The first weeks of motherhood were not what I expected when expecting. I never thought I’d be writing a post about how I weathered the baby blues and postpartum depression and how it changed me for the better in a billion ways. I’m so grateful that this challenging journey has a very happy outcome. It taught me more than any other period in my life. But, 99% of me does not want to write the first part of this post. It’s hard to write about a time you want to forget. I just want to tell you, I went through a rough time and here’s what I learned... I want to just skip to the good stuff. But, there is this little voice – that 1% left over – that hopes writing this will help another new mom not feel like the only person on earth who experienced life with a newborn like I did. So, the 1% wins.
Every new mother’s experience is different. There are lots of moms who have had a much harder time postpartum than I did and there are lots of moms who experience none of this. No matter what you are feeling, if it doesn’t feel normal, talk to your doctor. Talk to your loved ones. Ask for help. This is just my experience and I hope and pray that sharing this will help you or someone else know that they are not alone. There is a great light at the end of the tunnel that smiles and coos and sleeps for six hours a night on occasion. As a wise friend once told me, motherhood does get better. A lot better.
I don’t remember a lot of the chronology, but I remember intense feelings. To list them all would take me the many weeks it took to get through them. So, this is just a very small collection of my experiences with some of my personal photos and a few from Nancy mixed in. The pretty ones are Nancy’s; the blurry ones are from yours truly via my iPhone : )
Early in my pregnancy, I remember moms saying that they loved everything about being pregnant. I thought they were nuts when I was going through morning sickness. I just kept thinking, Never again! We’re adopting from now on. But, when I turned the morning sickness corner, I started to get it. I genuinely felt happy all the time. Joyful. Radiant. Hopeful and centered on what mattered most. I became one of those women. I loved being pregnant. Everything about it. Even despite any complaints I may have had about having to pee every 20 minutes round the clock. I felt great. I was in the gym every day until the day before Grace was born. I ate well and never really had any crazy cravings. Business was booming. Ari and I were closer than ever. I just felt very well and very grateful.
As Grace’s arrival grew closer, my deepest fear was postpartum depression. I went through a bout of depression early in college. I fought it hard with a great therapist and major changes in my thinking (i.e. learning how to become an “imperfectionist”). Over a long span of time, I kicked depression to the curb. I work hard to continue to build joy and focus in my life. It has not been easy. So, post-baby, I just didn’t want to go there. I feared losing the bliss of pregnancy I had come to be so grateful for. I feared things falling apart. I tried to set myself up for success before Grace’s arrival. I pre-scheduled weekly therapy sessions again, got the house in as much order as I could, turned my email off, read every book I could find, etc. Well, it hit me like a Mack truck and no amount of preparation could have helped. God had a greater plan.
I remember those first days in the hospital, feeling like my strong healthy body was suddenly very fragile. The aftermath of my painful labor felt like recovering from major surgery and an emotional trauma at the same time. I couldn’t walk around well, I was dizzy, tired, dehydrated and I just felt off. My center of gravity had completely changed. There was a bunch of loose tender skin where there used to be a kicking baby. And I was sad. It was an odd feeling. I kept thinking, This is supposed to be the most blissful time in our lives. This is supposed to be the happiest occasion ever! Why do I feel so off!? I tried to focus on the positive: my healthy baby, my caring husband, my wonderful family. God had blessed us immensely.
We would stay up all night watching Grace, making sure she was OK. She ate round the clock. Nurses would come in and out and, between that and the hospital PA system blaring pages all night, I think I got 20 minutes of [interrupted] sleep at a time. We both really wanted to go home, so we only stayed two nights. We were ready for Thanksgiving (Grace was born on November 22) at home with my family and our own bed.
The first days at home. Oh, those first days! We genuinely survived by the grace of God. I had a lot of really irrational thoughts, hormone drops and countless moments where I said to myself, “This is not normal.” People will tell you that feeling all of the “typical things” is normal. Normal? No. Common? Yes. Rarely discussed? Yes.
