mamas in need because I know I would have loved to have read this about 2 years ago!

Shawna said... [Reply to comment]

@The Lenne-clan Nici, you are too sweet to me! And give yourself a break! How could anyone EVERY be completely prepared for twins! I certainly could never do it! Your boys are both wonderful and you have the rest of your life to enjoy them. I think there is a reason why children are designed not to remember much of their first few years!

Shawna said... [Reply to comment]

@RachaelRachael, You were definitely my inspiration. When you said "there's got to be a lot of people out there who feel the same way and are just scared to talk about it" I knew I had to write about it! I just hope if another mom like us googles in desperation, she will find this and find hope that we were afraid didn't exist when we were her! I love you!

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