I am much, much better now.. Thank God.
I have a better handle on things, my emotions, expectations.. I’ve told my husband, close friends/workmates, confessed to my discipleship group. Now and then I fall again, especially when I am tired and haven’t had enough sleep, but knowing how to tackle this slump head-on has made me feel a lot better about myself, about everything.
Like a thief in the night it came, plummeting me from my new mommy high into a stinky swamp of sadness, irritation, jealousy, and frustration. I helplessly wallowed in its mud, struggling to break free but failing, constantly being pulled down.. I was the worst I have ever known myself to be - cranky and snappish and hurtful, and the people closest to me were victims of my lacerating tongue. There were things I know I shouldn’t have said, but I was so angry, so confused, so hollow inside..
I naively thought I was gonna be spared from it, from this so-called postpartum depression, being the generally positive and happy person that I was or that I perceived myself to be. I thought that if I got through the first three months emotionally intact, given that those months are supposedly the hardest and most physically demanding, that I’d be okay.
Was I wrong. Turns out it doesn’t work that way.
I knew that depression could hit within a full year postpartum. I’ve read about it in various blogs and mommy sites even while I was pregnant. I was warned by mommy friends. I tried to prepare myself emotionally and mentally for it by accepting early on that this new season in my life meant that I had to let go of a lot of things I used to do and enjoy, and I’m honestly okay with that. I had no problem being sleepless and utterly exhausted because taking care of my baby made me unbelievably happy. But PPD blindsided me. It attacked me in areas I wasn’t even aware I had to safeguard.
What triggered it? The arrival of our yaya. Me not liking the fact that I had to get help. Me getting jealous of the time Lilibubs spent in the arms of another person, a stranger, because I had to rest. Because I had to go back to work. Because opportunities came that would be wasted if not taken, even at the expense of time spent with my baby.
I had so many issues, and I hated having so many issues.
It was March when it all started. Lilibubs was four months old then, and from an angel baby the first three months, suddenly I had an extremely fussy infant. She cried a lot, fussed a lot, was so hard to please, napped and ate so little. I was very worried she’d get thin. This, coupled with adjusting to a new nanny and getting jealous at said nanny, pushed me to the limits of my patience. There were times when I would get angry at her.. a few moments when I would be rough. My anger scared me to the point that I asked my husband to never leave me alone with Lilibubs; the fact that I couldn’t trust myself with her made me so sad and again, angry. I have prayed for and waited a long time for this baby.. what was wrong with me? Why was I so angry when I should be happy?
For several days and nights, I had a really hard time adjusting to a new person putting Lilibubs to sleep.. the worst was seeing her preferring to be in this stranger’s arms and not my own. It does not happen often, mind you, I still sometimes put Lilibubs to sleep and play and spend time with her a lot. Heck, I still nurse her. But every single time Lilibubs would look at her yaya even when I was in front of her, every single time she would beam at her yaya in a way that she doesn’t at me (this could all be in my jealous mind), every single time she preferred her yaya over me, it would hurt. A lot. I’ve talked to other parents about this and almost all of them have admitted to feeling jealous, too. And while they all say that it’s only for now, that Lilibubs knows who her real mother is, it doesn’t make the rejection any less painful.
It’s a stab in the heart, every single time.
A landslide of emotions, old and new, and I lost my footing, my hold on myself. I didn’t know how to deal, plain and simple. I was drowning in my own guilt and unrealistic expectations. I am a wife, a daughter, a mother, and my own person, and I was supposed to be good at all of them, I WANTED to be good at all of them; at the very least, to be capable of all the responsibilities those roles entail. But on that particular month, at that particularly challenging time in my life, I felt like I was failing at all of them.
I think I may have even lost sight of myself, of who I was, of who I thought I was..
It was a very, very dark time, possibly my darkest, my ugliest. Have you noticed how many times I’ve already used the words hate and angry? It was really, really bad.. I can’t bring to mind a time in my life when I had been this angry and down, at least not for this long. It was like I couldn’t recognise myself.. I’m not like this, I strongly know that I am not. I was weepy and touchy and an overall b*tch. The sad part is, I knew there was so much to be thankful for, to be positive about, but I couldn’t will myself to be happy, to be grateful.