I remember just wanting my mom. She and my dad and brother had to fly back to Florida four days after Grace was born. The day they left, I felt like my life was over. Really, I did. While Ari took them to the airport, I sat in the living room with Grace in my arms and just cried and cried and cried. How am I going to do this by myself? I have no idea what I’m doing. What if I mess up!? I’m not cut out for this!!! Ari came home and tried to console me. He just kept reminding me that this was just my hormones changing (“baby blues”) and it would pass. When you are in the thick of it, it’s hard to believe it will pass.
Giving birth and all the emotions that followed left me feeling my most vulnerable ever. I wanted to be alone. I wanted to retreat. I wanted to protect Grace. I wanted to protect my very vulnerable heart. I felt a strong sudden need for privacy. I didn’t want to share pictures of Grace at first or talk about her except to Ari and my mom and dad and close friends. I couldn’t write and I missed it terribly. I was really torn. I felt like I couldn’t share any of this at the time. I had a lot of social anxiety. Sweet friends would text me and I just had to ignore them all. I didn’t want to burden people with how I was feeling. I kept hoping it was temporary – just the typical “baby blues” and it would pass in a day or so.
It didn’t pass. I started to feel like I wasn’t meant to be a mom. When Grace cried, I felt like I was doing eternal damage to her because I didn’t know how to make her happy. I cried more than I ever have. I blamed myself. I felt helpless. I couldn’t just make it better. I couldn’t “fix” her. I remember feeling very protective. I didn’t trust anyone with her. The first weeks, I would stay up most of the night just watching her and making sure she was breathing. I’d be up every two hours or so to feed her, too. “Sleep deprived” is an understatement.
All of the “pretty” photos of me in the blue shirt were made possible by a lot of makeup and Ari watching Grace for two hours so I could shower and blow dry my hair for the first time. Grace cried for 90% of the session. I so badly wanted those cute newborn photos that everyone else had. I wanted the picture in my head of “normal”. But, I learned many weeks later that what I got was actually better. These are very real moments captured. Some of these are the “outtakes” that ended up being closer to my heart than the pretty ones. This is just how it was.
The first diaper I ever changed was Grace’s when she was three days old. I was scared I was going to do permanent emotional damage to her if I messed up her diaper. Seriously. I remember my hands shaking as I changed her for the first time. I was petrified of Pampers.
Just six days after giving birth, I was back in the gym. Before you call me crazy, I’ll do it for you! I didn’t need exercise. I just needed “normal”. I pushed Grace around the track in her stroller at a snails pace. We could only go for about 25 minutes before she would have a meltdown and I’d be in the gym bathroom trying to nurse her to calm down. It was awful. I cried in the gym bathroom every time. I felt like I’d never ever get my life back.
It felt like my body deteriorated overnight. The stretch marks were more like stretch gashes. I cried over the loss of my “youth”. I felt like I’d never be happy in my skin again. It made me feel hopeless. It ended up, like all of this, teaching me so very much. Letting go of my old self ended up giving me more true confidence than I’ve ever had.
Nursing was a huge challenge for me. It was so painful. And after my painful labor, you’d think I wouldn’t consider anything painful. I cried when I nursed her. I was so desperate for relief. Ari took me to see the lactation consultant at the hospital, I read everything I could get my hands on and we bought everything under the sun to try to help me. Nothing helped. I felt like a failure even though I knew I couldn’t do anything about it. Rational thought didn’t matter to me at the time. Being the perfect picture of what a mother is “supposed to be like” was all I focused on. I felt weak and like I wasn’t meant to be a mom.
And then, just a week after Grace’s birth, in the thick of the worst part of the sleep deprivation and recovery, I got the flu. Man, looking back on all of this, I am so grateful it’s over!!! I hadn’t been sick in years. And I got it bad. I didn’t get out of bed for two days. I couldn’t sit up to eat. Ari had to bring me food in bed. I passed out in the shower. I’m so grateful that Ari took such great care of me during that time. I don’t know what I would have done without him. Between the flu and everything else, nursing just became an impossibility in my mind. So, Ari rented me a hospital grade pump and Grace has been happily bottle-fed since. I felt such mommy guilt having stopped nursing so early, but it was the biggest blessing in disguise for so many reasons.
