Sunday, November 10, 2013

How I Realized that I'm Perfect

I am the perfect mum.  No, really, it’s true.

Over the past 10 months, I have spent a lot of time lamenting the fact that I’m not perfectly perfect, and attempting to quantify my exact perfection percentage.  On days when E naps well and I bake cookies and take her to the park and change her nasty poopy cloth diapers without even saying “ew,” I get 90%; 10% docked for not breastfeeding, of course.  On days when neither of us has slept well and we’re both cranky and I forget to bring E’s bottle with us to the park and she cries and gives me a cleavage hicky all the way home - 5%; only more than 0 because I’m not physically abusive, of course.

Is it??[The blog where I got this is just one of many glimpses of perfection, as I see it.]

And, I’m not alone.  There appear to be a lot of blog posts about the “futile” effort most of us mums make to be perfect.  I’ve written about this numerous times, on some occasions blaming other mums, sometimes blaming “society” for putting all this pressure on us new mums.  And sometimes blaming my own guilt.

But, I had a profound moment while contemplating this last week.  I was looking at my amazing daughter as she crawled around our livingroom drooling soggy apple pieces that I thought she’d swallowed during lunch (where are these hidden pockets where she keeps food for hours??) and I realized - Holy Shit, I AM the perfect mum!

We all are.  

(You know, barring any abuse, neglect, etc, but knowing most of my readers, I’m sure I don’t have to specify that.)

But, really, I think this is the thing we all need to realize -- not that “perfection is unattainable” or that “we should resign ourselves to our own mediocrity."  No, what we need to start telling ourselves is that we already are perfect.  We already are achieving the highest level of our abilities.  We already are the way we need to be.  Now, we just need to sit back and enjoy it, bask in our, and our babies’, perfection...because it is fucking amazing!!!

The problem with the old “perfection is unattainable” adage that’s supposed to make us feel better is that, well, it doesn’t make us feel better.  It acknowledges that there is some ideal out there that we will never measure up to.  How fucking depressing is that?  I haven’t heard anything so depressing since I was a child who, because of a crush on a boy (hah), joined a Baptist youth group where they told me we all were born sinners and had to spend our whole lives trying and trying and trying to be like Jesus -- even though we all knew we never could.  I didn’t believe that, right off the bat.  And I was just a kid!  So, why then, do I accept this similar argument about motherhood (“here is maternal perfection, but you’ll never achieve it, so suck it up accept your mediocrity”) without even questioning it?  I mean, what if mediocrity is perfection?  Has anyone asked that question?

When we believe that there is a formula out there for the “perfect mother,” then whether we like it or not, our own mothering gets contrasted against that perfection (the Jesus character of mothers, if you will).  Therefore, everything we do as a mum ends up falling short, being painted in the negative.  Like, 

“I use cloth diapers most of the time, but we use sposies at night.  Don’t tell anyone.”  Or, 

“I tried to breastfeed, but had to supplement with formula.  So not perfect.”  Or, 

“I wanted to hold and cuddle my baby all the time, but my back gave out and now I frequently use the stroller.”  Or 

“I wanted to love every minute of motherhood, but sometimes, like when my toddler has just eaten an ant and spat it back out and eaten it again and then spat it in my hand, or when my baby decided to spray-shit all over the bathtub, or when my 10 month old is up from 3-6am for no reason except an apparent hatred for me, I swear under my breath and wish I were a kidless 30-something gallivanting around the world and living in a cheap roach-infested flat because it ‘has great light’ and I can paint nude portraits of hot young college students there while sipping endless bottles of wine and smoking cigarillos.”

But, you know what?  We need to shed this whole comparison to perfection thing.  Because it’s doing us no favors, as I’ve pointed out.  We need to reclaim motherhood, real motherhood as perfection.  We don’t need to make excuses for not breastfeeding or for using disposable diapers or for sometimes letting our child cry.  Or even for sometimes wishing we weren’t parents or that we had more freedom and less responsibility.

Not only are all of these things mothers do, they are things perfect mothers do. We don’t need to apologize for them.  Why should we apologize for perfection?

