May, as you have probably heard, is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month. An important topic for all mamas, for sure, but very much so – maybe especially so – for Pregnancy and Parenting After Loss moms. The mental health journey is real – and absolutely essential.
I recently was cleaning out a drawer and found a letter I penned to my young son not too long after his birth. He must have been a few months old, I remember writing it in the summer. The letter is still sealed in its envelope. I didn’t re read it. I don’t want to. I almost want to throw it out. I don’t want to read its pain. It makes a lump return to my throat and a pit settle in my belly.
I don’t have to open it, because I know what it contains. It holds the painful worries of a mother who still had yet to believe her baby was here to stay. I didn’t trust yet. I was battling anxiety anyway, and then coupled with new mama hormones, and a lot less sleep, it became consuming at times.
For some reason, I was convinced of two things. Either I would die when he was an infant, or he would die when a bridge collapsed. They had no grounding in rational space. I knew, somewhere, the likelihood of these two events was slim. But anxiety doesn’t listen to rational thoughts.
So I wrote him this letter, letting him know just how much I loved him. Spelling out the things I wanted him to know from life. Just in case I died and wasn’t there to share them.
Here we are, five years later, and I can happily say that I have regained my trust in the world. I’ve decided I don’t want to raise children constantly fearing the worst. I want them to boldly walk out into the world, hearts wide open, assuming people are there for good. And when they are disappointed, when trauma hits and their hearts are broken, I want them to know it is an anomaly- and I want them to be brave enough to love again.
Reaching this point hasn’t always been easy. I’ve worked on it. A lot. I credit yoga and my spiritual practice in guiding me through, and out of, the depths of my anxiety. I look back, and can still feel the tension I felt then, the heart constricting fear, the incredible love I felt for my new son, juxtaposed by the intense fear that I would, in fact, lose him. It still returns from time to time – like whenever there is talk about the big one (the earthquake that is supposed to hit the west coast), each time another senseless mass shooting occurs, pretty much every time I realize my babies could, in fact, be taken from me now. These days, I work to change those fearful moments into deeper expressions of love. It’s all I can do.
Letting go of fear and opening to whatever is could be one of the most challenging adventures of our lives. The search for a healthy mental state can be both terrifying and rewarding. But here’s what I’ve learned, after dealing with anxiety and depression before children, then PTSD anxiety with a baby – when the mind is ruled by anxiety, the heart loses room to love. And truly. I promise with all my heart and soul – the single most important piece of this life is the love. The room in our hearts to give and receive love. That’s what’s real. That is what your baby needs. Love. Love. Love. Love in the present tense. It’s not that bad things can’t happen – I know that life can change in a heartbeat. Literally. But that knowledge doesn’t paralyze me anymore. In fact, it frees me to dive deeper into the now. It makes my heart want to pour out all its love into this moment, not worrying about any other.
Post partum mothers are already at risk for anxiety and depression. Mothers who have lost are even more so. Believe me, trust me, the journey through the mental health mountains and valleys are worth it. You are worth it. You don’t have to walk in fear, sadness, or angst every day.
Know that what works for one person may not be the same for you. Try new avenues until you find what works for you. You are worth it.
May is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month. Please. Be sure you are feeling as soundly as you should be. And if you are not, ask for help. I am so very grateful for all who have helped me along my journey. I can’t thank them enough for helping me to free myself from my own mind, for helping me to see how bright and shiny the world can be. It’s not easy. But it is so worth it.