The day after my fever broke, Ari had to go back to work. He had paternity leave for just one week and we have no relatives near us, so I dreaded the day I’d be alone with Grace for the first time. I was so afraid to be alone I literally would not leave my bed except to get Luna Bars (because I could eat those in bed). I was afraid I was going to make her cry more or hurt her by putting her down somewhere to even take a 3 minute shower (which now terrified me having passed out there the day before). I would spend much of the day worrying and texting Ari about how hopeless I felt. Emily, Natalie and Gina were huge helps to me, too, during those weeks. Emily would text me encouraging verses every day to reassure me that this would pass. I am so grateful for that.
I would hear new moms talk about not having time to get dressed or eat or brush their teeth. I didn’t believe it. All the books say to prep easy food ahead of time and freeze it before you have a baby. I thought I had that in the bag. It only took me a couple minutes to fix some food for myself anyway, right? Well, showering became a luxury, Ari ended up having to make up huge batches of food for me and freeze it so I could eat during the day (my appetite was huge!!), I lived in my PJ’s and there were many days I didn’t get to brush my teeth till noon.
Grace looked just like daddy which was wonderful at first. I felt very connected to him. But, after a while, I started to wonder if this was really my child. I couldn’t connect with her. Newborns grunt and cry and eat and sleep. That’s about it. They say the first three months are the “Fourth Trimester”. They are. I felt like we suddenly had a little alien in our lives who couldn’t communicate with us. Every moment was like a crap shoot, trying to blindly guess what was going to make her happy. I always liked being a confident leader. I relished the ease I felt in business. There was no such confidence or ease for me in the early days of motherhood. No one really tells you that your child won’t show a whole lot of love for you until about three months. This was so hard for me. It was like loving a brick wall. A brick wall that cried a lot. But, then this thought kept creeping into my heart: that’s exactly how God feels about ME. He loves and gives and nurtures and soothes and sometimes I just don’t even acknowledge Him. But, He loves me unconditionally anyway. He gives and gives and gives, no matter what I do. That was a huge lesson that I am now really grateful for.
I wanted to be like all those moms I saw on Facebook (being on Facebook was my first mistake) who were posting pictures of their adorable little newborns and saying how grateful they all felt. I did not feel that way in the least. Those moms made me mad. Those moms would say to me, “Isn’t motherhood the greatest thing ever?!” No. It wasn’t at the time. I was depressed and felt like I was the only mom on the planet with a baby I couldn’t connect with.
Truth be told, I was on Facebook because I felt alone. I was in bed all day long feeding Grace and trying not to make her cry. I desperately craved the comfort of friends and family. But, I didn’t call anyone for fear I’d wake her up or make her upset. I Googled everything under the sun to try to find help, including things like, “new mom blog when will I sleep again???”. That’s when I found this post entitled, You Will Sleep Again… Someday, and instantly wanted to high five this lady. Finally, someone felt like I did! And she had a sense of humor about it. Speaking of, I like to title the two photos below, “Yeah, Mommy Feels That Way Too” and “Lara vs. The Boppy”.
I am an INFP (introvert). I like writing because it’s just me and the computer. I work by myself most days in my office because I crave solitude. Solitude is very different than feeling alone. It’s a sense of peace. Solitude, for me, is how I recharge. I need time to process thoughts. I need time to just be and let my guard down. The gym would give me this, too. I’ve always loved being there with my thoughts, headphones in, letting my mind unwind. Suddenly, there was no solitude. I had to learn to fight for it.
