Postpartum Anxiety

Tully Takeaways

Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen the movie Tully, and are planning on seeing it, this post contains spoilers.

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First and foremost Tully is a movie that depicts a mental illness. It is not really a realistic picture of the typical motherhood experience (although the stepping on Legos is pretty accurate). What Marlo is experiencing is postpartum psychosis. She is seeing, talking and believing there is something and someone there who isn’t real. This is rare, super rare, but it’s the type of perinatal mood disorder that we hear about in the news, and makes the rest of them taboo.

There have been a lot of blog posts about how Marlo’s mental illness in the movie is defined incorrectly, this is not one of them. It doesn’t matter to me that they defined it wrong, or that they didn’t define it at all. What matters to me is that this movie has started a conversation about postpartum depression, anxiety, psychosis and the overwhelmed mother who is at a higher risk of developing symptoms. And, of course, it’s about how much better people can do when they are seen, supported, and treated.


 And, of course, it’s about how much better people can do when they are seen, supported, and treated.


With all that said, let’s start with the beginning of the movie with Marlo’s son. He’s “quirky” (a definition sure to make all parents of kids with additional needs crazy). I’m not going to diagnose him, this isn’t about him, it’s about his mom. It’s about how parents who have children with different needs are overlooked. It’s about how we pay so much attention to what the kid’s needs are, that we forget about their parents. Tully said it perfectly. You can’t treat a child without caring for the parent. The parent is an extension of the child and you can’t expect one to get better without supporting the other too. This is the first conversation point in the movie. The first sign of a developing problem. An already overwhelmed mom, expecting a new baby. She should have been identified by her doctor. She should have been given resources early in her pregnancy. Someone should have seen that she may have needed some help and stepped in.

Tully, ©2018

Tully, ©2018

Then we have the birth, the hospital, and the nurses. They are not depicted too well in this movie, but nurses (most of whom are amazing) have the most contact with postpartum moms. Which puts them in a unique position to catch a mom who needs help. Many moms will say that their symptoms started before they left the hospital. In Tully, Marlo’s did too. She didn’t want to hold her baby. She didn’t smile. She wasn’t happy. And that is not typical. Again, another sign of a possible problem that was overlooked by everyone, including her husband and family. They easily explained this away as a mom tired from labor, having a newborn and raising two older children. 

Now let’s move onto the house, it’s a wreck. While it is totally normal for your house to be a wreck after having a new baby (I know mine was). It’s also a pretty good sign of someone being overwhelmed and needing support.

And for the twist, Tully, the night nanny, is actually a 26 year old Marlo. We learn late in the movie that she has talking to herself for the entire movie. Believing that this person, who is actually herself, is coming in at night and doing all the things she is unable to do.

It becomes clear from their interactions that Marlo is missing the freedom that comes with youth. She misses having no responsibility, and the ability to do whatever she wants, whenever she wants. This is a completely normal feeling. It is normal to miss the life we had before marriage and children. And it’s important to honor and remember that part of our lives. It is important to talk about it, to keep it alive and remind ourselves that that person is still a part of the mother we have become.


It is normal to miss the life we had before marriage and children.


It’s time to spend a little bit of time talking about Marlo’s husband. He’s pretty important in this. Partners are the first ones to see that something is up, but partners can also be so overwhelmed themselves, that they don’t see the problem until it’s impossible to miss. So, for all the partners out there, if your wreck of a house is suddenly spotless, pay attention to it. If your not having sex and suddenly your partner is dressing up and really spicing things up, pay attention. If suddenly fresh baked goods are waiting on the table in the morning, pay attention. If there are things that are not typical and it suddenly seems like things are too good to be true, pay attention. Get curious, ask questions, be more present and make sure that you aren’t missing something. And if you are feeling overwhelmed yourself, reach out, get help, get support, and know that you are not alone.

And the end, my favorite part. Marlo and her husband are in the kitchen prepping their kids’ school lunches. No words, just two people connecting, supporting each other, and getting through it together. Does this mean she is fine, nope. Does this mean her stuff is figured out, not by a long shot. But it means someone knows. Someone sees her. Someone knows she needs help and she now knows she doesn’t have to and can’t do it alone anymore. 


But it means someone knows. Someone sees her. Someone knows she needs help and she now knows she doesn’t have to and can’t do it alone anymore. 


Sharing (and Owning) My Story

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A few weeks ago I made the decision to share my story with you. I had no idea how it would be received or how it would make me feel, but I put it out there and took the risk.

I have been trying to figure out how to describe what it’s been like since then, and today I finally figured it out. I was listening to a podcast (my newest obsession) and they mentioned the Japanese art of kintsugi. You may think that you haven’t heard of it before, but chances are you have.

Kintsugi is the Japanese practice of filling cracks on broken pottery with gold, silver or platinum. The metaphor has been used a million times, so forgive me for using it again, but it so perfectly describes how I have been feeling that I wanted to share it with you. I really tried to eloquently re-write the Wikipedia description of the philosophy and ultimately realized that I was failing… so instead I am just going to use their words.

