Postpartum Progress: 10 Years of Magic

“Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy. But remember this – you have friends here. You’re not alone.”

- Dumbledore in Harry Potter

postpartumprogress10

This week, a group of Warrior Moms and bloggers is celebrating the 10th anniversary of Postpartum Progress. I’ve written about the site and its founder, Katherine Stone, before, because this site, and by extension Katherine, was an integral part of recovering from my experience with postpartum depression. It wasn’t the first source of help I found, but it was one of the most important.

Looking at things now, as we celebrate this milestone anniversary and all Katherine has done, it’s perfectly clear to me: Katherine Stone is basically Dumbledore.Katherine Stone compared to Dumbledore

This is no simple comparison. She’s not merely magic (though certainly there is an element of the magical about her). Like Dumbledore, Katherine isn’t afraid to say it like it is while at the same time providing much-needed reassurance.

The struggle with PPD (and other perinatal mood and anxiety disorders) is a dark time in any new mom’s life. Time and time again I’ve seen Katherine reach out to a new mom and acknowledge her experience, saying Yes, this is a horrible thing. It feels dark, and it will continue to be difficult for a little while yet. But you are not alone.

There’s a reason Katherine refers to struggling moms as Warrior Moms. Fighting PMADs is tough, and it involves choices that are sometimes difficult and definitely not always easy.

It would be easy (relatively speaking) to ignore your distress and try to carry on. I tried that and it didn’t work. It wasn’t the right choice.

It would be easy to choose blind trust that a small, white (or orange or blue) pill will make everything better without doing any of the hard work that must go with it.  That was another choice I made that was the easy, but not the right, path.

It was when I finally realized I wasn’t alone and that I did, in fact, have friends in that dark place that the hard choice to fight became easier.

These are more words of Dumbledore’s that I find inspiring, and that I think link him to Katherine and her work with Postpartum Progress:

“Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

Katherine, thank you for being the source of that light for so many. Congratulations on 10 years.

11:11

Alone in a room in a friend’s house in a city that is not my own (anymore), I listen. The house sounds quiet and I think maybe no one else is home. Downstairs is breakfast and a cup of tea and some quiet time and I should get up. But downstairs is also the door to the outside world, and the weight in my chest and I don’t feel ready for that just yet.

I look at the clock: 11:11.

Isn’t catching the clock when it reads 11:11 supposed to be good luck? I see this time frequently. It feels like all the time, in fact, and I certainly don’t feel lucky. At least not today.

clock face

In a mind-over-mind sort of way (there’s certainly nothing matter of fact about it), I get up.

Downstairs is quiet, and my aloneness is confirmed by a text from my husband that both boys are asleep on swings at the park (that’s what happens when you wake up when the clock says 4:58, I guess).

I put the kettle on for tea and open the cupboard looking for a mug. There in rows on two shelves are mugs in three colours. White. Black. Red.

I reach for a black mug and then hesitate, reconsidering. I have a choice, and I make it.

I choose a red mug.

Maybe it’s a sign of my willingness to push the darkness away. Or maybe I’m just feeling lucky.

Stuck at the Second Level

Sitting at your kitchen table at 7 a.m. trying to determine where mental health fits on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is probably not a good sign. It’s probably a sign that you need help.

I didn’t get a satisfying answer from Google (one site suggested that failing to have needs met at any of the stages can lead to depression or anxiety, but I think it has to work the other way around as well, i.e. that mental health issues can prevent people from moving through the stages) so I turned to a friend who is wise in the ways of psychology and mental health. “I would put it in the safety band,” he said, “but really, mental health is a precondition for all of the four levels above physiological.”

That makes sense to me, and it’s why I had turned to Google for answers that morning.Maslow's hierarchy of needs

What I had secretly been hoping for was for someone to suggest that mental health was a requirement for functioning properly in this world, that it fit squarely in one of the levels as a clear and understood need, as though I could then point to this theory and say, See? I have a right to good mental health! and someone, somewhere, would then be obligated to ensure I got it.

This, needless to say, is not how life works.

The idea of it being a precondition to the higher levels does fit squarely into the thought process that led me to Google, however.

Many of the things I would normally aspire to, like being involved in my community or deeply pondering or even pursuing answers to life’s big questions—the things that normally make me feel alive and grateful for this life—now exist mostly as a sidebar to the story of my life rather than being woven in as a fully developed theme.

looking up from inside a building courtyard surrounded by walls

I know I have important needs that are not getting met. I even know what some of them are (lately, a lack of sleep has been putting me firmly at the bottom level of the triangle).

Other needs, though, are less easy to defend as legitimate. The need for solitude and for quiet, the need for living space that isn’t constantly terrorized with the mess and energy of three other people, the need to be able to do my own thing sometimes without the burden of guilt caused by leaving more of the childcare to my spouse who is already home with them full time – where do those needs fit? And why does not getting them met cause me to spiral?

I don’t know how to reconcile these needs AND be a mother. I don’t want these needs to rear their ugly heads on hard parenting days and, while I’m down, kick me once more with the knowledge of how significantly (and negatively) I can affect my children’s place on the pyramid. But it feels like admitting these needs is taboo. Not okay.

