Let’s Talk About Postpartum Depression

We were in the car—the whole family—and I was talking about a friend I really love. K-Pants got mad. “When you love other people my heart gets smaller and smaller,” he said.

“But remember what we talked about? Love is something that grows and grows. And my love for you only gets bigger. If I love someone else, it doesn’t mean I have less love for you.”

“No,” he said. “It gets smaller and smaller.”

***

Postpartum Depression. MomsicleBlog

I’ve been suffering from postpartum depression. People talk about PPD. It’s not off-limits. I just figure I should share because I’m a normal, extroverted, sarcastic, fill-in-the-blank kinda girl. And I’m a great mom and an excellent writer and a kick-ass cook and a pretty bangin’ wife while we’re at it.

These things and postpartum depression are not mutually exclusive.

In a related scenario, there’s an adorable baby on one hand, and my sense of dread about getting through the day with her on the other. She likes to be held and played with all the time—you know, baby stuff.

I don’t like that she stole my sense of self and has yet to give it back.

This stuff can be awkward to write about, because even though it’s not taboo to talk about postpartum depression, it automatically shuts you out of the gold-star moms club. I mean who doesn’t love babies? But I need to talk about it because friends have been saying, “Do you really have postpartum depression? I thought you were okay,” in ways that make me feel like I need to go through the exhausting task of explaining postpartum depression and then checking off the boxes that apply to me. I’ve also been getting a lot of “But the nice thing is that it will pass,” and “Keep it up,” and “Have you tried letting the baby play with plastic spoons while you do the dishes?”

So let me try to explain how this postpartum depression thing works for me.

I’m like a cell phone.

I like to charge my cell phone every night no matter how much juice it has left. Because what if there’s an earthquake and it takes me a few days to find my solar-powered emergency radio with the USB connection in order to hand-crank my phone battery back to life? So my phone usually only gets down to 75% battery life before a charge. Maybe 40% if we’ve been out on adventure and I need to use GPS and Instagram and Snapchat all day.

Parenting my two boys through baby and toddlerhood as a mostly stay-at-home-mom was exhausting. My battery would hang out in the red zone most of the time. If I had time to recharge, it would take things up to maybe 21%, and then I’d be right back in the low-battery pop-up-screen zone again. But I had started to get out of the red zone. I got to hike or write every Saturday. I spent time in the garden. I exercised. I had regular chunks of time when the boys were in school when I could reliably schedule appointments. The boys started to play with each other more. Having play dates didn’t mean I had to be involved the whole time.

And then the baby came. [Read about her entry into our family here.]

She doesn’t let me do anything except care for her.

“Being with real people who warm us, who endorse and exalt our creativity, is essential to the flow of creative life,” writes Clarissa Pinkola Estes in Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype.

The baby smashed my flow of creative life.

I’m not looking for a way to entertain the baby so I can get the dishes done: I’m looking for a way to let my soul sing. Passion and creativity glow within me. The baby takes them away through a program of sleep-deprivation, diaper changes, and feedings.

My cell phone battery hangs out in the 3–5% range.

The phone works. But one extra Instagram post or group text message may just shut it down. Even with babysitting, a great therapist, and a supportive spouse, I can barely get to 10%.

As we pulled into the parking lot of MOD Pizza for my birthday lunch, I said to K-Pants, “It smells delicious.” “I don’t want pizza,” he said.

This kind of thing would have irritated me before, but I would have had the energy and the soul-fire to parent through it. K-Pants is not a kid who makes it easy to feel like a good parent. But now, a quick interaction like this, combined with the earlier admonition that I’m shrinking his heart, makes the phone shut down.

I decided to go to the grocery store while they ate lunch.

I wanted to walk around the aisles, shopping for sweet potatoes and avocados and frozen fruit and olive oil, acting like a person whose soul was on fire and who was going to cook some things that people might enjoy.

These days I most often describe postpartum depression as this condition that makes me very fragile. I’ve temporarily lost my resilience, which I find to be a personal trademark in normal circumstances.

These days I often don’t have the energy for normal interactions. I’m an extrovert, but not now. I’m too overstimulated by constant crying and whining and problem-solving. Often, I just need to be in the garden by myself.

I’m not open to suggestions on how to be a better parent and I avoid situations in which I may be judged for my parenting decisions. I’ll tell you if my feelings are hurt, and I have very thin skin right now, so I try to protect myself by being with people whom I feel very safe with.

Once the baby is older and I can get away on Saturdays again to hike and write, and the battery charge reliably stays above about 15%, then I’ll be able to access my normal self more often.

If you see me or talk to me I may tell you about my postpartum depression or I may say things are going well. It depends on the moment. I like to feel well, so I like to enjoy those moments.

