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 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 my perfect family was gifted to me that 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 my daughter, 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.
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 actions that happened when I was indeed not myself but 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 in your life, yet that abundance doesn’t fuel or feed you. 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. Additionally, I was consuming a very nasty poison that the depression and anxiety fed me as if its life depended on it: that I was not enough. Between the disconnect from my reality, the harmful thoughts and beliefs, and the physical symptoms of depression, I was…how would you put it? Oh yes. A hot mess.
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, more overwhelm, 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 some serious self-reflection work, a small part of me started to heal. Eventually 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 would build connection at that moment, something I could do while continuing to work on my physical and mental health. I needed a plan that would get me closer to the healthy life I wanted, and I began to work through that plan one step at a time. This was literal, y’all. I can’t tell you how many times I said outloud when alone in my house, “Ok. Just take one step. What’s the next step?”
The immediate goal was to take one step in a direction that would bring me immediate relief. The larger goal was to find 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
Set realistic goals that got me closer to the life I truly wanted to live
This project of self-love, self-development, and self-fulfillment lovingly became known as my Rowena Project. I realized that the love I thought would be given to me by Rowena was actually something that I needed to give to myself. I know, I know…that could sound quite ridiculous for some of you reading this. How jaded have we become from the whole, “You have to love yourself before you love others” adage? I get it. But that’s the beauty of Rowena Projects- they’re tailored to you. I needed to learn those lessons, and I desperately needed to find relief at that moment. That is what worked for me at the time when the perinatal mood disorder fed my brain overwhelming thoughts of self-hatred, shame and guilt. You see, I believed my brain. I believed the lies the depression and anxiety were telling me. So learning to be kind to myself through my Rowena Project was not just some task to check off of my Oprah bookclub journal entry. It was my medicine. It was the breath of relief in that moment. Those baby steps I took towards relief and moving forward were how I climbed out of that poisonous hole of disconnect and pain. It was a gradual process that eventually worked to eradicate the perinatal mood disorder that stuck around for years. Good riddance, you sad, dark cloud!
Though I am much healthier than when when my Rowena Project began, I still practice the lessons I learned that helped get me to the life I wanted to live. It still continues to bring me relief. I make plans of self-fulfillment for the same reasons I did in the first place: to feel better in the present moment, to feel connected to myself and others, and 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. I know that many women many not know the next step to take towards relief. I understand that you may not have the mental and physical strength to move forward out of stagnancy. I know that sometimes it gets harder before it gets better. I get that. So if you’d like some support or need a little bit of relief at this present moment, just let me know. I’d love to help you get there.
Do you have your own Rowena? Want to feel better? Contact me for relief and support.
With love, Emily