For one whole month I felt like a fake. Like there were two persons sharing my body, my mind.. Outwardly I projected happiness and enjoyment, inwardly there was chronic sadness and despair. For every trying-to-be-brave smile I put on, there was a heavy heart struggling to deal, trying not to drown, struggling to make sense of everything that it’s feeling.
My Road to Recovery - First Step: Acceptance
One day on the third week of March, a test popped out at me on one of my baby apps: “Do You Have Postpartum Depression? Take this quiz to find out.” And I took it. Answered every single question. And I knew that the fact that I took the test was confirmation enough that I had PPD. I didn’t have to go to the end to know how I scored. But I did, anyway, and the test confirmed it and suggested I seek medical help.
I believe taking that test was my first step to recovery. When I acknowledged to myself that I was depressed no matter how immune I may have thought myself to be, I didn’t have to fake around anymore, not even to myself. Wasn’t that how one heals from grief, too? Denial, anger, depression, acceptance.. it seemed I went through it all. The only stage I didn’t touch was bargaining.
It was a relief to let it all out and to stop fighting my feelings. It was also somewhat ironic because some part of me felt like I won even as I acceded to defeat. I wasn’t okay, and it was alright to stop pretending that I was.
I felt a lot lighter after.
Second Step: Confession
Accepting and admitting to myself that I had postpartum depression was a big step, but I believe what also really helped a lot was sharing and confessing to my husband and friends.
Every time I felt sad or jealous, whenever I cried, I would go to my husband. Joey would always give me a warm embrace, and soothe me with a “Ngayon lang yan.” or “Akala mo lang yun.”. Sometimes he would just quietly hold me. While his comfort helped, and most especially his patience towards me in my snarkiest moments, I found that it was my no-holds-barred confession to my Tuesday discipleship group that helped me the most, especially since two of them also went through depression when they were new moms (though of different manifestations).
They understood. And to be understood was exactly what I needed in that lowest point in my life.. to be understood without judgment. In my heart I was already punishing myself for how I was being, the self-shame, the guilt.. I suppose I was afraid of judgment and condemnation if I ever confessed. To receive neither when I came clean, sins and all, and instead to be gifted with compassion and mercy was a lifeline I held on to.
What a blessing it is to be in the company of women who will support and encourage you through the ups and downs of your life: personal, spiritual, and in one’s journey of motherhood. We all need our support crew, well-meaning individuals who will hold us up when we no longer have the strength, who will let us cry rivers, binge on food, offer their shoulders and advices gleaned from their own difficult journeys, and who will send us off home clothed in prayer. I’ve learned how important it is to cultivate or enjoin yourself to such a group in your very own neighborhood, when your need to be comforted cannot be logistically met by other close friends who live far from you.
Talking to Yaya, Talking to Lilibubs
What also surprised me was how much opening up to our very own nanny has eased my feelings, especially when it’s her presence that has unintentionally brought me so much sadness. At first I was hesitant to do so because I thought that to admit that I was jealous of her might give her an upper hand or a feeling that she’s irreplaceable. Now I am not sure if it was foolish of me to do so, but what I have found out, after openly crying to her one time and confessing my feelings, was that she was going through the same. Because she had to work and had to leave her son in the care of others, she shared “hindi na ako kilala ng anak ko.”. She was a first time mom too, and she also experienced being jealous of other carers on her first year, and so every time I apologised to her for a sniping comment, she would often say, “Okay lang. Naiintindihan ko. Ganyan din ako dati. Nagselos din ako”.
Talking to Lilibubs about my feelings has relieved me as well. When my emotions have subsided, I would hold her in my arms and quietly tell her that I am sorry, that I just want to love her, that I’m having a hard time and would she forgive me? The beautiful thing about babies is that no matter how much or how often you have let them down, they would always beam at you and give you their brightest smile.. they would love you anyway.
It was my first real taste of how transcendentally beautiful absolute forgiveness is.
Third Step: Change Your Scenery / Go Out of the House
When I tearfully confessed to my discipleship group, one of our members told me, “Lumabas ka kasi ng bahay.”. I acknowledge that this is something I should have done daily since we got home from the hospital. But you know how it is, the newborn haze, and how you just want to sleep and rest rather than go out of the house. So to all would-be first-time-moms out there, please please try for your sake and sanity. Thirty minutes is not too much to ask from yourself.