In the meantime, I wanted to tell you what it’s like, and why sometimes I’m fine and sometimes that last Instagram post shuts the whole thing down.

***

If I need your help, you’re probably already giving it. I’m seeking joy and balance in a very active way with the help of my wonderful people (who include my husband, friends, family, therapist, naturopath, babysitter, acupuncturist… the list is long and you can find my individual postpartum depression toolkit here).

And to my friend who anonymously left chocolate on my doorstep a few weeks ago, I love you gloriously, and in a manner that doesn’t shrink anyone’s heart.

WAHM, SAHM, Thank You, Ma’am

In January I had this thought: “I’m so unhappy. Maybe I should get a full-time, out-of-the-house job again.”

I was feeling done with taking care of a baby. Probably because I had been done.

Mothers are supposed to have rainbows shooting out of their hearts when it comes to their babies.

Babies. MomsicleBlog

[Insert rainbows.]

We all know parenthood is hard, but we talk about it being hard in a stoic martyrdom sort of way. It can be hard in a stark and scary way. As I said back in January, “I feel like [the baby] took a vibrant, passionate woman and turned her into a listless baby Sherpa.” (More on babies being adorable and annoying here.)

Things that were becoming more and more within range as the boys grew—professional aspirations, success tied to discrete goals, creative paid work—these things were blown out of reach like a plastic bag on a gust of wind.

“You don’t have to do this baby the same way as the boys,” my therapist said. She was right, of course. But it’s hard to wrap my head around having been a great stay-at-home-mom (SAHM) for K-Pants and Boy Woww, and feeling dread about doing the same thing for the baby.

I remember reading parenting books when I was pregnant with K-Pants that gently warned that husbands may not really enjoy parenting until the baby turned five or so—when regular-people activities started to overtake the Savannah-to-the-Sea insanity of infancy and toddlerhood. What about moms? Apparently we love to play peek-a-boo and go to Gymboree and clean up crushed Cheerios—and we just wait for the dads to catch up.

Maternal instincts. Biological clocks. These paints do not produce the same colors on every canvas, and we’re not good at acknowledging that.

So here I was in January, thinking about getting a full-time, out-of-the-house job again.

It didn’t quite feel right for me, but I wasn’t sure why. So I made a list of things in my life that give me purpose and joy and make me feel like I’m living into my values: walking the boys to-and-from school, working with clients on writing and editing projects, writing my blog, meeting my grandma for lunch, planning my permaculture garden, tromping around in nature, volunteering for kindergarten reading, and seeing close friends.

After I made the list, I noticed something: the baby was a very peripheral figure in all of it. I love having a flexible schedule to absorb our family’s bumps and turns, but I’m suffocated by baby care.

I decided a full-time, out-of-the-house job wouldn’t be a good fit. Instead, I needed to maintain and build my freelance work in order to have the professional life I crave and the family time I love. And that means more babysitting time for the Fairy Pig, and less baby care for me. (Shout out here to our babysitter Sue: Thank you.)

I’ve been really excited lately when girlfriends make the choice to go back to full-time, outside-of-the-house work after taking time off. I also love seeing girlfriends who love being SAHMs in all its beauty and grit. There’s no right choice or easy path. Knowing what’s right for you and your family—and being able to act on it—is a gift.

So I’m transitioning from being a SAHM with a writing addiction to a WAHM with a sometime baby sidekick. It’s the right choice for us.

Let’s Be Here Together in the Na’au

Mokulei'a. EvelynShooop

There’s this place in Hawaiian spirituality called the na’au. I learned about it at Sri Shim’s celebration of life. When you rest your hand on your abdomen under your belly and you kind of suck in your muscles so there’s tension, you’re there, in the na’au, connecting with your gut instincts, your ancestors, and your people.

I like to go there.

When I wrote about the darkness, I talked about glow-in-the-dark friends, and how they reach out their hands in the darkness, from wherever they are. That’s the na’au for me. The glow-in-the-dark friends hang out in the na’au, and I can always access them.

I’ve been feeling very down.

It’s situational. Some long-term situations: the monotony of caring for an unexpected baby. And some short-term: the flu and the temporary absence of all my postpartum depression supports.

I get scared sharing about my depression, because people get worried you’re going to hurt yourself or others–which is kind of them and an important concern, but not all of us who are depressed are thinking of harming ourselves or others. And then other people say things like, “This too shall pass,” which is meant kindly, but is like a punch in the face.

But it’s still worth it to share because when I share I honor my truth and I also strengthen my connection to the people in the na’au. When I put the energy out there, that’s when they really reach out their hands.

