My self-esteem kind of fell to the shits some time after my daughter was born. It wasn’t postpartum depression; I’d made it okay through the weeks of shifting hormones and months of endless infant crying. I cried twice after she was born; once in frustration that I wasn’t getting to hold her as much as I wanted during what felt like a never-ending cycle of visitors, and once that first day after my husband went to work and everyone was gone. Other than that, I was fine.
Until I wasn’t. I started losing confidence. New parenthood can be isolating, physically: You just can’t leave the house as easily as you used to.
To compound matters, I had less to say about work, because I was working half-time. I had been used to connecting with people on the basis of work.
Sometimes it’s said that people who talk about their kids are boring. Emotionally, I bought right into that, while intellectually I still know this is a feminist issue that angers me. Frowning on kid-talk serves as a way to silence and trivialize women since we often find ourselves serving as primary caregivers to any children we may have.
All of this meant I became more isolated still.
I realized in the grocery store that I was getting out of tune with myself; it was becoming too hard to buy basic things like pasta or peanut butter. I would look at multiple varieties and not know which to pick. I didn’t trust myself. Decisions that should have taken three seconds were taking 10.
So I wrote an email to two of my closest, dearest friends, telling them that I felt my self-esteem was hitting a lower patch and asking for advice on what they thought I should do. I also asked my husband for ideas.
I think, honestly, it surprised some of them, although they all rose to the occasion, were supportive, and offered awesome ideas. There is some taboo in admitting when you don’t feel great. There shouldn’t be.
Our security in ourselves and the way we feel about the world are hardly static. You could even be the strongest person in the world and still hit rough patches. Admitting the crap times when you have them is a really helpful step to tossing them down the Litter Genie.
Through conversations with my lovelies, I came to realize that what I was really missing was a sense of accomplishment, and that was what was decking my self-esteem. When I had been working around the clock, I had stacks of achievements in the detritus of my to-do lists. People recognized my work. I had the ability to write for pleasure 20 times more often than before the baby, and get feedback in the process.
Motherhood didn’t feel like that. Every time I changed her outfit, my dear sweet daughter seemed to spit up profusely again. Even putting her down for a nap wasn’t much accomplishment, since she’d usually wake up and start crying almost immediately. What I needed, bluntly, was something new that we could do. I knew it had to be us and not just me, or I wouldn’t get the accomplishment near often enough.
So we tried a baby yoga class. And we started coming back, week after week. We’ve been going for almost a year and a half now. Thing is, it worked, and actually fairly quickly. I just needed something new, something I could point to as something I was getting done. As time went on, and my daughter grew, the class became irresistible fun. I love to watch her sing, dance, and do a tree pose (A DEAD-SERIOUS TODDLER DOING A TREE POSE!).
Recently I shared this story in a workshop I facilitated on pregnancy after an eating disorder, as an example of how it’s totally cool to speak up during the divots of life and work toward your own mental health. A doctor who was also leading the workshop responded to my claim that probably none of the other parents in the room knew how important that 45-minute class is to me. She said: It probably is for them, too.
We need to be honest that parenting is not always easy, that life is not always easy, that it’s okay to experience ups and downs and talk about them. It’s actually a sign of strength. At least, that’s the message I hope I’m teaching my daughter.