At the end of March, we flew to Bacolod. It was Lilibubs’ first time in Joey’s hometown, we stayed for nearly a month. It was exactly the break that I also needed. In Bacolod, I was able to breathe again, to feel like I was myself again. Finally, I wasn’t a sad, weepy person anymore, though I did stumble once. I knew that I was on my way to recovering me.
Fourth Step: Do One Thing for Myself, by Myself, Every Day
This is something I try to do now everyday, whether it’s napping just a little bit more, wearing my favourite clothes, getting dolled up, meeting up with friends and leaving Lilibubs at home, attending mommy events I get invited to - I’ve even begun to look at my gigs as precious me-time, treasuring those times when I get to sing to and entertain people as moments where I can be freely me. I really squeeze in some self-love, self-care time now no matter how short or how insignificant it might seem. I’ve learned that it’s okay to not spend all my time with Lilibubs if it meant I got to rest or relax for even just a few minutes more. And I alone know how much simply listening to music or reading a book that’s not related to raising babies mean to me. Finally, after being deaf to my own person’s cries for attention, I am listening now. I know she needs taking care of too.
Prior to going through depression, I must confess to being narrow-minded in thinking that these self-care/self-love things are selfish. I now know that that’s not true, that loving and taking care of yourself is as essential to living as taking care of your children or spouse, because you cannot give what you do not have. Whitney Houston’s classic love song comes to mind: “Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.” While I do not agree that it is the greatest, I must acknowledge that it is important.
Fifth Step: Exercise
I still wake up for nighttime feedings, I still lack sleep. It would be my excuse before for not working out. If I felt blah, I’d just turn in. Now I force myself to run/walk at least every other day not only to be physically fit again but more because I know that I need those endorphins. I know that I need to initiate feel-good hormones in my body. I’m in a battle, and endorphins are part of my ammunition.
Sixth Step: Consistent Prayer Time / Journaling
Which brings me to another salient step and necessary armor - the Word of God. Spending dedicated time praying. When I became a mom, I found it so hard to revert back to how I spent quiet time before. I found it harder to concentrate.. Exhausted and sleepless, days would pass when I barely prayed. I am sorry I let that happen.. I lost sight of God, my focus just being on me and my baby. Perhaps, I have suffered because of it.. One thing’s for sure, in the depths of my brokenness I sought Him again, I am clinging to Him again.
I used to journal everyday too, prior to giving birth. I did it to feed the artist in me, filling out three pages everyday with free-flowing, uninterrupted writing. Again, in the newborn haze, I have neglected this practice. Now, on my way to recovery, I have realised just how valuable this exercise is for me. What I do now, is I combine my prayer time with journaling, filling out one page everyday with my yearnings and learnings after reading my daily devotional. It is still a free flow of all my thoughts and emotions, but this time, it has become my daily prayer to God. I have found that every time I do this in the morning, as I squeeze it in between playtime / feeding Lilibubs, I feel better and more assured. More ready for the combat ahead.
Finally, Forgive Yourself.
I think this is the hardest step of all. Among the momshaming in the world, the worst are the guilt and shame we inflict on our very selves. It is difficult, but forgiveness is part of loving one’s self. You are human, you will always fall.. and in your spiritual walk you will not always be at the top of the mountain, as in life, there are treacherous valleys to be navigated in between the highs. But now that you are equipped, and you know what must be done, now that you have called upon Your Guide and earthly navigators (your friends), trust that you can climb out from the depths and reach the parts of the mountain where the sun gloriously shines and darkness ends. Trust in Your Victor because He has already won. Trust in your triumph through Him.
Many times during that dark month of my life, I have thought, “What if God didn’t bless me with a child again because of what I have done or because of how I have been?”. My dgroup leader had this to say: “Nilimitahan mo naman ang Diyos noon.” And she was right, for the Lord is kind and merciful, His love for us knows no bounds. He has hurled our transgressions far from His sight and does not treat us as our sins deserve.. (Psalms 103:8-12). I will trust in His Word because He is unchangeable. I will trust in His Heart because He is Love. And I will trust in His mercy and grace, which He gives to those who come boldly to His throne. (Hebrews 4:16).
It is my wish that not many of you are going through the same thing, but if you are, I hope that this sharing of my struggles might be of help.
Thank you for reading!