It’s funny, because in my recent depression, I was thinking about a far-away friend of mine. I hadn’t shared about my depression yet, but he came across my mind and I knew he would be there for me in the na’au. And after I shared, I received this wonderful email from him:

Hey Evelyn,

As I sit here in the train heading into the city watching the sun’s salmon glow suffuse the eastern horizon, I’m thinking about you.

Thank you for sharing your depression with me.  I’ll take it up today and feel it with you, hearing that slow low drumbeat (that’s how I visualize my own depression) in the background of my day.

And I’ll hold you in my warm heart today.

And it was like I’d already read it, because we’d been there in the na’au.

Let’s be there together.

“Fil the Germ”: An Original Children’s Book in Honor of Cold and Flu Season

K-Pants wrote this title back in the fall, but given that March has been our sickest month–and I know many of you are feeling the sinus pressure, too–we give you, “Fil the Germ,” a look behind the curtain of the germ world.

Fil the Germ. MomsicleBlog

You know, like “Phil,” but spelled better.

Fil the Germ. MomsicleBlog

The grammar gets off to a rough start, but hang with us. That’s Fil in green, saying, “Ha, ha!”

Fil the Germ. MomsicleBlog

Word, Fil.

Fil the Germ. MomsicleBlog

Fil on right. Victim on left.

Fil the Germ. MomsicleBlog

Dogs are fun. But you know what’s even more fun…

Fil the Germ. MomsicleBlog

…riding cheetahs.

Fil the Germ. MomsicleBlog

That’s it. End big. Leave them wanting more. That’s the K-Pants philosophy.

The Mommy Wars Are Irrelevant

The mommy wars are irrelevant. Choose what's best for your mental health.

No mother is perfectly happy or perfectly balanced. Not the stay-at-home ones, not the full-time-office ones. We’re all crashing around in our bumper cars trying to pick the right path through traffic.

The mommy wars are irrelevant

A few years ago I shared that I was a full-time mom with a seatmate on an airplane. “There’s no substitute,” she said. “It’s the best thing you can do for your kids.” She had been a stay-at-home mom.

Last year a Harvard study showed us that kids of working moms are better off in almost every way. That either felt great or terrible.

Either way, we crave the validation that these studies and interactions bring. We need to feel like our path is the one in which the kids will be all right, and that all the challenges and difficulty are worth it.

But what path is the one in which we’re all right, above what’s “best” for the kids? We should feel confident to choose what serves us best, because stable, well-adjusted parents with robust mental health are the greatest gift.

Six years down the road, I’m proud to watch close friends choose paths that are different than mine. The rightness and defensiveness of new parenthood has—mostly—worn off. I filter the motherhood studies, advice, and recommendations through the lens of what’s best for me and my family. I’m grateful to know women who stay at home full-time, who work in an office full-time and have au pairs, who cobble together childcare for freelance work, whose kids go to part-time preschool or full-time day care, who homeschool, or who go back to office work after years away.

No mother has it figured out. Being in balance takes a thousand ongoing adjustments. I’m grateful to have the freedom to fall, and to watch as others create their lives different from my own.

Portraits

The newborn, baby, and family portraits field seems to be exploding, so the boys are throwing their hats into the ring, especially since they just learned they have to pay their own overdue book fines.

K-Pants tries to capture your soul.

kid portraits Momsicle blog

Boy Woww is a master at eliciting emotions.

Happy.

kid portraits Momsicle blog

Frustrated.

kid portraits Momsicle blog

Surprised.

kid portraits Momsicle blog

Shout out if you need a booking. Costs are low. Quality is grainy. Being robbed of the essence of your soul is priceless.

kid portraits Momsicle blog

Escapism

Escapism. MomsicleBlog

My husband went away for four days. It’s the longest he’s been gone since the baby was born, which is quite remarkable given that she’s seven months old.

Escapism. MomsicleBlog

To escape from what would have been four days of Dragon Mom’s psychotic dictatorship, I packed up the kids and my grandma and we went to the beach.

Escapism. MomsicleBlog

Remember not to tell my grandma you know she was there. She prefers to live a blog-free life. “What grandma?” Exactly.

Escapism. MomsicleBlog

My husband travels somewhat frequently, but I don’t exercise my slow-twitch business-trip muscle fibers enough run the race with endurance. I’m the one spasming and gasping for air.

Escapism. MomsicleBlog

So we left.

Escapism. MomsicleBlog

What’s the merit in tackling a parenting challenge head on when you can avoid it? Especially these days—I’m too tired.

Escapism. MomsicleBlog

The Oregon Coast in winter can be volatile and wild.

Escapism. MomsicleBlog

But adventure gives us something to live for.

Escapism. MomsicleBlog