Gianna Zelie is back! Finishing up the school year was an absolute whirlwind, so I’m grateful to be on the other side where I can just…breathe and enjoy these slow summer months with my little.
Real talk? I forgot how difficult it is to be home with a baby, on my own, all. day. long. I’m sure I’ve said this before here, but, stay-at-home mamas, my hat is off to you. Being home with Annie has been wonderful – she is such a little bundle of pure joy, mischievous humor, and radiant light. But when six o’clock (let’s be real – four o’clock) rolls around, I am done, y’all. And the aftermath? Me sitting in a heap, barely able to gather the energy to get Annie to bed, clean up after dinner, put away toys, and then, oh yeah, enjoy time with my husband.
I’ve been dealing with some form of post-partum anxiety since Annie was born. But in the last few months of the school year and recently, it’s taken a nasty turn for the worse. I won’t go into detail about what my experience is – because, you know what? I’m pretty sure every single mama has been there. But we all feel too embarrassed, ashamed, guilty to talk about it too much.
It’s just baby blues, right? Just the normal feeling of exhaustion, overwhelm, and stress – that’s #momlife, right?
Is it normal to experience these feelings of anxiety and depression following the birth of your children? Absolutely. Hormones are a mess, constantly changing and adjusting and reacting to you and your baby. Life continues to move forward, requiring your lightning-speed adaptation before you get swept away and fall behind with tasks that used to seem so…easy. Such simple acts like setting the coffee to brew in the morning seem more like mountainous feats in light of sleepless nights and inconsolably fussy babies. It is normal, we have all felt it, and somehow we learn how to move with it and over it.
But is it normal to ignore these feelings, to brush them aside, to invalidate them as silly or fleeting or, even (you’ve been there!) selfish? No. Mamas, if you are feeling this way, you have to, you must, I beg and implore you, vocalize what you are experiencing. Why aren’t more people talking about this? Because It is really, really, really hard at first. When I first started trying to put words to what I was going through, I felt like I was muddling through word soup, just digging myself deeper into a hole of pressure, confusion, and anxiety. But as I kept seizing opportunities to express myself, I’ve found little tricks that help me to anticipate when more serious episodes are coming on and to react more stably when they do occur.
As I go through what has worked for me, I encourage you to read thoughtfully and with the understanding that it might not work for you. One of the traps I’ve fallen into is thinking that if it works for a mother who seems similar to me – she also suffers from PPA/PPD, she holds the same values as me, she has a child in similar age, she also works, etc. – it has to work for me, and if it doesn’t then there’s something wrong with me. Not the case! God has created each one of us uniquely, and that means what consoles one mama’s heart may bring storms to the other.
What has really helped me is reflecting on what brought me joy and comfort as a child – I would advise starting there, and creating your own list of self-care items that you can consult throughout your days with baby.
Reading. I have vivid memories of just tearing through books as a child. I would read outside in the backyard, I would read walking home from school, on the weekends, late into the night with my booklight (such a thrill when I finally got one of those!), in class after finishing work, at home wrapped in a cozy blanket, sprawled out on the floor, curled up in bed, anywhere, anytime, I was almost always reading. And then, kind of without warning or ceremony, I just stopped. College did whacky things to my desire to read for fun, after the insane amounts I’d have to read for class – yuck.
Now that I finally do have time to read for pleasure again, it’s almost like I have to rewire and get back into the practice of reading. So I’ve started with genres I know I really enjoy (again, thinking back to what I read as a child), like historical fiction and biographies, whenever I take Annie to stock up on her books at the library, I always make sure to grab one for myself as well. When I read, it slows my mind down and takes me to a different place – even if that place isn’t calm or serene, it’s a shift, and it’s good for my brain to take a little break.
Writing, short stories or journaling. I have notebooks and notebooks full of short stories and boxes and boxes of journals, ranging pretty much from the moment I was able to write independently until now. As I grew up, my fiction writing kind of faded out and my journaling really picked up, gradually morphing into prayer and scripture journaling. This has been a key piece of finding words to explain how I’m feeling. With empty pages, there is no judgment, no pressure, no expectation – just my pen, and the space to sort it all out as I get it onto paper. If you aren’t keeping some kind of journal, I can almost guarantee that this will help you. It doesn’t have to be a prayer or scripture journal – mine oscillates between a traditional diary of life events and a more spiritual outlet. It just needs to be a place where you can write down anything – anything – that is on your mind.
Being outside. This was not really possible for me when we still lived in our apartment – I think that’s why things really were challenging initially. I couldn’t really put my finger on what was missing – we were getting outside for walks every single day, and I thought that was enough. But as I noted earlier, I have vivid memories from childhood of spending hours outside, reading, playing with friends, going to the pool, walking around the neighborhood, drawing with sidewalk chalk, whatever. If the weather was agreeable – and sometimes even if it wasn’t – I was usually outside. Now that we have a house and a very tiny bit of green space of our own, and two parks within walking distance, Annie and I are outside most of the day, soaking up every bit of Vitamin D we can.
Coloring. Again, I had so many coloring books, crayons, and colored pencils as a kid. I would sit at the table and color for hours. I still love to color whatever my students might be coloring in class right along with them. And at home – helloooo, adult coloring books! I recently purchased a box of little coloring cards, adorned with beautiful designs and quotes from scripture or words of encouragement, along with a fresh box of coloring pencils. Every now and then, I’ll pull one out and work on it – and literally feel my breath slow and world pause around me. It is probably the one of the most zen things I do.
Schoolwork (really!) Okay, y’all. You have to understand that I was a super nerd growing up. I would beg my mom to buy me math and reading workbooks whenever we went to the store – forget toys, man, I wanted knowledge! And that has carried over to today. I am giddy over new curriculum that I get to teach or learn for school, but I rarely allow myself the time to sit and work with it because I feel there are too many other “important” things demanding my attention. After a decent first year at my new school, I’m resolving to make time for study this summer, so that next year can be even better. (And this is a perfect example of what I mean by my self-care items not necessarily bringing you peace!)
Singing and listening to music. Luckily, this is something that I’ve been able to hold onto over the years, whether through singing at church or in our community choir, or taking advantage of Spotify, Adam’s superb collection of music, and even podcasts. However, in reflecting on this, I realized that I haven’t been so great about discovering new music for myself as I used to be. I used to devote a lot of time to seeking out new groups and singer-songwriters, learning about their music, and collecting their albums. I hope to get back to this!
I hope this helps you to take a step back and reflect on what you need to keep your headspace clear and your joy for motherhood and marriage alive. This is a vocation, y’all. Jesus didn’t promise, or even say, that this life would be easy – in fact he directly said there would be trouble, strife, and sorrow. But joy comes in the morning, in the seeking, in the trusting, in the whispers. Slow your mind, quiet your heart, and be. Seek, trust, and listen. He is there, waiting with faith, hope, and love for our weary hearts and tired minds.
PS – If you find that your experience with PPA/PPD is truly debilitating and impairing your ability to function in everyday life, seek professional help immediately. We are not meant to struggle alone – enlist help from your “village” and lean into those who can give you the assistance you need.