It was Mother’s Day, 2011. My daughters were then 7 months old and three and a half years old. I was at a free yoga class twenty minutes from my home. At the class’ end, I lay in relaxation pose. I felt a peace I hadn’t felt in days, my body and mind relaxing into stillness and quiet. I hadn’t felt this in months.
It was on my way home from the yoga class, when I realized something was wrong. Just two days before, I had stood hiding in our bathroom, sobbing uncontrollably as my little girls stared at me. Where had all the peace and stillness disappeared to?
Every morning had been like this for me: frustration, tears, falling apart, at not being able to get both my three and half year old and my seven month old out of the door on time. There was yelling, screaming, and a rage from being overwhelmed. Why couldn’t I do this? I only had two. I knew women who had more. My inner dialogue consisted of the same repeated word: failure.
The peace and stillness from Sivasana made me realize that something was wrong. It had been much too long since I hadn’t felt like a jangle of nerves. Truthfully, I had not felt right since my daughter was born nearly seven months ago. I was just surviving my life. I spent my days changing diapers, working full time, nursing, cleaning, and being with my family. I spent all my time outside of work with my husband and my daughters.
But I wasn’t really there; it was just a ghost of me.
I passed my days behind a mask of forced smiles and feigned interest. Parenting had become nothing more than a long check list of to-dos. Missed were the brilliant blue of my daughters’ eyes that are so much like their dad’s– replaced by only shades of gray and clouds everywhere. I knew enough to realize that I needed to ask for help. This wasn’t the mom I wanted to be for my girls; I wanted more for them.
My first step was to tell the person closest to me: my husband, Luke. Exploding into tears, I told him that I needed help. He told me that I had not been myself since I was pregnant with our youngest. He never knew what mood I was going to be in. My husband promised to support me in whatever I needed to do to get better. We decided to call a therapist.
Without knowing what to say, my fingers shook as I dialed the number of a therapist I found. I left a message for her, in a voice that sounded more like a frightened child than the grown woman I was. I heard myself leave my name, number. Sounding confused, I said, “This is Jennifer Gaskell. And something’s wrong. I think it’s anxiety. I want to be seen as soon as possible. I’m really struggling.”
I felt some relief after that call, but I still felt scared. I couldn’t do this alone. How could I explain and who would understand? The image of my sweet cousin’s face floated before me. I urgently called her familiar number. When she answered, the words tumbled out of my mouth. “It’s Jen. I’m not good. I think… I think I’ve got postpartum anxiety. I called and left a message for a therapist. I want to be seen right away.” I had to reassure her, “I am not going to hurt myself or the girls, but I need help soon. Can you tell me what to say so I can get seen as soon as possible?” And with that confession, the floodgates opened, with all the anguish and anxiety I had been carrying alone for months. I burst into tears. Two days later, I was in my therapist’s office.
My first therapy appointment, two years ago, was only one step of many – but it began my journey. Therapy along with medication controlled the overwhelming moments I was in, BUT the most comfort I found was peer to peer support online. The Internet saved my life, and the first blog I logged on to was Postpartum Progress — a site dedicated to providing mental health resources and support for women with postpartum issues. And from there, I found a springboard for a live twitter chat online called PPD chat – where women from all over the world log on and find themselves in a safe place, where we can ask for understanding, acceptance, and community.
It was as if someone had handed me a tank of oxygen when I could no longer breathe on my own – I was no longer alone in my struggle. I had found a community of what we call, Warrior Mamas, women like me who work hard to survive and help others survive postpartum mood disorders.
I feel myself being reborn, like a phoenix refined from the ashes of my postpartum depression and anxiety. I want to talk about what I went through to let other moms know that they are not alone – that’s why I started my blog. I am not afraid to tell my story. I am thriving, strong enough now to stretch beyond my comfort zone. I am no longer just surviving life. I am living it and loving it. Something I never thought I’d do again. I am recovering, and my journey has made me what I am today: the mother I want for my children.
Four years ago, I wasn’t even able to know how to ask for help. And now, I am telling my story, hoping that someone out there, who needs to hear it, does.
And that they hear this – never give up hope.
Jen is a proud warrior mom who struggled with PPD and PPA four years ago after the birth of her youngest daughter. She credits Postpartum Progress for being her lifeline out of the darkness. Jen found her passion as a mental health advocate through her blog Tranquila Mama. She is a member of the Postpartum Progress editorial team and a Co-producer of Listen to Your Mother Milwaukee. She lives outside of Milwaukee with her husband and two daughters.
The 7th Annual Mother’s Day Rally for Moms’ Mental Health is presented by Postpartum Progress, a national nonprofit 501c3 that raises awareness & advocates for more and better services for women who have postpartum depression and all other mental illnesses related to pregnancy and childbirth. Please consider making a donation today, on Mother’s Day, to help us continue to spread the word and support the mental health of new mothers.