It takes a village to raise a baby, but mine was quarantined

Going through PPD has been tremendously challenging. As has been raising a newborn. Doing it without my village makes those challenges feel overwhelmingly impossible.

It takes a village to raise a baby, but mine was quarantined

(Editors note: this essay contains language of self-harm)

During my 36-week appointment with my OB, he asked "Do you have a birth plan?"

"Yes, the plan is to be okay when the plan falls apart," I responded half-jokingly and half-serious. He had already told me several times before that nothing would prepare me for what would or could happen in the delivery room.

I wish that instead, he had asked me "What is your after-birth plan?"

Everyone talks about their birth plans, which—let's be real—rarely go as expected. For me, my after-birth plan was a cheesy lifetime movie. A Pinterest image of mommy and daughter on cloud nine smiling into one another's faces.

It was anything but.

After 20 hours of labor, my baby became tachycardic, meaning her heart rate was higher than normal, and I was rushed into an emergency C-section. Out was the plan where we welcomed our daughter into a room full of "chill vibes" with our carefully selected playlist of songs playing lightly in the background.

In was plan B. My husband put on a brave face and sat by my side holding the hand to my pinned down arm in the operating room.

Moments later I heard my daughter's first cry. I finally saw this tiny human being I had loved so deeply over the past nine months take her first breath outside of me. I felt the caress of her wrinkled skin against mine. I smelled her lips as she cried against my face.

And I felt nothing.

Guilt wrecked me for days over not bonding with my daughter immediately. Stress ensued because she had jaundice and trouble latching to feed. Then panic set in as I fought through several postpartum health issues.

It was a total of 11 days before I left the hospital for good.

Is this what it feels like to be hit by a truck? I couldn't recognize myself in the mirror.

I found myself lying awake at night crying at the certainty of my death. I'd stare at my newborn and sob at the thought of me unintentionally harming her. Intrusive thoughts would haunt me at all hours of the day and I lacked clarity and stability.

I never thought of actually hurting my daughter, nor myself, but I was so afraid of the violent thoughts I had. Marathons would run through my mind of ways she could die if I wasn't careful enough or ways that I would die in my sleep. Death was the only topic I could think of and it weighed on me every second of every minute of every day.

I longed for the moments when my husband was asleep or when I would escape to the shower so I could let myself lose control and cry.

I falsified the answers on my Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale on two separate occasions.

I'm just having a hard time coping. I'm okay. Things will go back to normal. I would tell myself this repeatedly, trying to convince myself that in time it would simply go away.

I would sit in my living room in a daze. My brain was in a fog and I oftentimes found myself feeling like I was sitting in a dream. Anxiety plagued me at moments I would be doing mundane things.

I'm the girl who hiked up volcanoes, went sky diving and jumped off cliffs into deep bodies of water for fun. Yet here I was afraid to do anything.

When will this end? Hopeless. Trapped. I could barely breathe. I was falling down a gaping hole of nothingness and I couldn't see a landing.

Acknowledging my fear and depression was step one. Asking my husband for help was step two. After having an episode in front of him we talked about a plan to get me the help I needed. I started to see a therapist and confessed to my OB what was really happening.

Then COVID-19 hit home.

I live in the state of New Jersey, a hot spot for the novel coronavirus and things got scary, fast.

Suddenly my therapist was asking me to set up Telehealth appointments because she would no longer see patients in person. My OB followed suit.

When my daughter needed her two-month vaccines, I was vetted by the office staff while scheduling the appointment over the phone. I was already terrified to take her out of the house because of my anxiety, but this set in a whole new level of fear.

As I laid my daughter down to be examined, I panicked. What if someone sick was in here before her?

The nurse injected each of her chubby thighs with two separate vaccines and she screamed, but I couldn't kiss her nor could she see me smiling at her in reassurance. My face was covered with a mask.

I've heard it takes a village to raise a baby. My village was quarantined and I desperately need human contact to get me through the days. Going through PPD has been tremendously challenging. As has been raising a newborn. Doing it without my village makes those challenges feel overwhelmingly impossible.

But I am forever an optimist. And although I am not "okay" I know I have the support of my village from a distance because I have started to open up about my struggle. Instead of long hugs and reassuring touches, I have Facetime and good old-fashioned phone calls. I have the love of my superhero husband who has had to compensate for the lack of family help we have and the bond that is continuously growing with my daughter each day.

