Guest writer: Christine Lyalko
You can’t tell, but the woman on the left was suffering and in a dark place when this photo was taken.
I thought having a miscarriage was the most devastating time in my life. I wasn’t expecting the overwhelming and all consuming grief I felt over something that wasn’t even an actual baby yet. I was only 7 weeks along when I lost it (although I have to point out to myself that the “only” in that sentence is an unfair word I use to describe my pain, because I thought my pain was not as great as those who lose babies when they’re farther along – but it’s awful no matter what).
But then I experienced PPD, or some version of it, after having my son.
I read up on PPD, my OB told me about it, I heard about it from a friend who experienced it. I was armed, prepared, ready to call it out if it happened. But honestly, I didn’t experience even an ounce of it with my daughter, so no way was I going to have it with this baby I wished for so badly. And I wanted him SO BADLY. I even “prayed” for a baby in my mind to a God I don’t particularly believe in *just in case*. When I got pregnant again, I was ecstatic. I loved him immediately. And when I gave birth I was in heaven, head over heels, could not be happier.
But 6 weeks later something changed, tilted, knocked me on my ass. He wasn’t sleeping. He cried a lot. I still had hormones and chemicals running their course through my body. But mostly, HE WASN’T SLEEPING. I was a level of exhausted I didn’t know was possible. Having two kids was nothing I had prepared for. I was suddenly choosing between nursing my infant or making dinner for my 3 year old daughter. Bouncing him around like mad to stop the crying, or doing her bedtime routine. Waking him up from a nap or being late to pick her up from daycare. The choosing killed me. I felt awful every minute that I had both of them with me. And when my daughter was at daycare, I was spending most of the day crying. The second he would fall asleep, I’d tiptoe downstairs and eat finally or shower finally and then go to lay down and POOF. He would wake up crying every damn time. So I’d skip eating or showering, and just lay down immediately, but somehow those were the times he’d wake up instantly and cry too. I put my head down, he’d cry. I’d give up and stay awake to do chores, he’d sleep. My head touched a pillow, the monitor lit up like a Christmas tree. It felt evil, like the universe was somehow punishing me. It felt like absolute torture.
So most of the time, I’d cry. I’d cry with him, along side him, tears would sometimes spill onto his head and that would make me cry harder. Writing about it now makes me cry. And for some context, I rarely cry, so this was unnerving. But I thought I was just exhausted, just totally sleep deprived, perfectly normal. Until one day when, after a night of barely any sleep for us both, he finally was passed out around 5:30 am. My husband got up to get ready for work and I was trying to stay in bed thinking I could get a half hour of sleep in, which sounded like bliss. It was then that my daughter opened the door to our room, slammed it shut (not on purpose), woke the baby and I started screaming at the top of my lungs into a pillow. My husband looked at me with a worry I hadn’t seen before.
Then the awful thoughts started coming. I’m going to be raw and honest here which quite frankly is terrifying but I think it’s important because I believe I am not alone…. I started thinking it was all a giant mistake. How had I ever thought another baby was a good idea? Why did I do this to us, we were so happy before? Did I even love him? Did he even love me? Maybe they would be better off without me? I could suddenly understand how a mother could run away from her family. I even daydreamed about it sometimes, what life would be like if I took off. I didn’t want to be there. I desperately pleaded for time to go faster so I could go back to work and bring him to daycare so I didn’t have to be with him all day. And with all these thoughts came the loudest one of all: I am the worst mother in the world, an absolute failure and do not deserve these kids. I know now that it was the PPD taking over, but I have never felt such utter disgust in myself in my entire life.
For weeks I alternated between guilty, disgusted, hopeless, desperate, sad, angry, confused, lonely, anxious – sometimes a combination of some or all of these. There were happy moments too of course, but the heaviness of those other feelings drew me so far down into a place I didn’t think was possible. I didn’t want to talk to anyone, didn’t call anyone, barely answered texts. And I definitely didn’t want to hang out with anyone – even if I did at times, I didn’t want to and would be counting down the minutes until they would leave. And for the most part, my husband didn’t know any of this. He’s a wonderful hands-on husband and father, so it was through no fault of his own. I was really good at hiding it, really good at keeping it inside.
This was PPD (or like I said before, some version of it). I knew it, although I constantly told myself I was just exhausted, if I could sleep, it would get better, I would be better. It was the lack of sleep for sure. I almost convinced myself that’s all that it was. But that was only a piece of it and I knew it deep down and for some reason I couldn’t say it out loud. And this went on for another 4 months, which felt like 4 years.
Three key things happened during this time that were small moments with profound affects for me and which I truly believe eventually pulled me out of this state. If it weren’t for these 3 things I truly think I would have suffered longer.