Marriage before Grace’s birthday was blissful. It had been our best year ever in a billion ways. Marriage in those early weeks with baby was a huge challenge. We were both sleep deprived and trying to figure out our new roles in life. Deciding what to call ourselves was weird, too. Suddenly you have new foreign titles: Mommy and Daddy. We started awkwardly referring to ourselves in the third person. Mommy is really tired and wishes that daddy could produce milk, too. It was just weird. In the desperate moments, in the wee hours of the night, completely exhausted, I remember wishing we could turn back time and go back to the pre-baby days of our marriage. I remember thinking that people who haven’t had babies would think we were insensitive or didn’t love our child for even thinking that. The moms and dads out there would get it. God sure had a plan here, though, friends. Our marriage is stronger than ever now. Imperfect but centered on what matters most… this beautiful little girl who now lights our hearts on fire.
I remember going to see my doctor for my five week postpartum checkup. Kathryn, the nurse, gave me an Edinburg postpartum assessment to fill out. As we waited for Dr. Evers to come into the exam room, Ari said, “Lara, you better be brutally honest filling that out.” Trust me, I planned to. Dr. Evers read it over and told me how surprised he was. “You are one of the happiest patients we’ve ever had. I’m surprised to read your answers.” Yes, I was surprised to be feeling those things, Doc. We talked for a while and I explained to him what I’d been feeling and that I was talking to a therapist weekly already. He thought I’d be fine with time as long as I also started to get more sleep. Agreed. Ari and I made some big changes after that. I had been staying up all night with Grace, feeding her every two hours AND pumping, so I was up for at least at hour at a time every two hours. I was miserable. The “sleep when the baby sleeps” advice didn’t work for me. I wish it had, but I am just not wired to take naps during the day. And I had to let go of feeling like I had to be up making sure she was OK every five minutes. I had to put my trust in God 10000%. I made myself sleep with earplugs in again (I’d slept with ear plugs every single night for the last decade up until Grace was born) and we changed things so Ari was getting up to feed her and I was getting up to pump, cutting my time awake in half. This sounds like an obvious solution, but it was tough to implement. Ari had to be bright-eyed for work the next day and those early weeks took a toll on him, too. All of that left me feeling guilty that I wasn’t Super Woman. I just had to get over that. I couldn’t stay up all night with Grace without feeling like a basketcase the next day.
On top of all of this, lest I forget… I had a busy business to run. Yes, I was “on maternity leave” but, as any small business owner knows, you can’t just hang up your work hat completely and walk away for three months. As much as I worked my tail off to clear my plate 100% before Grace’s arrival and as much as my staff worked really really hard to handle things without me (they were awesome!), the realities of being the boss were still there. I took my work email off my phone, but I had to crack my laptop open a few times a week to make sure things were running smoothly. Even the tiniest work concern becomes a mountain when you are sleep deprived. I tried to ignore it at first, but I found that tackling it made me feel better than just letting it go.
One thing I fervently avoided those first weeks though, was making big business decisions. I genuinely feel like that is one of the biggest benefits of taking maternity leave – to avoid making dumb decisions on two hours of sleep. I’m still on maternity leave and things have changed and grown beautifully. I’m still not checking business email except from the ladies in my office and I’m not taking meetings, but I am working very hard behind the scenes to streamline the business in powerful ways. I’ve never felt more sure of our path ahead. I’m so grateful for this time to be with Grace and build things from the ground up…. from a renewed place of focus and confidence.
There were, of course, miraculously beautiful moments in those first weeks. Those were the moments we relished because they somehow “erased” all the rest temporarily. I loved the way Grace smelled. Her little head smelled like Heaven. Her skin was so soft. That was one of the first things that struck me when she was born. Baby soft perfection. Grace was wonderful. She was healthy. I had nothing to complain about and everything to be grateful for when it came to her. The thing that is hardest to explain about all of this is that my depression really had nothing to do with the baby. It had everything to do with my expectations and control of my life before her. It had everything to do with my heart needing to change to be able to let her in.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God… – Ephesians 2:8
There’s a lot more to those first weeks, but it’s time for the good stuff now! “The past is an anchor holding us back. You have to let go of who you are to become who you will be.” On to what I learned (and some happier pictures from just a couple weeks ago when Grace was 2.5 months old.):
I’ve learned that the stretch marks are badges of honor. This body is just my earthly tent anyway.
