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A Mother’s Identity Crisis

On November 20, 2008 at 4:42 AM I became a mom when my son Calvin was born. I was 23, and had been married for almost four years. We had been trying to have a baby for almost six months before we got pregnant, and were so excited to be having a boy first. When he finally made his debut at 8 lbs 12 ounces, Jess and I were overcome with emotion. That was one of the most beautiful days of my life holding my son in my arms. It was also the day that I lost my identity.  I’m sure this happens to pretty much every new mom, but I wasn’t even cognizant what had happened to me for years.

Hello! My Name is Mom

When we brought Calvin home from the hospital, my mom stayed with us for the first weekend and she was so much help. She was great at helping me adjust to the non stop feedings, clothes washing, and diaper changes. After she left, reality set in because for the first time in my life I was a mom, and I was doing it solo. Things got hard, really hard. I mean, no one really warned me just how awful the recovery process is after having a baby is to begin with.For those of you who don’t know, you have ice diapers and mesh underwear for the first few days down “there”. Plus, you bleed for weeks after, and your body is just healing in general from this watermelon you just pushed out. Let’s just talk about for a second, just how painful it is when your milk finally comes in. I mean, I thought my breasts got larger when I was pregnant, but when the milk dropped, I was like Dolly Parton! I tore “down there”, so I also had stitches that I needed to have heal, my tailbone was cracked, and I needed a blood transfusion for nearly bleeding out when I hemorrhaged all over the delivery table. Let’s just say my first experience in childbirth was a wild ride. So you’re drugged up, in pain, exhausted and yet you’re still supposed to care for a newborn. It’s like you ran a marathon, then had a boxing match, then rode the dizziest ride at the amusement park and someone hands you this little newborn and says “good luck!”.

I sort of fell into this rhythm 24 hours a day of only worrying about the baby. Because I was now “mom” and not “Heather”, I didn’t matter. It was all baby all the time. My days revolved around feedings, naps, diaper changes, and laundry. I was frumpy, tired, not losing the baby weight, and did I mention tired? A week after he was born was Thanksgiving, and someone snapped a picture of Jess and I both asleep on the couch. Tired was really an understatement.

I can vividly remember catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror one afternoon and was horrified at the woman looking back at me. I honestly didn’t recognize this tired, spit-up covered, haggard woman looking back at me!

Somebody That I Used to Know

In the weeks after having Calvin, I had a really hard time accepting the fact that I wasn’t the girl I used to be, not just figuratively speaking, but physically. My body had changed big time. I have a small frame and large babies, so my stomach stretched very far out, which resulted in very stretched out saggy skin. Not just that, but my hips were wider, my hair was falling out, I was constantly sweating from the hormones raging inside my body, and constantly in pain from the over abundance of breast milk that I was producing. Engorged breasts hurt!

For someone who had never had an issue with my weight, I was suddenly carrying around 30 extra pounds, and it really affected me. It also ended up affecting my marriage negatively.  Trying to fill the new role of being a mom and be a wife at the same time was definitely a hard road to navigate. I was trying to juggle the baby and the long list that he entailed, PLUS all the other house wifely duties I still needed to accomplish. Then, on top of ALL of that, I was still supposed to do my wifely duties including the ones in the bedroom. The honest truth is that sex was the last thing I wanted to even think about. I felt disgusting and completely not sexy. My body hurt, and by the end of the day all my energy was gone because all of it was given to this little person. Plus the scant amount of energy left was used up making sure the mountains of laundry were done and the house was still cleaned and meals cooked,  so the thought of being touched was just not appealing. Plus I could always smell spit up, even if I couldn’t find it. Who feels sexy when covered in spit up? Not me. All I wanted at night was to sleep, because sleep becomes precious once you are living with an infant. So not only was I suffering, but he was too.

It wasn’t until I broke down and finally explained to my husband everything I was going through that he understood. My problem for a long time in my marriage was that I assumed Jess was a mind reader and knew what I was feeling.

Spoiler alert: men are not mind readers!

The problem was not the emotional roller coaster I was going through, but that I was not communicating to anyone about it. Communication is key! Suffering in silence does nothing but hurt.

