Licensed Clinical Social Worker offering an authentic and compassionate viewpoint about all things motherhood, parenting, marriage and maternal mental health. This blog is a blend of my personal and professional experience as a mom, wife, working woman and therapist.
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In honor of Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, Krystal shares her story to help shed light on the impact of obsessive compulsive disorder during postpartum.
I in 7 women will experience depression or anxiety during pregnancy or postpartum.
I was lost. I had such high hopes for this glorious moment when I finally got to meet my precious baby, and she had to be rushed away in an ambulance to a NICU in another hospital. I couldn’t feel the pain in my body and not because of drugs. Labor and delivery were a breeze in comparison to the deep heart ache of my daughter being torn from my arms, as I saw it. The entire unit heard me crying in agony when she left. Of course, it was for the best and necessary for her well being, but at that moment I could only feel every inch of space that she was away from me. I couldn’t feel my pain or recovery, I could only think about getting to her as fast as I could. This is when the obsession and compulsion began.
Every single day I would be with her in the NICU from 9am to 5pm. The doctors and nurses would comment about how I was always there. They had to convince me to go home to rest and shower and that she’d be in good hands. I didn’t trust the nurses. My obsession continued. The day she came home was such a happy day but for months I couldn’t stand her father for sleeping, eating and living his life just the same as before when mine had turned completely upside down. I could no longer sleep, eat or do anything the same. At the same time every time he tried to help I wouldn’t let him.
One day my daughter’s pediatrician referred me to a therapist. I was eventually diagnosed by my in-home therapist with postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder. I had obsessive thoughts about harm coming to my baby (Not from me) and these thoughts caused me to act compulsively - unable to trust anyone to take care of my daughter. I would watch anyone who cared for her like a hawk and consequently never rested. There were many many tears and in hindsight we had so few problems; she fed well, slept well and developed well.
The two most important men in my life actually helped me out. My husband explained to me how he remembers the day she was born as a miracle that the talented team of nurses and doctors were able to save her life. My worst moment is a happy memory for him, he’s thankful she was able to be taken to receive the appropriate care. He pointed out that she is thriving and that she has been since then. She is fine! This was a real revelation to me. Then around 5 months postpartum I took the nerve-wracking journey to my dad’s home in San Diego, two hours from me. Just getting in the car for a ride like this was a big step for me but while I was there I started to feel like myself again. My dad reminded me of who I am. I had forgotten the qualities of my personality that make me who I am. He simply said that I am very smart, organized and like to have a good time. I needed to be reminded who I was.
I was lost in motherhood, hormones and pure obsessive, compulsive, primal instinct. I don’t think anyone knew what was happening to me besides my grandmother. She would call periodically to reassure me and let me know that it was ok for my daughter to cry sometimes. And that I was still a good mom. I smiled in all the pictures. I never felt a disconnect from my daughter, it was almost the opposite, I felt her so much that it consumed me.
So what have I learned ? I’ve learned that you can breathe through almost any pain. Count backwards from ten, repeatedly if you have to. And it will get better! At my lowest point I called a postpartum international hotline and spoke to a volunteer. She told me it WILL get better. That’s all I really needed to hear. My postpartum fog lifted after around five months but I didn’t write the poem below until my daughter turned one.
I finally feel like myself again. Hopeful. Finding magic.
My Heart has broke open
I picked up the pieces
Fit them back together
Now I remember
My hiding place in the meadow garden
The gentle stream leading the way
The soft beat of the earth
Now I remember
How it feels to move my body this way
what the sound of the universe sends
The flow of energy down my spine
The voice deep inside
She never left
Only I was lost
What happens when you bring a new soul into the world ?
Where does each go ?
Betwixt one another
It’s a painful tear
But it’s been a year
And in hindsight it was so sweet
The bitter and the cold
Was all just honeydew on our feet
Like your father says
You came out thriving
My little love
You have begun teaching me how to love
Or maybe I am just now ready to hear.
Krystal lives in Southern California with her beautiful family. Many thanks to Krystal for sharing her story.
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Motherhood is hard. Something that makes motherhood even harder is setting expectations for yourself that you constantly feel like you are not meeting. We often feel that we need to do it all and at the rate that we got it done when we were single without children. Another common expectation floating around in the mind of many mothers is “I think I should have it together by now and know what I’m doing” and feeling like you are the only who doesn't have it together. The reality is you will not have it all together all of the time and that is ok. No one does.
It is important to constantly reality check our expectations in motherhood. Expecting myself to be as efficient, as productive or “together” as I once was b.k. “before kids” leaves me feeling like I’m failing. I have found that instead of being hard on myself for not living up to my own expectations, I take a step back and reflect on whether or not I’m demanding too much of myself. And then I adjust. Adjust what is on my plate to make it more manageable. Adjust my thought process around what it means to be productive and efficient as a working mom with two children. Adjusting expectations does not mean lowering your standards or that you give up on trying to do what matters to you. It means you release yourself of the pressure to keep up a pace that does not serve you well.
Too often I hear new mamas guilt and shame themselves for not getting everything on their to-do list checked off. Sleep deprived, nursing around the clock, and perhaps suffering from postpartum depression or anxiety, often with little practical or emotional support and still expecting to get it all done.
Too often I hear mamas of more than one child, shame themselves because they haven't figured it out yet. To the mamas on your second, third or fourth child, I am in awe of you. Maybe you think you should know what to do by now because it’s not your first time. Maybe your family thinks you should have this parenting thing down to a science. Maybe your partner is giving you some confused looks over why you are feeling overwhelmed. Sure, some things are easier. However, other things just became a lot more difficult. This is the first time you are dealing with children in different developmental stages with different needs simultaneously. You have more to juggle. You can no longer nap when baby naps because you’re too busy making sure your 2 and 4 yr old don't strangle each other. You need more help than ever before. Do not apologize for that.