Some days are brighter than others. And for now, I will live in those moments. Snuggling into my baby's milky neck, kissing the top of her head and her tiny toes and breathing her in when we embrace. Not taking her human touch for granted. I look at my 2-month-old baby and see pure love. A kind my soul rejoices in.

Right now, that is my motivation to fight on the days the dark envelops the light.

As much as I love fall, it always feels like the season when my family's routine gets kicked into overdrive. With our oldest in (homeschool) kindergarten, my youngest on the brink of entering her twos, work, housework and *all the things* filling my day, it's hard not to feel a little overwhelmed sometimes. Did I mention we're still in a pandemic? (Yeah, it's a lot.) And while I try to take a positive view as much as I can, now more than ever I definitely jump at the chance to take anything off my busy plate.

One thing first in line at the chopping block? Cooking. To be fair, I like cooking. I cooked most of our meals long before I had ever even heard of social distancing. But there's something about the pandemic that suddenly made cooking every single meal feel exponentially more draining.

Enter Daily Harvest. They deliver nourishing, delicious food right to your door. Daily Harvest's mix of smoothies, bowls, flatbreads, snacks and more provide a balanced, whole food options that are as satisfying as they are nutritious. But my favorite part? When we're ready to eat, I simply pull the food from the freezer and it's ready in minutes—without any chopping, measuring or searching for a recipe. Even better, they're incredibly tasty, meaning I'm not struggling to get my girls to dig in. Not cooking has never felt so good.

Here are my 8 favorite products that are helping to lighten my load right now:

Mulberry + Dragonfruit Oat Bowl

Mulberry + Dragonfruit Oat Bowl

One thing that actually helps break up the monotony of quarantine? Trying and introducing new ingredients to my family. I love this overnight oat bowl (add milk the night before and let it set in your fridge overnight—easy-peasy!) because not only does it not compromise on nutrition, but it also helps me bring new whole fruits, vegetables and superfoods to the table with ease.

Mint + Cacao Smoothie

Mint + Cacao Smoothie

I kid you not, these taste exactly like a mint chocolate chip milkshake. (Just ask my 4-year-old, who is constantly stealing sips from my glass.) What she doesn't know? She's actually getting organic banana, spinach and chlorella with every sip. #momwin

Kabocha + Sage Flatbread

Kabocha + Sage Flatbread

Our family's eating habits have been leaning more plant-forward this year, which often means a lot of veggie washing, peeling and chopping every time I cook. That's why these flatbreads are my new best friend come lunchtime. This Kabocha + Sage Flatbread is made with a gluten-free cauliflower crust topped with kabocha squash, fennel and sage for a taste of fall in every bite. (Missing the cheese? You can add it before baking for more of a pizza feel.)

Kale + Sweet Potato Flatbread

Kale + Sweet Potato Flatbread

There's something about the combination of sweet potato crust topped with red cabbage, organic greens and an herby-cilantro sauce that is so delicious… like surprisingly delicious. I polished off this bad boy in seconds! And unlike other "veggie" crusts I've tried, these are actually clean (AKA no fillers, preservations, partially-hydrogenated oil or artificial anything). Plus, it couldn't be easier to throw in the oven between conference calls and homeschool lessons.

Cacao + Avocado Smoothie

Cacao + Avocado Smoothie

Any time I get to serve a breakfast that tastes like chocolate, it's a good day. (That goes double when it's *my* breakfast.) This rich, chocolatey smoothie is packed with organic zucchini, avocado, pumpkin seeds and pea protein for a nourishing mix of healthy fats and muscle-building protein so I can carry that baby all day long. And did I mention the chocolate?

Vanilla Bean + Apple Chia Bowl

Vanilla Bean + Apple Chia Bowl

Maybe it's just me, but after a long week of cooking, the last thing I want to do on Saturday morning is...wake up and cook. That's why these one-step breakfasts are saving my weekend. I simply add our favorite milk the night before and store the bowl in the fridge overnight. Come morning, I have a nutritious chia bowl that powers me through even the busiest day of errands. It's also Instagram-ready, which makes me feel like I'm out brunching (even if I can't remember the last time I was in a restaurant).

