My oldest child just turned 10. This is hard to believe, because his babyhood and toddler years still feel so close. They were years that broke me in unexpected ways–forcing me to confront the dark corners of postpartum depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. The people closest to me say that I was not myself in those first few years following the birth of my child. I say that the seeds of my truest self were planted then. And just as a seed looks nothing like the flower it will become, I was, for a time, unrecognizeable. But I was not entirely lost. I think this is where hope lies.
If I have learned anything in a decade of parenting, it’s this: Parenting is hard, but it shouldn’t feel impossible. Karen Kleiman says something to this effect in one of her books on perinatal mental health, and it is such a profound truth. For two years after my son was born, parenting felt impossible. I chalked this up to being a bad mom. I believed that I wasn’t cut out for the job. I believed I was failing and simply needed to force myself to be more present, dedicated, knowledgeable, patient, kind. I denied my own needs in order to do more for my son, and sabotaged my own health in the process. Ironically, it was only when I learned to care for myself that parenting ceased to be impossible.
Caring for myself looked like accessing peer support with Pacific Post Partum Support Society. It looked like private counseling, a parenting support group, and a re-engagement with hobbies and activities that provided a necessary respite from the role of Mother. It looked like recognizing that there are many parts of parenting that I don’t enjoy, and that’s okay. It meant rebuilding my relationship with my partner, redefining my goals and aspirations, and surrounding myself with a supportive community.
The ongoing work of being a mother includes constantly renegotiating how to care for myself effectively. As my children grow, stay up later, have more activities to get to, and more complex inner lives, I am always needing to figure out where I can carve out time for myself and make space for healing solitude.
Those tender seeds of my own identity that were planted when I became a mother took years of nurturing to develop into a robust and healthy plant. There were some tough realizations to confront, not the least of which being that motherhood did not bring the overwhelming sense of fulfillment that I was lead to expect it would. There is joy to be certain, and a love that is almost consuming, but those things are not enough, in and of themselves, to make me feel whole. I have come to make peace with this reality–leaning into the truth that I must nurture the other aspects of myself in order to be the best mother for my children that I can manage. I am their mother, but I can not be only that.
Ten years into my parenting journey things are often still hard. But they are not impossible. I have built the foundation of self-care and community-care that makes the hard days possible. If you are at the beginning of your own journey know that you will get here too. Every person’s road is different, every person’s foundation has a different shape and structure. But with time and care and compassion the impossible days become fewer.
If things feel impossible right now Pacific Post Partum Support Society is here to help.
Call us at 604-255-7999 in the Lower Mainland or toll free 855-255-7999
We offer telephone support, group support, workshops, and webinars for anyone who is pregnant or has welcomed a new baby into their lives.