postpartum depression

A New Mom's Guide to Beauty

It's worth repeating more than once: no one mom's journey is the same as any one else's. This is the only true fact I can give you about motherhood: maybe you (you know, you) are reading this and you're already a mom and you're like, Michelle, you take this way too seriously. It's not so bad. Or maybe you are reading this and you aren't a mom yet, and you're like, Oh my god, W H Y would I ever want to take this on? But the truth is: you might have had an easier time than me OR you might have an easier time OR you might have a worse time than me (scary thought). It's impossible to know. 

But what I can tell you is that beauty and fashion become incredibly unimportant, and yet, incredibly alluring, in one fell swoop. I don't know how else to describe it. Never have I had less time for beauty and fashion, and never has my skin and face and body been less apt for any of this, but I just can't keep away. I read more fashion blogs than ever; I read lifestyle blogs by the pound; and I watched beauty YouTubers everyday at work. I even forked over $52 for Nikkietutorial's Too Faced palette. Is that sad? No, it's awesome. 

When I say this is a new mom's guide to beauty, that new mom is me. I can only tell you what has worked for me and how I've helped myself to feel pretty when I feel I am slowly becoming a rock upon which a sea anemone (Forrest) lives. It's hard not to feel reduced to simply a life source (and that's it) as a new mom, but I'm here to tell you: you matter; you deserve to put on make up and shower and wash your hair and put on something other than leggings (unless you want to wear leggings, I can't blame you). 

Here's how I got my groove back, a little bit at a time. 

Step #1: I set small, realistic goals for myself. 

One of the very first goals for myself was that I would wear pants (real pants) to work every day. When I first went back to work, thanks to the casual nature of my office, I wore leggings and sweaters and sweatshirts. Not....super flattering and also not a great way to feel good about yourself every day. I set a goal to wear jeans, or maybe even a dress, every single day. And real shoes, not my Uggs. 

Once I successfully passed that hurdle, I set other goals: washing my hair every day, packing my lunch, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, taking Forrest for a walk. As I got more brave, I felt increasingly good about myself. 

Step #2: I treated myself to something I wanted. 

Listen: moms, as a rule, seem to put their kids first. It's natural. It's normal. It is what it is. But, here's the thing: you matter too. Sometimes, I will make lists of things I need (legitimately, actually need): I need work dresses and new jeans and professional tops and a new blazer. I have bought 0 of these things, but Forrest has western print jammies for every size in the foreseeable future. I'd rather buy Forrest a new book, a new toy, a new outfit than myself something. The more I did that, though, the more I realized I was sabotaging all my efforts to feel good about myself. 

I'm not saying you should go hogwild. There is a middle ground and I definitely believe in limiting spending on things that aren't necessary. But if you need new clothes because all you feel like you can wear are leggings and tank tops, it's ok to give yourself the gift of some new duds. Or if you've been scraping out your foundation container for two weeks, it's time to bite the bullet and just treat yo' self. 

Step #3: Screw it--I did whatever I wanted. 

At the end of the day, my job as a mom is this: to keep my son happy and healthy; to keep my house clean enough so it's at least safe for his survival; and to be happy myself. That's it. None of us are perfect. And certainly, I'm never going to be a perfect mom. I'm going to make mistakes. But I don't want one of those mistakes to be hating myself--and passing that kind of behavior onto Forrest. I want Forrest to see me for what I am: a woman who is his mom, who feels beautiful, who feels smart, who takes care of herself, who takes care of other people. He doesn't need a martyr or a perfect mom. He just needs me. And if I have to hand him off to Danny for a few hours each weekend to go work out, or run, or grocery shop, then so be it. He's not going to grow up and say, "Mom, you spend 30 minutes putting on make up that made you happy--and it ruined me." That's just not going to happen. 

Beauty is ultimately a way for us to repair our relationships with ourselves. And for some women, new clothes and learning to put make up on in a way that makes them feel beautiful is one way to do that--it won't work for every body, but it works for me and that's all I can tell you. 

