Nurturing instinct

Ah, maternal instinct. Another aspect of motherhood we often think we should have honed the moment our newborn is in our arms.

Is there a new mom on the planet who feels fully confident in her ability to keep her baby alive in those early weeks? Between the hormonal dips and spikes, the exhaustion, and all of the conflicting advice – you must breastfeed! Don’t force yourself to breastfeed! Co-sleep! Don’t you dare fall asleep with your baby! It’s enough to make any mom question her instincts.

Couple that with depression or anxiety, and your brain becomes a minefield of shame. I remember questioning everything, not only because it was all so new, but because I was viewing it through the lens of anxiety – something that automatically tells you you’re doing it wrong. Was I blowing everything out of proportion, or would I miss something obvious because I was telling myself not to worry so much?

The one thing that helped, and that I had to tell myself over and over again, was that we were learning together. My baby was not, in fact, judging me, and I was doing it right because I was doing it out of love. Do I still question my “maternal instinct”? All. the. time. I’m learning to accept that this may just be part of being a mom. Every age, every stage goes so fast that you’re constantly having to readjust. And so we move forward, learning together.

Posted in Anxiety, Mental Health, Motherhood, Postpartum | Leave a comment

Still life: Kitchen Sink

 

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This is my reality today, because life.

Not long ago the sight of this would have sent me into an anxious spiral – I wouldn’t have even wanted my husband to see it, much less post it on social media. Letting dirty dishes pile up in the sink, clean dishes sit in the drying rack – you know, every day reality for most people, especially with a baby – would set off a chain of internal shaming. I judged myself the way I was sure the rest of the world would judge me, because it meant I was lazy. Ungrateful.

I had an “easy baby” after all, so it shouldn’t be tough to keep up with basic housework. Especially if I wasn’t physically going to an office every day. I was home, I had it easy, and I had no reason not to do the dishes. If the kitchen was dirty, or the floors, or the doorknobs, or his baby gear wasn’t spotless it obviously meant that I was a useless person, a horrible mother, my baby was going to get sick and I could have prevented it.

To his credit, my husband tried to help. Many, many times. In my mind that made me even more of a failure and I absolutely refused. I remember staying up between late night feedings to clean the floor, my mind racing too fast to ever really “sleep when the baby sleeps.” I truly believed I didn’t deserve to have my son if I couldn’t do something as simple as keeping the house clean – while simultaneously hating that the need to be busy, to prove my worth in such ridiculous ways, dominated my thoughts and often prevented me from being present for what really mattered.

While the intensity of those thoughts have lessened some over the months, it takes a conscious effort to reframe the shame. I’m finding it a little easier to accept the effort that I put in during the day, accept that I’m doing the best I can, and acknowledge that no one is judging me as harshly as I judge myself. (Especially my son.) It’s true – my kitchen is a mess. It’s true – sometimes I am a hot mess myself. It’s still okay to let people in.

Posted in Anxiety, Living Life, Mental Health, Motherhood, Postpartum | Leave a comment

1 in 5

1 in 5 women will suffer from a maternal mental health disorder like postpartum depression.

That is a lot of women struggling in silence.

It’s Maternal Mental Health Week, and it’s so important they are heard. It’s important to realize, too, that perinatal mood disorders cover an entire spectrum. While we generally think we’re familiar with postpartum depression, what I didn’t realize – until I was in it – is that 10% of women may instead experience postpartum anxiety, and about 3-5% develop perinatal OCD symptoms. I had no idea there was a name for my intrusive and repetitive thoughts and fears, only shame. Still other women face postpartum PTSD, bipolar mood disorders, and postpartum psychosis. It’s an incredibly complex spectrum that many are too ashamed or exhausted to explore. That’s why I’m so grateful there are women who are willing to talk about it, and that there are resources to help women see that they aren’t alone. There is help without judgment. Motherhood is a major physical, mental and chemical shift. Asking for support doesn’t make you a bad mom. It makes you human.

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A series of small things

Van Gough

And it really is the small things.

Earth Day is a call to action, but it’s what we do every day that makes the impact.

  • Ditch the plastic (bags/bottles/excess packaging) for good.
  • Turn off the water when you brush/suds/shave.
  • Eat more meatless meals.
  • Walk instead of drive when you can.
  • Make your dollar count – buy local, support small businesses with sustainable practices, swap in beauty and cleaning products without the toxic load.

Teach your children well. There are a lot of things in this world that are out of our control, but doing our part to take care of it isn’t one of them. We can do great things. Our planet depends on us.

