In 2012, my recovery from postpartum anxiety coincided with the first Fall in 35 years when kids went back to school, and I did not.
Instead, I stayed home with a 5 month old who still took two naps a day. I found myself with a lot of time on my hands—twitchy hands that needed something to do.
At first, to battle the guilt and stigma I still felt, I allowed them to feed me. Graham crackers and Nutella. In November my friends ran a Nutella intervention but by then, the 15 lbs of damage was done.
I needed something else to do.
I’m going to make a quilt, I decided.
I know. Of all the things. But when I was younger, we had a third grandma named Opal who lived down the street. In the quiet moments when she sat to watch a show, she had a stack of quilt pieces next to her that she patiently hand-stitched together into flowers and then transformed into quilts.
I can do that, I thought. I can make those flowers.
All that late Fall and Winter, I sat on the couch while Annie slept and hand-sewed flower after flower with tiny little stitches, until I had a stack of 20.
Then I discovered that by making the flowers first, I had sewed myself into a corner. I wrote about it here. I showed you these pictures:
I hoped it was all coming together.
Instead, I ended up with this:
I stopped. The next summer was rolling in and my feet were under me. I hit my stride as a stay at home mom. I joined the gym with Dana. I started writing about my postpartum experience. Shea and I had an idea that maybe we should move to Oregon.
It was a busy and fruitful time, and I didn’t need the soothing, quiet stitching. The pieces sat for almost two years.
Last Fall, when Annie joined Gabe and Kate on the first day of school, my guilt came back. For three hours every day, I was alone while everyone else in my family worked. I started feeling anxious again. My twitchy hands came back. I did not buy Nutella, but only by the grace of God.
One morning, I pulled out my sewing box to mend a shirt of Gabe’s and there it was: my pile of flowers.
I am going to finish this quilt, I thought. I’m not going to read any directions either.
Whatever happens will be enough.
I knew this was about more than a quilt. It was therapy in those early months, soothing stitch after soothing stitch, quiet and productive. But then it became a reflection of me, shattered into pieces, and trying to fit them back together again.
When they didn’t fit back they way they were, well. It took a while for me to understand what that meant.
It was supposed to be queen sized. It ended up 2 feet by 3 feet. The edging is ugly on one side, although in the process of doing it wrong, I learned how to do it right next time. I used white thread on blue cotton, which is very unforgiving. I threw away more of my flowers than I kept, hours of hard work into the scrap bin. It doesn’t cover anyone completely.
But it’s enough.
I was supposed to be Mom Invincible. From the outside, I looked pretty good, but underneath was a mess waiting to happen. I was the woman everyone could rely on, a reputation which is very unforgiving in a personal crisis. Then I was forced to show my crooked stitches to survive. Some of the things I held onto were unnecessary and I cut them away. I don’t have to be so big. Lots of things are not my job. I am scarred and have spoken my scars.
I am enough.
Some people would never show this quilt, but I do. It sits on the big chair in the living room, visible to everyone who comes through my front door.
It’s the truth about me, and so many mamas just like me. We had a vision of what life could be. For a while, the pieces didn’t fit, or make sense.
Maybe we thought about quitting.
But we didn’t, and through love and prayer and hard work, we put it back together into something whole. Crooked. Wiser. Messy. Precious.
May is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month. Perinatal mood disorders can start in pregnancy. They can look like depression, mania, anxiety. If you have a history of mental health issues in your life or your family—as I did—you may be at higher risk. But PMD can strike any women in any pregnancy.
Here’s what you do:
If you need immediate help, please call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
#askher: Ask the pregnant and newly delivered moms around you if they are ok.
If you or someone you know is struggling, call the Ob/GYN first and then visit www.postpartum.net for support. If the doctors cannot or do not help, call Postpartum Support International at 1-800-944-4773.