In an age where social media and technology provide us with constant opportunities to take and retake photos, add filters, edit flaws and present an often unrealistic image of ourselves and our lives as mothers, we set out to create a series of real-life motherhood moments – without the filters, without the edits, but with all the beauty.
This is Erin.
In her words:
My grandmother cared for my brothers and I growing up, in the house that she still lives in, and that my husband and I moved into last year. I’ve always loved the idea of inter-generational living, and when my grandfather passed away and then my grandmother’s tenant moved out, she wanted someone to move in with her and we were excited to try it out. My mother was born and raised in Vancouver, as was I, and my great grandmother is 106 and living in Strathcona a few blocks from where my mom grew up. I think there is something incredibly special about having 5 generations of maternal lineage together in the same place, 4 of them in the same house 2-3 days a week (my mom has been an incredible help with my daughter as I have had a very hard time with postpartum depression). I think it’s a unique living arrangement that we have in this age of independence; it feels a bit like the idea of the “village.”
What is your biggest challenge or concern as a mother?
How to narrow it down to just one?!
My biggest challenge has definitely been dealing with Postpartum Depression. Transitioning to the role of “mother” didn’t come easily for me. Everything about it has been harder than I expected. The PPD put this edge on everything. It was all amplified. Noises were louder, lights were brighter, emotions were stronger. My nervous system was hyper-sensitized and super-reactive.
For example, living with my Grandmother has been amazing, but she insisted that we stay home for the first month and she would come in without warning while I was nursing and get upset that I wasn’t covered or tell me the baby didn’t have enough layers on and would catch a cold. I think that on any typical day I would be able to brush it off and trust my instincts, but as a new mom, my confidence had disintegrated and I doubted myself, my identity, and my decisions. I was vulnerable, nervous, and obsessed with getting things “right”.
The first few weeks I experienced quite intense “baby blues” but I was so determined to chill out and do a good job of the whole new mom thing, and everyone kept telling me that it would get better. I’m not sure that it got better so much as it was different. I became more and more anxious. I felt I couldn’t trust anyone else with my baby. I was so angry all the time and the littlest things would set me off. I remember wondering if I was alone in feeling such rage towards my husband, who was (is) amazing and did everything he could to support me. I googled “Spouse resentment new baby” and was relieved to find the first result was an article titled “Why you hate your husband after having a baby”.
I would light tiny tea light candles in the bathroom and sit in a sitz bath with tears streaming down my face. I’m thankful that I never had any negative feelings towards my daughter, but instead I directed the full force of them back onto myself or at my husband.
I really fought it for the first few months. I tried to exercise and eat well. I tried to nap and get out of the house every day. I was seeing a psychiatrist “just in case” and I started going to a support group… but I felt like things kept getting worse. I started feeling more and more overwhelmed, and I would fantasize about being catatonic or hospitalized so I could escape from it all. I was terrified that if I said the wrong thing or was honest about what I was feeling that my daughter would be taken away from me or I would be hospitalized (oh, the irony).
I desperately wanted to feel better and to heal but there is such a stigma and so much shame surrounding mental illness that I didn’t feel like it was safe to speak openly about it. Eventually I started taking antidepressants and though I’ve still had some really hard moments, once they started working, the worst of the clouds cleared. I’ve been able to access a lot more of the joy in my days and to (finally) thoroughly enjoy my time with my daughter.
The thing about PPD, and any depression or anxiety is that your brain tells you things that aren’t true, but are so convincing. It’s almost impossible to not get wrapped up in the story of how you’re not good enough, and it’s taking time and effort for me to re-write the story and begin to embrace this whole thing as the adventure it is.
How has your experience as a mother shaped the way you experience the world and/or shaped your life?
It has highlighted how much of people’s lives are invisible to the outside eye. I’m a pretty open-book type of person, and yet it has been hard for me to share a lot of what I’ve been struggling with. Suffering and pain and big emotions tend to make people uncomfortable. There’s such a strong urge to fix and solve that a lot of times I think we miss the part where we just listen, so I’m really working on that.
I’m reminding myself that it’s okay to not be okay. I see it every day with my daughter. When she cries, I try not to say, “You’re okay,” because she’s obviously not, or she wouldn’t be crying. Of course I have the urge to try and stop her crying, but I want the urge to be present and listen to be stronger.
At the centre of it all, this experience has made me more compassionate. It’s been the opposite of the whole tough it out, suck it up thing. It’s required me to soften even more, to open up even more, and to demand more gentleness of myself.
Becoming a mother has also completely shifted my relationship with my own mother. The love I feel for my daughter has exponentially expanded the love I feel for my mother. To know that she went through her own version of this experience, that she felt this depth of love for me. That her life was transformed as well. We have a lot of similarities to our stories. She also suffered from PPD and we had our first child around the same age. Plus I live with her mother, so that’s added an often hilarious spin to things. To have context for her own stories of joy and struggle, it’s brought us closer than ever.
What makes you a good mother?
One of the things that my PPD brain would tell me constantly is that I’m not a good mother. It’s one of the things I’m working on. I particularly like the idea of good-enough mothering. On the days where I feel like I can’t possibly be a ‘good’ mother, I can usually agree that I’m a good-enough mother. It takes the pressure off to get everything right (not even possible anyway, I know).
The things that make me most proud of myself in my role as mother all involve respecting my child. I try to tell her what I’m going to do next, move slowly and give her lots of space and time to explore her world. I treat her like a whole person. I believe in her ability and accept her as she is, and I trust her to let me know what she needs. I do my best to be attuned to her and to listen to and accept all her feelings as they are.
It’s a work in progress, as everything is. Some moments I hit it out of the park and others I drop the ball completely. But in a world that tells us in so many ways that we’re not good enough the way we are, it is a radical act to practice acceptance and model that for my child.