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Megan on recovering from postpartum depression and learning to put herself first

mom taking a selfie in a nursery - essay on recovering from postpartum depression

Content warning: Discussion of postpartum depression, birth trauma, domestic abuse or other tough topics ahead. If you or someone you know is struggling with a postpartum mental health challenge, including postpartum depression or anxiety, call 1-833-9-HELP4MOMS (tel:18009435746)—The National Maternal Mental Health Hotline This free, confidential service provides access to trained counselors and resources 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in English, Spanish, and more than 60 other languages. They can offer support and information related to before, during, and after pregnancy.

I saw a quote on Pinterest a while back that says “Motherhood has changed me in so many ways but I still sing ‘From the window to the wall’ like it’s my job when I’m driving alone. They can’t take that from me.” And I thought, that’s right, @mommydearestinc, they can’t!

Except…sometimes I might happen to have my littles in the back seat and have forgotten that the answer to Lizzo asking baby how you doing is good as hell. There might be (there is) some other choice words in there too. But I take comfort in knowing I’m not alone in this so I’ll try not to feel too much mom guilt about it.

Maybe I should be listening to something more kid friendly but there’s only so much Baby Shark, or in my case, The Clash, a mom can listen to. Most of the time my oldest will ask me to turn the radio off anyway because I don’t listen to the same music my husband does. And I used to because that’s what he wanted.

Related: Flooded with shame after mom rage? A therapist shares what can help

I used to do a lot of things, especially after Daniel was born, that Connor wanted. We watched what he wanted and we did what he wanted during my time away from Danny Boy. One more story mom, then one more? Sure thing son. I gave and gave and gave because I misinterpreted most of his wants as needs.

I did the same thing with my husband because it felt like our world was rocked after the trauma of Daniel’s birth, having a three-year old with a lot of needs and going from a family of three to four.

I was recovering from HELLP Syndrome, we were all on unsteady ground, and I thought that if I could keep the two of them happy we would stabilize. So I kept on giving, kept on trying to make them happy through giving them what I thought they wanted. My efforts to keep the peace were not without cost. I was freely giving away pieces of myself in the service of making others happy and I was left feeling angry, alone and empty.

Related: Mama, it’s time to prioritize your needs—even over your kids’

I wonder how many other mamas, or women, out there have done the same thing in order to make things better for their loved ones. How many of us have put ourselves last on the priority list, denied ourselves basic self-care because we think we have to put our children and partners first?

How many of us have become so lost in caretaking that we couldn’t answer someone if they asked us what our favorite song is, what we like to watch, or what do we do for fun? What we do for ourselves?

It wasn’t until I was deep into my recovery from postpartum depression that I realized I could not go on in the role of giver anymore. I could not go on as someone who wanted, no, needed, to feel better, yet continue to engage in such self-depleting behavior.

Related: 8 ways to put yourself first, mama

So I stopped. It wasn’t easy. I had to learn how to set and hold boundaries for my family and myself. I had to learn how to tolerate the anxious feelings that were brewing and wanted to break through my boundaries. And I needed to learn what would fill me up and make me whole again.

Yoga, journaling, crafting, breath work, reading, creating a daily spiritual practice and weekly therapy helped me become whole again. What was unexpected was discovering this may have been the first time in my 37 years that I was, in fact, whole.

The irony is not lost on me that in wanting to give my boys the strongest and healthiest mom, the mother they want, need and deserve, I learned that I couldn’t give them everything. I learned I needed to take care of myself and that there would be times I need to put myself first. I learned I needed to say no, could say no and that everything would still be OK. I learned how to balance being their mom and still feel good as hell.

Mama bears, I know some of you have walked a similar road or are walking it now. I send you love and give you permission to turn that radio up a little louder.