This milk is long expired and I plan to keep it for a very long time. I realize that it is irresponsible to have wasted precious breast milk and I am sensitive to that; I believe with all of my heart in the benefits of breast milk and the struggles some face to provide that for their children.
Hear me out.
For me, these two bottles are a symbol of strength. I see them every time I open my freezer and I remember the victories in my motherhood journey. But they also remind of of the struggles and trials I overcame. I am a warrior. These bottles represent the most terrifying journey I fearfully tried to keep silent. For too long. Postpartum depression and anxiety. They represent sleepless nights, tears, joy, anxiety, pain, gratitude, unwanted intrusive thoughts, defeat, guilt….and everything in between.
I kept my battle with depression silent for so long, partly because I could not identify my problem, but mostly out of fear. Even as a nurse, I felt like what I was thinking or feeling was completely crazy. Coupled with sheer exhaustion and grieving my divorce, I believed so many lies. I adhered to ridiculous social standards, and I often kept my struggles to myself. I tied a pretty bow on my neatly wrapped package and appeared to have it all together on the outside. Because it makes other people uncomfortable to be in the presence of raw emotions, right?
It is still hard to sit here today and reflect on the past couple of years, although they contain so many blessings, they also hold ghosts of frankly, the scariest days of my life, and they seem to haunt every now and then. To be completely honest, it is through the bravery of a perfect stranger who courageously released her painful story that I am able to let these words out; her struggle almost mirrored mine and gave me the validation I needed to get help. The day after reading her story, I saw my doctor and asked for the missing piece to my healing prescription: medication. I knew that I needed it to compliment the counseling I had already sought and prayer I was often engaged in. I could not even articulate fully in counseling and continued to keep the darkest struggles to myself so I am aware that I did not receive the full benefits that could have come from that.
This milk reminds me of a year of the most privileged intimacy with my infant; although my despair often seemed to overshadow the sweetness and I would find myself wishing the time would pass more quickly. It reminds me of the complete selflessness of motherhood. Of the baby being on my breast and the toddler needing me too and just as moms do, I always found a way to meet the needs of both. These drops of milk represent my countless tears. Tears of absolute amazement over the two most incredible blessings but also tears of utter helplessness.
Just as one stranger’s words changed my life, I feel compelled to invite you inside my thoughts during those scary days. Intrusive thoughts are unwanted, completely terrifying and leave you believing that because they entered your mind, that you are bad. And when I learned that these thoughts were a real “thing,” I also learned that my fear of these thoughts and desperation to rid them from my mind, was a protective mechanism.
So I learned that these thoughts are just that. They are not tied to my wants or desires or plans. They are uninvited and unwelcome. Not something to be ashamed of; but perhaps a good reason to ask for help. When I see a knife left on the counter, I am taken back to the scary year. I had a fear of knives, not because I was afraid of getting hurt, but a tangible fear that in my sleep deprived delirium I would do something against my will to harm my children. And in the same way, I was terrified of having to carry my child up a flight of stairs for fear of dropping them over the railing, not in an accidental misstep, but an intentional act.
Anxiety took over the inside of me when visiting my sister’s home in that year after his birth. Because I knew we would be sleeping upstairs and I believed the lie that I needed to appear to have it all together. I did choose to have two children, after all. How irresponsible would it be for me to appear to be struggling? LIE. This is just a glimpse into my struggles; and it often restrained me in different ways each day. Sometimes the weight of despair just seemed too heavy to bear and the guilt of not savoring every second of mommyhood overtook. The disease is composed of layers and twists and turns and is not easily explained by plain words.
I remember the moment I read her words, I literally felt free. I went into over sharing mode and explained my silent struggles with family and friends. I did not wait to be asked; I offered my story, almost with a sense of pride that I finally had the key to let it out of its locked place. It shocked me that those close to me admitted to similar thoughts. Why hadn’t I heard of this before and as an educated healthcare professional, granted, in a different field of medicine, was this so foreign to me? I truly believe that our society has adopted the most detrimental lie that we need to keep our problems to ourselves.
Sisters, I urge you to break the norm and bravely start asking each other the hard questions so the painful truths can find a way out and get the rightful help, and much deserved non-judgemental attention.
Although I feel like much of this chapter is behind me, I respect the fact that grief has a mind of its own. There are days when I am completely overwhelmed and days when I can courageously open my freezer and take in all the memories that that milk holds.