Author: Jenay Shannon
One of the best powers we have is the ability to dream. By dream, I mean to be receptive of inspiration and then to strive for a goal. Dreaming can give us purpose, feed our drive, show a part of who we are and what we believe in. It’s the ability to think up and strive for something better when the reality is less than ideal, and we’re thrown into ‘survival mode,’ just trying to keep our heads above water.
I’ve found that for me, the ability to dream in survival mode is especially important. It keeps me from falling into a rut, that vicious cycle that has me on life’s defense instead of offense. So many things can throw us into survival mode, anything from a life tragedy to long, dry times challenging our relationships, finances, health, etc., or falling into believing lies about ourselves and where our value comes from.
When the “Baby Blues” Entered My Postpartum Journey
I’ve definitely had both short stretches and years-long stretches of ‘survival mode,’ and one of the worst has definitely been during postpartum. We now have a beautiful baby girl, and I didn’t know how much love I could have for such a perfect little person. I also didn’t know how ugly postpartum blues are, and as they slowly clouded over, everything I thought I knew about myself seemed fake. I was confused, purposeless, depressed and anxious. I didn’t have a desire to thrive, I just wanted to survive, and as a result, I felt as though I’d let my husband and daughter down. I felt like a total lie compared to the hopeful, optimistic woman who’d first come home from the hospital.
“Failure.” That’s the word that I felt all over. I just couldn’t keep up. And what’s more, I felt like I couldn’t say anything about it because “so many people have it worse. I’m fine, or at least I should be.” I correctly attributed everything to the lack of sleep, crazy hormones and an especially fussy newborn who proved even more emotional and needy after getting a Pavlik harness to correct her hip dysplasia. Add ‘bad napper’ to that mix and I felt trapped in a cycle of survival. I thought I was prepared, people told me it was going to be tough but I’d be all right, and that I’d make it through.
“I am not ok.”
But when I was out driving on an errand one night, enjoying one of Michigan’s winter sunsets, I went from ‘fine’ to ‘destroyed’ in a matter of seconds. It’s hard to put into words that immense, dark feeling of hopelessness that was coming from…somewhere. As I fought sobs behind the wheel, I ran through my mind all the people I usually confide in and everyone seemed like someone I couldn’t trust with these problems, even my spouse. My mind came up with a believable argument as to why I couldn’t and shouldn’t open up, and I remember feeling completely lost and so, so alone. And that’s when this voice in my head spoke so loudly, ‘I am not ok. I am NOT ok.’ That realization was like a breath of fresh air. It gave me permission to ask for help.
Finally Asking for Help
Our daughter had her usual monthly check up a few days after that moment, and when the nurse practitioner was done with her she turned to me, saying, “We always check on mom at these appointments. How are you doing?” I was honest, I admitted everything I was going through and she advised a follow-up. I was feeling better that particular day and downplayed most of my feelings, so I didn’t take her up on that follow-up. But I had enough sense to open up to my husband, mother, and sister and all three of them emphatically encouraged me to at least call my OB. I did, and that’s when I got the advice, help, and support I needed to start managing the side effects of postpartum.
Don’t Do Your Postpartum Journey Alone: Ask For Help
Here’s the thing: I don’t have postpartum depression. I do struggle with baby blues. You know how those hormones go, baby blues or not- it’s as if one day you wake up and find out your body declared a mutiny. I correctly assumed I didn’t have depression and dismissed asking for help or talking about it because “so many women have it so much worse. I should be able to get through this. I only have one kid. I have it relatively easy. I shouldn’t be struggling. Everyone else seems to be fine except for me…” etc. etc. etc. So I got worse. When my OB took me seriously, I realized that just because we aren’t going through the worst possible trial there is doesn’t mean we aren’t legitimately struggling, and it certainly doesn’t mean we don’t ask for help. Because eventually we will burn ourselves out and crash, and we may hurt those we love most along the way. And if professional help is needed, of course, we shouldn’t hesitate to ask for that help.
