Discover the Glow

As I’m writing this, I have a 2 month old and a 13 month old.  People look at me with pity. They say “you’ve got your hands full,” or “you must be exhausted, or “you’re crazy.” And my response 90% of the time is “Yup”.  But the reality is, aren’t we all?  When’s the last time any of us had a stress-free/worry-free/to do list-free day? Haven’t you, at times, taken on a little too much, spread yourself a little too thin, or maybe overcommitted your time?  But you get through those times. You figure it out.  And sometimes you even achieve more than you set out to.  And all that is made possible by the one factor that drives us to every decision and action we will ever make in our lives: Motivation. Whether we are driven by family/friends, money, recognition, health, happiness, passion, etcetera, our lives are made of the effects of our motivation.

When I was pregnant with each of my sons, I lost my motivation to do just about everything except give up on life.  And I even, at times, weighed the pros and cons of giving up on that as well.  Although I could find an infinite number of items for my pro column, the only source of the tiny amount of motivation that I had left was the helpless fetus I already loved so much and who needed my body to survive.

I suffered from severe prenatal depression. I had never heard of it before. I felt alone. I had no one to talk to. On top of the nausea, weight gain, mood swings, and exhaustion, the hormones that give many women a natural high or a “glow” took me into a downward spiral of sadness. I had everything I could’ve ever wanted, but it was the darkest time of my life.                

Prior to my prenatal depression, I had just finished graduate school and relocated from the Midwest to San Diego with my fiancé and three dogs. We had just bought our first home together in our favorite city in the world, we were planning our wedding, and were going to start trying to get pregnant right after the wedding.  And we did!  Actually just a few days after.

I had always assumed I was going to be one of those bad ass pregnant women that make everyone else look pathetic.  I had heard of all the unpleasant symptoms, but I was healthy and active and happy, so there was no way I would have a bad pregnancy.  But then I did.  And it was worse than I imagined.  I have to admit, I previously thought women that had “bad pregnancies” were just ungrateful, negative, had low pain tolerance, liked to complain, etc. But I quickly became one of those women and changed my opinion of them.  Being pregnant was the hardest thing I have ever had to do.

It’s hard to feel sorry for yourself when you don’t feel like you have an excuse for being depressed. But many times, depression doesn’t care who you are or what your situation in life is.  Depression is a result of a chemical imbalance in your brain. Sometimes the depression is triggered by a traumatic event, but when that imbalance is triggered by something that should be a reason to celebrate, you get very little sympathy.  I felt guilty for being depressed, which caused a deeper depression. I thought being able to carry a child was just my job as a woman, wife and soon-to-be mom.  I thought, somehow, the way I dealt with being pregnant was indicative of what kind of mother I would be.  

Most people didn’t understand and the (unsolicited) “advice” I was given most often was, “Well wait until the baby comes…” followed by “you think you can’t sleep now”… or “You should take advantage of your free time while you have it”…or “You have no idea what’s in store for you.”  And because I didn’t have any idea what was in store for me, I was terrified that being a mom would be even harder than being pregnant, just like everyone said.  But my experience was as soon Brooks arrived, I felt better than I had ever before.  I had gotten back my energy, happiness and motivation.  And I had this totally dependent little boy that I wanted to be the best possible version of me for. Then three months later, I got pregnant again.  It was planned.  We were trying and I had always wanted to have kids close together in age.  But the biggest reason for waiting such a short time, was that I refused to let a bad experience dictate the number of children I had always wanted to have.  And also, I just wanted to get it over with. 

My depression was worse with my second pregnancy. It put a lot of strain on my husband and our marriage suffered from it. I felt guilty for feeling down and not being able to enjoy the first year of Brooks’ life.  I got sick a lot. I cried all the time. I lost touch with friends. I missed Christmas with the family back in the Midwest because I didn’t have the energy to travel. We had to fly my mom out to help a number of times. I felt helpless and hopeless. I tried to get help. I talked to my OBGYN, a psychiatrist, a psychologist, I looked for support groups I could join, we went to couple’s counseling, I hired a nanny to help, I researched prenatal depression, and I even called a few outpatient facilities in the hopes of getting some intensive therapy to help me through. I got to the point where I let myself think that my kids would be better off without me as a mom. I thought my husband would be better off not having to deal with me. I even thought my friends and family would be less stressed out if I wasn’t around to bring everyone down. I thought I didn’t want to live if every minute of my life was going to be this hard. But I needed to be around long enough for my child to be born. I told myself that I needed to wait one month after delivery before I could make a decision. Fortunately, I didn’t even need a month before feeling like myself again. As soon as Kai was born, I had motivation, energy, happiness and more than enough reason to live.

After delivering each of my sons, I was asked by the nurses in the hospital, my insurance company, and my OBGYN if I was feeling any symptoms of post-partum depression. I wasn’t, but it made me frustrated to know that help for post-partum was so easily accessible, while I struggled so much with my prenatal depression. When I think back to the way I felt, the way I acted, the way I thought while I was pregnant, it’s hard to believe how bad things got. I was embarrassed to share my story. I thought people will judge, think I’m crazy, think I’m selfish, or think I’m weak. But then, I thought that maybe others have the same struggles, but we just don’t hear about it because they, too, are afraid of being judged. So I started to talk about it to family at first, then friends, and then basically anyone who would listen. I found that so many women had a “story”: Prenatal or postpartum depression, infertility, adoption complications, miscarriages, birth defects, colicky babies, extra marital stress, SIDS, and just the day-to-day struggles of being a mother. I now know that the reason I went through all of this was to become a source of support for others who feel helpless and hopeless.