Cacao Nib + Vanilla Bites

Cacao Nib + Vanilla Bites

My kids have turned into snack monsters during quarantine, and I'm often struggling to find a wholesome option (that doesn't require a lot of extra cooking or else I resort to something ultra-refined and shelf-stable). These bites are the hero I never knew I needed. For one, they taste like cookie dough, but they're actually packed with chickpeas, pumpkin, dates and flax seed (among other whole ingredients). But unlike actual cookie dough, I don't have to go anywhere near my mixer to whip them up—all I have to do is pull the container out of the freezer, let them defrost a bit and we can all enjoy a treat.

Cauliflower Rice + Pesto Harvest Bowl

Cauliflower Rice + Pesto Harvest Bowl

Sometimes I have a little more time to cook, but I still want a quick, stress-free solution. (Especially because it always feels like I just cleaned up from the last meal.) I love these Harvest Bowls because they warm up in under five minutes on the stove top (or microwave!) but pack tons of flavor. The Cauliflower Rice + Pesto bowl is one of my favorites, with basil, olive oil and nutritional yeast for a hearty dish reminiscent of a mouth-watering Italian meal. When I'm feeling extra fancy, I add leftover grilled chicken or a fried egg.

Strawberry + Rich, Rippled Berry Compote Scoops

Strawberry + Rich, Rippled Berry Compote Scoops

Who doesn't want to end the day with a little something sweet? This creamy and decadent frozen treat from Daily Harvest is swirled with sweet berries and tropical dragonfruit for an antioxidant burst you'll feel good about—but that your kiddos will just think is ice cream. Go ahead, take credit for being the best mom ever.

Want to try it yourself? You can get $25 off your first box of Daily Harvest with code MOTHERLY.

This article was sponsored by Daily Harvest. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas

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I never wanted to be a mom. It wasn't something I ever thought would happen until I fell madly in love with my husband—who knew very well he wanted children. While he was a natural at entertaining our nephews or our friends' kids, I would awkwardly try to interact with them, not really knowing what to say or do.

Our first pregnancy was a surprise, a much-wanted one but also a unicorn, "first try" kind of pregnancy. As my belly grew bigger, so did my insecurities. How do you even mom when you never saw motherhood in your future? I focused all my uncertainties on coming up with a plan for the delivery of my baby—which proved to be a terrible idea when my dreamed-of unmedicated vaginal birth turned into an emergency C-section. I couldn't even start motherhood the way I wanted, I thought. And that feeling happened again when I couldn't breastfeed and instead had to pump and bottle-feed. And once more, when all the stress from things not going my way turned into debilitating postpartum anxiety that left me not really enjoying my brand new baby.

As my baby grew, slowly so did my confidence that I could do this. When he would tumble to the ground while learning how to walk and only my hugs could calm him, I felt invincible. But on the nights he wouldn't sleep—whether because he was going through a regression, a leap, a teeth eruption or just a full moon—I would break down in tears to my husband telling him that he was a better parent than me.

Then I found out I was pregnant again, and that this time it was twins. I panicked. I really cannot do two babies at the same time. I kept repeating that to myself (and to my poor husband) at every single appointment we had because I was just terrified. He, of course, thought I could absolutely do it, and he got me through a very hard pregnancy.

When the twins were born at full term and just as big as singleton babies, I still felt inadequate, despite the monumental effort I had made to grow these healthy babies and go through a repeat C-section to make sure they were both okay. I still felt my skin crawl when they cried and thought, What if I can't calm them down? I still turned to my husband for diaper changes because I wasn't a good enough mom for twins.

My husband reminded me (and still does) that I am exactly what my babies need. That I am enough. A phrase that has now become my mantra, both in motherhood and beyond, because as my husband likes to say, I'm the queen of selling myself short on everything.

So when my babies start crying, I tell myself that I am enough to calm them down.

When my toddler has a tantrum, I remind myself that I am enough to get through to him.

When I go out with the three kids by myself and start sweating about everything that could go wrong (poop explosions times three), I remind myself that I am enough to handle it all, even with a little humor.

And then one day I found this bracelet. Initially, I thought how cheesy it'd be to wear a reminder like this on my wrist, but I bought it anyway because something about it was calling my name. I'm so glad I did because since day one I haven't stopped wearing it.

Every time I look down, there it is, shining back at me. I am enough.

I Am Enough bracelet 

SONTAKEY  I Am Enough Bracelet

May this Oath Bracelet be your reminder that you are perfect just the way you are. That you are enough for your children, you are enough for your friends & family, you are enough for everything that you do. You are enough, mama <3


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