Two years ago I lost a pregnancy. Along with it I lost myself. Despite having a thriving daughter, a loving husband, a supportive tribe of friends and family, and even a new fulfilling job, I was broken. My body had failed me. As we drove home from a mother’s day brunch, during which no one dared mention what had happened, I suffered silently. I’ve always managed pain by keeping myself busy. It is like sitting after a long day of physical labor; you almost don’t want to as you may not have the strength to get back up. So I tried to forge ahead, as if stopping to heal, grieve, feel anything at all, would paralyze me more than I already was. For the first time in my life, or at least the first time I (chose to) remember, this strategy did not work. I could not deny the ache consuming every fiber of my existence.
On that two hour drive home I took to writing and confided in the most public of places, Facebook. I started to edit and revamp this post last week, thinking that it would be a great first blog entry. As I reread it, I felt my writing was disingenuous to my current state. The heart of my social media confession was a message to all women on mother’s day: Whether you’re a mother (to a human, a furbaby, an unrelated child, a plant ….) or not, you are enough. By juxtaposing these words with my feelings of unworthiness and exclaiming them to every one of my ‘friends,’ I was in effect proving to the world I was okay. The hard truth is, I was not; I am not.
After posting, I received lots of condolences, sympathetic comments, and even private messages from empathetic friends. It turns out miscarriage is an all too common experience, and yet I felt alone in my misery, as to discuss it openly was frowned upon by many. In the following months I finished out the school year, both at work and in my own continuing education program, completed an enriching internship, visited the ‘happiest place on earth’ (Disney World) with my family, found out I was pregnant again, and started to plan our move to Austin. Remember when I said my strategy for pain management was staying busy? I was not lying. Fast forward to my birthday, December 1, 2015, see me 17 weeks pregnant in Austin crying in the dark on our loaned air-mattress trying to silence the worst thought possible: I want to be dead. Again, for the second time in only seven months, my strategy was unsuccessful.
In the thirteen years I have known my husband Charlie I have reached this terrible low point of complete worthlessness many times. Looking back at the scene in 2015, it is possible I was experiencing prenatal depression, as I rectified my feelings via therapy, meditation and SSRI medication. Nearly five years after a very disappointing (forced) Cesarean and only months since my miscarriage, I was filled with anxiety that this new pregnancy would never result in a healthy baby, let alone my desired delivery. However, the low itself was not something particular to pregnancy hormones; the extreme lows and loss of sense of self is something I have struggled with as long as I can remember. Charlie has been one of the only people to witness my vulnerability; the point where I stop being busy, sit down (well, I usually lay down), and allow myself to feel, to grieve, to cry. This process is so counterintuitive to me, but recovery is nearly impossible without it.
When a friend shared with me that she and her husband were separated, she also noted that she was reluctant to attend playdates and other events she was normally active in as a result. It isn’t that she or her children are not feeling up to being social, but rather the expectation of positivity overwhelmed her; she could not simply put on a happy face and pretend everything was fine. While she confided in me I was overcome with emotion. I empathized so strongly and was also infuriated. Is this pressure to be joyful and ‘together’ constantly, and even in front of your close friends, another byproduct of the mommy-wars? I think it is more systemic than that. It is this same pressure that forces the “I’m fine, how are you?” automatic reply when people ask how we are doing. Are we so concerned with keeping up appearances that we are desensitized to our very own discomfort?
I have grown so accustomed to telling myself, “I am fine, everything is okay,” that when I find myself crying in Charlie’s embrace, I have no answer to his inquiry of what is wrong. For a long time I believed the reason for my non-response was deep rooted depression. Society, and even psychological professionals, had convinced me that my life was too good to be sad. I am healthy, a mother, in a stable marriage, living in a home that we own, we have supportive friends and family…. what more could I want? With nothing actively wrong, my sadness must be indicative of a mental flaw. I started to expect to be dejected as the years went on – I would have highs and lows in a cyclical pattern or, when medicated, just be numb. Without the highs I fell into an even darker place; something had to give.
My best friend in Indiana always reminds me that no matter how trivial ones struggle seems, it is real and it must be acknowledged. This same wonderful lady has taught me to embrace myself; we don’t hold back who we are for other’s comfort. Now that I am no longer in Indiana I have started to live out her mantra, ‘you do you,’ more and more each day. I am real with myself, my family, and new people that I meet. I am often guilty of oversharing; if you ask me how I am, expect a truthful response. I actively seek out opportunities to further my passions rather than just performing obligations. I am still not enthusiastic about confrontation, but I am not longer keeping quiet when I am upset. The result of a few minutes of discomfort is liberating and usually leads to stronger relationships and much happiness all around.
After living in Texas for 16 months, being nearly 10 months postpartum, saying ‘yes’ to so many opportunities and new adventures, I feel as though I am finally finding my footing. Of course as a mother, finding balance between self-care and caring for your family is difficult. I try to tell myself I must take that extra five minutes in the shower, pour that glass of wine without regret, and go out on a Wednesday just because, in an effort to be my best self. The logic being when I am at my best, I can better care for my children. But you all know, mom guilt is fierce. Also, I am tired, really really tired. So many times that yoga class is skipped in the name of sleep; that book goes unread because I cannot keep my eyes open; I stay home from happy hour with friends so I can sit on the couch while my children sleep. I am not sure balance as a mother is ever tranquil: children’s needs change, careers shift, couples grow – or drift apart; there are so many moving parts. For the first time in my life though, I am okay with this unbalance. I am surrendering (some) control.
Today I had the privilege of sitting in on a commencement ceremony for two mothers in Travis County’s drug court program. To graduate, a final project is required. The crux of one project was everything I have had in my head as I revamped my 2015 Facebook post. She stated that for so long she pushed all her pain away. Believing that if she did not acknowledge it, it would be as if nothing was wrong. This strategy failed her and her family in a big way. She turned to drugs as pain management. Through drug court she has had to face her past pains head on and in doing so has developed healthy coping strategies. When life throws curveballs now, instead of feeling overwhelmed or shutting down, she can see the bigger picture and come up with a solution. She has given over some control those who support her, built relationships by being selfless and real, and through this process she has found her true self. She sees that she is enough even when nothing is ‘okay.’
So, no, I am not okay today. I am enough.