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Fresh start

 

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Feeling especially grateful for a fresh start this morning (even if it does involve a fresh layer of April snow). Yesterday was one of my most challenging days yet as a parent. I know, I know – I’m not even a year in. I’ll probably look back on this and think it was cake. I am incredibly lucky that this is the worst of our concerns. I recognize that, and I also recognize that it’s all relative. I think that’s something new moms need to give themselves a break about. Every new experience, every new test, is valid. Your feelings and your fears are valid.

We took Rhys in for the recommended allergy testing and, while we did get the official confirmation via scratch test that he is currently allergic to sesame, the basic nature of food allergies also left us with a lot of unknowns and a 9-month-old who was absolutely traumatized by what now feels like excessive and unnecessary blood work. On the way home he immediately fell into an exhausted sleep, and I tried not to fall down the rabbit hole of guilt. I regret not questioning more, not stepping in more, not listening to my gut that this particular procedure didn’t feel right. My brain started going to some really dark places, but I’ve been there enough to know that wouldn’t serve any of us.

Today, I’m especially grateful for his smile and trying to trust: that he won’t remember this, and that it’s okay for me to trust my gut. It was a tough lesson in listening to that mama bear instinct and challenging the process when something doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t mean that you don’t want the best care for your baby, or that you aren’t grateful for the access, it just means that you’re honoring your instincts. They’re stronger than you might give yourself credit for.

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The morning after

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The morning after holidays can be rough – like a hangover, but for guilt and judgement: “I ate too much (fill in the blank).” “I’m a disgusting pig for eating my kid’s candy.” “Diet starts today!” And so goes the cycle of guilt, shame, restriction.

The morning after Easter has been especially challenging for me in the past. Maybe it comes from the expectation: that everything is supposed to be bright and shiny and fresh, or from my own disillusionment with religion. A lot of it came from eating (read: sneaking) what I thought was far too much chocolate than one person should ever be allowed to consume in a single day. It wasn’t from enjoyment, or even tasting it most of the time, it was from fear – I didn’t think I deserved chocolate, so I better eat all of it TODAY because I would never give myself permission to eat it again. It’s also the day, almost exactly three years ago, that I finally started treatment for anxiety and disordered eating. At the time, I never would have believed it was possible to enjoy a holiday like Easter – eating chocolate and all – without judgement.

Because eating chocolate yesterday does not mean you cannot eat what you want today. (Even if that includes more chocolate!) It has nothing to do with your worthiness. You are still deserving of love and patience and kindness. Without restriction. Without judgement.

Posted in Body Image, Body Shaming, Eating Disorders, Food Fight, Holidays, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Work in progress

I recently read an article from Joni Edelman over at Ravishly that reminded me of two things. One: cake that is layered with buttercream really is the best. And two: recovery is not linear. Whether it’s from an eating disorder, or the diet mentality, or the emotional abuse you put yourself through trying to live up to some ridiculous standard of beauty in a world that has no idea what it actually wants. It’s never a direct process.

It is uncomfortable and scary and sometimes makes you wonder if it’s worth it. I’ve thought about this a lot, especially in the last year when I’ve really forced myself to ask the tough questions. Because sometimes it doesn’t feel worth it. Sometimes it seems like it would be a lot easier to go back to the disordered thoughts and behaviors. For the longest time, that was the default. And it was constantly reinforced by the world around me – advertisements, media, conversations held and conversations simply overheard – the general consensus is that thinner is better. Less is more. Restriction is a virtue. Food is good or bad, and as a result so are you.

Sometimes recovery sucks.

It’s not as if those thoughts simply disappear, or that the conversations are no longer heard, or that the images cease to exist.

We fight through them. We work around them. We are are own source of positive reinforcement, and it can be exhausting.

For a long time, I was tired. I was so tired of thinking about it, fighting for it, believing in it. And so I had to take a step back. Not from recovery itself, but from immersing myself in it. I had to back away and not think so much about what I thought it “should” look like. I had to give myself the space to screw it up, to struggle with it, to hate it. I had to toss my hands up and say “I give up.” Not to recovery, but to the expectation around it.

It’s still hard, even though I don’t miss the way I used to feel. I still grieve it, not because I liked the behaviors and the beliefs but because for so long they made up my worth. Trying to separate myself from that often felt like a loss. I realize that there was more to gain because of it – including weight – and that’s not easy to process either.

Some days I feel like I’m starting over, but I quickly remind myself how far I’ve come. Far enough, finally, that I don’t want to go back. There are finally, amazingly, more days that I’m at peace with myself than not. But it’s a work in progress. It always will be. I’m finally learning to be okay with that, and with me.

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