I watched my daughters climb all over the booth and shout at each other with excitement. My youngest could not contain her joy at being the birthday girl. Since it was her birthday, she got to choose her birthday dinner. She requested a trip to her favorite burger place, and she wanted to eat inside instead of going through the drive through. My husband was harried and worried about how rambunctious our girls were. I looked at them both and just smiled. I felt so much joy at watching my two cavort like little puppies. My girls really love each other, and they enjoy each other’s company. The girls were goofing around and dancing in the booths. I gently scolded them from time to time as my husband looked at me like I was from another planet. I have never been the Zen type with our daughters, particularly not when we are out in public.
I struggled with severe postpartum anxiety and postpartum depression after the birth of my youngest daughter. Her birthdays have always been very triggering days for me except for this year. The past two birthdays had been so bittersweet. I spent half of her actual birthday choking back tears at all the wasted moments, minutes, hours, and days. I did not get help until she was nearly eight months old. I regretted that I did not reach out for help sooner. I worried constantly that I damaged our relationship beyond repair.
I spent my daughter’s last two birthdays trying desperately to make her birthday absolutely perfect. I thought that the perfect birthday celebration would help assuage my guilt. Instead I spent her birthdays completely exhausted and stressed out by all the details. I had to make a cake from scratch. The house had to be cleaned from top to bottom. This resulted in multiple meltdowns from me in the week leading up to her birthday. Since she and her older sister are born a week apart, we would combine their birthday celebrations which only exacerbated my stress level. Striving for perfection was not a realistic goal for me at all. I am a recovering perfectionist, and I am still a work in progress.
This year I reached a major milestone in my recovery from postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety. I experienced nothing but joy and delight on my baby girl’s birthday. Sadly my baby is no longer a baby; she is a lively and energetic three-year-old. I was able to just enjoy her curious and feisty spirit as she bounced up and down repeatedly in the booth at the restaurant. I just soaked in all the funny facial expressions as she opened up her presents from us. I cried tears of joy at the end of the night when I realized how far I had come. I was able to remain fully present for her entire birthday. I did not need to give myself a break for some self-care or to recharge my batteries, and that is amazing. My sweet girl has the type of energy that my husband and I desperately want. She wakes up and is ready to attack the day with vigor. We need multiple cups of coffee to be able to match half of her energy.
My wish for all the warrior mamas who are struggling is that you reach that point where you can enjoy your postpartum depression baby’s birthdays. I wish for you a day of smiles, laughter, sweetness, and tears of joy. I wish for you a day filled with hope and promise when you realize how deep your love is for that amazing person that calls you mama. You realize that YOU are the best mama for your baby. Your strength and your compassion are exactly what your baby needs. Never give up hope and know this. You are so loved. You are not alone. You will be well.
~ Jen Gaskell