The New Girl

Let’s just get one thing clear in all of this: I love my kids and I love being a mom. But I hid how much I was struggling because I felt like such a failure feeling that way. I thought I just needed to soldier on because this is life and it’s tough. How could I be feeling so crappy when instead I should be like the perfect moms on Pinterest and in all the magazines? I’ll tell you why: it’s normal. It’s perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed by being a new mom, and not just with your first baby. I honestly got a little overwhelmed with my second and third babies too, but once I figured things out, and we got into our new normal I was able to accept that it didn’t make me a failure.

I also had better support when I was feeling like I was drowning because I felt more comfortable opening up to my family and friends that I needed help. If I need to stress anything in all of this, it’s that if you need help ASK FOR IT! I hope you can hear me yelling those three words- I put them in caps to further press how important it is. Asking for help doesn’t make you any less of a capable mom, in fact in my opinion it makes you more of one. If you’re not taking care of yourself, then who’s taking care of your kids? Self care is a vital thing to do when you’re a mom. I always take time for myself now, whether it’s as simple as going to Target by myself, getting my nails done, or going to the gym. Honestly even just driving in the car by myself and blasting music is great!

I’m still mom, and will always be. I am proud and grateful for that role I have been blessed with, but I’m also still Heather, even if it’s a new and different Heather than before I had kids. Frankly, I am still trying to figure out just who I am, but it’s good to know that I can identify as more than just a mom and that I don’t have to feel ashamed to do so. I can find fulfillment in being the mom and also being Heather too.

CDA0D6F6-05F0-40D9-A69E-0B6B72285886Photo by Meg Oldroyd

XoXo,

Heather

The Raw Brunette

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The Light Inside My Darkness

I’ll be the first to admit that I hate asking for help. It makes me feel uncomfortable, and defeated. I’m pretty stubborn, so the thought of even asking for help is usually out of the question for me. A few weeks ago I came to a crossroads where I was desperately needing help, and was scared to give in to it. I was determined to figure out how to help myself on my own, but I kept slipping into a deeper into darkness and it was terrifying. I was cognizant of the fact that outside help was necessary for me.

Falling Down the Rabbit Hole

Much like Alice, I too went down a hole. Instead of going on an adventure with rabbits and the Queen of Hearts, however, mine led me to nothing but darkness and demons I couldn’t make go away. I have always struggled with anxiety, and have had bouts of depression throughout my life. Over the past 6 months or so, my sanity seemed to be slowly ebbing from me one panic attack at a time. It got so bad about two weeks ago, that I literally felt detached from my own body. I was living in a full on panic zone 24/7. If you have seen the show ‘Stranger Things’ (who else is so excited for the new season in October?!) it felt sort of like the “Upside Down”. I felt fuzzy, and just completely disconnected from everyone and everything around me. My sweet oldest son Calvin became very aware that something was happening to me. He would recognize the symptoms of my panic attacks happening, and would run to me and put his arms around me. He would actually comfort me until the panic subsided. He’s so sweet, and I don’t know what I ever did to deserve such a tender-hearted boy.

I tried everything to help ease my anxiety. Essential oils did nothing, meditation- nothing, breathing- nada, grounding excercises- nope. All these things that usually work for my occasional panic attacks were completely useless. I basically had to drug myself to even sleep at night because for some reason that’s when the panic would be the worst. I was exhausted, and finally could admit I needed to seek outside help.

Doctors Orders

I sat in the examination room of my general doctor, who I have known for almost ten years. He was asking me questions about my general anxiety and where I thought it could be coming from. All the while, my three children, (whom I had no choice but to bring with me), were fighting and being horrendously obnoxious. My eyes were filling with tears and I desperately wanted to scream at my kids to just let Mommy talk to the damn doctor for five minutes in peace. When my doctor asked me if I found myself yelling at my kids a lot, I actually started laughing despite wanting to sob! Uh, yeah. I yell at them, kind of want to RIGHT freaking now.  He actually informed me that a short fuse is a sign of depression and anxiety! Something that I didn’t even think of, but when I told Jess that later, he said “Yeah, I have noticed the past few months that you will blow up pretty easily. More so than usual.” Oops! At least I have a reason for it, and I’m really not just the meanest mom on the planet.

After checking my thyroid, and determining it was normal, he prescribed an antidepressant for me to take daily to prevent the feelings of anxiety, as well as Xanax to take if I happened to have a sudden panic attack. He used asthmatics as an example to explain it to me. They take a daily inhaler which prevents the attacks, but have an emergency inhaler as well in case there’s a sudden asthma attack. It made total sense to me. I have never been super excited to be medicated; I have tried antidepressants for small amounts of time when I had postpartum depression, but I hated how I felt on them. He assured me that the one he prescribed was a different type, and wouldn’t make me tired or feel loopy. At this point, I was willing to try anything to feel normal again.