I learned through all of this that I need solitude to be happy and I have to fight to get it. It it means putting Grace in front of the TV for an hour to watch Baby Einstein, then that’s what I do. My image of the “perfect mom” whose child didn’t watch TV had to be tossed out the window. Taking time to reset my mind gives me the ability to be a mom the other 23 hours a day.
I’ve learned to be much more compassionate and aware of others. I want to hug every woman with a stroller that I see at Target. Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. - Plato I also learned to be so much more compassionate with myself. Done is better than perfect.
I learned that I need help. Therapy helped my thoughts settle. I’m so grateful for that. And I needed physical help, too. I needed to be able to take a shower every day. I needed to feel like a human again. I needed time to get our lives in order so I could transition to work well and be a great mommy. I needed to recover. So, I started searching for someone to help me a few days a week. I wanted to find a nanny/assistant who could help me be the best mom possible. Financially, it was a huge decision for us and the thought of trusting Grace with anyone besides my mom and Ari (and even that was hard sometimes) seemed like an impossibility at first. I still struggle with this. But, I had to learn to face reality: Grace will not have permanent emotional damage if I leave her with Susan to take a shower or work on our family budget (so we can continue to afford said nanny) or lead my staff meetings so the business stays booming. I had to let go. Big time. I have kicked and screamed all the way there, but I have let go a lot. And I have a long way left to go, but I have become a happier more balanced confident mom in accepting the fact that I cannot do all of this alone. Having help doesn’t solve everything though. I still have anxiety on occasion and I fight the sleep deprivation and feeling like a failure when she cries. I get overwhelmed. I get tired of being a mom. I worry. I fight the mommy guilt off with a big stick. But, life is much much better. I am not depressed anymore. Thank you, Lord! I am taking action even when I “fail” over and over. Fall down seven times, get up eight. Every day as a mom holds a new challenge and a new joy. I’m learning. I don’t feel like I have to just put on a happy face. I’ve become much more honest with myself and brutally honest with others and I feel less of a need to please people. My motto now: Honesty, Humility, God’s Peace. My happy is coming from within again and from a truly new place. And everything is better because of it – business and life.
I learned that there are no shortcuts to any place worth going. A huge transition like this takes time to settle. Gaining mommy confidence takes time. It takes letting go every day, not just once. There are layers upon layers that have to unfold and, as much as I like fast change and quick results, I have learned that God’s timing is perfect. I just have to listen to Him and nothing else.
I learned I need community. Ari and I learned that we are not an island. We started getting involved in church more. We made new friends. We strengthened relationships. I worked hard to build support networks. Speaking of, new moms, feel free to join the New Moms group I started. Join even if you are just pregnant and want to have a supportive community around you! We even have women in the group who are just thinking about taking the leap into motherhood. I can only relate my own personal experience, but I would love to be a support to you if you need one. I’m so grateful for my dear close friends who helped me.
This is a big one. I’m learning how to say NO. And I have to say no a lot. Saying no to one thing is saying YES to another. I’ve been using the majority of maternity leave to simplify our lives so I can work less hours. I’ve been on a warpath to simplify, streamline how we approach business and save money in radical ways (thank you, Dave Ramsey) so I can refocus my time and energy on my most important job: being a mom. This involves me saying no to a lot of opportunities and choosing my clients very carefully and setting very strong boundaries on my time with others and letting go of things I really do not need. I’m fighting for my time. I’m on maternity leave which means I’m not answering business email or taking meetings. (Side note: I don’t check Facebook email ever. People tell me they send me messages there and I never replied. My “About” section has said “I don’t check Facebook email” since I first opened my account. Between all the spam there, I just can’t keep up with it. So, I choose not to let it distract me from using my time more wisely. And I deleted Facebook from my phone. Real life > Facebook.) When I do start taking meetings again, I will not be working on Monday or Friday. And as usual, I can’t spend time giving out free advice. It’s not free. It costs me priceless time that I can’t get back. I’ve also prayerfully made decisions about travel this year. Travel is a major sacrifice now. If an opportunity benefits Grace and our family, I’ll consider it. But, she is my non-negotiable. Time with her. Her happiness and mine so I can be the best mom to her.
