Mental Health Doesn’t Make You A Bad Mom.

***I feel like I need to do a little disclaimer before you read this post. If you have never experienced postpartum depression (or loved someone with postpartum depression) some of the things talked about in this post will be unfathomable to you. Please try to have an open mind and to not judge, being honest about motherhood is hard enough without being shamed for being human.***

Before I had Paxton someone said to me, “With your mental health you might not be a good mom.” That person clearly knew nothing about mental health or motherhood, so I tried to give them some grace. But to be honest, I got in my car and bawled my eyes out after those words were spoken. For a moment I let those words take control of my mind and heart. Who wouldn’t? From the time I first found out I was pregnant the thought of “What if I’m not good enough?” has been circling my head. Every mom has that thought but for me it’s a little different, a little more extreme. I have struggled with anxiety and depression for most of my life, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder a few months back, and I’m a recovering drug addict. How could I possibly be a good mom?

I dwelled on that question for a bit, and then I challenged myself to reframe it. How can my mental health, along with my past experiences, help me be a good mom? That’s right, all those years of struggling will actually help me be the best mom possible for my son. Because out of struggle comes strength, and that is exactly what I am: STRONG. First and foremost I had to remind myself that I can be strong and struggle simultaneously. I also had to remind myself that my mental health does not make me a bad person, and neither does my recovery. Let me repeat it, MENTAL HEALTH DOES NOT MAKE YOU A BAD PERSON.

However, because of my history I knew that I would need to have a good plan in place as I entered into the postpartum period. While I was pregnant I spent hours every week with my therapist preparing for the 1 in 5 chance that I would be diagnosed with a postpartum disorder. For me this meant maintaining my regular sessions with my therapist, finding a postpartum-specific therapist just in case, learning new coping mechanisms, and compiling a list of people to reach out to in time of need. Before having Paxton I felt like I was completely prepared for what was to come, and in a lot of ways I was. But, quite honestly, I’m not sure that you can every be fully prepared for the unknown that is postpartum.

Aside from becoming a single mom and all the trials and anxieties that came along with that, my pregnancy was a dream. I was the happiest I have ever been in my entire life thanks to all of the good pregnancy hormones. Then when I had Paxton my entire world changed for the better. I was exhausted and would get overwhelmed easily, but other than that I would say my first two months home were so good. I had visitors coming all the time, I was trying to soak in every last newborn cuddle, and I was just so in love with my son. I loved being a mom and I finally felt like I had found my purpose.

Then when Paxton was about 2.5 months old postpartum depression hit me like a ton of bricks, although at the time I didn’t recognize that that’s. What was happening. I went from over-the-moon in love to overwhelmed to uncontrollably sobbing to extremely angry (nobody tells you about postpartum rage, it’s a real thing) within a matter of minutes, and it seemed as if the happy moments were few and far between. It was terrifying and exhausting, but I didn’t think much of it. I just assumed that every knew mom felt this way and that it was completely normal. It wasn’t until my son was 3 months old and I was sobbing on my bathroom floor, wondering what my life had come to, that I realized maybe what I was feeling wasn’t normal anymore. I suddenly felt like the connection I had with my son was gone, like nothing I was doing was right, and that I was failing at being a mom. As a new mom it is completely normal to feel overwhelmed, exhausted, frustrated, some anxiety, and even a little sad from time to time. What is not normal is to be paralyzed by your emotions, to feel like you can’t go on, or to hate your life. Those feelings are not normal, but they are common and they do NOT make you a bad person or a bad mom. They just mean that you need a little extra help regulating the hormones that are causing them, and that is perfectly okay.

When I first realized what was going on I was ashamed of what I was feeling. I didn’t want to admit that I wasn’t loving being a mom or that I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore so I kept it inside and let this turmoil build inside me until he was 4 months old. The financial stress of being a single mom had sent me over the edge, and I spent the next 3 days crying and having panic attacks all while still managing to take care of my son. On the first night of my meltdown I texted my mom and all it read was, “Being a mom is so hard.” So she spent the next two nights sleeping on the couch with me making it known that I wasn’t alone. And that’s when I knew I couldn’t do it on my own anymore. I realized that I needed help so I reached out to my therapist, my psychiatrist, my midwife, and a couple of other people to let them know what was going on. I upped my therapy sessions to multiple times a week, I vocalized what I was feeling, and I went back on medication.

This is real. This is postpartum depression.

