Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy to Have a Happy Mother's Day

Since last Mother's Day, our third daughter, Tootsie, joined the family.  By now most of you know the saga of Tootsie--born two months early across the country, and with meningitis.  Tootsie and I spent six weeks together in a Boston hospital apart from Husband and Big and Middle Sis.  But the truth is, after a fairly speedy recovery from her infection, Tootsie was pretty good to go. Throughout the ordeal, we were fortunate on many levels, benefiting from the care of incredible health care professionals in an amazing hospital, the overwhelming support of family and friends, and a lack of related long-term health issues.  Today, you would never know our bouncing baby girl was a preemie.

Because this was my third go-round with pregnancy and childbirth, I knew to watch myself for signs of baby blues.  I figured I was particularly susceptible at this point in my life, with a new job and already busy household.  Returning to a recently purchased home with a fragile newborn and two daughters who missed their mom added a few variables.  But I had no idea how difficult things would be.

While this Mother's Day morning I woke up cheerful, loved up my girls, did a load of laundry, went for a jog, and enjoyed brunch with my family, mere months ago, in the throes of serious post-partum depression and anxiety, I struggled to get out of bed each morning.  Now that I'm reunited with Myself, I have the perspective to appreciate how scary post-partum depression can be for a normally happy, confident woman and her family.

I feel it's important to acknowledge how many women enter into what is universally considered the blessed state of motherhood with the monkey of PPD on their backs--a monkey accompanied by Fear, Lack of Confidence and Motivation, Guilt, Self-Loathing, Malaise, and Search for Meaning, among other unwanted guests.  The challenges of parenthood are great enough without attempting to mother from the bottom of a well.  Sitting among first-time mothers in my therapy/support group, I wondered if I would have had more children if I felt the way I did this time after our firstborn.

I am well enough now to know I would do it all over again.

But the journey back to rational thinking and happy days felt long and hard (and necessitated work on myself I'd never felt compelled to do in 42 years), and I suspect I will always keep an eye trained on myself and my vulnerability to overwhelm.

Whatever the causes of PPD--hormonal, societal, circumstantial, genetic--it's important we are mindful of the mamas out there. It's easy for those of us missing infants and rocking chairs to exclaim to new mothers that these are the best of days and aren't you just so in love?  I was always in love.  But I was also wide-eyed and paralyzed by a sense that everything was Just Too Much to Handle.  Thankfully, perceptive family members and friends began throwing out lifelines as I floundered.

We've got to continue to ask new and experienced mothers probing questions, offer help and support, and be persistent about seeking professional care when there's concern.  I was told a million times that the best mother is a healthy one.  I was told a million times it would get better, and a thousand times I didn't believe it.  But I am a happier, healthier self than I was six months ago, and I love being a mother more than ever.

Happy Mother's Day.  This year, I am not taking the "happy" for granted.