Ultimately, this is a story of strength, hope, and healing. However, I would be remiss if I did not disclose that this post includes an account of my own experience as a new mom with postpartum depression and anxiety. If you’re currently in a more fragile and sensitive state, my story may contain possible triggers.
1. The process of becoming a mother.
I remember the precise moment that Artemis & Equus came into being, though I didn’t know it at the time. I was riding in the backseat of the car, returning home from a dinner with a few of our neighbors, still a bit unsettled by the impact of a relatively mundane conversation around the table. While it would take years to germinate and grow, in that moment, a seed was planted.
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Sometimes life gives us more change than we can handle, and sometimes we choose it for ourselves. My mid-twenties take the cake for being a whirlwind packed full of life-altering events: A new career. Marriage. A move. A new baby. Over the course of two years, I willingly (and quite joyfully) chose a lot of life change in a small amount of time.
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Twelve years ago, I was a brand-new mom who was in a very rough spot. My first pregnancy was relatively typical. Though not a total breeze, I also did not experience major challenges. As my July due date came nearer, I completed my second year of teaching, and we moved to be closer to family.
Within the last month of my pregnancy, my body staged its own revolt, and I developed pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy or PUPPS, which made an already-difficult stage of pregnancy feel nearly unbearable, and being that birth is the only remedy, I looked forward even more expectantly to welcoming our daughter into the world.
The story of my labor and delivery is much like that of many other moms in middle-class America. We dutifully had all of the recommended prenatal check-ups, paid close attention to all of the latest recommendations, went to our childbirth classes, and outlined our wishes in a detailed birth plan that we shared with our OB-GYN and nurses. We were ready.
Even the best laid plans go awry.
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In the end, my birth experience did not go as we had hoped it would. Maybe it was our first lesson that in parenthood, very little goes as planned.
For a long time, I partially credited my struggle with postpartum anxiety and depression to my birth experience. In an effort to understand what was happening, sometimes it was easier to place blame because nothing else made sense. While there is some sliver of truth in that connection (How I experienced childbirth was a factor after all.), I have come to realize that like many of our life-changing experiences, the causes of my postpartum depression and anxiety were far too multifaceted and intertwined to tease apart and understand at any one moment in time. Singularly, there wasn’t one factor that created my postpartum experience. Combined, all of those factors synthesized into the force of a freight train that indelibly changed my life.
I certainly struggled in a very normal way during my first four months postpartum as I recovered from surgery, adjusted to breastfeeding, and adapted to the crazy circus that is becoming a parent for the first time. We were very fortunate that with my husband’s work schedule, accrued paternity leave, and plenty of support, we were able to spend the first three to four months together as a new family.
Little by little, the darkness crept in. Sleep deprivation. Too much caffeine. Poor self care. Long days alone with the baby. Lack of routine. The pressure to hold it all together. Boredom. The scale finally tipped after a routine umbilical hernia repair sometime before Thanksgiving. I am not able to remember much about the timeline after that – my memories only come in unreliable snippets without a time and date stamp. It is as if someone took a film reel of the next twelve months, cut it up, and spliced it back together haphazardly. I know that sleep became impossible because of the endless loop of racing, intrusive thoughts every time I went to bed. I’d lay in bed simultaneously terrified of sleep and terrified of being awake. I remember crying on the kitchen floor, talking to my baby, not really understanding why, only that I felt such immense, inexplicable sadness. There were doctor appointments. Phone calls to our families attempted to let them know what was going on, even when there were no sufficient words to explain it. In the bathroom, sample packs of medication were tucked away in case I decided I needed them. My mom took time off and came to spend some time with us to keep me company and help however she could. An appointment for therapy was weeks away. For months, I compulsively locked doors and checked over the house for anything that would pose a danger to us. Feeling alone, I would drive to Walmart, only to have a panic attack when surrounded by all of the people in the store. I could hardly watch the news, for surely being witness to someone else’s tragedy would make it my own. I would hold our daughter long after she was asleep, never wanting to let her go in case something happened to her. She was safest with me. Everything felt dangerous. I often hid our kitchen knives because even the sight of them made me anxious. After hearing about Andrea Yates’s story on the news during her sentencing, bath time became terrifying. What if I harmed my baby, too? The tricks my body and mind played on me were an endless loop of despair and worry. I was exhausted.
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When you’re in crisis, people tell you that you’re not alone, but I always felt as though no one truly understood what I was experiencing. And then, at some point in the midst of that year, I learned I was not, in fact, as alone as I felt even if my experience was uniquely my own. We accepted a random invitation to dinner out with my husband’s childhood friend and some of their friends. We did not know them well, but they were all young parents. While I do not recall how the topic came up, I left dinner that night with an understanding that a many of the moms there had experienced mild to significant struggles with their postpartum mental health. While we each took a different approach to treatment and healing, the shared experience was that in our area, our options were limited to medication, occasional therapy, time, and a few alternative treatments. As we pulled into the driveway that night, and I sat in the back seat with my daughter, I made a commitment to myself and the universe: When I was well enough and our own babies were no longer infants, I would create another option for women to heal – one that gave them space and time for themselves and their families. In that moment, a seed was planted.
Today, that seed is blossoming into Artemis & Equus.
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I am fortunate. My story has a very happy ending. Throughout my first postpartum experience, I sought healing in many forms, traditional and alternative, and slowly regained my wholeness. Spanning multiple pregnancies and postpartum periods over the course of ten years, my own matrescence has been a significant catalyst in my life, ultimately resulting in expansion, growth, and love. Through my pain and struggle, I found my strength, and from my journey, I have found a greater purpose.
Because of my experience, I have a heartfelt interest in full-circle healing for mothers, children, and families. Our families are a major touchstone in our lives, whether our families of origin or the families we create for ourselves. Through Artemis & Equus, it is my intention to offer an alternative for women who are transitioning to or in the midst of motherhood, including perinatal mental health and mood disorders such as postpartum depression and anxiety. Furthermore, the well-being of our children has a significant impact on the well-being of the family, and I’m deeply committed to helping youth in a process of self-discovery and healing that allows them to move forward in life with wholeness, health, and authenticity. Through healing for mothers and children, we create full-circle healing for our families, past, present and future.
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I was under the direct care of medical and mental health professionals throughout the entirety of my pregnancies and postpartum periods. At no time was I in imminent danger of harming myself or my children.
If you are currently experiencing any sort of mental health crisis, please call your physician, local emergency number, or national emergency hotline such as the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
Women and families seeking additional, non-crisis postpartum support can find resources through their local providers or by contacting Postpartum Support International at 1-800-944-4773 or http://www.postpartum.net