Time sure flies! It has been several weeks since I posted a blog entry, but it’s taken me some time to adjust to life with four little ones in the house. Being a breastfeeding mother sometimes gives you little time to do anything else, but it’s oh-so-rewarding at the same time. Breast milk is digested so easily by my precious infant’s tummy that I was literally drained from all the round-the-clock nourishing I had to do. Couple that with three other kids to care for, and I’m sure you can see why I’ve been absent from the blog world.
The good news is I’m slowly starting to get back into the swing of things. I’m writing again, and I returned to work in June, just a few weeks before Noie turned 5 months old. I wish I could say I took extra time off for family leave, but I’d be lying. The truth is I only recently returned to work because I was still out on disability. The hormonal changes I experienced shortly after childbirth thrust me into my first encounter with “the baby blues.”
Initial Feelings of Sadness and Guilt
I didn’t experience postpartum depression with my first four children, so at first I didn’t know what I was feeling. Here I was with a perfectly healthy, beautiful baby girl, but I felt like I was grieving all over again. Having Noie brought me so much joy, but her undeniable likeness to Ethan broke my heart, too. There were times I felt like I was staring into his eyes again. Although I knew Ethan and Noie were two separate beings, their resemblance made me want to hold onto her even tighter. And I had the most overwhelming sensation of sadness and guilt whenever I experienced separation anxiety.
Once I started to recognize a change in my overall mood, I played “Dr. Google” and tried to look up my symptoms on the Internet. After conducting hours upon hours of research, I didn’t think I fit the profile of someone who had “just” postpartum depression. It felt like a hybrid ailment—as if postpartum depression had intertwined with my latent grief and exacerbated it.
Even after I had an explanation for my altered emotional state, I kept silent about my sorrow. I didn’t even tell John. I tried to trudge on and pretend everything was “hunky-dory.” How could I possibly be so sad when everything was going so great? I didn’t give myself permission to embrace my gloominess because it was nothing compared with the heartbreak I experienced before.
But as time progressed and my sadness deepened, I noticed myself slipping in some areas. I was sleep-deprived, had too much to do with too little time and started to lose my cool. I had a hell of a time taking care of myself because I was so busy taking care of everything and everyone else. It felt like I had too much on my plate!
When things started to slip off my plate, I was constantly scrambling to catch them before they crashed to the floor. Simply acting like I was strong didn’t make me strong this time around.
SuperMom Takes a Hit
HemoParenting is hard, and it can appear to be unfathomably difficult for people who don’t actually have to do it. I’d have a nice little nest egg if someone paid me for every time a non-HemoParent commented on how “tough” John and I are. Our family unit functioned like a well-oiled machine despite a few wrenches thrown in. It always felt good to hear people marvel at my resiliency as a mother. Being SuperMom became part of who I was. So when I was weak, I felt like a farce, a sham, like I deserved to have my title stripped from me. SuperMom finally found her kryptonite.
But then I sought help. First I told John about my secret sadness. Then, at my six-week postpartum visit, I wearily admitted to my ob/gyn what I was feeling inside. The good news was there was hope!
My ob/gyn gave me extra time off to focus on my emotional well-being. He referred me to a supportive moms’ group and linked me up with a very good therapist. As it turned out, all the emotional repression I’ve done over the years caught up to me once my hormones changed. I grew accustomed to the adrenaline rush I got from being SuperMom. I pushed myself too hard to get over Ethan’s loss so I could focus on Niki. In essence, I strained my “emotional muscle.” Going to counseling taught me that thinking strong won’t necessarily make you strong; rather, you have to build up that strength.
It was difficult to come face to face with the magnitude of my repressed grief, but I know I’m stronger now because of it. Our family has experienced a lot of loss in the past three years—the loss of a beautiful baby, the loss of any normalcy we had left, and the loss of all the sacrifice our family put toward my educational goals. But I have accepted that feeling sad and weakened by my loss is OK. I’m licking my wounds now and moving forward the best way I can. My hormones are starting to normalize, I’m getting more sleep, and I’ve started taking fish oil supplements, as suggested by my lactation consultant, as a more natural approach to helping my mood. I’m feeling much better these days.
Dealing with postpartum depression helped me realize that it takes a hell of a lot of strength to admit when you’re weak. I was embarrassed to admit it at first, but I’ve learned it can be empowering to talk about it, too. If openly sharing my experience can somehow help others, then I know I’ve done the right thing by writing it for the world to see.
Read more about Tiffany's life at The Art of Lion Taming.