So, mommies, go forth and own it.  OWN your perfection.  Stop saying “I was gonna, but...” or “I wish I could..., but...”  Say, “I did this, and it was perfect.”  There’s no need to compare yourself to anyone else or, worse, to any mythical ideal.  Perfection needs neither comparison nor excuse.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Postpartum Depression Series: Part 2 Getting Better

As a follow-up to my post on postpartum depression last month (ugh does it really take me this long to write a blog post! :) ), I promised to write more about my own recovery, and the supports that I found so helpful.  Though I again have the words “Postpartum Depression” in the title, it should be noted that all mums (notice, I didn’t say just new mums) need support of some kind, regardless of their mood.  Therefore, I’m going to talk about all levels of support I received, and also supports I know about that I didn’t myself experience.

It’s kind of like a video-game.  You complete all the tasks in the level, and if the mum still is feeling down, then you “level up!”  Eventually, you get to save the princess.  :)

Level One: (defeat the Goombas)
There are a few things every new mum needs.  This is my short-list of things I received that I probably could not have done without:
  • a hug
  • some space
  • a bath
  • a hot meal
  • to be able to drink my tea hot at least once a week
  • fresh flowers on my table
  • snacks, everywhere
  • honest support (but not advice!) from other mums who have “been there.”
  • ...and maybe someone to clean the bathroom every once in awhile. :)

Level Two: (defeat the koopa paratroopers)
After all of the congratulations, wonderful kindness, and hugs that were showered on me, I still felt very stretched thin and still pretty sad.  (This might have something to do with the fact that I was attached to a breast-pump 8-12 times a day...That would stretch anyone thin!)  At this point, hot meals and a bit of space alone weren’t cutting it for me.  I needed more.  These are some things that helped me at that stage in the game:
  • I continued to lean on my great friends for support.  Sometimes, being able to email them whatever and whenever I wanted was even more of a help than talking face to face. 
  • Getting out -- I got out a bit on my own, but it was always nice to have another mommy friend to come out with me, or a non-kidded-up friend to come and actually help me out! :)  It was always easier to get out the door on time if I had more hands to ready us.  Sometimes even going for a walk with my husband and the baby at the end of the day was enough to lift my mood.
  • Meditation -- I didn’t do this nearly as much as I should have, and even still I only set aside time for it like once a month, which is not enough.  Sometimes people need help meditating (like me!!).  Since we had used Hypnobabies for our birthing, I downloaded the Hypnobabies “Relax and Feel Confident” script (and a few others I think?  I can’t remember :) ) and started listening to it.  While this is called “hypnosis” and not “meditation,” I found it to be pretty much the same thing.  There are also a bunch of free guided meditation podcasts on iTunes that are great for this!  (As well as some free 10-15 minute yoga sessions, which are great for some nap time namaste!!)

Level Three: (the princess is still in captivity! Kill another boring False Bowser)
Well, at this point, I was getting out, I was having friends over.  Hell, I even took my 6 week old swimming.  I was sleeping relatively well, eating well, and doing all of the things they tell you to do to combat PPD: take baths, get a massage, have a break, snuggle your squish.  But I felt lifeless as I did these things.  I needed more still.

My first step was to tell a friend.  Somehow, that alone lightened the load.  I mean, I was talking with friends before then, but I never actually mentioned the depression or anxiety by name.  Once I did that, it made it feel more real.  However, rather than that real-ness feeling even more overwhelming, it suddenly felt manageable.  I could see it and touch it and hear it and talk about it, which also meant I could finally do something about it.

So, my second step was to tell my doctor.  It was a regular check up for the little squishy-pants, and at the end I just sort of mentioned, “I’m not really dealing so well with this feeding thing.”  And my doctor, bless her heart (yes, I actually did just use that phrase), stepped back into the room with me, closed the door behind her, and sat down again as though she had all the time in the world.  She asked me to tell her more and I just started crying.  She calmly told me that she would refer me to Reproductive Mental Health, and she told me “everything will be fine” -- not in a hollow, hush-yourself kind of way, but in a way that made me feel she really knew and believed that.  And it made me believe it too.

