During and immediately following pregnancy I made a goal to have a healthy postpartum time, especially in the area of mental health. I realize I may be slightly insane if I think I can somehow stay sane during these crazy times but I’m going to try anyway.
I don’t want to say that I had real postpartum depression (PPD) after my last pregnancies, I was never diagnosed with it, but I sometimes wonder if I would have been had I gone to the doctor looking for a medical term to explain away my up and down moods, weepiness, sleep-depriving anxiety, and tendency to want to run away from my family when things got really tough. (Disclaimer: I have never wanted to physically hurt either myself or my children…or my husband.)
PPD sometimes just seems like a ‘medical’ way of describing the typical life of a mother, especially one with more than one child. I’d like to know what woman has never experienced at least one of the following at some point (weeks or months) after giving birth?
■Irritability or hypersensitivity
■Anxiety and worry
■Crying or tearfulness
■Negative feelings such as sadness, hopelessness, helplessness, or guilt
■Loss of interest in activities you usually enjoy
■Difficulty sleeping (especially returning to sleep)
■Fatigue or exhaustion
■Changes in appetite or eating habits
■Headaches, stomachaches, muscle or backaches
Of course, PPD can become more than normal when it causes a mother to really go crazy (all jokes aside) so it is something to be aware of and stay on top of for our health and safety and that of our family’s. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed, frustrated, sad, and so exhausted you can’t get through the day without a nap or three. But if these feelings are accompanied with other physical signs like shortness of breath, dizziness, sweating, chills or other “heart-attack’ like symptoms there may be something more serious going on. And, it should go without saying, if you’re having terrible death thoughts about yourself or others (ones you would never want anyone to know) then it’s definitely time to call out for help.
Like I said, I’ve never been that bad but I know from talking with other moms and reading stories that “normal” can quickly become very scary. To avoid this, I’ve put together a How to Stay Sane game plan for myself.
1. Be honest. (Get rid of my pride & vanity)
I have to be honest about how I am really feeling instead of trying to pretend I am perfect and can handle everything just fine all by myself. I also need to be honest with my husband. This is hard for me because I don’t want to whine and boo-hoo to him about every little thing. I also don’t want him to think I regret having our children or that I don’t appreciate him for the tremendous help and love he already offers me. The ‘Eve’ in me wants to pretend I don’t need my husband (or any man for that matter). But I do, very much. I hate to think where I’d be or where our children would be without him around to keep me grounded.
2. Be realistic. (Prudence)
There was a time (not too long ago) I could do all the laundry, vacuum the whole house, and clean all the bathrooms all in one day–and still make dinner, help with homework and read a few stories at bedtime to my kids as well. That was then, this is now and I don’t need to live then, I need to live now. There are many different types of moms. It’s easy to look at a mom or a family and compare myself and think I’m not good enough or wish I could be someone I’m simply not. This is especially hard in the postpartum time as it seems there is an unseen source (though not so unknown) trying to make me (and other postpartum moms) feel like we should be up and back on our feet and going a million miles a minute after the baby is born. Some moms may be able to do that. Not me. And that’s ok. Right now, I’m a mother of 4 young children with 2 in school. I have a teeny tiny baby who depends on me for everything. Oh yeah, I’m also a wife and my husband needs me too. I don’t need to be anything else right now. I’ve asked my husband to help me keep things simple and not let me take on any major projects or new leadership roles for a while. This is hard for me because I’m such a doer. He, Husband the Wise, reminded me I don’t need a project. “This [our family]is your project.” Yes, there are many other great and important things I could do. But right now, being ‘just a mom’ is who I really am. I also need to be realistic of who my children and husband are and let go of who they are not.
3. Ask for and accept help. (Humility)
If I am honest and realistic with myself and others, then I’ll be able to ask for and accept help. I’m profoundly thankful for all the meals we’ve been giving as well as help with taxiing kids around and giving them special attention, and going on special shopping errands for and with me. I’ve gotten better at asking my children for help too and this has not only been a great aid to me but it’s teaching them valuable lessons as well (I hope!)
3. Take care of myself. (Temperance)
Hormones: I feel like they control me right now. (When haven’t they?) We joke about this but there’s a lot of truth to it. But even hormones can be…guided. If I treat them nice they can be my friends, instead of my enemies. Proper eating, sleeping, and lifestyle habits can affect my hormonal health and, in effect, everything else. So part of my game plan is to take the right vitamin/mineral supplements I need daily (without missing days at a time) and to eat as healthy as is realistically possible. This is a hard one The subject of food is one I both love and hate. The thought of meal planning and cooking is enough to make me go crazy. It would be easier to order in/go out or eat pre-made convenience food. But, aside from this being way expensive, it’s not as good as eating healthier and fresher home-made meals. But I can’t be a food Nazi about this or it will be counterproductive and drive me crazy anyway. I’ll just have to do my best to find a good balance. I really need to just let go of the idea that I can be a super fantastic cook and a super fantastic mom at the same time. Not now, anyway. Maybe I’ll try that magic trick later.
I am also trying to get enough sleep. I read once that the number one cause of PPD turning into Postpartum Psychosis is lack of adequate and proper amounts of sleep. I’m going to bed earlier when I can (as I finish editing this post at midnight) and I’m taking the old adage about sleeping when baby sleeps seriously. I sleep while nursing the babe at night in bed and also catch a few cat naps here and there during the day with him instead of getting on the computer as often as I used to. (If I haven’t replied to your email or FB message as quickly as you need, call me!)
Exercise will also be my friend. I haven’t done too much yet since I’m still only 4 weeks postpartum but I’d like to make walking and other simple exercise a part of my daily/weekly routine. It was so helpful when I was pregnant to get out of the house for a little bit by myself or even with the kids. When I feel like running away, maybe a short jog/walk around the neighborhood would be enough to relieve that tension.
4. Pray, pray, pray. (Faith, Hope, Love)
I can do nothing without God. Nothing. I need him, like my baby needs me. I need his Grace and his Strength. I’ll ask for these at night when I go to bed, I’ll ask for these when I wake up in the morning (or in the middle of the night), and throughout my day. I’ll also be grateful for what He has given me. But I won’t just pray for me. I’ll pray for others. The best way to get over my problems is to get over myself and think of others. I can offer up my petty problems and rotten days for my family, for my fellow moms, for women who’ve lost children, and especially for those women who carry the worst pain of never knowing what it means to be a mother even though they yearn so desperately for that gift. And if I can’t think of who else to offer my days for, I’ll read the news and remember.
There’s my simple game plan to stay sane and avoid going totally crazy. I may add to it as I go along. I hope it will help but I know I might still go slightly crazy from time to time.
Copyright 2012 Erika Higgins