I’ve learned that things that used to be important just aren’t important anymore. Goodbye fancy sports car, goodbye dinners out, goodbye working the hours I used to work, goodbye everything and anything that will make me have to work more and prevent me from spending more time with this sweet baby. In the past, my solution to needing more money was to work harder and just make more money. I’m good at that. But, that requires time and brain space, both of which I now want to give to this little munchkin. So, working more just isn’t an option. Working smarter and simplifying is. I’d rather make radical changes in our lifestyle and in how I approach business than miss moments I can’t buy back. Will I be happier at the end of my days having worked more or having given my heart to her? So, hello new budget and hunting for a used car and only taking meetings one day a month and cooking every night and scaling back everything in our lives to simplify. While all of this would have felt very restrictive and confining to my pre-baby self, it has been the most liberating part of this journey. Learning to live with less feels really really good, friends. It’s changing how I see the world and giving me so much more confidence as a mom and faith that we are on the right path. And most of all, it’s giving me my time back. It is setting me up to have a really incredible first year with Grace. Even though saying no is really hard sometimes and I hate disappointing people, fighting for time with my family fires me up! Grace is worth disappointing people. Her smiles are like money in the bank to me. Money she will get to spend one day. I have a lot more to tell you about this – what I’ve changed and how I’m simplifying – soon.
1. You cannot please everyone.
2. Rest is required.
3. Honestly always wins.
I learned that I will never be the same. I’ll be on “maternity leave” till Grace is 18 and off to college. Having a baby isn’t something that happens to you and then, after maternity leave, you go back to normal. It’s a permanent change and there is a new “normal”.
Above all, I learned just how much I need God. My priorities had a heart change. God showed me the priorities that really matter. He showed me that He will always provide what I really need. Weathering this incredibly hard time showed me just how much I had to TRUST Him. Fully. Completely. With all my soul, strength and mind. Why? Because God always has a better bigger plan than I do. I learned that every single circumstance He put me in was for my growth. God wanted to refine my spirit. Big time. More growth happened for both Ari and me in these first three months of parenthood than in our entire lives. We had to have full faith that God had designed all of this for a reason. I kept questioning Him at first, wondering why I had to be so tired and so scared and so very far from my former self. I had to learn to completely let go of ALL control. God had a better self in mind.
This heart change is bigger than I can possibly put into words in a single blog post. God pulled away everything I thought was comforting in my life – sleep, confidence, the youth of my body, what I thought was a really great marriage, control of my schedule, joy in connecting with others, showers, solitude, all of it. And He left us with a new love, real priorities and the knowledge that this is just the beginning of this heart change. He left us with all we ever need… He left us with Grace. And there’s a lot more I’m not writing in this post. God blew us out of the water with the blessings He poured on our family since those early days. True miracles. Dear Lara, why do you ever waste time questioning God’s plans!?!? Oh, He brought me out of depression for sure and He put me on the best clearest path I’ve ever been on.
So, if you think I’ve become one of those moms who posts a lot of cute pictures of her baby on Facebook… well, I have. I’ve been through it and I finally want to share these joyful moments. Every moment of joy now heals a moment of despair from before. As I type this, Grace is cooing away, watching Baby Einstein. It’s hilarious watching her talk to the animals. She is so happy and fascinating. I truly love being a mom now. Diapers, late nights, baby toots (like the giant one during communion this past weekend! Ha!) and all! Lately, she has been learning how her hands work and loves to “sing”. Seeing her explore the simplicity of the world is just breathtaking. God is awesome.
Unending thanks to so many dear friends – and perfect strangers – who encouraged me so much during those early days. You just never know how your kindness will affect someone else. I’m so grateful!