Last year, I wrote a blog about my personal struggle with prenatal anxiety, “The Sad Reality about Prenatal Anxiety and Depression.” A few short months later on November 23rd at 8:17am, my husband and I welcomed our son Cohen James (or C.J. as we sometimes call him) into the world. From the moment we learned of his existence, our lives changed drastically. As I have been preparing for his first birthday, I can’t help but reflect on my own year-long journey trying to balance this new role as a mom.
This year was packed full of firsts for our little family; first time changing a diaper (my husband’s first, certainly not mine), first of many sleepless nights, first giggles, first ER visit, first teeth, and even first haircuts. It was also when I learned firsthand just how truly amazing moms are. They put everyone else’s wants and needs before their own and it’s not uncommon that through this process of taking care of others, their own self-care goes out the window. The daily routine can be exhausting, overwhelming, and at times lonely.
After having Cohen, my doctor was concerned that I was at risk for postpartum depression so she advised me to stay on my medication for a minimum of six months after his birth. In early spring, I was feeling great, like my old self (just a super tired version). I felt so great in fact that I broke the cardinal rule of mental health treatment; I stopped taking my medication. I went against everything I understand about mental health. I thought that because “I felt better” I was safe to discontinue treatment. I fell into a trap that so many people often find themselves in. I didn’t realize that the reason I felt so good was because my medication was doing its job.
About a month and a half later, I began getting overwhelming bouts of anxiety. For days at a time I would have stomachaches, headaches, and racing thoughts. I was exhausted all the time and my heart felt like it was going to leap out of my chest every time my phone would ring or I would get an email alert. I started to experience depressive episodes that drained me of my patience and the little bit of energy that I had. My breaking point finally came when one weekend I couldn’t manage to get dressed to take my son to a birthday party because I knew I would have to put on a fake smile and pretend to enjoy casual conversations with other parents. The thought of the amount of energy it would take for me to put on this façade was simply too much for me to handle.
Instead, we stayed home and I retreated into bed and cried. I felt like such a failure. I felt as if every other mother and wife out there had it all figured out and I just somehow couldn’t get it together. What was wrong with me? When I was at work I felt guilty for not being with my child. When I was at home with him, I was worrying about what needed to be done at the office or stressing about the piles of laundry stacking up, or the sink full of bottles that needed to be washed. At times I felt like I couldn’t breathe, let alone tell anyone how I was feeling.
On top of all of these emotions, I also felt like a hypocrite. How could I preach about the importance of reaching out for help and practicing self-care when I spoke to community groups when I was working, but not incorporate these practices in my own life? We are all guilty of occasionally putting our own self-care habits aside from time to time, but when we do this too often, it can take a major toll on our mental health. I was beginning to feel the effects of neglecting my mental wellness routine.
It became clear that I needed to get back on my medication, as well as see a professional to help me process some of the current anxiety I was experiencing. My therapist and I spoke a lot about how I was spending my time and how I could improve on balancing work and motherhood. We also discussed the importance of practicing mindfulness or being present and in the moment. After our conversation, I began setting boundaries by abstaining from checking my work email when at home. That way, when I was at home with my family I could focus solely on them. By practicing mindfulness, I began to feel less guilty for being away from Cohen because I knew that when I got home, my sole focus would be him. In return, when I was at work I tried to only focus on the current task at hand.
She also reminded me about taking breaks for myself. Everyone needs to have techniques that help them recharge and refocus, and these self-care techniques need to be used regularly! Whether it’s relaxing in a warm bath, reading a book, or going on a walk, anything that lowers stress and recharges you can be considered self-care. I started attending work out classes each week and made them a top priority. I also found ways to make my weekly to-do list easier, like ordering groceries online and designating one day a week as “laundry day.”
It’s so easy to let the chaos of life get the best of us. I never anticipated how hard it would be to adjust to becoming a parent. I admire those women and men who adapt to parenthood with so much grace – they make it look easy! While this year has been full of amazing memories with our son, it has also been very humbling. I learned that taking care of another person is a huge responsibility, but an even bigger honor. I was also reminded that reaching out for help and guidance is a strength, not a weakness.
Jill Hamilton, Senior Project Coordinator, The Kim Foundation
Jill Hamilton has been a Project Coordinator at The Kim Foundation since 2014. She graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and a Speech Communication Minor from The University of Nebraska at Omaha in 2009. Since working at the foundation, she has become an active member of the Nebraska State Suicide Prevention Coalition and The Metro Area Suicide Prevention Coalition, Nebraska LOSS Advisory Committee, The Early Childhood Mental Health Coalition, is Chair of the Nebraska LOSS Teams Conference Planning Committee, and serves as the Outreach Coordinator for the Metro Area LOSS Team.