First, at around 8-9 weeks postpartum, a girlfriend reached out to me to ask me to join her at the gym, a spin class she had been going to. Having two kids of her own, she is a big believer in “me” time and innocently asked me to go with her, wanting to get me out of the house, but not realizing what I was going through on the inside. I was extremely hesitant BUT the idea of getting away for a guilt-free activity like working out suddenly seemed like bliss. I have ALWAYS disliked working out, but at the time I disliked being home more. So I went, even with my “lady area” newly healed. And I LOVED it. The darkness, the music so loud you could no longer hear your own thoughts, the heart pounding movements, the adrenaline, a dark and loud place where I could ugly-cry and no one could hear or see me. It was exactly what I needed. So I started going to this class every now and then when I could get a sitter, then once a week, then twice a week. I’d go and I’d cry and I’d sweat and I’d come out a tiny bit lighter. I’d never understood the appeal of working out before but suddenly it was my saving grace and I was hooked. I’ve been going now for well over a year and a half, mixing in other types of workouts too. I’ve never felt healthier or stronger, mentally and physically, and I absolutely love it.
The second thing that happened was, a week or so after that first friend reached out, I was texting with some girlfriends one day, thinking I was just doing some normal venting but in my clouded mind didn’t see that my words were concerning. I wasn’t trying to let on that anything was really wrong – in fact I was actively avoiding it. But whatever I said, two of my girlfriends decided they were going to confront me and tell me they thought something bigger was going on. It was like a dam broke and whether they knew it or not I cried harder then ever before when they started telling me their concerns. But it was what I needed…I suddenly felt like my dirty secret was exposed but in a good way, as if them figuring it out on their own gave me the freedom to open up a bit. I still insisted it was sleep deprivation but a little crack in wall I’d built opened up, providing a relief I didn’t know I could feel.
The third thing to happen was at 13 weeks I went back to work. I hated that I was excited, but I was and that’s the truth. And it was a HUGE factor in getting back to my normal self. Just being in a normal routine, showering every day, using my brain, talking to adults, having all that distraction changed things drastically for me. My son still wasn’t sleeping great but being at work somehow pushed me to muster up the energy I needed to get me through the day. It was as if my body went from trying to fake the energy to actually having the energy. He didn’t start sleeping better until he was 5.5 months old, but by then I was feeling much better. In fact, the minute he started sleeping better it was as if that last little layer of heaviness lifted and I felt like a completely different person….although not really different, just the person I was before I gave birth.
Finally, I was working again, talking to my friends, going to the gym. And I was in love with my son. I swear I don’t cry a lot but I could cry once again thinking about it. Being so clouded and unable to focus on that love was the saddest time of my life. But all of a sudden, I was happy again and so obsessed with him that I’d put him down for bed and wish for the morning immediately so I could go get him. I’d spend a good half hour, if not more, just looking through his photos and videos the second I was away from him. It was just like when I had my daughter. It was the best feeling in the world.
So this story of mine is a little bit of advocacy for working out, because it absolutely saved me (as did going back to work and just getting time away from the house). But mostly this is a plea to reach out to anyone you think is going through a tough time after giving birth. I cannot even beg those going through PPD to ask for help because even if you recognize it, can name it, are totally aware of it, it’s debilitating. For me, I felt that it was a burden I needed to bare for some reason and frankly I didn’t know how to truly talk about it. And because I felt all those awful feelings listed above, namely the guilt and embarrassment, I stayed silent. So, for those that know someone who just had a baby, try to pay close attention. Reach out, get them out of the house, suggest a spin class, barre, yoga whatever. To my two girlfriends who paid attention and confronted me and to my friend that asked me to go to a spin class with her to get me out of the house: THANK YOU. I am forever grateful to them, to my body for allowing me to get out of that misery, to the exercise that brought me to such a healthy place, and to my babies.
Fast forward a year and a half. The woman on the right is happy and healthy, both mentally and physically. And absolutely beyond imagination in love with both of her kids.
Today was one of those days where my mind was everywhere. I have some significant transitions happening at work and I’m trying to coordinate all of the chaos. Not only is my mind everywhere, I physically am everywhere. This morning started out with an appointment for me then I zipped off to drop Cam at school and then ran downstairs to go to work. I had meeting after meeting and was running around while I was eating lunch or snacks on the go. Then, I grabbed Camryn from school and threw her (gently, obviously) in the car to then get Harper from school. Once I had the other clown, I dashed her off to basketball practice to then rush home for dinner, baths and bedtime. I am a glorified fucking ping pong ball. Now, I understand that millions of mommies, daddies, caretakers do this every single day but holy shit, it is exhausting! Like truly exhausting. I hear it only gets worse and she isn’t even playing a sport. How the hell can this nightmare actually get any worse?!
I used to pride myself on being super early for everything. That, and being able to remember everything. Now, I have no idea what day of the week it is let alone which month we are in and I feel like I’m failing at everything. Forget my memory. I am lucky if I remember where I park my car each day at work and I park it in the same damn spot every single day. I dont know how many times I stare at my staff while they ask me a question and I say, “hang on, give me a minute. My brain is slowly leaking out of my head.” To which they typically respond, “we know you have a lot going on.” Totally agree, I do have a lot going on but when did this happen and how did I let it get like this?
