I sat at the bottom of my stairs exhausted, lost, not knowing what day it was or rather not really caring what day it was. I was the overtired mother, who was still getting the knack of breastfeeding around the clock. Panicking each and every time I heard the baby cry. As soon as I heard his cries, I would think to myself, hurry and grab the boppy, the burb cloth, the iPhone so I could click on the breastfeeding app! Hurry, hurry, hurry….!
My first child was born in March 2013. I thought I prepared myself for his birth. The diapers were stacked, the crib was pristine, his clothes were neatly arranged, the stroller was the best on the market, what else could being a mom be about? This was my naïveté as I entered motherhood at probably not the best time in my life (but when is?). I was in my last year of grad school at the Claremont School of Theology, I also had on my to-do list to take the bar exam and become a licensed attorney should I ever decide to practice, and because my fitness hobby turned into a “job” over the last 4 years, the same year my son was born, my husband and I opened my first brick and motor business- UpLift- body, life, community. Too much too soon? Yes, indeed. Crazy? Absolutely.
The blessings poured down, but I was much too overwhelmed to appreciate anything. Everything was suddenly a big burden. All I could think of was the intensive labor I went through, my tears, and wanting to turn back the clock and cut down the amount of time I spent in the hospital. The doctor, whose bedside manners made me hypersensitive because I felt I was supposed to labor, and labor and labor, and her lack of communication during that time made me and my whole family so nervous, that we thought something would happen to the baby because his heart rate kept drastically dropping. The replay of those moments in my life, took months for me to get over, and put in me in deep silence within that made me frustrated and anxious on the outside.
My son, Dean Valentino, arrived after 36 hours of labor, 2-3 doses of epidural (I still can’t remember the details of the experience), and a induced C-section later. Sure, I’m not the first mother to have had an adventurous birthing story, but for my relatively hospital-free life I felt like his birth foreshadowed my first year with him.
He is a beautiful, sweet, energetic 17- month old now. But our getting to this point was not always so precious and ‘perfect’. Since I’ve become a mother I’ve been immersed in a culture of moms who really make motherhood to be a breeze, snap, easy as 1-2-3 transition into this role. I couldn’t understand how they could just breastfeed in public without getting in the right “position”. Since I literally had to tweak my wrist one way, to prop his head into a certain angle, to get him in the right direction, to be able to feed! It wasn’t a process for me. It was a laborious, extensive feat each and every day, every 2 hours for 6 months, until my body could not give anymore. Literally there was no more milk for his appetite and I could not continue to take mothers’ milk, fenugreek or any other supplement hoping magically my milk would appear.
By the end of 6 months, the freedom began but it came with a heavy dose of guilt as many other moms in my new mom circle continued to effortlessly feed their child well into the child’s double digit month age! These moms amazed me. They are the moms that tote their infants around in their baby carriers while having a pleasant meal in a restaurant, and not a peep from the little one all snuggled in the chest of the mother. Wasn’t their baby going to be crying any moment to be changed, fed, entertained? How did these moms manage being a new mother and joining society once again?
As I sat on my stairs, 3 weeks after his birth, replaying my labor story and getting angrier that I didn’t use better judgment, I remember thinking I am not the same and my life is completely upside down. I could no longer just run an errand, jump into car and drive here and there or resume to teaching my own yoga and dance barre classes. As a matter of fact I did not get in my car one time since his birth. Until when my mom found me on the stairs, and with much concern told me I need to get up, put makeup on, wear something colorful and just go for a ride. It was my mom who helped me tremendously to get my business up and running. Everything from the construction of the studio floors, to putting up mirrors, the plumbing, electrical, all things that I could not even manage to understand, she helped with. Any other time, it would have been very exciting for me, but this particular time, just 3 weeks after his birth I did not want anyone to want anything more from me. Being present, recovering from the c-section and producing milk was enough for me on a daily basis.
It was exactly 1 month later when my mom found me again on the stairs, and this time crying hysterically. I was behind on writing my graduation final paper, I was told that my graduation had to be pushed back by one year, my Arabic teacher was giving me assignments I could barely understand, I had a grand opening scheduled in a couple months with no staff hired and no plans on how to run a brand new boutique fitness studio, and still, I was going around the clock and this time the baby developed colic so his crying turned into screaming fits when the sun would go down, and my nerves were shattered. Was this motherhood? How in the world have women done this so many billions of times before me? Why would they do this over and over again? This became torture and all I could do was cry. My mother’s advice was for me to go see a doctor and go on medication. Medication? This was coming from a holistic type person who avoided doctors and medicine like the plague. I just looked at her blankly, thinking she doesn’t get it. She had one child, went back to work after 6 weeks and my grandmother raised me. She hardly remembers what it was like raising me. Suddenly I felt so alone. This was all my fault. Too much too soon, and now I’m barely surviving and the world expects me to be a happy, cooing mother. And I was not.
I never went to the doctor to talk about how I was feeling. I didn’t want to fall into that ‘category’. I know it is normal and some very honest friends spoke to me about their own challenges after giving birth and how medication to help deal with the anxiety and depression helped them tremendously. Though I appreciated their honesty so much, I just wanted to ride it out. I started to venture out of my house more and visit my soon to be business. I started to take the baby for walks, and even turned to acupuncture to help me cope with the stress. I listened to my music to block the voice in my head. Those little things helped me “cope”. But the anxiety each and every time I left my baby to attend to my own life or the guilt associated with not breastfeeding anymore still made me sad.
About 8 months post partum, the light at the end of the tunnel became more clear. More and more mothers I spoke with admitted to having the baby blues, or in more severe cases post partum depression. Because I had a strong support circle, the symptoms of helplessness, anxiety, fear, sadness, and being overwhelmed slowly started to clear away. Once I was able to accept and deal with everything on my plate, I became more excited at the thought of motherhood and accomplishing other things in life. I accepted that graduation would be pushed back from May 2013 to May 2014. I accepted that the bar exam will always be there, and my time to take it is not now. I opened my arms to my business and maneuvered my teaching schedule so that it worked out with my time so I could be present for my son.
Everything slowly fell into its place but it took a well over a year for me to finally get my groove back. I walked through this last year of my life in a foggy daze. I could barely put a sentence together I was so tired, and now I can actually sit down and type my past year’s experience. Coming to this point is a huge accomplishment for me. Last year this time, staring at the computer screen would give me anxiety and drain me. Now 17 months later, I am teaching full time at my studio, and working to make it the best community hub for families to come together. I graduated although I was last in the line and walked in without my robes and hat (that’s another story)! I get to spend time with my son and enjoy these moments, and when the time is right and I can devote myself to my studies again, and sit for the California bar exam. Why? Because I am a woman, a mother, a fitness enthusiast, a community builder, an interfaith lover, and I can do anything I put my mind to. Everything hard is temporary and can be overcome with the power of positive thinking. I thank my husband, mother, grandmother, aunts, father, and dear friends who helped me regain my strength to accept all my roles and to enjoy wearing all my hats again. As for baby No. 2…can wait. I’m in no hurry.