Since that day, I have slowly gotten back to myself. I am no longer fuzzy, or disconnected, and am happy to report I have only had two attacks, which is SO much better than 10-12 a day!

Crawling Back Out of the Hole

Medication is not my end game. I have nothing against it, and anyone who needs it shouldn’t feel bad in the slightest. It’s a personal choice, and I want to be able to one day not have to rely on it. For now, it’s working for me, and that’s great. Ultimately, I need to determine the underlying causes of what is creating this incredible anxiety and stress for me.

My doctor suggested seeing a therapist. The thought hadn’t occurred to me that therapy would be an option, but he told me it’s one the most successful treatments for people with panic disorders like me. To be fair, the past five years or so have been an incredible roller coaster ride.

I’ve mentioned before that my mom passed away in 2015, which in itself was, and still is traumatic. When you lose someone you love, your entire life changes. You have to learn how to live without that person, and you yourself become a different person because of it. My whole world felt blown to bits, and I know I have changed. Two years later, it’s still a struggle for me to live without my mom. I miss her, and I know the pain of her loss is something I will have for the rest of my life.

The week my mom was diagnosed as terminal and literally given weeks to months to live, three of my closest friends all turned their backs on me. That hurtful loss of three women who I thought I would be friends with for life, coupled with the devastating news about my mom was unbearably painful. At a time when I needed them the most, they decided I was “out” of their group. It might sound silly to some people to be so upset about the loss of friends, but I am such an openly loving person. I feel things very deeply, even pain. My husband often tells me one of the things he loves most about me is how deeply rooted I get with the people I love. I’m fully committed to my loved ones, friends and family, so the loss of three at once was pretty devastating. Those friendships have not been mended, and probably never will be at this point, but I still have love for them in my heart. I also believe that things happen as they should, so I’m content at this point to accept that.

My miscarriage came six months after my mom passed away. I have an entire post about it here if you’d like to read about it.

I also had to watch as my twin sister suffered through a volatile marriage for almost 4 years. Her husband was a closeted alcoholic who decided to show his true self after they were wed. He was incredibly abusive and a very toxic person to be around. It killed me inside to not be able to help my sister, but she needed to leave because she was ready, not because I was. I was constantly in fear of her safety, and would stay up many nights crying myself to sleep with worry for her. They are now divorced and she is living the life she should have been all these years. I am so grateful that she is safe now.

And if all that wasn’t enough, for almost three years, my husband was involved in a legal battle with his former partners in a business. It got ugly. REALLY ugly. It was long and drawn out, and the true colors of people who we thought were kind and honest came out. It was disappointing to see how ugly and selfish these people really are. If anyone has been in any kind of legal battle, then you know it is exhausting. Thankfully its over now, but boy was it stressful.

So, it’s pretty obvious my mental state has been drastically affected by all this stress! I think any normal person would crack from it all. I actually am sort of excited at the thought of being able to just unload everything on a neutral party. A loved one said it to me perfectly: “I think moms with small children really know the value of having one person really listen to you.” AMEN!

There was a time where I was pretty hopeless and feeling like I would never be able to pull myself out of the dark place I was in. But the good news is that I’m going to be okay. I still have a way to go in terms of fully getting better, and I know I will still have hard days. Thankfully I have a great support system and lots of people who love me so I am no longer afraid of the dark.

It’s Okay to Ask for Help

Am I broken? No. Human, yes, but not broken. Mental disorders, and mental illnesses are something that not a lot of people like to talk about. It’s uncomfortable for some, and others are too embarrassed to talk about what’s going on. I was just afraid to admit I needed help. I literally felt like I was going insane, and I would ask Jess at least once a day “Am I crazy?” to which he would always reply “No.” People with mental illnesses and disorders are NOT crazy. It’s like any other illness. You wouldn’t ask a person with cancer to just “snap out of it” or just “don’t have cancer” much to the way you wouldn’t say similar things to someone with depression.

I like to keep the dialogue open about mental health, because so many people feel like they’re alone in the struggles they have. You are most definitely NOT alone. Please, don’t ever be afraid to ask for help. I am so glad I did.

 

XoXo,

Heather

The Raw Brunette

Photo Credit: Alejandro Araos