Well, the answer is, it just kind of happens. I have two kids, I work full-time, I have two consulting side jobs that range up to 15-20 hours a week depending on the time of year and in the summer I teach swimming lessons 3x a week at my house for another 10 hours a week. I am not the greatest at math but I’m pretty sure that my equation above just equals I work a shit ton. That doesn’t include the driving and the cooking and the cleaning and being the maid and all the other duties I have. One day I woke up and poof, my amazing little organized world had turned into a spiraling shit storm of semi-controlled chaos. And the spiraling shit storm of semi-controlled chaos is on a good day. Most days it is the exact opposite, which drives my ocd and need for perfectionism to grow which then kicks up my anxiety.
My friend Jen and I made a pact that we were going out to dinner with one another once a month. I loved the idea! She had an even better idea that we would schedule the next months outing while we were sitting together so we could lock it in. Brilliant! Friend date night for April was amazing and we went ahead and scheduled the next one for May. May roles around and I get a text from Jen saying she is so excited to hang out. I did that thing where I looked down at my phone a few times and then checked my calendar to see who was right. Sure enough, she was right. Sure enough, it was in my calendar. Sure enough, I blatantly forgot.
I felt awful. After apologizing a million times, we decided we would skip it and pick it up again in June. Fast forward to our June date and the same damn thing happens! Can you believe it?! I am still angry with myself. Jen texts me to confirm our plans and I completely forgot. Not only did I forget, it was mysteriously not in my calendar. I have NEVER been like this. EVER.
I just feel like this is the evolution of motherhood. Take kids here, pick kids up, shovel some healthy(ish) meal down their throats, entertain their small bodies for some amount of time, commence bedtime routine that seems to take a billion hours only to hit repeat the next day. Repeat, but a different repeat depending on the day of the week. Calendar or not, it is almost impossible. So, it is no wonder why I forget everything now.
I have no magical cure how to wrap your head around being organized again and not being so frazzled because if I did; shit, I would have done it and then sold my secrets and become a millionaire. I just take some days minute by minute because that is all I can do. Some days I am okay with taking that approach and other days I get super irritated that this is just how it is now.
Hey Jen, let’s shoot for a June date or maybe July since the month is almost over….
Anxiety strikes out of nowhere. You can be perfectly fine one minute and then the next minute be huddled up in a ball on your couch wishing this didn’t happen to you.
My friend once said that having anxiety about anxiety is the worst part and at first I thought, no fucking way you crazy lady! I thought back to my most recent anxiety attack which I didn’t have to think back too far since it is currently happening as I write this. I thought about the fear and panic. I thought about how crippling and debilitating they are. These feelings are the worst part, right? Or so I thought.
Since I have time to think because I want to get my mind off of my stupidly high heart rate right now, let’s dig deeper into this thought. When you are in the throws of an anxiety attack and you don’t think it can get worse, it does. The constant worry about having an attack could actually, in fact, be worse. When your daily thoughts from the moment you wake up are, “you will be fine today and you will take the day as slow or as fast as you need to” is the worst. To keep having to remind yourself that you are okay is frustrating and annoying. The questions of, where will you be when your anxiety attack happens, who will you be able to call to talk to, where will your kids be, how long will it last; those are the worst. It is the constant fear and panic from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed. Or it is that lovely point in time where you were sleeping and boom, not anymore because your friend anxiety wants to keep you up for the next four hours to play the giant mind fuck of emotions game. Cool. Game on.
To be quite honest, I am never really calm or never really enjoying any moment even when I am with my two favorite people in the world. Some anxious thought will distract me as H is reading a book and then I am forced to pretend to listen while trying to calm down and trying to hide it from her. When I am at events with people I care about and love deeply; my body is there with everyone but my mind isn’t. I’m checking my pulse to see if it is racing or slow because I honestly can’t tell anymore. I am waiting for another anxiety symptom to creep in even though I do all that I can to try and avoid it. I try and sit and do deep breaths to just regulate everything while I watch everyone else around me enjoying themselves. Then I get angry or sad because I just want to be like that, happy for a few minutes without this anxiety.
So now that I have been sitting here going through all of my symptoms while trying to write this blog, as fucking shitty as this is right now: the pounding heart rate, the shaking, the obsessive pulse checking, I agree with my friend. Living your life waiting for the next panic attack is the absolute worst.
If there is a silver lining to an anxiety attack, which in my case there is only one, it makes me so tired afterwards. I may not get a lot of sleep but after my body has been working overtime for however many hours they last (in today’s case it was three), I am so wiped. Heading to bed to get a little bit of sleep because most likely I will be up shortly because this is how my nights tend to go. Work tomorrow should go swimmingly.