Maternal Mental Health

When I first began working on this post and planning to share it during May for Mental Health Awareness Month, I didn't know that May 6 is recognized as World Maternal Mental Health Day.

So in honor of today, I'm sharing about my own postpartum mental health journey.

Working Mama Life

Today marks one year since I returned to work after having Ariana. I was so lucky to be able to take 12 weeks off and be home with my newborn, even if it still didn't feel long enough.

Maternity leave was certainly a head trip in many ways. After having a career for 11 years, it was very difficult to give up the routines (and control, let's be real) I was used to. On top of the adjustment of caring for a newborn and physically recovering myself, it was also an adjustment to be home all day, forgetting what day or time it is, and living in that two- to three-hour window. By the time my leave was winding down, it was hard having to imagine going back to some semblance of my "old" life.

I'm grateful to have a boss who allowed me to ease back in the week before I officially returned by working from home and sifting through nearly 12 weeks of emails.

I still remember this day last year - getting up early and doing my morning routine with Ariana, but this time coupled with putting on work clothes for the first time since September. Visiting with my mom, who was babysitting for the day. Knowing that my baby was at my house helped me so much. I was already looking forward to going home for lunch and nursing her and cuddling with her. The drive to work felt the same, yet different. My boss and coworkers greeted me (and my purse full of photos and my pump backpack and bag full of supplies) and welcomed me back. My office was decorated with my Christmas tree and garland, and there were new picture frames on my desk with Ariana's photos already in them. It started to feel good to be back.

My last day of leave was emotionally difficult, as I think every working mother will tell you. I had a hair cut scheduled, and I canceled it because I wanted nothing more than to spend every second with my baby before we didn't have our days together anymore. I think we stayed in our pajamas until at least lunch time, and we snuggled as much as she would let me. 

I've learned many things about maternity leave in the United States both during my own leave and after returning to work. I still don't know it all, but I know that I wish it were easier and somehow more accommodating. Did I love having to pay into my own short-term disability plan in order to get partially paid leave? No. Was it confusing as hell? Absolutely. Did I love having to use sick and vacation time to get paid? No. Am I grateful that I had it in place? Absolutely.

In my first month or so back at work, I discovered and began following The Returnity Project. Reading both similar and completely different stories on my own helped me so much in those days of figuring out yet another new routine and my place in it all.

It took a while to find a new rhythm and figure out how to make time for everything. Sometimes I joke that coming to work is my 'me time', and I'm not sure if that's sad. Sometimes I miss my child the entire day, and sometimes I'm grateful for the break. I am excited at the end of every day to go home and feed her dinner, play with her and put her to bed. I still haven't figured out how to add my gym routine back into the mix on a regular basis. (I think I've made it to my favorite yoga class 10 times in the past 14 months.) Adding in errands during the week feels like a mental game of Tetris.

Pumping at work was always interesting, but I'm grateful to have an office with a door that locks, so I could stay at my own desk in my own space, rather than being delegated to a closet or empty space. Washing pump parts in my building's kitchen sink twice or three times a day was not fun, although everyone was always supportive. I don't have to travel very often, or very far, but there were a few times my little backpack got toted along.

One of the biggest things is how my perspective has shifted in the past year. It's a little easier now for me to switch off when I am not at work, and I'm a little better at boundaries when I need to be in mom-mode. Dividing my time is not the easiest, but when she needs me, that's most important.

I certainly miss those early days, where I got to spend all day with Ariana, but now that it's been a year since returning to work, I can say I'm glad I'm back, and I'm grateful for the village that helps us.

Things I've Learned in the First Year of Motherhood

Leading up to my daughter's first birthday last month, I began doing some reflecting on some of the things I've learned in my first year as a mom. This past year has been unlike any other in my life and has absolutely been a roller coaster. One thing is for sure...I'll never stop learning as I go.

Some things have jumped out at me as I've looked back on the past year or so.

Instagram Stories are a blessing with a newborn. Especially during middle of the night feeding sessions. I remember so many nights, sitting in the rocking chair in the nursery, hitting the first Instagram Story and just letting them play through while I held my baby (and sometimes dozed off.)

It's important to make time for yourself, whether it's to treat yourself or do something you loved from before baby. This is something I still struggle with even now. I used to go to yoga twice a week. While I was pregnant I went probably once a week. Since Ariana was born, I've probably gone 10 times. In 13 months. But when I do go, I feel so much better and more relaxed. Do the things you enjoy. That are you. Go get your nails done. Get a massage. Sit at a coffee shop by yourself. Whatever makes you feel good...commit to doing it. The anticipation of being away from your baby for that time is a lot worse than actually being away for that time.

Give yourself more grace. This is something else I've been working on. I've always been hard on myself, and that pressure has felt stronger since having a baby. You build up these scenarios of what you'll be like as a mother, then you struggle to meet them. It's hard, but I'm learning to let it go. I don't write and blog like I used to. I didn't cloth diaper. These aren't the things I should let weigh me down. My normal is totally different these days, and giving myself grace allows me to go with the flow better (and not cling to what I think I should be doing.)

