I am honored to introduce you to Ashley today. I love how open and vulnerable she is in sharing her story. It’s raw and familiar, and I think a ton of you will relate to where she was before in her motherhood. Make sure to leave her some love at the post. It takes a lot of courage to be this vulnerable!
For months, I lived in a space where I was tearful, agitated, depressed, and lost. I was no longer myself. I was not the mother or wife I wanted to be. Each day I was adding to my mental life of failures. A tally sheet I kept in my brain of all of the perceived actions I did not do right or did not do at all. No matter what encouragement someone provided me or how my children responded to me, I still felt this emptiness and extreme feelings of failure. I had no road map to pull me out of this darkness and I was scared. How did I find myself here?
When I gave birth to my daughter, she was delivered via emergency C-section due to her position. Though a rational part of me understood and agreed that this was for her safety and mine. It was a miracle and I was grateful she was here and healthy. I also felt like my body did something wrong. There was joy, but I also felt anxiety. I was fearful of everything, which was very different from my baseline. When I returned to work after maternity leave, I spent much of the time a tearful, anxious hot mess counting down the hours until I could return to my child.
My daughter was 8 months old and I found out I was carrying my second child. My husband found me tearful and in shock as I sat on the floor in the bathroom. This was not my plan. It was His plan. I was overwhelmed with doubt that I could effectively care for another life. I was struggling to work and be a “good” mom already. Could I handle a second baby?
Through my second pregnancy, each ultrasound we attended, I received concerning news. The concerns ranged from abnormalities to concern of miscarriage. I was ill during my pregnancy and there was concern for pre-eclampsia. I was excited to carry my son, but I was anxious and nervous every day until he was born.
When my son was born, I was happy. There was also a part of me that was anxious to get back to my daughter. So, we left the hospital as soon as we were able. We return home and at first my daughter enjoyed having a baby around. He was cute. As bedtime drew near there were tears! Many tears. A three hour tantrum of massive proportions took place. I was left crying, nursing my son and feeling helpless in soothing my daughter. I felt like I had failed her. Much of that three months, we three of us cried. It was a lot harder to care for two under the age of two than I had imagined and I felt like I was drowning.
During this time, my husband and I would fight due to my lack of control of my emotions, the anxiety I was feeling, the crying, the fear, and the depression. He tried to understand, but he could not. He wanted me to be better, to be who I was before. I did not know how to do that. I did not feel like I had time to care for me and was praying that I would just “get better.” I had anxiety attacks that lasted days. I was depressed and felt like I was only able to care for my family with the bare minimum of my abilities.
I feared nights. They were the most challenging. One would wake up, I would nurse him and comfort him back to sleep. Then my daughter would wake up and need to be held. It was constant some nights. This left me exhausted and feeling like a complete failure because my children did not sleep well.
One night, I had fallen asleep in the toddler bed and woke up in a panic. My son had not woken up like normal to nurse. Was he okay? I ran across the hall and into his room. I reach down to make sure he was breathing and he was cold. I immediately was tearful and his life flashed before my eyes. All he knew of me was that I was an anxious, tearful, and agitated woman. This is not the mother he needed or the mother that I wanted to show up as. After a few moments, I realized that his body was cold because the air conditioner was running. He was breathing and okay, but in that moment I decided I needed help.
I work in a leadership role in the local clinics where I receive care. I was worried that I would be judged for my concern of PPD/PPA. I was fearful it was impact my job somehow. I made several appointments and cancelled them. It was an internal struggle. I did not want others to know that I had failed as a mother, as a wife, and I was just making it by at work. How would this change how they saw me at work? Will it affect my ability to lead?
Then my husband and I had another fight. I was anxious and needed support. I could not tell him how I needed to be supported. I just felt lost and completely alone. These arguments were greatly impacting our marriage and our children. So, I finally made an appointment and kept it.
