This is a post I've been wanting to write for a while and I think I've finally found the words because I'm gaining perspective. I want to describe the emotional roller coaster of postpartum emotions that I experienced, and continue to experience to some extent. It's not postpartum depression. I'm not exactly sure what to call it so I'm calling it postpartum emotions. I think most new moms probably experience it to some extent but very few of my mom friends have mentioned it, and then again I didn't talk to many people about it either, so I wanted to share my experience here.
Since giving birth I've experienced the most intense feelings I've ever had of love, devotion, protection, and worry. It's amazing. It's also scary because Dashiell is my everything; he is my spirit animal. And it's a complicated thing to love so deeply.
Chris and I both knew to look for signs of postpartum depression since it's hard to predict before giving birth if a new mom will be affected or not. Our Bradely class instructor and midwives dutifully reminded us of the symptoms and of how to get help. Once Dash was here it was clear that postpartum depression wasn't a concern for me and I've never had thoughts of being uninterested in Dash or have been fearful that I would harm him in any way. It's kind of like the opposite of that.
Because I love Dashiell so much I worry over him, just like every mom does, but sometimes I feel like I get carried away worrying and it's hard to get unstuck. In the first few weeks that he was here I would start feeling anxious and bluesy with worry every evening as the light started to get golden. If there's anything to worry about this is always the time of day when it hits me hardest.
I was loving our days at home as a little family so much I hated for each day to be over and for Dash to get any older. Every day felt like a treasure and Chris and I were loving it all so much. This dip in my mood seemed to be an open door for worry. I would start thinking that one day I would have to go back to work and how hard that I would be. I could get carried away further thinking about how much I love Dash and (abandoning all logic) how terrible it would be if somehow Dashiell had different parents who didn't love him and just left him to cry in his crib. And then I would dwell on how sad it would make me if he was ever left to cry and it made me never want to be without him. And suddenly I would be crying and even though logically I knew exactly what was happening, that I was exhausted and hormonal and just getting used to all this newness, I just couldn't bring myself out of it.
What helped during these spells:
Talking to Chris. He will always give me his full attention and will listen to me talk about the same worry over and over and over. He is unendingly supportive and reminded me what a great situation we are in with him being able to stay home with Dash when I go back to work and Dash only being in daycare 3 days a week. And he would also tell me, "If you decide you need to stay home we'll find a way to do that. We always have options." He even wrote "We always have options" on a message board in the kitchen and looking at in throughout the day helped me to remember that we can change our situation if we really need to. I am so grateful to have such a patient and supportive partner.
Calling my mom. She understands my worrisome tendencies like no one else and can always reassure me with her practical and positive outlook. One evening I went for a walk and called her and continued to dwell on all these worries that I really couldn't do anything about (how will I go back to work? etc.) And she said, "Kelsey, I think maybe you should have a glass of wine." And it was such good advice. I just needed to chill out and recognizing that made me laugh. And a small glass of wine totally helped.
Will Ferrell movies. This is kind of a weird one but in the evenings when Dash was alternately cluster feeding and snoozing on my lap and I felt like my heart would burst with love we would put on a ridiculous comedy, frequently featuring Will Ferrell for some reason (Anchor Man, The Other Guys, Old School). It was distracting, made me laugh, and lightened the mood.
I think what I've experienced is really common and normal but only a couple of mom friends in my Working Parents' Network at work have mentioned that they feel this way too. When I described my feelings to my midwife I started crying saying how much I love my son and worry over him and she started crying too and echoed, "You just love them so much." She knew exactly what I was talking about. She reassured me that I was going through a normal transition and it would get better.
And it has. Over time I noticed I'm having fewer bluesy evenings and I can't think of the last one I had. It was probably during the first week or so when Dash started day care; I think transitions will be a time when my worry increases.
I'm also being proactive to prevent myself from getting "stuck" in a worrisome state. Two techniques that I'm using:
Picturing a "circle of love." This is what I came up with when I decided I needed a way to prevent myself from going down a rabbit hole of worry. This is how it works: Worry will creep in, usually unexpectedly. Someone might mention swimming and then I'll start dwelling on worrying about Dashiell being near a pool unattended and suddenly I'm overwhelmed with worry at this scenario that is completely made up. What I do is I stop and picture holding Dashiell in my arms. I'm snuggling him and kissing him and telling him that I love him. Chris is standing with us too and showering Dashiell with love. Then I picture our family standing in a circle around us, smiling at Dashiell. Behind them is a circle of our extended family and our friends, everyone who cares for Dashiell and will ensure that nothing bad happens to him. It feels a little embarrassing to share but it's really helped me and maybe it will help someone else. I reminds me that Dashiell is surrounded by love and by caring and responsible people even beyond Chris and me.
Acknowledging and letting go. In a Working Parents' Network meeting at work I mentioned my worrisome thoughts and a fellow mom said that the book Becoming Calm Mom had helped her and in particular a technique outlined in the book. She said that when you have a worrisome, illogical thought, instead of trying to ignore it, acknowledge it and say, "That's an odd thought to have," and then let it go. This is to help from having a worrisome thought and then worrying that you're having a worrisome thought. This tip resonated with me so I recently bought the book Becoming a Calm Mom to see what other wisdom it might have. I consciously approached my pregnancy with calmness and I'm trying to do the same for parenting.
Every time I was able to talk to someone else about my worry it really helped and I wish I had done a better job at seeking support from friends. I hesitated calling because I didn't want to interrupt someone and be a downer to their day. Plus most of my mom friends just seemed like they weren't overcome with worry so I wasn't sure they could relate.
If you're a mom, or not a mom, and get overwhelmed by worry I want to encourage you to talk to someone about it, even if it's just texting a friend to say, "I can't seem to stop worrying about this." Just because you're not depressed doesn't mean you don't need some extra support, everyone does from time to time and new moms need it especially. Saying your thoughts out loud helps immensely and can break the cycle of turning a worry over and over and I think just about anyone can relate and will reassure you. Also, recognize that being exhausted affects your mood SO MUCH. Even just a little sleep can brighten your mood so much so prioritize sleep over a shower or writing thank you notes, or most other things other than caring for your baby.
As we've found our routine I find myself less overwhelmed with worry. When it does creep in I turn to my strategies of remembering that Dashiell is so loved and that it's normal to worry. I'm also trying to be more open about what I'm feeling. And if I need extra help a glass of wine and a Will Farrell movie helps too.