I have wanted to be a mom since as long as I can remember. I wasn't a Barbie fan, I was too busy taking care of my life-sized baby dolls. My dream came true on February 1, 2014 when I laid eyes on my beautiful first born, Tessa Joy. I will never forget the first feeling of her soft skin against mine. I will never forget the overwhelming, purest, indescribable love that instantly filled me.
The first 3 weeks of Tessa's life are a sleepy blur and then we were on a plane to Florida to be with my husband, Casey. He was training for the upcoming season as a pitcher in the Detroit Tigers' organization. After spring training we began our traveling adventure. Florida to Ohio to Indiana to Kentucky and back to Ohio with a few trips home to Illinois thrown in the mix. Living in hotels and out of suitcases made Tessa's first four months a whirlwind. When I had a second to have a thought, strangely, it surrounded the name we chose for our little person. I became obsessed with her middle name. Of course it was supposed to be Elizabeth, my mom's middle and mine too. Why did we choose Joy? Was I crazy? No, everyone assured me that a middle name change was fairly common. The lady at the courthouse didn't even bat an eyelash and our girl was officially Tessa Elizabeth. As pretty as the name Joy is, I still don't regret this change for a second.
After those crazy four months, my little Tessa Elizabeth and I stopped traveling and settled into our home in Illinois while Casey went to rehab in Florida. I was a new mom now acting as a single mom. I did not recognize the heaviness I was feeling. Instead, what was the "logical" way to avoid those emotions and keep my mind busy? The obvious answer was to obsess over my baby's first name now, right? It became all consuming. In the reality that I was not able to see at the time, my mind could have become obsessed with anything to block out those hard emotions. Nothing made me feel happy - not even a fresh haircut and color and if you know me that is one of my life's greatest treats (did I mention that I'm a cosmetologist?). I cried all the time, I couldn't find joy in anything. Why? I had (and still have!) a happy, healthy little girl, a husband working hard to support us, amazing family and friends, not to mention the many privileges I am blessed with that I would never want to take for granted. What was wrong with me?
I was a mess. I cannot even begin to express my gratitude towards my amazing mom for saving me. She slept over at my house, she took off days of work to be there for me, she (in a very sensitive manner) brought the possibility of PPD to my attention. My mom assured me that I wasn't crazy. She helped me realize that a mixture of hormones and chemicals commonly become whacky and can cause us to have all sorts of crazy emotions. We can't help it and when it becomes far too out of control, too hard to bare, that it's OK to reach out. As a matter of fact, it's more than OK, it's necessary. I finally took a step back and evaluated myself. I recognized that I wasn't in the right state of mind. I wanted to feel myself again. It was time to be brave and get help. With the determination to raise my baby to be brave and the encouragement of my mom, I picked up the phone and made the call. That was the hardest part.
Tessa was six months old when I began taking antidepressants and seeing a counselor. It wasn't long before I started to see the light, to feel happiness, to enjoy life again.
I am a HUGE advocate for talk therapy. Even after coming off of the antidepressants, I continued to see my therapist. I learned, and continue to learn, so much about myself. I'm a terrible decision maker because I'm afraid to make the wrong choice. This is the reason I focused on my baby's name, it was one of the biggest decisions of my life thus far. Did we make the right one? It was easier to obsess over a choice instead of confronting the many things (combined with a whole lot of hormones) that were putting me in emotional distress. An overwhelming need to protect, taking "mom guilt" to another level, and failing to meet my own standards of mothering were just a few clouds in the storm of my first go with postpartum. For me, recognizing my faults was/is a huge part of becoming mentally stronger. I'm a continuous work in progress, aren't we all?
Regarding those obsessive thoughts about Tessa's name, she is my "Tessa" through and through - sweet, sassy, active, hilarious, and all kinds of adorable. We could not have decided on a more perfect name for our firstborn.
In late 2015, we were shocked, but ecstatic to find out we were expecting our second baby.
On July 13, 2016, we were blessed with our second healthy, beautiful, perfect, daughter, Gemma Catherine.
I landed in the 50% of women who experiences postpartum depression with a consecutive pregnancy, but this time my PPD was very different. I was proactive about my mental health and began seeing my therapist again before Gemma was born. When I felt the PPD come on, I worked hard at recognizing irrational thoughts and tried to focus on each day as they came. Believe me, with a potty-training toddler and a needy newborn, many days I felt completely defeated. Many times I felt the crushing weight of loneliness, extreme lack of interest, and suffocating depression, but this time I was able to take them, "own" them, and look forward to a new moment, hour, or day. Besides the overwhelming need to protect and shape TWO little humans now, my two biggest mental struggles were with identity and feeling worthless (sometimes irrational thoughts win).
Although I was so lucky to have his emotional AND physical support, my husband stopped playing baseball without a word to me, much less a conversation. Without warning, I lost my identity as a "baseball wife". I had been apart of a community that few understand and that I took for granted. My purpose had been to take care of everything in a whirlwind of traveling, late-nights, sudden moves, quick packing, etc. Meanwhile my husband sacrificed his time with us to provide financially. Therefore, along with my identity, we lost financial security. I was hit hard with the realization that our responsibilities were going to be shared.
Irrationally, I felt as though I lost some of my purpose of being "mommy" because I wasn't the sole caregiver. Irrationally, I thought I wasn't providing because I didn't contribute a steady income. Irrationally, I would feel like I was failing as a mom (you know, the too little of patience, hours of iPad, just trying to make it to bedtime, extreme mom-guilt sort of days). Irrationally, I felt like a nobody. As I mentioned above, I worked hard at recognizing these irrational thoughts, but that didn't mean they didn't seem rational at times. There were many moments that I was so physically and emotionally drained that I let PPD and irrationality consume me. Then Tessa would yell "MOMMY....I love you!" and I would see Gemma's newfound smiles (that quickly turned into giggles and before we blinked, she was crawling, babbling, eating, and taking her first steps...the phrase "time flies" is no joke) and the world would be as bright as ever.
My second round of PPD came in waves. Some times those waves were big, crashing ones, and other times they were small, soaking ones. Regardless, the struggle was still there, but I was blessed to be able to feel the sunshine in between. I knew there was that light at the end because of experiencing the seemingly-never-ending darkness before. I survived...twice. I get to love on my babies who make me so proud to be a mom. I'm able to laugh with my husband who continues to be my rock. I am blessed to enjoy this life I've been given. Because of the stigma, lack of support, and feeling of hopelessness, too many aren't so lucky. It's time to bring awareness to those that don't (and can't) understand, break the stigma, be there for those struggling, and restore the hope of a bright future for all. These factors are keys in winning the battle. My girls and all children (present and future) deserve to be raised in a world where their brave faces are always accepted. Let's win the battle and show all of our brave faces.