Your friendships and relationships do change. It's of course understandable that your friendship dynamics shift once you have a baby. It's sometimes hard to realize you're growing apart from some friends, or that you've lost some. Some days you don't think about it, and some days you feel down about it and mourn the losses. And then you sing the lyrics to MMMBop in your head and realize Hanson was singing about this all along. And when it comes to your is so easy to slip into the full-time parent role, but it's so important and refreshing to go back to date nights or time alone.

The first time doing something with baby will kind of suck, but the second time is much better. Maybe part of it is because of my anxiety, but anytime we did something for the first time with Ariana, it was filled with more stress than enjoyment. Once that first time is out of the way, it was easier to be relaxed. Our first day at Festival International? Not that fun! The second day? A million times better. Our first vacation this summer? Extremely stressful, although as I look back on it now, I remember more of the good moments than the stressful ones.

Returning to work is both harder and easier than you will expect. I mean, it's probably not the healthiest to think of your time at work as your "me time", but that is what it felt like after almost three months of maternity leave. With the exception of the damn pump, work days felt like a break from parent mode. And then you find yourself at 10 a.m. scrolling through pictures of your child and missing her intensely. Plus, there have been so many days where I felt like I wasn't doing Work Me or Mom Me any justice. So many things to do all the time, and not enough energy or brainpower for it all. Another area where I just have to give myself grace.

Everything is a phase. For better or for worse. The hard times will pass. The teething phases come and go (for the most part at least.) And on the flip side, once you finally feel like you got the hang of a goes and changes. You're continually going with the flow, whether you want to or not.

Your new hours are not other people's hours. When your child wakes up at ridiculous hours on the weekend, you adjust to the fact that sleeping until 7 a.m. is "sleeping in". You get used to playing on your phone while baby eats or plays or whatever. And then you remember you maybe shouldn't text friends when it's 6:25 on a Saturday morning. You do, however, appreciate the Snaps from your fellow mom friends who are in the same boat as you.

Don't read the news articles. Anytime I see a tragic news article involving children, especially one near my daughter's age, I get the urge to read it. And then I'm either anxious or sad about it. So, easy solution...don't click on the article.

Everything takes longer. It just takes forever to do anything when a baby is involved. Especially if it entails getting out of the house. A lot of times, there are diapers involved. Right after you finish dressing your child and putting them in their car seat. In my case, it takes me longer to do just about anything. I planned to write this blog post a solid month ago. Once again, give yourself grace.

Your First Birthday

To my daughter,
I can't believe your first birthday is already here. I hope you are enjoying your special day and this memorable milestone.

I am thankful for every day with you. You are the answer to our prayers, and this past year has been such an amazing journey. It's truly amazing to watch you grow before my eyes and watching your personality shine. You've taught me so much about myself and the world, and I know you're only going to teach me more as you grow up.

I love that you are a little bookworm. I love your little voice, even when you are talking nonstop (although I don't love the shrieks and screams!) I love your sweet determination, especially when I can see the wheels turning in your head. I love how much you love Dax, even though he usually runs away from you. I love your hugs and your kisses.

I love that you sleep all night every night. I love that you will eat just about any food I fix you. I love how much you adore your father, when you light up as you see him and laugh when he does something funny.

I love that you love your babysitter. I love how much you enjoy swimming and taking baths. I love your happy disposition.

Ari, I am so honored to be your mama. Motherhood is not easy, but it is by far worth it. Thank you for an incredible first year, and happy birthday, little one. We love you more than you will ever know.

The Rain

Today marks two years since we gained our tiny angel.

Losing a pregnancy has been one of the hardest things I've gone through. I still remember that morning, that doctor visit and that ultrasound like it was yesterday. I remember the recovery, the Garth Brooks concert two days later and the resolve to try again. I'll never forget those months that followed, before Ariana came into our lives.

There were many hard days that year, from the sting of seeing pregnancy announcements, to attending baby showers, to watching my due date approach. With it being during the holidays, Christmas was bittersweet that year. 

The loss and the emotional journey taught me more about myself than I ever thought it could. I learned so much perspective. I stopped caring as much about the smaller things.

I learned to lean into my faith more, and prayed for our rainbow.

I learned just how much I was ready to become a mother. I never took my pregnancy with Ariana for granted, and I was grateful for every week that passed, and for every month that I heard her heartbeat.

I look at my sweet rainbow baby and thank God to have her in my life. I know she has a tiny guardian angel watching over her (and us) every day, and it makes me smile. I'll always miss our first baby, and I'll always wonder what if, but I absolutely cannot imagine life without my little girl.

In times of loss, so many people turn toward balloon releases as a way to "let go", but I love our memorial so much more. At the suggestion of a friend, I planted a small angel wing begonia plant in a white pot. The plant came from a family member, and I smile every time I look at how much it's grown. Rather than releasing something that ends up back in the environment, we gave back to the environment. And to me, that's the most beautiful thing.

It's ironic that this day is also International Day of Yoga. My yoga practice definitely helped me work through a lot of my struggle two years ago. I remember planning to attend a yoga class on that day, but I instead sat outside and meditated. It was more about the mental benefits instead of the physical ones. My practice has evolved a lot in the past two years, although it's taken a step back over the past nine months. I'm still here for it, and I'm ready to get back to that part of my self-care.

If you're dealing with miscarriage or infertility, please know you are not alone. Reach out and talk to someone, whether a friend or family member or a professional. The storms and the rain are hard to weather, but I sincerely hope that you find your rainbow too.

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