Freeing Myself from My Negative Perceptions in the Postpartum
By MJ Golias
for the PSI Blog
April 6, 2018
I don’t “just let go” of anything; I analyze, then analyze some more. Many, including my husband, say that the “why” doesn’t matter, or the “how.” They remind me that the “now” is what I should focus on rather than the details of what happened “then.”
But for someone who loves to peel away and deconstruct, I find that when I make connections and grasp meanings, I can move forward. It’s my process, and it works for me. It’s important to me that I understand what happened to me in the past, so I can help others in the future. So I deconstruct, analyze, and examine.
Curious, I researched connections between how a mom views her birth experiences and postpartum mood disorders. Sadly, I found no research on this subject. What I want to know is: did how I immediately viewed my birth experience contribute to my postpartum anxiety? I think it did. So then what?
The births of my two children were very different. The first was induced labor in a top Manhattan hospital. Dilation was timed by a clock in a very factory-like setting that lacked all warmth. That labor resulted in a C-Section because I had not met the prescribed benchmarks for dilation rate per hour. I did not immediately hold my baby, nor did I have skin to skin contact. I was too out of it to remember anything until the next morning when my son was brought to me.
When I realized what had happened, I was devastated. I kept reliving the birth in my head and comparing what had happened to the way I had wanted it to be. I realized how deeply saddened and anxious I was at having had surgery because I could not dilate from 8 to 9 centimeters in the prescribed hour. That was not what I had hoped for or planned, and I couldn’t figure out how to live with that disconnect in those weeks following the birth.
What stirred the pot more was the lack of compassion from others and the dismissive comments I heard, such as, “Just be happy you have your baby.” I perceived that I’d been wronged. I wasn’t given a chance, wasn’t treated as a human being, or truly cared about by my healthcare providers, which exacerbated the anxiety I had already felt about becoming a new mom. I had legitimate concerns about whether my son’s birth would affect our bonding. I truly believe how I perceived my son’s birth lit the match of my anxiety.
My daughter’s birth three years later was what I had hoped for: midwives, doula, no epidural, and fast. I had done everything differently to avoid a repeat of my first experience. I knew what to look for in healthcare providers. I knew that if I did have another C-Section, it wouldn’t be because an arbitrary clock ticked down. My perceptions were already set up for more positivity. I did not experience postpartum anxiety with my second child. I did, however, cry for my son and the experience we shared. I feared that I had not been there for him as I’d hoped to be.
But there were three years following my son’s birth when I suffered in silence. No one understood the anxiety and the connections my head was making. I kept most of it to myself because I didn’t quite know what was going on either.
In the late night hours, when my anxiety was the worst, I relived my son’s birth over and over again. Finally, I learned a trick that weaned me off the late night anxiety-induced thoughts. I would tell myself, “Enough for today.” I knew I could pick it all up again the next day if I needed to. And finally, I was able to let go.
Without knowing it, my trick allowed me to feel the way I was feeling without having to deal with conflict within my own head or the comments of others. This allowed me to find peace. I could sit with all the feeling. Until I didn’t have to any more.
What you think, what you feel, what you think you feel—all of this is messily intertwined. I’d made the mistake of trying to push all that mess out of my head, not trusting that the way I felt was valid. When I stopped listening to my own self-defeating beliefs or the repetition of others’ comments, I was able to accept my sadness and anxiety and understand that it would pass, and that if it didn’t, I’d find help. As long as my process was not interrupting my life or negatively affecting my kids, it worked.
In that way, I came to terms with my son’s birth. I released my anxiety and sorrow. By giving myself permission to just be who I was, a woman, mom, wife, someone who analyzes and rethinks things until I find a new way to think about them, I found peace.
M.J. Golias currently lives in Connecticut with her husband and two children. After graduating from the University of Memphis with an MFA in poetry, she moved to New York City where she taught English as a second language. She had poems published in numerous journals, one anthology, and had one Pushcart Prize nomination. She now stays at home with her children, amazed at their imaginations. And after she thinks they are asleep, she writes.