Paxton is now ten months old and I feel like I am finally starting to feel normal again. I have put in a lot of work the past couple of months to make sure that I am the healthiest version of myself possible. I began working out daily, taking time for myself, and even started a new job. My love for being a mom is resurfacing and it feels like there is finally some sunshine back in my life. I still have my hard days, but the bad doesn’t outweigh the good anymore and that was my ultimate goal. Today I am strong, I am brave, and I am capable. Today I am also overwhelmed, I am exhausted, and I am full of emotion. And today I am a damn good mom, mental health, feelings, and all. Moms often get shamed for showing any sign of “struggle” when it comes to mental health in motherhood. We get labeled as “bad moms” for being human. Humans feel emotion, it’s what we’re designed to do and it’s not something that anybody should ever be shamed for.

So to the mom who’s struggling right now, I see you. I see you having to remind yourself to take deep breaths, I see you having that panic attack in the bathroom, I see you crying yourself to sleep, I see you feeling alone in a room full of people, I see you fighting back tears because your child won’t stop crying. I see you because I am you. We’re in this together. And with that being said, if you are struggling and you need someone to talk to my inbox is always open. I will sit with you in whatever way you need so that you feel a little less alone. I will watch your kid(s) so you can have a few hours to yourself. I will make you a meal or vacuum your house if that’s what you need that day. And if you reach a point where you need more professional help than me, I will help you find someone. When I say I’m in this with you, I mean I’m IN THIS WITH YOU – through the good times and the hard. You’ve got this, Mama, and you’re doing a damn good job.

Fight for yourself. Always.

To My Baby Boy.

To my baby boy,

It’s the middle of the night, I’m almost 31 weeks pregnant, and I’m writing you this letter because I am suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude that I was chosen for you.  I’m 22 years old, single, and often feel as though I’m not ready for a role as important as being your mom.  But then I take a step back and I look at all the ways I have already been the best mom possible to you despite the fact that I haven’t even met you yet.  That’s because I fell in love with you from the moment I knew you existed, and in that moment I changed for the better.

The past 7 months I have fought harder for myself than I ever have before.  I have spent approximately 60 hours in therapy strengthening my mental health, been extra aware of my recovery eliminating people and places that may have even the slightest bit of a negative presence, and I have been focusing on nothing but my happiness.  You see my mental health, my recovery, and my happiness have to come first so that you never have to come last.  And that’s a promise I plan to keep because you have changed my world in a way that nobody else ever could.  You are my peace after the most consuming, chaotic storm of my life, and for you I am eternally grateful.

I have experienced a lot of life in my 22 years.  A lot of life means a lot of life lessons, a lot of learning, and a whole lot of growing.  Every single thing I have learned in this life has equipped me to be your mom, and as your mom there are a million things that I will teach you and a million promises that I intend to keep.  These are the top ten things that I have learned that I hope to pass on to you so that together we can change this world.