After becoming a mom, it's easy to feel small, to feel a little downtrodden, especially in the early months. But you don't have to. It doesn't have to keep going. I've been in a relationship with myself for 27 years--it's okay for me to take time to work on that relationships, to feel good about myself, to take steps to repair the damage that's been done. And it's okay for you too--however you choose to. 

I Have Postpartum Depression

Let's set the scene. 3 weeks after Forrest was born. I sat in the reclining chair in my living room, holding this bundle of blanket and very small human. There were nipple pads shoved into my bra. My back hurt. I'd been up all night, pumping and feeding. Forrest cried, and cried, and cried. I sang to him. I sang every song I could think of. I hadn't left the house in over a week. Most days, the only time I moved was to get more coffee, grab a snack, or pump--otherwise, I sat on the couch, or in the chair, with Forrest. I started to cry and I couldn't stop. I wanted to be anywhere but there.

I loved Forrest with an intensity that bordered on obsessive: I worried about every little thing and recorded it, carefully, in an app that cost $5. But that love wasn't enough. The depths of my misery reached further into me. I wanted to both take care of him 24/7 and have someone else just offer to help me. I wasn't sleeping, period; at my 4 week appointment, my doctor would go through the calendar with me and count hours I had slept since the day I was induced. The number would be staggeringly low. So low, that when people tell me about "not sleeping" now, I want to dare them to wander into the danger zone of "so little sleep, you may actually die." 

Here's the lucky part of the story: because of Forrest's low birth weight and my preeclampsia, we went to the doctor near constantly. Forrest's pediatrician gave me these tests called "Edinburgh tests" that measured my likelihood of postpartum depression. My own OB was also monitoring me for PPD: women who give birth early, are unable to breastfeed, and have low birthweight babies are more likely, than other group, to develop PPD due to both hormonal and environmental factors. 

By our appointments at 4 weeks, I was diagnosed with PPD and started treatment. 

It's hard to describe now, because I feel like a completely different person. The circumstances around Forrest's birth, my sadness at not being able to breastfeed him, my severe sleep deprivation... it all added up to PPD.

I want to say that the minute I started treatment, I was a different person. But that's just not true. It took a lot of things to get me "feeling normal" again. It took treatment, which was hard and expensive and in many ways, unpleasant; it took letting go of breastfeeding and supplementing with formula, because it was the best thing for my mental health; it took going back to work, giving myself time away from Forrest and not feeling guilty about it. 

I started to feel better, more like my pre-labor & delivery self around 8 months postpartum. 8 months. It took almost 7 months of treatment and self-care to start feeling better, to stop snapping at Danny, to start cleaning my house again.

Sometimes, I will wander across an article about the rates of postpartum depression: who gets it and who doesn't. Sometimes, the comments, and the mom groups that post such articles, like to draw lines: bad moms get PPD and good moms don't. But postpartum depression doesn't pick sides in the mommy wars. 

One statistic that always sticks out to me is that moms who formula feed are at a higher risk of PPD. Horrible, judgmental women use this as evidence that "choosing to formula feed" means that you develop less of a connection to your baby and therefore, are a "bad mom." The truth is, a significant number of women who formula feed do so because they are unable to breastfeed--and being unable to breastfeed, or having to exclusively pump, increases your chances of PPD by almost 70%. (Another statistic that's often thrown around by breastfeeding activists is that "only 5% of women truly don't make enough milk," but 5% of the number of women who give birth is still a significant number. That's still thousands of women.) 

When I talk about PPD, it always goes back to my failure to breastfeed. And despite how PPD makes me feel, I logically know that I didn't do anything "bad" to "deserve" not being able to breastfeed or develop PPD--and that those two facts are related when it comes to my improving. 

If anyone reading this is struggling with postpartum depression, or suspects they may have postpartum depression, this is all I can say: it is ok to reach out for help (from your baby's pediatrician, from your doctor, from anyone); it does not make you a bad mom to admit you are depressed; and it does get better, things can improve, you don't have to feel like this.