I lost my personhood the moment I announced my pregnancy.
I was told not to get upset because everything I felt the baby felt too. I was told not to gain too much weight because it would be a struggle to lose it afterward and that would make it even harder for me to keep Adam around. I was told it was good that I was terrified of being a mother – that meant that I’d be a great one. I was lectured by family, friends, and medical professionals about my diet, exercise, emotional state, clothing choices, and sex drive – all to ensure either a happy baby or a happy partner.
I soon learned that when people asked how I was doing they wanted to know how the pregnancy was going. Every question, every test, every piece of advice that I got was in relation to the baby.
My fear, my constant nausea, my creeping depression and anxiety – none of them were important next to the child I was carrying. Soon they became less important to me as well.
It didn’t matter that I cried at every single OB appointment because my son was growing just fine.
It didn’t matter that I ate until I made myself sick and hated my body because his kick counts were good.
It didn’t matter that I couldn’t sleep or that my thoughts raced all night because the nursery was organized and decorated.
The pre-eclampsia, the Pitocin (and the shocking, searing pain that accompanied it), the emergency c-section and the crushing feeling of complete and utter failure didn’t matter because my baby was here.
The hours when we were apart, the feeling of numbness that came over me as I finally held him, the wall that sprang up between us didn’t matter because he was healthy.
The helpless and hopeless feeling of not knowing anything about how to connect to this tiny soul, the desperate loneliness of not having anyone to ask if I was crazy – that didn’t matter because every new mom gets tired. And look how much Adam was helping!
Everyone thought I was such an “Earth Mother” for just whipping out my boob and breastfeeding in front of whoever was in the room – but I was in so much pain from the c-section that I couldn’t move to go get privacy. And I was in such a state of panic over the pressure and expectations of breastfeeding that I could only think of stopping that wailing scream as soon as possible.
I longed for peace and quiet. For someone to care for my baby. For someone to care for me. I felt like a ghost in my own life.
No one noticed when I couldn’t leave the house.
No one noticed when I didn’t shower or seem to care about how I looked.
It was the rage that got everyone’s attention. The only feeling that could make it through the heavy, wet fog that surrounded me and past the thick, sweet mask I wore was the rage. It choked me each morning when I woke. It licked at my heels all day long and it roasted me on its spit each night. Eventually, it consumed me and I erupted. That part got attention. After all – what did I have to be angry about?
My rage was a symptom, yes. It’s actually one of the most common and least talked about symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety. But the more I heal and the more clearly I can see that period of my life, the more I see that there were so many things to rage against.
This is a problem for more than just the 19% of all moms and 38% of black moms who will battle a maternal mental illness like I did. This slow fade is an issue that I see echoed in my conversations with my clients, with my friends, with the members of The Self-Care Squad. So what do we do about it?
We can start by never forgetting that each mother is just as important as their baby and never letting them forget that either. Ask her how she’s doing. If she answers you by telling you about the baby redirect the question so that she knows you are asking about her. Tell her that her health – physical and mental – is just as important as that of her child and back that up with action. Remind her that she is still a whole person, even when it feels like she’s been taken over by a huge belly and a life changing responsibility. Offer her space, support, privacy, a shoulder to cry on. Let her know that she can ask you the stupid questions and tell you the scary thoughts.
Look at the pregnant women and new mothers in your life.
Really see them.
Don’t let them fade away.
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