Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Case for Self-Fullness

At the Warrior Mom Conference, one of the most powerful sessions was learning what it means to thrive after having a PMAD (perinatal mood and anxiety disorder). Kate Kripke from the Postpartum Wellness Center in Boulder talked about what mothers who thrive do, listing things like:

  • She knows that feeling anxious is a normal part of motherhood. 
  • She is willing to be Good Enough (and she understands that mistakes are even important)
  • She accepts and maybe even prides herself on her vulnerabilities
  • She understands the need for community and she uses it well
Each of these is profound for a mother who has been through an emotional complication after having their baby. You don't understand that anxiety is normal, because you can't comprehend a manageable level of it. You feel the need to be perfect, as every mom around you appears to be. You find it difficult to be vulnerable, because a chink in your armor is an instant reminder of past problems. And asking for help from people in your chosen community (friends, family, neighbors) is one of the hardest - but most vital - things to do. Each of us works hard at busting through these blockages and a host of others to become the mom we know we can be - an ongoing battle within our post-PMAD selves.

But the part of her speech with which I most personally struggle is that a mother who thrives "understands the need for self-fullness and that this self-fullness is in service of her child(ren)."

"Self-care" is a huge part of motherhood - it is essential to make sure you are filling yourself up in order to have any of yourself to give to others, namely your children and partner. Once I was diagnosed with my PPD, my therapist and just about everyone else said I must take time for things that made me feel like myself. For me, self-care was going out with friends or having visitors, taking time for manicures / pedicures and doing anything mindless like watching television, shopping or even time to just click aimlessly around the internet or my phone. So in the midst of my PPD battle I made sure I did these things. They came easily to me, as I always felt better as soon as I was away from Rebecca - which pushed me even further down the rabbit hole and made me question being a mother even more. Why was it so easy for me to just wave to whoever was watching her, close the door behind me and be on my way? I felt selfish, not self-full.

See, some women's postpartum anxiety and/or depression cause them to become extremely attached to their babies - anyone else wouldn't take care of them as well,or be as vigilant as they are, so no one else could possibly care for their child. I understand how pushing them to do things for themselves is crucial.

My PPD symptom was the polar opposite of that. I felt a total lack of attachment, and thought that anyone else would do a better job taking care of her than I would. I could hand Rebecca off willingly to just about anyone - friends, baby nurses, family, and most often, Evan. So I did, for my prescribed self-care time. And every time I did I felt better momentarily, because the crushing pain of trying to take care of this baby was gone, and then suddenly worse, because WHAT KIND OF MOTHER WILLINGLY GIVES AWAY HER BABY WITHOUT A SECOND GLANCE?! WHY AM I HAPPIER WITHOUT HER? WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?

I would agonize over how easy it was for me to detach as I went through whatever activity I had chosen, likely defeating a large percentage of the purpose of the self-care - but still, I always arrived home calmer and more able to take care of Rebecca. More self-full in service of my child - though I beat myself up to get there each time.

This weekend, Evan and I went away, just the two of us, so that he could compete in a triathlon. It is also his birthday today (HAPPY BIRTHDAY EVAN!!) so we made the weekend celebratory, taking an extra day away after his race to just let loose. And we did - we drank, we ate, we gambled, we relaxed by the pool and we laughed. We talked without being interrupted by a 4 y.o. or screaming infant. We held hands, we flirted and we remembered how much fun the other is - something that gets lost in our day to day lives of wiping little butts, noses, faces and hands.

And after just 48 hours away, we drove back to my in-laws' to get Rebecca and Lila and bring them home and I was suddenly aware that I felt completely self-full. And as such, I was full of love for my family.

I drove home from my in-laws' house with the girls while Evan drove the other car alone. Lila slept in her car seat and Rebecca and I talked - truly talked - the entire way. We had a nonstop conversation about the weekend she had with Grandma and Grumpa, our plans for the rest of the Summer, and an upcoming trip that we are taking at the end of next week. We talked about the school year to come, and friends and family, and we made each other laugh. It felt like I was chatting with a good friend and was so. much. fun. She is such a big girl - but still so small and adorably hilarious without intending to be - and she makes me swell with pride at least once a day with her memory, sense of humor and imagination.

Back all together again, I was patient, played with, bathed and fed my daughters with a warmth that I hadn't felt in a long time, and even Evan and I were more gentle with each other.

I got in bed that night in awe of my life. Of my relationship with this little girl with whom I initially wanted none. Of my baby, who is a dream. Of my husband, who makes me happier than anyone else in the world. I am so grateful for this past weekend, the self-reflection that the Warrior Mom Conference opened up in me and Kate Kripke. And I finally don't feel guilty about that ability to detach anymore - because taking time for my self-fullness is entirely in service of my children, my husband and myself.

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