The news of her post flashed up on the screen. Tennis super star Serena Williams published a photo describing her battle with “post-partum emotions.” She wrote on Instagram that she was in a “funk” when she lost the Silicon Valley Classic tennis match last week. At five months in with my second baby, “funk” is exactly that word I used just last week to describe how I feel most of the time.
Not depressed. Not anxious. But emotional, overwhelmed and out-of-sorts.
“Funk” is the word I threw at my husband when I had a complete meltdown last Wednesday, unable to stop crying for 2 hours without being able to pinpoint exactly why. I was overwhelmed by nothing and everything at the same time. I imagined that my husband was getting sick of me and would surely need someone who could provide for him better as a wife than I.
I berated myself for not being loving enough to people in my life, for not being thankful that I had a great job, for the fact that my carpets really need cleaned and my budget needs an overhaul but I’m not disciplined enough to get these things done. As soon as the tears would dissipate, another detrimental thought would creep in. My head felt like a soggy balloon, weighted down, cloudy, lost and whipping around alone in an abandoned parking lot.
“Funk” was exactly the word I had used to describe myself when a friend was visiting from out of town and I felt like I couldn’t hack it as a good host. I wasn’t being cheerful enough or providing enough entertainment or acting happy enough that she had spent several hundred dollars to fly here to see me. Never mind the fact that she wasn’t expecting the Waldorf complete with yoga classes and breakfast in bed. Never mind the fact that my 5-month-old baby was sick for the first time, streaming snot, severely congested, sleeping badly and uninterested in being out of my arms.
My husband kind of looked at me in confusion, asking what in the world was wrong and my friend was gracious as ever, reminding me that I have a new baby and a full-time job and a toddler and all the things. Even the little things can feel like big things and it doesn’t have to make sense.
Any woman who has been pregnant and received proper medical care knows that post-partum depression (PPD) is heavily emphasized — in printed pamphlets, online articles and on post-birth questionnaires with strange statements to rate numerically. One of the oddest stands out: “Everything is starting to feel on top of me.” Rate that with a number, new mom. What does it even mean? Who came up with this weird wording and how in the world am I supposed to decipher it in a newborn fog? If I don’t feel depressed, I must be good, I guess.
Rarely do doctors tell moms about how their brains will change dramatically when they give birth. New research shows the changes are real — and lasting. It sounds pretty scary, almost like it could alter you as a person entirely. Perhaps that’s why they say everything changes when you become a parent. Specifically, though, research shows that moms have actual brain pattern changes when they have babies — not dads.
And when those changes begin taking place, it can feel like the world is swirling all around you and that this mental shift is going to take root permanently. You are living in a world tinted by post-partum irrationalities that seem impossible to escape.
We are so used to hearing the term “post-partum depression” (PPD) or even “post-partum anxiety” but the descriptor “emotion” is what hits the spot for many — and yet, I rarely hear people discuss it. Depression and anxiety are really hard, but so is inexplicable emotion and frequent overwhelm. I have bonded with both my babies immediately and never once felt resentful of them. I’ve showered and gotten dressed everyday, gone back to work at 6 weeks, launched a book, started training for a half-marathon. I have “handled” it — but it doesn’t mean I’m not struggling on the back end. My brain is going through growing pains, using muscles, trading spaces with neurons and chemicals that may be getting their legs for the very first time.
For me, the feelings dictate where my brain goes in other areas of life, often make me feel as though I’m failing at all the things I want to be and do. Oddly enough, it hasn’t come in the form of feeling like a “bad mom” but has manifested in every other crevice. As a wife, a friend, an employee and a person with lots of pent up ambition and little actual direction beyond keep the kids alive and don’t drink all the wine. Manning the toddler and tiny baby trenches are emotional battlefields on which plenty of self-grace should be poured.
I heard myself say recently, “I just cried like 4 times tonight and I’m not sure why — I have no reason to be so emotional.”
The women I was speaking to replied, “Well, you just had a baby!”
That’s something we need to remember, post-partum friends. Our brains have transformed. Our hearts have grown bigger. We have changed, but in the end, it’s all for the better.