Breaking Down to Breakthrough
When Melissa, the founder of Flourish Fund by Momunity asked me to share about my experience in the first year as a mom, I began to reflect on a very emotional year with my daughter, Sky and my husband, Daniel.
I was taken back to nipple shields, pumping, and bottle feeding: a full time job, and one I never could have imagined would be so hard.
I was taken back to the extreme sleep deprivation, and the overwhelming pressure to do everything perfectly, something I thought I had worked through and let go of.
I was taken back to the tug on my marriage, struggling to communicate with my self-employed husband, who had to return to running his company the day we got home from the hospital, working long hours to keep things afloat.
I still feel like such a new mom, there are so many varying phases we encounter moment to moment and I am in it. But I also have an entirely different lens now than I did a year ago. Despite the long, difficult and challenging road, this year has been one of the greatest gifts of my life. This year had so many turning points, a process of breaking down, in order to break through.
My saving grace was leaning into the stories and struggles of others, which allowed me to be present for my own. People who shared what they had been through, giving me glimpses of what to expect. I believe that when we push down our stories and our struggles from a place of shame, we prevent others from sharing too. And when none of us are talking about our questions and our needs and our fears, each of us feels more and more alone while navigating this wild ride.
So for all the expecting and new moms out there, I send you a huge hug, and an assurance that you’re not alone. You might not be able to predict anything, as scary as that is, and it just might be incredibly hard. But you don’t have to be alone.
What I came to understand after that first year, is that motherhood is what you make of it, and what you take from it. Here are the takeaways I came across over and over again, that I hope you will find helpful to.
- You might throw out all of your tools and replace them with new ones.
I prepared for giving birth like it was my job. (link to first blog) I created my vision board, something I’ve been doing for decades when I have big life transitions, to visualize how I want to feel.
I envisioned my husband staying home to help out. I armed myself with information, and the stories of clients and close friends, and I diligently practiced all of my tools.
And then, when the baby actually arrived, all of the tools promptly went out the window.
I knew what they were, the tools, and I knew how to access them, in theory. But I couldn’t. Sleep deprivation, combined with postpartum anxiety, overwhelm about breastfeeding and the assumption it wouldn’t be hard for me (it was), getting my damn wisdom teeth out, my husband returning to work, and the pressure I put on myself to go back to work … it was a perfect storm.
The things that had always worked to help me find my way back to myself were no longer effective. I couldn’t move in the same way, and I felt like I was inhabiting a body that wasn’t my own. 90% of the pain was induced by stress. Fears and insecurities that I had spent years working through rose to the surface. I felt like I was being asked to sail a ship – something I didn’t know how to do – and the ship was sinking. When I went to put my life jacket on, I discovered it was punctured with holes.
So I had to throw out the tools, and re-learn them as a first-time mother, with an entirely new lens. You can prepare as much as possible, but you also have no clue how your body and mind will handle the transition into motherhood. And this is okay. And I think we’re doing a disservice to mothers and setting them up for disaster when we don’t talk about the struggles or create unrealistic expectations.
So gather your tools, but know that you might throw them out, too. You might need to redefine and reimagine what’s going to work for you when you transition into becoming a first time parent. It will be a learning experience, and some things might not go as planned, and this will be difficult. You will persist anyway.
- Making it a priority to take care of yourself is hard and important.
Those new tools I came to cherish? Pretty basic stuff. Sleep. Food. Movement. Taking care of myself.
We’re told the birth is the hard part, but that was just the beginning for me.
Did you know that sleep deprivation is an extreme source of tourture in some countries? In fact, prolonged sleep deprivation is an especially insidious form of torture, because it attacks the deep biological functions at the core of a person’s mental and physical health. Sure, it’s less overtly violent than cutting off someone’s finger, but it can be far more damaging and painful when pushed to extremes. For me, it manifested in hallucinations and paranoia.
If I was going to be in an okay place mentally and physically, I realized I had to focus on actually functioning properly. I had to prioritize self care: sleep, physical therapy, massages, sits baths, alone time, foam rolling, music, slow and steady walks. And I had to stop incessantly pushing myself to make breastfeeding work, something I had envisioned going smoothly, when it simply wasn’t going to because I couldn’t produce enough milk.
But most importantly, this was about being gentle with myself. Taking slow and steady steps to feel physically comfortable, and focusing on how I felt, not how I looked. Only then could I begin to feel at peace in my body, really be there, and rebuild my mental and physical health.
So I encourage you to prioritize taking care of yourself, even when it feels impossible (it will), because it’s essential if you want to feel like a human again. You created a human, and your body is healing. Don’t overlook the basics – sleep, food, movement. It’s all medicine. Keep coming back to the basics, as they’re truly what will get you through that first year.
- You need and deserve the support that’s right for you.
Here is what I want you to know, most of all. No matter how independent you are, no matter how strong you are, no matter how much support you have from your partner, friends and family, it is so important to remember that you can ask for help. Sometimes we simply need someone to hold our hand.
Do not wait until you are drowning to ask for a life jacket. You need to ask for help and put the life jacket on before you encounter the rough waters.
My husband and I never could have imagined how much help would be needed, and there is absolutely, 100 percent, no. possible. way. I would have been able to navigate the rough waters and rebuild my mental and physical health if I didn’t have a support network keeping me afloat. People – outside of just family and friends – who made me feel seen, who had been through what I was going through and empowered me in the best ways.
Before giving birth my husband and I agreed on two important things: to build a solid foundation within our own relationship, and to prioritize support, in terms of where we were going to spend money. Many wonderful resources out there are free, but I was overwhelmed by all the information and products, and knew I wanted individualized support.
