I’m a Type A woman with OCD. I have probably always been a perfectionist and my own worst critic. I have really never failed at much. I don’t say this as a gloat. But I’m also usually a fair judge of my own capabilities and not one to take huge risks, either. A part of me assumed this would be the case with motherhood. How could I fail? I figured this task would pale in comparison to the ride I had just gotten off – finishing a dissertation while working full time and defending it with hyperemesis.
So, when I had the baby, life was good. I will post a bit about my birth experience later on but all in all, I did really well. 17 hours after my induction began, she was here. I only pushed for an hour. Once I got my epidural, it was fairly smooth sailing (although not easy at all). I couldn’t complain. My episiotomy really didn’t hurt after I left the hospital. I didn’t die with my first poop. My baby slept in her own room in her own crib the first night home and only woke once. That has continued now for 5 straight weeks. I can’t complain that I have a hard baby. I can’t complain that breastfeeding is draining my soul because I am formula feeding with a Baby Brezza at my disposal. I went back on my antipsychotic an hour after I delivered. Basically, the things I did worry about were not a thing. I sailed through them.
Still, the past 5 weeks have been so hard. To begin with, my dog jumped onto our table and ATE my pain medication when my daughter was only a week old. My husband had to rush home and rush her to the dog ER. Then, when I had to take her in for follow up bloodwork, my in laws accidentally let her out of the house. My father in law and I chased her for 30 minutes in an ice storm and then I drove her to the vet in that ice storm, almost flying off the road the entire time to and from. I also had some insane family drama over Christmas that left my husband and me reeling. I wouldn’t wish what happened on my worst enemy. I couldn’t think of a less kind thing to do to someone with a two week old. I have been able to call on friends and my in laws for support at this time. It has been helpful. But I still have had some trouble with my bipolar disorder and what is likely postpartum depression and anxiety. I hit a new low two days after Christmas. Again, I wouldn’t wish the feeling of family abandonment on anyone in this situation. My therapist has told me that I’m dealing with the worst possible scenario for getting well and that I was luckily not at risk of institutionalization when I met with him but he was on the fence when I first called him panicked. I’ve never been institutionalized. Hearing this scared me.
Women told me hormones and any type of baby will rob you of your sanity. I ignored this because I was analytical. I survived grad school. I was very good at sticking to logic. No matter how logical and dedicated you feel you can be, hormones are a real issue. You can’t control them. You will experience the greatest highs and greatest lows. And when you have bipolar disorder, this will throw your train right off the track if you can’t control other things – namely food, exercise, and sleep.
Even with a good sleeper, your REM sleep is disturbed with your baby’s night wakeup. And napping? It’s a bad idea that will offset your sleep cycle. Sleep when the baby sleeps is not particularly helpful to someone with bipolar disorder (even with a good sleeper). When your baby goes to a growth spurt, you will never have time to eat. When your baby gets fussy, you will never have time to eat with both hands. My baby hit a growth spurt (and gained about a pound in a week!) around the time that my family drama was happening. She suddenly became inconsolable and for three days, I ate nothing but a small dinner. After 9 months of not eating, this was not healthy at all. Finally, good luck with exercise. This is a big one for me. But I am still not cleared for any type of exercise and probably won’t be for at least another month. My husband really stepped up and my in laws comforted me. They came up to ensure I had support the day after my family left town. My husband was worried I needed some observation and distraction. I was still emotionally numb when they encouraged me just to leave, get coffee, and go to the store. I wasn’t eating because I was also really upset. And while I was absolutely keeping the baby alive (she was my only good thing at this time), I felt like I was failing as a wife. Nothing else was going as planned. I was killing myself to put food on the table every night. I was trying to do all this damn laundry that was killing my back and pelvis from running up and down the stairs. I was feeling guilty from asking my husband to take night wake ups as he worked. I felt like I was failing as a mom. Because moms do it all. Because I’d done all this great stuff and worked two jobs and never took a breath all of this time but motherhood was kicking my ass. It seems the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do and that is saying something. I should be able to do it all, right? And do it pleasantly! And that’s the curse of modern day motherhood. I think especially for women who worked before they either went on maternity leave or who leave the workforce to be a stay-at-home-parent (SAHP). A friend of mine wisely stated that she needed to hear “you’re doing a good job” more than ever after she decided to become a SAHP. Because when you work, after all, you do get this affirmation a lot. And to someone who is used to pleasing her boss and coworkers and getting the occasional “good job”, it is hard to imagine not having these things. My friend’s husband was appreciating all she was doing but he wasn’t saying it. The mantra of one of my favorite podcasts, One Bad Mother, is just that. You’re doing a great job. Because as long as your kid is alive the house won’t be clean, you won’t be making elaborate meals, you may have to ask for a lot of help, and you may feel like everything else is kind of just getting done and barely passing but that’s all you can expect right now.
More than ever, I need to remind myself that I’m only human. I can’t expect much more. And I’m doing a good job for my baby and for my family. If you’re reading this and going “I’m really failing” for any reason other than DFS is at your door demanding your kids leave the house, realize you are doing a great job. And if this resonates with you because it’s BTDT, the next time you see a mom like me who is really struggling and crying just because she’s barely keeping her head above water, tell her she’s doing a great job.