Becoming Enough

Article by Janice Milnerwood

Remember that time before you became a parent when you were positive you’d raise your child a certain way?  I do.  How you’d never feed her pizza, or give him candy before age two.  Maybe you’d have a routine by three months of age and never, ever let your baby come between you and your husband. I remember a discussion with my husband where we agreed we’d never ignore our baby’s attempts to speak, always wanting to encourage language development.  We thought we’d never ever want our child to JUST SHUT UP FOR ONE MINUTE.

Fourteen years later and the impacts of these early ideals are still palpable.  Let me explain.  When our first born arrived I suffered with almost paralyzing anxiety.  I thought something was bound to go wrong, that I was going to make a mistake that would result in serious injury or worse.  He got sick a lot, and naturally I worried a lot.  It started with inability to breastfeed (which we resolved after the longest 7 days of my life), and continued with coughs, ear infections, copious vomiting episodes and slow weight gain.  Having been born a healthy, average size he was slipping down the chart for weight, so that the trips to the nurse to have him weighed became a stressful ordeal.

But we survived, and a few years later we welcomed number two.  I thought I had it all worked out.  However, number two had different ideas.  Less anxious and more confident, my desire for perfection increased.  I set the bar so high I was constantly pushed to the limits, with enriching activities (sports, music etc), home-cooked meals and never anything from a jar or packet.  Kraft dinner was my enemy.  My kids deserved mac and cheese from scratch.  And so it continued.

When number three arrived I (wrongly) assumed that the jump from 2 to 3 kids must be easier than 1 to 2.  How I laugh now looking back at my naivety.  We were outnumbered, and our third baby had reflux.  He was a completely delightful, smiley kid so long as you didn’t lie him down.  On his back he was miserable.

After three months of the worst sleep deprivation I had experienced as a mom something switched inside me and I realized I was not okay.  I’m sure the majority of moms cry at times, but I couldn’t stop, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t good enough for my children, that I should be able to meet all of their needs all the time.  I was missing most of my older kids’ bedtimes.  The evening was when the reflux was at its worse and feeding was almost constant.  My husband would return from work and do his best to join the fray, taking up all the slack juggling bathtime and storytime for our 4 and 8 year olds, and I would hear my other kids crying for me through the walls and wonder why we couldn’t all snuggle up on the couch together for stories.  Because I wasn’t good enough, because of reflux which was definitely my fault – have you read those articles about how the food we eat affects our breastmilk and therefore our babies?  Needless to say no matter what I did with my diet the reflux continued.

Pacific Post Partum Support Society was vital to my slow recovery and filled the long gap before my referral to a psychiatrist came through.  The support group showed me that we’re all just doing our best.  Sometimes our best is picking up the phone to order a pizza and putting the TV on so we can have 20 minutes with our eyes closed on the couch.  It didn’t make me a bad person, it made me human.
I’d like to say that I made a swift recovery and got on with having the perfect family but life doesn’t work that way.  PPD changed me permanently, but mostly for the better.  It is a constant practice; being kind to ourselves, letting go of our ideals, making do with what we have, accepting that we aren’t perfect and that’s okay.  Each day I have to challenge that person with the ridiculous to-do list.  Take that list and tear it in half, that’s plenty for now.  When I had PPD the self-care was for my child.  I wanted to be well so I could be the mom my kids deserved.  Now it’s for me.  I’m worth it and I deserve it.  It’s not to make me a better wife or mom, it’s for me.  I think that’s the point at which I realized I was doing well, when I could see that self care was not about allowing me to be there for other people.  It was for me.  Accepting that I am enough is a constant practice and I work on it every day.