  1.  Mental health matters.  Mine, yours, everyone’s.  I really don’t even like the term mental health, the world has given it such a negative connotation, but for lack of a better term I’m going to stick with it.  To me your mental health is just as important as your physical health.  I hope that you are able to come to me and say, “Mom, today I’m having a hard time” just as easily as you would come to me and say, “Mom, my stomach hurts.”  And then together I hope we can talk about, process, and learn from the feelings you’re experiencing.  And (God forbid) if you’re ever hurting so deeply that you think this world is not for you, I will be here to remind you that there is something for you out there in this life.  I will walk by your side until you find what that something is, because you are my something.  I promise to never shame you for anything related to your mental health, no matter what.
  2. Emotions are good.  Sometimes life will be overwhelming and you’ll experience big emotions.  If you can allow yourself to feel, process, and learn from those emotions I promise you there is nothing in this life you won’t be able to handle.  I don’t want you to ever feel like you have to hide your emotions from me, just like I don’t want to have to hide my emotions from you.  I want you to see me cry, I want you to know that life gets hard sometimes.  I want you to be able to say, “mom, I need you to love me a little louder today,” and I want to be able to do just that.   I promise to always be there for you whenever you need it, without judgment.  Oh, and son, it’s more than okay to cry.
  3. Therapy is for the brave.  My entire life I refused to go to therapy because I thought it was for the weak, that if you went to therapy it was because there was something wrong with you.  It wasn’t until your grandma forced me into Elizabeth’s office that I realized how wrong I was.  Elizabeth (I’m using her first name because by the time you’ll be able to read this letter you’ll know her well) showed me that it’s possible to struggle and still love life. Now I go to therapy because I want to and it betters my soul, not because I have to.  Therapy is for the brave; it’s for those who want to live their best life possible.  So you and I, we do therapy.  We do talking, we do feeling, we do processing, we do growing, and we do living.  I promise to put in every effort possible so that you know that you are always supported.
  4. Be gentle with yourself.   This is a quote Elizabeth says to me often and a mantra that I choose to live by.  Being gentle with yourself means being patient with yourself, showing yourself compassion, knowing your limits, setting boundaries, and taking time to practice self-love.  It is almost impossible to be genuinely gentle with others if you aren’t gentle with yourself.  I promise to always demonstrate being gentle with myself so that I can always be gentle with you.
  5. Fight for yourself always.  A complete stranger at the hardest, lowest point in my life whispered those words in my ear.  They are the four words that saved me and gave me a second chance to be here today.  Fighting for yourself means knowing who you are, knowing your worth, and not settling for anything less than what you deserve.  But fighting for yourself doesn’t mean that you are fighting alone, you have a whole army behind you because you are worth fighting for.  I promise to always fight for myself so that I can always fight for you.
  6. Know that you are enough.  This phrase does not mean that you have been measured and judged and that you have earned the label of “enough.”  It does not mean that you are flawless or that you don’t make mistakes.  It means that you were made to be you, flaws and all, on purpose.  There is no mistake in the person that you are, but don’t ever let this phrase get to your head.  There is no one in this world that is better than you, but there is also no one that you are better than. Being enough means that you don’t have to strive to become more worthy, more valid, more accepted, or more loved.  I promise to never let you forget that you are already all of those things.
  7. Be a walking contradiction.  Being a walking contradiction is not an excuse to be inconsistent and all over the place, it simply means you don’t have to try and fit yourself into a box.  I hope that you can learn how to be bold but kind, brave but soft, strong but sweet, opinionated but respectful, and confident but humble. Society wants you to think that you have to be this or that, I dare you to try and be both.  I promise to accept you for who you are, every piece and part of you.
  8. Being respectful is always the right choice.  I could go on and on about this one. But to keep it somewhat short and sweet here are some bullet points:
    • “No” is a complete sentence.  For you and for everyone in your life.  It’s your body, you’re in charge of it.  You don’t want a hug? Simply say “No.”  You don’t want to be tickled? “No.”  You don’t want a kiss? “No.” (No thank you works too, just saying).  And way, way, way in the future if the person you’re with says the word “no,” (or anything close to it) you stop what you’re doing immediately, no questions asked.  Use your voice and use your ears, but remember to be polite.
    • We don’t say the words “retard/retarded”.  We don’t use those words to refer to people with special needs, and we certainly don’t use them as an adjective to describe anything/anyone.  If there’s one thing I’m passionate about aside from mental health/addiction, it’s people with special needs.  So if I ever hear you say either of those words there will be some serious consequences, this is something I don’t mess around with.
    • Love is love.  I don’t care if someone love girls or they love boys because I personally believe that you love who you love.  Whether or not you agree with that statement is completely up to you.  Just keep in mind that having your own opinion is not a license to be disrespectful.  We support everyone.
    • Treat others how you want to be treated.  This is something that your grandma instilled in me when I was a kid.  Treat others how you want to be treated, but don’t expect people to do the same in return.  People won’t always be nice to you, be nice anyways.
    • Demand respect.  If you aren’t being respected, speak up.  Never be afraid to use your voice, but don’t do it in a way that is harsh or unkind.  You deserve respect, too.
    • I promise to always respect you, even when we may not see eye to eye.
  9. Spread kindness like wildfire.  You never know the battles someone else may be facing, and a little kindness can go a long way.  This world isn’t always a kind place, but you can always add a little kindness to the world.  Be encouraging, be nurturing, be caring, be sympathetic, be understanding, and speak life always.  But don’t ever let anyone take advantage of you because of your kind heart.  Know the difference between someone needing you and someone using you, sometimes it can be a very hard line to see.  I promise to always be kind (even though you may not always see it that way).
  10. You are loved more than you know.  They say it takes a village to raise a child, and I, without a doubt, have the best village in the entire world.  The amount of support you and I have been shown is overwhelming in the best way possible.  Your great grandma only refers to you as her “little dude” and is probably the most excited out of everyone.  Your grandma and grandpa are head over heals for you.  Your aunties and uncles (some blood, some not) are obsessed with you.  You already have my friends wrapped around your finger.  Even my therapist is thrilled that you are coming into this world.  But my love, I promise that no one is ever going to love you more than I do.

My sweet boy, I don’t know what in the world I did right to deserve you.  What I do know is that you were sent in to my life at just the right time and that you are here for a purpose.  I promise to be the best mom possible for you, to give you the life you deserve, and to never let you go a day without knowing how loved you are.   You are the most important thing in the world to me.  I can’t wait to see who you are, and to see who I become with you by my side.  We’re in this together now and forever.  You’ll always be my baby boy.

I love you always,

Love mom.