My Facebook feed is currently BURSTING with newborn pictures and I love every itty bitty face that pops up while I scroll through the updates. However, these photos, while incredibly joyful, remind me of when I was a brand-spanking-new mother struggling to find myself after Ruby was born. Due to my nostalgia, I’ve decided to share a very vulnerable part of my adult-life that I previously posted on my personal blog in hopes that new mothers can understand that they are not alone in the possible struggles they may be wading through.
My pregnancy with Ruby was joy-filled. After a year and a half of trying to conceive, words cannot describe how elated we were the moment we saw the positive sign. Although I had gained 70+ pounds (… I craved cheesecake… a lot.) and my legs swelled to sizes I never thought were possible (really, it wasn’t a pretty sight), the knowledge that I would soon hold a baby girl was overwhelmingly precious to me. Every time she kicked or had the hiccups, I was reminded of the blessing we were being given and every time Eric would pat my very swollen belly, I knew that I was carrying a gift. Now let me be honest here, I didn’t exactly enjoy being pregnant – in fact, I rather disliked it. BUT I loved knowing that after 9 long months, we would be adding another member into our family.
mama + Ruby
Her birth went as well as it could, I suppose (I won’t go into the gory details). Eric and I actually laughed in between pushes and I remember the excitement and love in his voice as she entered the world. Tears streamed down my face as I stared at her tiny beautiful face and as the realization flooded over me that I was now a mother.
The time spent in the hospital was a blur of visitors, sleep, and baby snuggles and then we went home.
And my world crashed.
It started with breast-feeding, or the inability to. I had taken various development courses where breast-feeding was drilled into me and I was basically informed that formula is toxic. However, the concept that some mothers can’t breastfeed was never addressed and as it turned out, I was one of those mothers. At first I thought it was because Ruby wasn’t latching correctly, but after days of pumping little-to-no milk, I started realizing that I was the problem. I tried everything. And I mean everything – pills that made me smell like maple syrup, African porridge, power pumping, I went to a lactation consultant multiple times, frequented the breastfeeding support groups, and even drove miles with a screaming, hungry baby to see a woman from La Leche. It got to the point were I’d breastfeed her for an hour and she’d still be starving. Ruby was actually losing weight and I felt like a failure. The first time Eric fed her formula, I laid in the fetal position on our bed weeping. I refused to even be a part of it.
During this time I was also experiencing some pretty major family challenges/changes. Many of these things were occurring during the time of my pregnancy, but I put all my energy into preparing for our upcoming arrival so I was able to block a lot of it out. However, days after her birth, it all came crashing down on me.
Then there were all the adjustments that come with having a newborn (many of you are intimately familiar with this list): little-to-no sleep, hormonal changes, limited alone time, a newly-defined relationship with your spouse, at times incessant baby cries, and just an overall feeling of “what did I get myself into?”
My joy and my happiness slowly slipped away from me. I was unpredictable in mood and at times completely emotionally irrational. Seriously. I had issues. Case in point: one night Eric was eating fish sticks and his chewing sounds drove me so crazy that I had to go into our room and put pillows over my ears. I still loved my daughter and cherished every bit of her, but I had lost myself.
Unfortunately, it didn’t just quietly disappear in a few months – this was something that hung onto me for at least a year, if not longer. To make matters worse, during this time my anxiety problems came to a forefront as well. I wasn’t even a hot mess, I was just a mess. Eric actually asked me one time when I was going to be the real Danell again.
I finally sought out help and got some much needed counseling – I wish I had done so sooner. I vividly remember telling her, “I can’t find joy anymore,” when there was so much around me to be joyful about, all I could see was gray. My smiles and outward happiness were mostly a façade because when people ask “how are you?,” they usually don’t really want to know the true story or you don’t want to tell them.
I don’t really know what the real turning point was or when it happened, but I’m happy to say I’m no longer looking for my joy anymore. The grey skies have returned to their vibrant colors and I believe the “real Danell” has also returned – perhaps she’s even a “new-and-improved Danell”… with a few more idiosyncrasies.
I don’t know why or how it happened, but I do know that my experience with post-partum depression was real, very real to me and my family. I rejoice that many women do not experience it but I encourage those who do, to not follow my footsteps! Seek out encouragement and support from people that love you and care deeply about you. Don’t shut yourself off and hide away, it only makes it worse. Be honest with yourself about the things you are feeling and be open to getting outside help.
And when I ask “how are you?,” I want to know the truth, even if it’s dirty. I’ve been there, I get it, and I want to let you know that you’ll survive.
And to all the expecting mothers out there, I don’t mean to scare you – motherhood is amazing! I wouldn’t trade it for anything… Ruby is the light of my life and has been since the moment she took her first breath. This is just my story, it is not everyone’s. I pray that God blesses you with much more sleep than I got and that you will not experience any of the pains and struggles I endured. In the end, the happy moments your little one will bring you will far outweigh the tribulations.
And always remember: God placed that baby in your arms – He chose you to be their mother. You are worthy, you are able, you may stumble, but you will get back up and brush your knees off because God is full of mercy and grace and He does not make mistakes.
(by the way… if you were wondering, formula is not toxic – Ruby has actually been incredibly healthy and is a thriving 4-year-old)
i know where the joy is now