Whether we have a baby or not, we all have our triggers: those people, places or things that can send us soaring into a frenzy on an otherwise fine day. The postpartum period (although I prefer to call it the “fourth trimester”) is a hormone-laden minefield for all kinds of things that send us into the trappings of anger, fear, mistrust and anxiety. No one warned me that there would be a day shortly after the birth of my daughter when whether I turned left or right I found fault in something, mistrusted my close circle or just outright exploded in anger over something that used to seem so small to me.
Here are a few things that trigger me as a mom with postpartum depression, and how I manage them:
They are at the playground. They are at Target. They are in my family. They are in front of me at Starbucks. Their hair is done, their clothes match, they smell good and so do their children. They have more room in their cars and they do not have teething treats stuck to the seats. They have time to work out, they look like they have time for everything and they have more children than I do. They do not have to say a word; they make me feel small just standing next to them. I feel like I am missing the mommy card that tells me how to be busy and perfect and happy all at the same time. Their roots are not showing!
How I manage: I talk to them now. I used to avoid them. Certainly I had nothing in common with those women! I found that a simple “Hello, how are you doing” is a good conversation starter, because when they respond “Fine, how are you?” and I answer honestly, “Ugh, the baby is not sleeping and my son is not bringing his homework home and my car didn’t start this morning,” they generally open up and reveal their softer side and their own personal struggles. I have taken this honesty all the way to my battle with postpartum depression and some have opened up and admitted their own battles or asked how they can help. We are all supermoms, because being a mom is super hard.
2. Being with family.
This one is a quite obvious and perhaps quite a common trigger for anyone, post-prego or not. It is the first that comes to mind because it is so large, complex and consuming. From the outermost circles to the very people living in my home, those closest to me can hurt me the most — from a mother-in-law who thinks she is the “mother-in-residence,” an in-law who wants to visit and will not take no for an answer, to a spouse messing up the bedtime routine, or dealing with my children and their anxieties. Sometimes the mere presence of too much family during this intimate time with my baby would create a sensation similar to drowning in a sea of unwanted company. All I wanted was some space to breathe and be me.
How I manage: Family dynamics are different for everyone, hence the need for therapy for a huge portion of the population. I found a good therapist to help me with this one. Why? Because who do we turn to the most during times of trouble? F*cking family. And what happens more than we like? We do not get the response or support we are looking for and insult is added to injury. My therapist allowed me to open up without fear of judgement or misguided advice. She helped me come up with solutions of my own for asserting myself while remaining calm during uncomfortable family situations. Now when my family triggers me into a near-panic, I have tools to diffuse my anxiety and see the scenario with a wider lens.
3. Going on social media.
As a proud mother, social media was a place where I could pridefully post pictures of my postpartum life. Everyone loves to see a cute baby and a happy mom, right? The thing is that behind that beautiful edited, filtered photo of us snuggling is a tired, sore, lonely lady who is home with no more than the company of an infant and an iPhone for most of the day. I felt validated by sharing my experiences and posting my photos. It can be fun for a time, but then comparison comes creeping in. So-and-so is losing weight faster than I am. This person is out on the town looking so happy in their marriage while we argue over who forgot to clean the baby bottle. They are going on vacation to Maui with an infant? How would I even get mine across a pond on a plane without screaming? I became more insecure than built-up by what I saw, and we all can admit that what we see is usually not what we get. That picture of little Susie smiling as she splashes in a rain puddle was probably pre- or post-tantrum about having to wear her new Hunter rain boots in the first place.
How I manage: I could not deactivate. I know people who do, but I love social media and I would be making a false promise to myself if I said I could go on a “Facebook fast” during the time of life when I am homebound with a baby and not much else going on. So I became a supporter and a cheerleader. I began to reach out and really connect with women in similar situations as me, women struggling with their own uphill battles. We message and support one another and spur each other forward. I also stay away from reading the News Feed. If I want to know something about someone, I go to their wall for the most part. That way I am not spending mindless time scrolling over the highlight reel of regular life.
4. When my children get sick.
Caring for sick children is awful, postpartum or not. Caring for sick children with a C-section scar, a very needy infant and a messy house in the middle of winter with no help is a terrible trigger for me. There is the fear that the illness will sweep through the entire home within days, striking first the school-aged children, filtering down to the baby, hitting the hubby, then lastly, as I am barely able to stand from the exhaustion of caring for everyone else… I go down. When my children are sick I feel helpless, and anyone who may have been helpful usually flees at the first word of the flu. I am left to manage this home myself, lose sleep over spiking fevers, wash puke blankets for days on end, and then somehow have sympathy when a grown man gets it and lays in bed all day?Forget it. It is anxiety-provoking and exhausting.
How I manage: Self-care is so important. It was the last thing I wanted to do when my son was ghostly white, barely holding anything down and the baby was screaming with an ear infection. It took several rounds of over-exhausting myself in this situation before I finally realized that if I do not stop and pour myself a glass of water, take a shower or step outside to breathe some fresh air, I would go down with the ship (and if mom goes down in my house, it takes weeks to catch up). Hand-washing, keeping the baby away from the other children, napping when they nap and letting life get messy for a bit became necessary for survival in my home. Now I can say I am not so freaked out when I see a fever around these parts.
5. Going back to work.
I loved my career before I had children. I was able to dive in and be present in my workplace. That all changed once the little ones came along. I heard the CEO of Pepsi say in a speech that women can’t have it all. We must choose where we want to invest our strength: in our home or our children. I found it pretty damn impossible to balance both. When I worked too much, I missed my kids and they missed me. Then they would act up, triggering my anxiety. When I stayed home, I missed my identity as someone outside the home. My children became very dependent on me and it was hard for them to let me out of their sight, triggering my anxiety that I was raising sociopaths. No matter which way I chose, I could not find balance, or so I thought.
How I manage: I loved my job and I love and want to raise my children. So we sacrificed. We can no longer have the fancy food in the fridge or blowout weekends with the kids. I work doing what I love on the weekends, and it gets me out of the house and connects me to other parts of myself that go missing when I am in mommy mode. I have become creative with the grocery list, and accepted that I do not need to be as stylish as the supermoms right now… after all, someday I am going to lose this baby weight — when I can balance life a little better than I do now with a brand-new baby.
Life is full of circumstances that can send us into a tailspin if we let it. The idea is to spin those triggers in the opposite direction, reframe them into positive situations. Once I could see the common areas of my life where my postpartum pitfalls occurred, I had a decision to make. Was I going to give in and continue to fall into the trappings of fear and a false sense of reality, or was I going to begin to build a bridge using the tools of mindfulness, confidence and self-compassion that would lead me safely to the other side? I chose to begin building.
Follow this journey on Q’s Kitchen.
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