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Keep Dreaming After Baby
So, back to those dreams and goals, the purpose and the drive and everything that makes survival mode so worth it, these things are worth fighting for. There are ways to feed your internal fire. In general, we are all human beings made up of a mind, a body, and a spirit. They are connected so we have to work with all three.
Here are some main points that have been especially helpful for me throughout my postpartum journey:
1- Take care of Your Body
This changes depending on what stage of life you are in and of course, any kind of exercise should be approved by your doctor first if you are pregnant or postpartum. Nutrition, hydration, sleep, and exercise are essential. What we nourish ourselves with affects our emotional health as well as our physical health. Keep up your prenatal vitamin. Ask your doctor about what supplements or vitamins you can take to help fight mood swings.
In addition to diet, exercise keeps those crazy moods on the level. Aside from helping us feel better about our body, it also fights anxiety and depression, increases the flow of blood to the brain, bringing more of the oxygen and nutrients it needs to work and affects the health of existing and new brain cells. There are a lot of studies suggesting the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory are larger in people who exercise.
For myself, I realized during my first trimester that if I stuck to my exercise routine, my all-day morning sickness took a back seat and I actually felt like a capable human being for most of the day. Again, during postpartum, exercise leveled the playing field and gave me much more clarity and peace of mind. Some of my favorite places for simple, effective and free workouts are YouTube and Instagram. There are so many certified women out there offering this stuff with moms and our schedules in mind!
2- Take Care of Your Mind
Just as much as we watch our physical diets, we have to watch our ‘mental diets.’ What do we feed ourselves on a daily basis? Are we encouraging self-confidence, motivation, hope, and perseverance? There’s nothing wrong with a little comforting time on Netflix, but one way to fight survival mode is giving your mind power material to work with.
Know what motivates you. Something that really cut through the gloom for me was changing what I listened to, and swapping tv time during feeding baby for reading a book or listening to a podcast instead. Music also impacts me powerfully. It’s a breath of fresh air and gets me back to creative thinking. A community is also so important! At first, I didn’t make much of an effort (hard to when you’re exhausted!) to get out of the house and see another adult face, but when I did it gave me more energy and desire to do it again. We’re social creatures, we need community!
3- Take Care of Your Soul
Your soul is where your fire is, and it’s worth protecting. Your drive, your passion, your interests, your inspiration and your ability to dream is found here. Even when I’m physically or mentally not up to a task, my soul is what says ‘this is worth it, this is important.’ You could think of it as where your beliefs are stored and has the final say over how you think and what you choose to let in and keep out.
As far inspiring dreams go, here’s one exercise that has really helped me: imagine that everyone in your life, every single person whose opinion mattered, would absolutely love whatever plans you came up with for yourself. Imagine there are absolutely no inhibitions through life circumstances, finances, time, abilities, etc. Then, write down what you would like to do, even if it seems impossible. Is there a class you want to go back and take? Is there a hobby or activity you’ve always wanted to learn? Is there a service or mission you feel drawn to take part in? Now, back in reality, how can these dreams translate to work with your situation? How can your family help and/or get involved? Dreams inspire the goal, both short and long term, and the beauty of it is that your journey towards that goal or even the goal itself has permission to change as you discover what’s best for you.
I can honestly say that life has gotten so much brighter. My circumstances fluctuate and those are not always bright, bad days happen! But my outlook and how I handle these things have changed. It’s a little easier for me to take a step outside of the whirlwind and look at why I might be feeling the way I’m feeling, pinpoint where it’s coming from and then start to fix the problem or know how to handle it until it’s blown over. And I know I’m not alone! None of us are. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t be afraid to dream all through motherhood!
What have been your biggest struggles postpartum?
Hey Mama! I’m Jenay, wife and new mama to a beautiful baby girl. In addition to blogging about this adventure of motherhood, I love to sing, read, bike, and go on spontaneous adventures with our family such as hiking and camping. I’m passionate about my family, fitness, and traveling (when possible!). I’m excited about this journey of parenting and I look forward to meeting more mothers out there who are on the same journey!