As a philosophy, kintsugi can be seen to have similarities to the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, an embracing of the flawed or imperfect. Japanese aesthetics values marks of wear by the use of an object. This can be seen as a rationale for keeping an object around even after it has broken and as a justification of kintsugi itself, highlighting the cracks and repairs as simply an event in the life of an object rather than allowing its service to end at the time of its damage or breakage.
"Not only is there no attempt to hide the damage, but the repair is literally illuminated... The [changes] of existence over time, to which all humans are susceptible, could not be clearer than in the breaks, the knocks, and the shattering to which ceramic ware too is subject. "— Christy Bartlett, Flickwerk: The Aesthetics of Mended Japanese Ceramics

So I know it is pretty wordy, but this is it, this is how I feel now, and it is in stark contrast to how I felt before.

Before, I felt like if I own this, if I put this out into the world people will actually see me. They will know I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore, that I thought about ending my life and that I thought I was a crappy mom.

(Aside: Here’s the place that I should probably add that being open is something that is pretty hard for me as a person. I generally write about my feelings or put them into my art, but talking about them, like really talking about them, owning them, putting them out there into the world, it’s just not something I have historically done.)

But this is what I have learned, and why I’m sharing it with you today. I hit publish on that post and went into my first, of nine sessions, for the day. This is important for me to tell you, because that was me trying to hide from it. Like when you hit send on an email and close your computer and go do something else, that’s what I did. I was terrified and needed to busy myself. What were my friends, family, clients, random people in the world going to think, and eeek, they were going to see me. But then my phone, inbox, message feed and anywhere else you can reach me started blowing up. So many people, people I hadn’t heard from in 20 or 30 years, people I see everyday, family, clients, and my community, not only offered their support but also shared their stories, and their stories were soooo similar, not all the details of course, but the feelings. The feelings were all the same.

And so this is it, this is why I shared my story. This is why I owned it. And this filled the crack, the broken piece of me, in with gold.

I now know that I want you to see it when you see me. It did not make me weak, it’s part of what makes me beautiful, strong and resilient. It reminded me that we all have cracks, and that it feels good to own them. Thank you for teaching me this, for sharing your stories, and for supplying me with the gold to fill mine in.

 

 

 

Working Mom Guilt

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When I was pregnant with my first baby, I totally thought I would love staying home. I imagined all the play dates we would have, the groups we would join and all the new mommy friends I would make. I could see it in my head. The afternoons filled with adorable kid friendly crafts, the cute pictures of lots of babies all born in the same month sitting on a couch together, exercising with a group of moms. You know, the whole post baby package we see all over the media.

Then I had my son and I quickly realized that what I saw on TV and all over social media was crap. Being a mom was way harder than I had anticipated. It was not all play dates and time for lunches and new mommy friends. In fact it was pretty lonely. There were hours spent re-watching the entire series of 90210 (that really happened) when I couldn’t move from the couch in fear my sleeping baby would wake up. There were walks, and trips to the mall spent trying to keep a baby calm and fed, all while trying to keep my boobs from exploding.

As my son got bigger, there were fun play dates and parent and me groups with new mommy and daddy friends. There were trips to the park and failed attempts at stroller strides and honestly, it started to get fun. But I still felt like something was missing.

It was initially my husband who suggested that maybe I should go back to work. I scoffed at that, I mean, I was meant to stay home. But like most statements that I’m not ready to hear, it takes me time to process them and decide if I agree or not. Ultimately, when I was ready to listen to myself, I realized he was right (you’re welcome honey).

The idea of going back to work made me happy. There was an excitement that I hadn’t felt for a while. I was ready to have adult conversations and feel productive. I was ready to have a task with an anticipated beginning, middle and end. But all that meant that I had to leave my baby in the care of someone else.

And cue the guilt (and anxiety). And there was lots of it. What if he took his first steps and I wasn’t there, what if said a word and I missed it? What if his caregiver didn’t know that he liked to cuddle with his lovey before he took his nap, or that he liked to be held a certain way when he drank his bottle? There were so many conflicted feelings that it was hard to manage, and to be honest with you, it still is.

There are missed dinners, bath times, books and activities. And although my husband is amazing and incredibly supportive, a lot of work falls on him (how we split that up will come in a later blog post). But there is one thing no one can manage but me, and that is the guilt.

So how do I deal with it? I acknowledge it. I remind myself that I am a much better mom because I work. I am teaching my children how to responsibly manage their time, and how important it is to continue doing something they enjoy. I get to explain to them what I do and have them be proud of me. I get to teach them to be independent and to manage life without their dad or me always by their side. I remind myself I am boosting their confidence. I am teaching my daughter that women can work be whatever they want to be and I am teaching my sons that gender roles aren’t so easily defined.

In the end I know I made the right decision, because I feel more like me. If you are struggling with your decision to go back to work, or struggling with the fact that you have no choice, remind yourself of the positive aspects of working even when the guilt feels overwhelming. Remind yourself that you are a good mom, and make sure you always end your day practicing gratitude for what you have. And if you are still having a hard time and need to talk, I'm always here.