Rowena is a baby whom I thought would take away the sadness of depression. I thought she would be my re-connection to life. I thought that the love I could give her, and the love I knew she would give me, would magically fill the hole that a perinatal mood disorder had left. I thought having her in my life would make me feel complete.
Many months after my daughter, O, was born, I was overcome with the desire to have another baby. I wanted another girl who would complete the female tribe I had always envisioned for my family. I thought that once this vision of my perfect family was gifted to me then I would finally be happy. I got stuck on naming my next child Rowena. In both my head and heart I believed a story that if I just had another baby, if I had Rowena, then I would be fulfilled.
I did not know that during this time of wild imagination that I was deep in the throws of a perinatal mood disorder. It presented itself as extreme depression and anxiety. I did not know why I felt so emotionally raw/sad/heavy/irritable/fatigued/angry/worried/unsure/disconnected/dark/overwhelmed. I just thought I wasn’t good at the whole motherhood thing. I thought I wasn’t as strong as the other moms. I thought that if I was a better mom then I wouldn’t feel so horrible.
All I knew was that I wasn’t myself. All I could say with certainty was, “I don’t know who I am, but this doesn’t feel like me.”
So I began to imagine how life with Rowena would be. She would be a fresh start, my re-do. I would feel like myself again! A second child presented the opportunity to be a different mom than I was with O, a better mom. Maybe another baby would redeem me. Maybe another baby would erase all of those memories I had of postpartum depression. Maybe the void in me would be filled by Rowena. Maybe with her I could be the mom I always envisioned myself being.
Yes, I was that far gone with a perinatal mood disorder. I really thought another baby would cure me of my sadness. I honestly thought, if I just had Rowena, then I’d be happy. I thought another baby would offer forgiveness. Forgiveness for behaviors brought out by a perinatal mood disorder that to this day I am not proud of. Forgiveness for actions that happened when I was indeed not myself, but that still happened out of irritability, anger, and exhaustion. Surely a second chance of motherhood would erase that pain and guilt, right?
I know. Now it seems ridiculous. How could pregnancy, then life with an infant, be a good idea for an exhausted, depressed mother to a highly-sensitive, not-sleeping-through-the-night toddler? At the time I was also struggling with a mystery illness that appeared during pregnancy. That illness resulted in many unfortunate symptoms that often left me recovering in bed. Oh, and I was finishing up my degree. And my husband traveled a lot with his job. How was any of this a good idea?!
That goes to show what depression does to your brain. It tricks you. It feeds you stories. It disconnects you from reality.
I obviously was not thinking very logically. Depression and anxiety change your perception of reality, and clearly I did not have a realistic view of mine. People often tell depressed people to look on the bright side, to practice gratitude, to buck up. But that's the poison of depression. You know you have a ton of things to be grateful for. You see the abundance you have in your life, yet you're disconnected from reality. What you have and what you're getting out of life are two different things. A clear example of this is the idea that I thought another baby would make me feel more fulfilled, when in reality another baby may have very well left me feeling more depleted. Additionally, O was always more than enough child for me. I knew that I was beyond blessed with her as my daughter. It wasn't as if she was lacking in any way. I was lacking a clear view of my reality.
In time, I knew that I wasn't physically, mentally, or spiritually ready for another baby. I realized that due to my health, the happiness and fulfillment I was seeking with another baby would probably bring me the opposite of that: more extreme exhaustion, increased depression and anxiety, more strain on my marriage, less money, you name it. Though I was unable to look too far into the future (thanks, depression!) I was self-aware enough to understand the reality of a second baby.
Very gradually, with a ton of baby steps (no pun intended) and self-reflection work, a small part of me started to heal. Little snippets of discovery would arise. I began to understand that my life was not an if, then process. As in, if _____ happens, then I’ll be _____. I began to look inward (I know, cue eye roll) about what I was wanting from Rowena in the first place. I began to understand that I needed to give myself something that would be healthy and beneficial at that moment. I didn’t want to wait for another baby. I desperately wanted to feel better right then and there.
I decided to find something that would be for ME. Instead of narrowing my happiness vision by only thinking about another baby, I began to consider different options. I chose to focus my attention on something that could build connection at that moment, something I could do while continuing to work on my physical and mental health. I needed something that helped me to have the life I wanted, and I began to understand that I was only going to get there one step at a time. The immediate goal was just to take one step in a healthy direction. The large goal was a connection that would fill my soul, a project that would give me the fulfillment I was searching for.
So I started a project, and I became the center of it.
There were three driving forces behind my project:
Find ways to feel better right then and there
Find ways to move forward out of the stagnant phase I was in
Find meaning out of the years past that had caused me so much grief
Naming this new plan The Rowena Project was easy for me. While the focus was on myself, I wanted to remember the significance of my imaginary Rowena. I was also grieving the life I thought I would have, and I still wanted the joy of Rowena to be close to me. I realized that all of the things I thought my life would be with Rowena in it were still possible, I just needed to take baby steps in another direction to find them. Finally, my Rowena Project reminds me of my own If, Then negotiations playing out in my head and heart. Doing this work on myself allows me to think that maybe (just maybe!) I will be ok without my perfect outcome falling into place.
To this day I am still practicing my Rowena Project. It continues to bring relief. I am constantly needing to take baby steps in order to move forward. I still occasionally fall into the If, Then trap. And so I keep coming back to it for the same reasons I did in the first place: to feel better in the present moment, to find meaning during difficult situations, to feel connected to myself and others who give me love, to live the life I want now without expecting someone else to bring me fulfillment. It is a constant project for myself.
And I would love to share it with you.
Do you have your own Rowena? Need help releasing your own If, Then struggle? Contact me for relief and support.