I have just one piece of advice for you: don't try to be a martyr. Consider your own needs along with the baby's, your husband's, your mother's, your mother's cousin's and those of La Leche League.
Learn from my mistake.
I tried so hard to do the right thing for everyone else but me. I weaned myself off of my antidepressant because I wanted to breastfeed, to give my infant the best possible start … the golden stuff right out of the boob. So my lactating breasts and I were on call, with no substitute available, for months and months and more months … long enough for me to make the walk of shame from the maternity ward to the psych ward.
I don't think I closed my eyes for longer than three hours for four years. And I am still paying the price for that carelessness: my severe mood disorder, my pituitary tumor, my hormonal imbalance … all of them, I believe, resulted from my mission to be the self-sufficient martyr mom.
Ironically, by trying to be a perfect mom, I ended up being a much worse one: crying uncontrollably in front of my little boy for two straight years, unable to discipline him for a tantrum because it looked like I was having an endless one myself. In trying to hold it all together by myself, I ended up a sleep-deprived, hormonal and biochemical mess, a person who was so exhausted that the only reprieve she thought possible was death.
Don't let that happen to you.
If you need to, by all means supplement your breastfeeding so that you can take a break, so you can get eight hours of sleep at least once a week. If your husband travels and you have no family help available, hire some help. Trust me, it is much less expensive to do it that way than to shell out $20,000 in hospital fees like I had to do.
Don't be foolish enough to think that new moms need to be martyrs for their babies.
Keep some of your old life.
Steal the time away when you can.
Good moms still need breaks. Had I grabbed more rest and play for myself in my kids' early years — had I maintained a sliver of my former life — I may have been more resilient to the crush of depression. In hindsight, it might have been better to work part-time or even full-time — to look forward to and be stimulated by something outside the home — rather than stay in captivity, held by guilt of older moms or more opinionated moms or more self-assured moms that told me good moms stay at home.
Listen to your own voice.
Its message might differ from the books you're reading.
I wish I would've listened to my intuition more in those years. But I lacked the confidence because I had no experience in this motherhood thing. The books, the neighbors, the relatives … they all must know better than me, I thought. So I let my boy cry it out for seven hours to teach him how to sleep only to find out both eardrums were bright red with infections. Ah, I shake my head at how easily I yielded my own authority out of insecurity.
New mom, please, I beg you. Take care of yourself.
This is no time to be a martyr. Your baby needs you too much.
Therese Borchard is the author of the hit daily blog Beyond Blue on Beliefnet, which is featured regularly on the Huffington Post, and editor of "The Imperfect Mom: Candid Confessions of Mothers Living in the Real World." She is a survivor of postpartum depression.
"They all must know better than me." Whoa, that's right to the heart. When you feel like things are out of control, it must be because you aren't following directions correctly! Hmmm…that's what I know I was thinking. I must be just blowing this somehow, and it's not what the book said. Heck, "the book" doesn't even talk about whatever I went through.
So good to see that verbalized. Great work. 🙂
I struggled with forcing myself to leave the baby. By the time my third was born, I knew that "me" time was non-negotiable. It did not make me a "Bad" mom to want to mother myself. This is one of the most important things a new mom must remember – in addition to mothering her infant, SHE MUST MOTHER HERSELF as well. Self-care is the best care for everyone in the family.
Thanks for this piece and for all you do!