Consider that you aren’t failing but your set of circumstances which includes raising a tiny human have changed and are reason enough to cut yourself some slack.
Here are some tips for managing these expectations and reducing stress in your day-to-day
Before having kids we envision what kind of parent we will be and how we are going to manage things. Give yourself permission to let go of those ideals now that you are living it. Accept that things are harder than you thought they would be. You are not weak. You are a capable and strong mother. The worst competition you can be in is with the version of the mama you idealized you would be prior to having children. Let her go. You're pretty amazing without her shadow dimming your light.
Any tips for how you manage your day-to-day? Comment below!
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Real Motherhood Truths
In my first year as a mother, I experienced a lot that made me question whether I was really fit to be a mom. When reality doesn't meet your expectations you really start to doubt yourself. My daughters bring me a lot of joy and they are most definitely worth it. However, there has been a lot of this motherhood journey that has been hard and unpleasant.
My oldest turned 4 recently. She’s my firecracker. She is sweet, affectionate and really lights up a room when she is in it. People see it and say it all of the time. I’m not just saying it because I’m her mama. I promise.
She is also the baby I struggled with the most. She didn’t sleep through the night until she was 1. That meant I never got more than 4 hours of consecutive sleep for almost an entire year. My husband stepped in and began sleep training. I had always been so against the idea of sleep training. However, this was one of many moments where our parenting decisions took a different route than we had ever anticipated because our baby guided us in a different direction.
I struggled with breastfeeding for 4 months before it became “natural and easy.” I went onto nurse her for 11 months and I am happy I stuck with it. Looking back it made me really hate the newborn phase. The emotional and physical pain was unhealthy for me.
We dealt with the witching hour, when like clockwork she would be extra fussy and cry nonstop in the evening. I feared being away from my home during these hours because I worried so much about what others would think when I couldn't calm my own baby.
I experienced disturbing intrusive thoughts that made me feel like a horrible mother.
The first year can be easy for some. For me, both times around it was the hardest and for different reasons. I felt rage and a loss of control when my second daughter was about 4 months old. She was calm, slept well and didn't fuss a lot. However, dealing with my 2-year-olds tantrums and cries for attention were really hard. Juggling both was challenging. I was taking my anger out on her. All I could think and fear was that this was my new normal. I had been a child therapist for almost 10 years and I felt like a fraud for not being able to manage my reactions and behaviors.
I remember reading this article on postpartum rage and feeling a sense of relief that someone out there had felt this too. Her words described exactly how I was feeling. This is what prompted me to reach out and talk to a professional.
Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week started this past Monday. The Blue Dot Project, which was created to increase awareness around maternal mental health disorders, is having their #RealMotherhood #NoShame social media campaign.
I was inspired to gather #RealMotherhood truths from mothers I know. Here is what they have to say about the struggles they face and the feelings they wish they had been more prepared for:
"Something I struggled with in motherhood that I was not expecting was breastfeeding. I was only able to breastfeed for 2 weeks. Then I had to pump for 2-3 months. It was a very unpleasant experience for me. I couldn't wait to stop. I felt very strange, like an object." -Liz
"We tried so hard to have a baby. Now that she is here I feel so guilty for not always enjoying it" - Ana
“Dreading waking up and dealing with the same things I did yesterday and the day before. Some days it feels like Groundhog Day being a stay at home mom. I find no joy in breastfeeding. I just do it for the kids but I don’t swoon over it. Also, [the] anxiety…feeling like I can never get anything done and having constant thoughts of what needs to get done. Much of this gets better as the months go on and some days are better than other but when I try to vent to someone they just kinda look at me like I’m crazy.” -Angela
“Selfishness still comes easier than selflessness sometimes. As much as I love my child, I don’t want to be with him 24/7.” -Arianna
“I want motherhood to be enough but I don’t always feel that it is.” -Heather
“I always feel like I should be doing better, like I’m never a good enough mom. I also get tired of talking and feeling guilty when I don’t continuously communicate verbally with my kids because you know, the more words they hear...” -Monica
"I thought I would be a lot better at this. But I'm not. I feel like I'm failing a lot of the time." -Sara
“All boobs are not created equal. Don’t beat yourself up if breastfeeding doesn’t work or if you are mentally and physically not able to.” –Brenda
“Motherhood…it sucks every last inch of me. I didn’t know I would lose myself as a woman. I struggle to keep a balance of mother, wife and woman. How do I switch from 'mother' to 'sexy wife' after a long day? I look at myself and I wonder 'where did I go'?” -Iliana
“I wish more working mothers were honest about their experience of bonding. My baby bonded with her daddy so much it heightened my fears of inadequacy and my fear of failing my baby. I often thought ‘maybe I wasn’t born to be a mom.' I felt alone in my experience. Very alone." -Sandra
“When things get so hard, I think to myself ‘I wish I didn’t have them’ and then the guilt I feel for thinking that” -Michelle
"Keeping it together. Sometimes I feel like such a mess and a failure." -Kelly
"When I finally feel like I'm doing well at balancing things, life throws me a curveball. One thing I've learned, and it was a hard lesson to learn, is that being a mommy is all about mindset. Sometimes you just have to let things be and go with the flow." -Becky
Thank you to all of the mothers who shared their truth.
I think one of the things that would have made it better during those earlier days for me was if I had known that this side of motherhood exists. If we are more honest about all of our experiences maybe the next generation of mothers won't have to struggle so hard.
Add your #RealMotherhood feelings and moments in the comments below!
For more information on maternal mental health disorders and how you can get involved in spreading awareness please visit: