Even happy endings can come with challenges.
This is probably the hardest topic I've written about and shared publicly, even more difficult than sharing my infertility journey for the first time. My husband, Jared, and I spent four years trying unsuccessfully to start our family. We experienced the ups and downs of the emotional roller coaster of infertility and fertility treatments, the highs and the lows. Using up all of our savings, risking so much multiple times, experiencing the excitement of a positive test ---- twice ---- only to experience a loss two times over. Then finding out I had endometriosis all along and wishing doctors had just referred me for the diagnostic surgery so much earlier because this is what led to our last successful IVF attempt and the welcoming of our beautiful, smart, funny, and, most importantly, healthy baby girl, Harper Reese Journi, in August 2023 (which was followed by a worsening of my preeclampsia and a big health scare). While we are just so grateful to have her, I wish we wouldn't have had to ensure so much financial and emotional hardship along the way.
This was my happy ending. But life is complicated, and, along with happiness tends to come lots of other emotions. In those early days as a new mom, with every stressful moment spent trying to get our newborn to stop crying and go to sleep and with every worry in my overactive mind ---- whether I'd be able to handle life as a working mom, whether I'd be a good mom, whether I'd ever have time for myself again ---- I'd almost feel guilty for feeling those things because of what it took us to get to this point. After all, while I was undergoing fertility treatments, the last thing I wanted to read about or hear was how difficult pregnancy or motherhood was. Yes, I knew it would be tiring and tough, but I wasn't mentally there yet. I was so focused on my own all-encompassing troubles.
But the truth is that we shouldn't feel guilty for these thoughts. No matter what it took to become a parent, it's hard work. And there is no such thing as a pure happy ending where you ride off into the sunset and never have a care in the world again ---- that's just not how life works. We go through different phases, and each one comes with its own set of problems and worries.
My social media feeds these days are filled with pics of Harper --- I mean, she is quite adorable and precious, and she's kind of already got her own social media fan club --- but, by no means, is this the complete story of my everyday existence. It's a highlight reel, something we all need to keep in mind (myself included). So, from what you see, you probably would never think that I would be experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression. But I am. I started this blog and social media pages to share my story and to, above all, be honest. And, while it's gone from sharing my fertility and health journey to sharing pics of our sweet baby girl, there's more to my story. Because during those moments when I feel anxious or unmotivated, the last thing I want to do is post to social media. Although I have used social media to vent from time to time, depression is different. You tend to go inward.
Interestingly, before I ever had Harper, I had a feeling I might get postpartum depression. That's because of my history with anxiety and depression, and when you have a chronic history of these conditions, you're more likely to experience it after giving birth. You might be surprised why I still continued on with trying to get pregnant with this fear in the back of my mind and all the heartbreak we endured along the way. And my answer is simple: It's thanks to my "do it anyway" mentality. I wanted to become a mom and, if this came to be, I would just deal with it as I have every other hurdle I've experienced.
It's interesting to note that postpartum depression is not the same for everyone. Not everyone experiences the same symptoms or to the same degree. It should be thought of as occurring on a spectrum --- similar to autism --- where there of varying degrees of the condition. So, just because you may not be severe, this does not mean that you're not suffering or in your own way.
I would say my own experience has been mild-to-moderate. I am generally able to carry out my daily functions and take care of my baby. Thankfully, I have a great support system, with a husband who is a hands-on parent and a mom who lives with us --- we act as a team so that the work is not all placed on one person.
Some days are better than others. But on my bad days, it's hard to get out of bed. The thought of doing my morning routine feels daunting. I often have to force myself to do things that would otherwise be no big deal. Sending that email? Ugh. Making that phone call? Ugh.
If you're thinking, "Well, this is totally expected, since you're probably not sleeping all that much," I have to say, I am pretty lucky when it comes to sleep. Sure, some days I'm up later trying to get Harper to sleep, but most nights I do get at least 7-8 hours of sleep (if Harper wakes up in the middle of the night, Jared usually is on baby duty then). So, it's not from my lack of sleep. I actually am probably one of the few new moms who can say that I get more sleep now than when I was pregnant! I just could not physically sleep then because I was uncomfortable and would wake up constantly to pee and stare at the bathroom floor or the ceiling of our bedroom. Yet, even going on less sleep, I was probably in the best mental and emotional state I've been in. It was an exciting time. I experienced none of the hormonal pregnancy bitchiness you hear about.
While my love for my daughter has only grown over the past six months and I have experienced many moments of pure joy with her, I have also not felt like myself every day. Some days, I feel like I'm just going through the motions, feeling numb --- and the lack of feeling is an awful one. I often have to go to the bathroom multiple times in the morning, and my appetite in the morning is not what it used to be. I usually feel better as the day goes on, but sometimes I have moments at random points during the day where I feel mentally and emotionally drained. Sometimes I sit there and don't know what to do with myself. I have things to do, but in these moments, I don't feel like doing anything.
You may have noticed that I mentioned the term "anxiety" along with depression because the two go hand-in-hand. Though you may experience only depression, It's common to experience both depression and anxiety. Or you may only experience postpartum anxiety --- which is actually a thing.
I've had moments where I have this uneasy feeling. I think to myself, "Why can't I just relax?" I have times where I'm tending to my daughter, and in the back of my mind, I'm thinking about everything else I'm not getting done. And when I'm doing those other things, I feel bad about not spending enough time with her. Mom guilt is real, and it happens right away. In reality, though, most of us, including me, are doing just fine.
During this postpartum period, I have had the dosages of my mental health meds adjusted and am back to taking meds I had given up before pregnancy. I have had to increase my anti-depressant once again. I've gone back to taking a benzo (Ativan) as needed. And when I didn't feel this was quite enough, I added in Wellbutrin again, under the guidance of my practitioner, of course.
For me, I feel that a combination of things works best in getting me out of my funk and feeling more like myself. The other day, I felt invigorated by adding a couple drops of Serenity essential oil to the shower to breathe in the aroma. And I love to use my diffuser at night to create a calming, serene space. I also loved acupuncture (which I did during my fertility treatments through the first trimester of pregnancy and again in the third) and would love to return when I can afford it. So, I am a proponent for natural things, but it does not have to be all or nothing. You do what works for you.
I am a creative person, but, unfortunately, I just can't always access the inspiration and the motivation to do those activities --- like writing this blog or working on my pregnany journal and Harper's baby book. Or my biggest endeavor --- the book I am working on where I get to share my story. Between the priorities of every day and the writer's block I often have, I fear I'll never be able to get it done. But when these thoughts come to my mind, I have to remember that they're just thoughts. They're not truths. And I have to remember that I have always been a late bloomer. I reach the same milestones as everyone else and accomplish my own personal goals --- it just takes me longer to get there. And that is okay.
If you can resonate with anything I've shared in this blog post, know that you're not alone. And don't think that just because you don't look like a walking textbook definition of postpartum depression, that you don't have it. Trust your gut. You know your body and what's normal for you. And if you're feeling off, you probably are. Between the hormonal changes that occur throughout pregnancy and postpartum and the lifestyle transition, it's no wonder many of us don't feel quite like ourselves. Talking to both new friends and old --- whether other moms or those who have similar work in common or some other connection ---- has helped me feel better at times when I've felt like reaching out. And, above all, know that these feelings have nothing to do with how much you love your child nor are they any reflection of the kind of parent you'll be.
Despite the happy ending to my infertility journey and the resilience I discovered in myself, I am still a work in progress. Because if we have nothing to strive for, life can get pretty boring, right?