When I got the call, two weeks later, from Reproductive Mental Health, they told me that there was an almost 2-month waiting list.  My heart sank -- could I wait that long!?  But, at the same time, the fact that there was such a wait meant there was a big need...which also meant that I wasn’t alone.  And oddly enough, that made me feel a little bit better.  Hundreds of women all over Vancouver were sobbing into their cold tea behind their baby’s backs!  What a comforting thought!  Hah.

Since I had to wait so long, the next step I took was to google support groups.  As I said above, I was getting out and doing things with the little bunny at this point, but that sometimes actually made things worse.  There’s nothing like going to a playgroup or baby-yoga class when you feel like absolute shiznit inside, and then seeing some other mums with same-aged babies bringing in their home-baked goods or showing off the new striped sweater they just knitted their 8 week old.  I was like “Who the fuck are these super-moms!?!?”  Then I’d leave feeling even worse.  I desperately wanted to surround myself with other moms like myself.  (Mediocre, normal, non-supermums who also had bags under their eyes and couldn't remember how long it had been since they'd last showered. haha)  Moms who could understand my struggle because they were there too.  (sidenote: a lot of the women in my PPD support group also had hand-made some of their kids' clothes and were way into baking or tending their flower plot or whatever awesomeness they did.  We're all actually super-moms...even if we are mediocre. hehe)  In my previous entry, I mentioned that I called Pacific Postpartum Support Services at this point.  I spoke to Hollie Hall, who I cannot say enough fantastic things about.  She spent about 45 minutes on the phone with me, just patiently listening and understanding.  She placed me in a group and I think I started that following week.  Apart from confiding in friends, calling PPPSS was probably the single best thing I did to combat my depression.  Pacific Postpartum has a variety of services, including phone support, support groups, and I believe they also do some occasional seminars.  If you’re feeling blue after a baby, these are definitely the people to talk to!

After a month, I finally got in at Reproductive Mental Health as well.  There, I saw a psychiatrist 3 times.  I was learning so much from the other mums in my support group that I was doing much better by the time I saw the psych.  However, Repro. Mental Health also has some great services worth mentioning.  In addition to their psychiatrists, they have counsellors who do talk therapy, and, more importantly, they put on a bazillion groups all the time.  Things from anger management all the way to meditation and mindfulness are covered.  Unfortunately, I was so busy by that time that I didn’t end up making it to any of the groups, but I have heard fantastic things about them!  The other thing that Repro. Mental Health provides are some free resources for self-study.  I would link to them, but they're redoing the site, so the resources are temporarily down!!

Level Four: (Kill that damned Bowser once and for all and take the princess home!!  Nevermind, she saves herself!)
I didn’t reach level 4 (of my arbitrary level system. hah) in my journey.  I got to save the princess after level 3.  But some don’t, and they still need more help and that’s okay.  Before going through this whole experience, I felt that there was no need for psychiatric medication ever.  I was very against it.  And, still, probably 80% of the time I am, as I feel that psych meds are vastly overprescribed these days.  However, now that I have been at my lowest, I can see that sometimes there is a need for medication.  If I had not been able to pull myself out of the dark with therapy and friends alone, I would have taken medication.  No one should stay feeling like that forever when they don’t have to.  Many of the women in my support group were taking or had taken anxiety or depression medication, and they said it made a world of difference for them.  As my doctor had told me when we discussed medication, it’s great to have strategies, but sometimes you need help to even get to the point where you can use your strategies.  For some people, this is definitely true.

So, there you have it.  My "road to recovery" as it's called.  I tried to include as much general info as possible, but feel free to add on in the comments!

There is one thing I can’t stress the importance of enough.  That is friendships and social connections.  Someone probably could battle baby blues or postpartum depression in a vacuum, but -- well, no, actually I’m just going to go out there and say that you can’t.  You can’t combat depression in a social vacuum.  It feeds off of your alone-ness and grows.  And it’s like an abusive boyfriend, depression wants you to be alone, so it makes it harder for you to go out and be social.  Fight it! :)  And, for those of you who aren’t new mums but know some, go visit, bring flowers for her table and snacks to put everywhere.  Take the baby while she drinks a hot tea.  Tell her about the newest meditation podcast you found on iTunes.  Give her a hug.  (then leave and let her sleep.  haha)

A small (and super important!) piece of my support network :)