I went in for my appointment not really knowing what to expect. My care team was amazing. They were understanding and so empathetic to my situation. They shared their own stories and we all cried. My doctor told me that I will fail sometimes, but I will never fail at the important things. My children will never look back and think I failed because I did not make dinner or that I forgot about an event that they had. They will remember all of the amazing things I did for them. We worked through a plan, including therapy, natural remedies, and medication. She was very supportive.
That night, I was able to come home and really tell my husband all of the feelings and things I had been going through. He felt terrible that he did not support me. The truth is that he was trying to maintain everything that I could not during that time. He was supporting us.
I made many changes and additions to my life to help me to navigate my way out PPD/PPA, including taking medication, getting sleep, asking for help, going to therapy appointments, finding support in online communities, etc. One of the things that I did that I was most skeptical about and found the most value in was meditation.
Initially when meditation was presented to me, I had a lot of doubts. I had thoughts about the amount of time this would take that I did not feel like I had. My brain was always been “busy.” Somedays it feels like there is constant swirling of ideas, thoughts, and worries. It was worse with depression and anxiety. So, how could I just turn off my brain and be present in the moment? Is it even possible for me to “turn off my brain?” Is that even okay? I cannot just sit and do nothing!
With a lot of encouragement from my physician, mother, and therapist, I tried it. It was not easy. I really struggled. It was similar for me to trying to learn how to ride a bike without training wheels. It was not a pretty sight and it was a challenge. I wanted so badly to find peace that I continued to try. I gave myself time first thing in the morning to meditate and anytime my anxiety was really feeling strong.
I often use the app Calm for meditation and deep breathing. This did help me to learn the general concept of meditation, but I was still not convinced. Then one day, I was sitting outside and realized that I was sitting truly in the moment. I was just experiencing the trees moving, the shape of the leaves, the feel of the breeze washing over me, and a feeling of calm. My mind was not quiet, but it was present. It was just in the moment. It was not thinking about my To Do List or anything I did not accomplish that day. I was just in the moment, experiencing myself on my deck outside. It was beautiful and the motivation I needed to continue working at this.
Today, my primary meditation routine looks a little different from what it started out as or what most people think of when they think of meditation. I wake up in the morning before anyone else does. Yes, it is hard to get up that early but there is great benefit that comes from this time. I pour myself a cup of coffee, keep the lights dim, and read from the Bible. I read for about 10-15 minutes or just focus on a specific reading. Then I spend time just being in the moment with my eyes closed meditating on the words that I had taken in. I focus on the scripture and how to apply it to my life. I am in the moment and intentionally provoking positive thoughts to start my day. I notice when I do not give myself this time and I feel more positive, calm, and resilient throughout the day when I do.
If you do not want to read the Bible, this same method can be applied to reading a book of positive poems or inspirational quotes. You could take it in and allow your mind to meditate on the feelings and thoughts that the message provokes. Meditation may come in a form of just being with yourself in silence, soft music, or the sounds of nature. It may be in journaling and reflecting on the words that you took in. For some it is being in the moment and doodling or coloring. It comes in many forms.
I also find time to meditate in a more traditional form when I am becoming anxious and need relief in real-time. This may occur when I am at work, playing with my kids, or walking through Target. In the moment, I take a deep breath, close my eyes briefly, and just take in the sounds around me. I allow myself to let go of the feelings of anxiety by allowing myself to be in the moment. I am able to release the tension that I am feeling and continue, usually pretty quickly, with the action that I was doing before.
Meditation, like anything, takes time to learn. It needs to be personalized to your life and needs in the current season. It takes months to develop these skills like with strengthening a muscle or learning something new. It is possible and does carry many benefits to a more intentional, more joy-filled existence.
If you are currently in a season of life where you are trying to work through PPD/PPA, I want you to know that you did not do anything to cause this condition in you. I want you to know that you are not alone and that you are still a great mother. You are not a failure even on your worst days. You are beautiful and strong. Continue to seek and try to find the right combination of things to help you through this season in your life. It is temporary and you will find the light again. There are many options available to you. They are not one size fits all, so make sure that you modify them in a way that works for you. There is no right or wrong. I am always here to support you.