We acquired used items whenever we could, and were fortunate to have hand-me-downs from my inlaws and my clients, and cut other costs where we could, so that we could instead spend money on support. For me that looked like a postpartum doula, physical therapy, and a babysitter (day care), because I wanted to return to work.
There’s something really beautiful that happens when you are working with someone one on one, and you get to experience their journey. Having my own personal blueprint to motherhood was helpful, and made me feel less stressed, since I was able to really know what I needed. But what you need may look different than what I – or anyone else – needed.
So notice, and prioritize, what you need. And if you’re in a marriage or a relationship, notice that your partner might have needs, too. My husband and I were affected in different ways. To say it was a tough time is the understatement of the century. And we’ve been together for 10 years.
But it also strengthened our communication and brought us closer. Our foundation needed to be rebuilt. So brick by brick, we rebuilt our foundation and got the resources we needed to feel supported. I always say burn the house and only take what you need to rebuild. Start fresh, and know that this time you might need a different foundation than you have had in the past.
Finally, I’ll leave you with words from Vienna Pharaon: your situation does not need to be the worst situation in the world, in order to give yourself permission to feel, to grieve, to slow down, to notice, and to heal.
I dealt with so many struggles in my own head, ones that I could have never prepared for, and I felt like I couldn’t talk about. It built up and built up, until I finally broke down. The challenges of carrying a family are real. And no one sees what we are processing as mothers, it’s all an internal dialogue and experience, invisible from the outside.
When I look back at my life I recall so much deep work and healing when I find myself at the bottom. Breaking down led to breaking through for me, and we cannot forget to share the hard shit mixed with all the wins. No matter who you are or what you are going through, someone, somewhere gets to know we are all in this together – life, that is – when we share from our hearts.
Know that you can do this in a way that feels empowered, so that when challenges arise you’re ready for them. Let it humble you, and keep showing up. It will be messy, but show up as your messy self. Expect the unexpected, and don’t be afraid to throw the old tools out as a new mom. Keep coming back to the basics and prioritize taking care of yourself. Seek out a support system that makes you feel seen and cared for.
There was freedom for me in those three lessons. And I want the same freedom for you.
Resources in Rhode Island
Like I said, you need to find the support that’s a good fit for you. For some people that might look like a mothers group or classes of some sort. For me it was an individualized approach. There’s no one-size-fits-all. But if you’re feeling overwhelmed and don’t know where to start (and you’re local to Rhode Island), below were my must-haves: the things that made an immense difference. They are all people I either have known for a while or have been personally referred to.
Melissa Richter Bowley Founder and CEO of Flourish Fund and Momunity
Lori Kelley at Center for Women’s Health Obstetrics and Gynecology
How to Contact: https://www.southcountyhealth.org/doctors/lori-m-kelley-cnm/164
Women and Infants Day Hospital Program
(Nationally recognized program with top experts in perinatal mental health. If you know a mom struggling please share this program with them ASAP)
Pelvic Rehabilitation and Women’s Health Specialist Michelle Clark, MSPT
How to contact: firstname.lastname@example.org, RIRehab.com / 877 RI-Rehab
Childbirth educator, DONA Certified birth and postpartum doula, Certified lactation counselor and Newborn Care specialist: Lauren Philips Amand of Gentle Beginnings
How to Contact: Gentlebirthri.com /Laurenamand@gmail.com/ 401.480.2460
Doula: Kristen McClanaghan Kardos (co owner at RI New Moms Connection Group)
How to Contact: www.doulakristen.com/ 401.787.0420/ Email: email@example.com
Postpartum Care: Kiira Travassos at Sweet Relief
How to Contact: Ktfamilycare@gmail.com
Postpartum Massage: Meagan Zarbar at Everyday Ohm Massage + Wellness
How to Contact: https://www.everydayohm.com
Dr. Lauren C. Noel MD at Wakefield Pediatrics
How to Contact: https://wakefieldpediatrics-ri.com
Jill and Sharron Lactation Specialists + Home Visiting Nurse
Financial Office at South County Hospital:
Find good insurance: In my third trimester I met with Cindy who works as a patient financial advocate and explained the best coverage and options for our family. (Since my husband and I are both self employed we could switch our coverage come Jan 1st)
Spotify playlists 🙂 MUST HAVE FOR ME
A Shower/ Sits bath:)
Other Resources I found helpful:
Doctor Melissa Nassaney PT, MS,DPT,WCS
How to Contact: https://www.performanceptri.com/TEAM/melissanassaney
Doctor Sarah Ellis Duval PT,DPT,CPT,CNC
How to Contact: https://www.coreexercisesolutions.com
Ayurveda & Yoga: Elyse Wilkie at Anahata
How to Contact: https://www.anahatahome.com, Elyse@anahatahome.com / 401.218.2480
Postpartum Doula: Hailey Paris of Kindred Tribe
How to Contact: https://www.kindred-tribe.com
Musculoskeletal Education Expert: Pamela Rief
How to Contact: https://setupstrong.com/get-started/
Ariana Raufi Pediatrician at East Bay Pediatrics
How to Contact: She does a Live Q&A every Wednesday on Facebook live through The Flourish Fund
RI New Moms Connection Group: RI New Moms (co-owner Kristen McClanaghan Kardos)
How to Contact: www.rinewmoms.com/ 401.787.0420/ Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Pre and Postnatal Yoga: Emily at Newport Community Yoga
How to Contact: https://newportcommunityyoga.com/
Finding a local moms group or online group that has women and babies who are going through similar situations as you has been super helpful to my clients and friends.