I’m stuck. I’m struggling. And admitting these needs is scary, especially when there’s no clear path to getting them met.

Now We Are Six

Dear Connor,

Last night after dinner we put together the loot bags for your birthday party. They’re Star Wars themed, like your invitations, and your dad had selected a bunch of things along that theme that six-year-olds might like. As we put them together, you helped sometimes, and ran around sometimes, playing with the various extra bits, pretending you had a light sabre, and it struck me once again, in that moment, that you are six. You know things about Star Wars and light sabres and you are six.

Star Wars birthday invitations

For the last couple of months as we led up to your sixth birthday, my chest has been tight thinking about it. I don’t know why. There isn’t anything particularly noteworthy about turning six; at least not that I can think of. You might notice that this year, unlike other years, I have titled this letter, “Now WE are six.” For some reason this birthday, unlike other years, feels more like it’s about us and not just about you.

I have thought about this a lot, trying to figure out why. The closest I can come is that it has something to do with the stage Ethan has reached. At 18 months (and then 19, and then 20) it became clearer and clearer to me how different he is from how you were at that age. And in so realizing, it became clearer and clearer just how hard those first few years of parenthood were when you were a baby.

boy in skull shirt with spiked hair

My darling boy, I love you so much, but a lot of things about being your mom in those first few years just sucked. I look back on those things now and I wonder how we got through it. Sometimes I think maybe I didn’t actually get through it intact, but maybe this is just how things are and were meant to be. Maybe some of these things would have come about anyway.

You are an entirely different person now. Well, maybe not entirely. You are still full of life and energy, but you have evolved into a person who has two speeds: high speed and off. You are either moving through life at mach speed or completely still, focused on Lego, or a movie, or fast asleep. For the last couple of mornings I’ve had to come and wake you up so you could be at school on time, something I don’t actually recall ever having to do in the last six years. You were curled up in your sleeping bag on your camping cot (which you’ve insisted on sleeping in since returning from camping last weekend) and you didn’t even move when Ethan and I came into the room. And then I left the room for a moment to tell your dad that you were still totally passed out—because it really was that remarkable—and Ethan jiggled you enough to wake you up and the next thing I knew you were out of bed. You went from completely OFF to completely ON.

Hoo doos in Drumheller

Recently, I have become better at catching you in, or encouraging you into, quieter moments. I have worked on regulating my own settings so that your high-speed setting doesn’t inevitably push me straight into overdrive. Our relationship is better now than it was. Better now, I think, than ever. I can see more clearly what you need, and you can express your needs more clearly to me, and we aren’t always jockeying to each have our own needs met RIGHT NOW.

I have struggled recently with the things your birth brought into my life - things I didn’t ask for and didn’t expect. But I struggle less with you, and as a result you struggle less with me. We have found a balance, like the point of a spinning top that stays in control, en pointe, and fully supported by the forces around it. It took us a few years of working to build the strength and structure to appear to dance more lightly, but we got here. And as I look in the mirror I see us dancing a choreographed dance that we perform mostly in unison, spending less time treading on each other’s toes.

silhouette in front of water wall

I like this dance, my darling boy.

Now we are partners.

Now we are six.

I will love you always and forever,

Mama xx

In Transit

Right now I’m sitting in the observation deck at the Minneapolis airport, a peaceful room with only classical music as the backdrop for the view of the runways. I look out at the planes sitting at the gates, seemingly quiet with no hint as to the activity happening inside; those planes are all going somewhere, though I can’t tell where just by looking.

It feels like a metaphor for me and my own journey.

view from observation deck at MSP airport
I’ve felt a little lost lately, and it feels odd. I don’t know what to say about it. When I first started putting words to my journey three years ago I could see the path I was on, like a moving sidewalk in front of me. Whether I walked or not I was going somewhere, and I had some idea of where. I just had to wait for that moving sidewalk to spit me out the other side. And then it did and I thought, Oh. I’m here. 

“Here” turned out to be a different city. “Here” turned out to be a new job and a new baby and a new appreciation for the time during which the moving sidewalk went a little nuts, forcing me to hold on tightly to the handrail lest I get chewed up en route. And so it was, for a time – at peace, happy, accepting.

After a while, though, things started to feel a little off. I didn’t know why at first, and then I did.

And then I stopped writing because I don’t know what to make of it.

The question I’m wrestling with is, “Really?” I had a baby and got sick and didn’t get help soon enough and now I have to struggle with depression for the rest of my life? Really?!

Inside, I’m railing against this. I’m angry and frustrated and, sometimes, feeling defeated. I did all that work and learned all those lessons and got brave and shared my story to help others and I still have to deal with this shit?

Apparently, yes. Really.

I’m in this airport on a three-hour layover on my way to DC for a conference hosted by a company I know well. I used to fairly regularly fly to the US to speak at conferences hosted by this same company, and as I sit in this quiet room I look around for the me who used to do this, but she’s not here. Just this new me and some classical music.

I’ve often wondered lately if this is it. The last few months with the ups and downs of what I now know is an ongoing depression journey have felt a bit like a layover – interminable and frustrating, watching as everyone else takes off while I’m stuck looking out the window. I’ll depart eventually, but whether I go onwards or backwards I don’t yet know. I’m still in transit.