I remember being in a perpetual motion of light and dark.
The light was the days, and dark was what seemed to be endless nights tending to a baby who only craved for the comfort of my breasts.
Dark also seemed to linger well into my days as I struggled to keep up with his demands while attending to an erratic 4-year-old sister who was losing so much of my attention and also struggling to cope with a sibling.
My baby was perfect, apart from being a little yellow from prolonged jaundice. He was all well and behaving just like any other newborn.
Yet, I felt a gaping hole in me.
I felt helpless. I was in pain, physically and emotionally. I did not know if I was doing anything right. I blamed myself for my decisions and I had occasional flashes of dark thoughts about my baby and myself.
I was moving like a wounded clock, at danger of stopping altogether if nothing came to wind me and make me “operational” again.
The hole seemed to swell and shrink continuously, threatening to pull me into its darkness.
Still, I fought as hard as I could. Holding on to every bit of reality, positivity and my faith in God.
After a few weeks, the hole was gone. I was lucky I survived.
Maybe it was the people who were there for me. Maybe it was the help that I got from my postnatal therapist who did an excellent job.
Maybe it was my mom who tried to help me as much as she could in her own way, even though I loathed the fact that she never let me cry my heart out if that was the only thing that would help myself feel better.
Maybe it was because I knew that I should not let my “baby blues” take over my life and how it could turn into something darker. So, I fought my way out of it.
Let’s face it: Postpartum anxiety – also known as “baby blues” – is very real.
It could also be a dangerous precursor to postpartum depression (PPD) if the symptoms are not identified and left to linger without any support to the mother.
Postpartum Progress Inc.. indicates that according to the American Centers for Disease Control, 11 to 20% of women who give birth each year have postpartum depression symptoms.
With an average of 15% of four million live births in the US annually, approximately 600,000 women get PPD each year in the United States alone. Generally, this does not include women who miscarried or still-birthed. Also, it only includes women who self-reported the symptoms.
The sad truth is that PPD is still taboo in many societies around the world.
Women who suffer from PPD are often ashamed with the symptoms, and often being ignored for having such “silly” thoughts or feelings.
Fear of being labeled a “bad mother” and being judged by the people around them are also the major deterrents from seeking help.
Due to the humiliation, many chose to suffer alone with hopes that it will go away on its own.
Some mothers survive the dark episodes, but unfortunately many also fell deep into the trap and needed professional and medical attention.
When things became too much, PPD could also develop into postpartum psychosis – hallucinations, paranoia, suicidal impulses and a desire to bring harm or even kill their baby.
Mothers need to be emotionally ready, not just physically.
The first few weeks after giving birth are a turbulent, emotional ride. Fatigue, irritability, worrying, crying, resentment, anger, sadness and feeling of hopelessness are all common symptoms of baby blues.
Perhaps the best way to keep them in check is by preparation. It pays for expecting mothers to evaluate and strengthen their emotional readiness.
First-time mothers have to be ready to face the reality of losing their “freedom” and gaining completely new responsibilities and fear.
Handling older children and a new routine will also easily overwhelm even an experienced mother. What is more when the older child also needs to be supported while adjusting to the arrival of a new person in the family and an abrupt change to their routine.
It is the time that all these are put out in the open for mothers to be clear and enable them to formulate some kind of strategy to handle the emotional rollercoaster.
Gone should be the days when these are kept mum and shoved into a dark corner with hopes that it will not reoccur to the next generation of mothers after us.
With emotional readiness, a mother will be able to be in touch with her feelings and know when it is time to seek help.
When things become too much to bear
Nothing beats a strong support system during the early weeks of giving birth.
A supportive and understanding partner, parents, close friends or even extended family can help lift a lot of pressure from the demands of tending to a newborn and new life.
If the baby never stops crying despite all your efforts to calm him down, ask someone to take over while you take a break away from the crying baby. Try to get some fresh air; even it is just outside the home. Meditation and self-calming methods could probably help you manage your stress as well.
Get someone to help you with your errands if you could not find time for it, and arrange for someone to help with the house chores.
Being a mother is a beautiful and blissful journey, but just like everything else, it also has its challenges and darker sides.
In the end, your mothering journey is something worth doing, but braving the storm in the first place is a different story altogether.