I had my first child almost five years ago. My eyes opened, my soul shifted and swelled with joy inside me. I held my brand new baby boy and looked into his eyes and he was familiar. He was beautiful. He was mine and I was his.
When I brought him home at first it was one sunlit moment after another. Everything felt lovely. Those first few days if one is fortunate enough to have the support system I had, (a loving husband, an over-the-moon mother who camped out at my house the first few hours and days), the utopia one can feel is amazing. Your body is still in shock from giving birth. Your mind seems to overcompensate for that with a surge of hormones that make everything feel surreal and dream-like. My job was to nurse, eat and sleep. The same as my baby. We were very similar those first few days. We were both healing from the birthing process and we were getting to know each other. I was in a state of absolute balance with my role as his mother. I was doing it beautifully. I was where I had always dreamed to be. For about 144 hours.
Then Mom went home. My husband gave in to the sleepiness that the adrenalin wave he’d been riding on finally broke over. I remember the moment reality hit me. Or should I say, negativity.
I was sitting on the couch with my swaddled sweetie, and looking in his eyes. He was looking back into mine. The clock was ticking faintly. The street below my cozy upstairs flat seemed miles away.
I had a thought, and the thought was more of an image of a little boy (about the age he is now) going off to his first day of school. And this was not a good thought. This was a thought oozing with fear. Fear for my little boy in the big wide world. I thought of his being teased, being hurt, being bullied. I thought of the put- downs, the rejections, the frustrations his peers would surely evoke in him one day. I would not be there to protect him. I had never been further than 10 feet from him.
I sat there and I wept. I wept for the pain this life would bring my son. Something had been triggered. One negative thought brought on another and before I knew it I was paralyzed in my own home. I didn’t want to take him for a walk, for a drive. Taking him to his doctor appointment a few days later was as frightening as if I were about to walk over hot coals. What kind of mother exposes her son to countless viruses bringing a baby out in public? It got worse. I began to imagine things happening to him. Dropping him in his car seat on the concrete steps. Forgetting him in the car. Something falling on his head. It got more and more dreadful each time. My resolve was to keep him safe from public. This went on for a couple of weeks. I am grateful it did not last long. For many women, postpartum depression is a long journey through dark and cold territory of which there is no map. I am happy to report I did not suffer in this state for long.
This is not because I am a particularly super-powered person who can turn off and on depression and anxiety with a snap of my fingers. Not at all. This passing by of a state I felt every fiber of my mind and body slipping into was all due to a choice. A choice that required hard work and disciplined thinking. A choice and a level of work I didn’t know I had accomplished until I reflected on this period of my life years later.
The choice came in the form of a mantra I began saying over and over to myself during my 15 minute post-natal yoga DVD I would do in my living room each morning of my maternity leave. As I brought strength back into my body and air into my lungs I would bring these words into my heart. The words “I am grateful for this life. I am grateful for this life.”
As I would say this to myself, the memories would flood my mind. Being a child myself pushed in the mud and laughed at. Being nine and so nervous about Monday at school that I would fake a stomachache. Being bullied. Being insulted. Being called ugly, and later, much worse. I liked to dress a little more rock n roll than my private school peers. I had pale skin and big eyes. I had wild hair and an affinity for loud and not so mainstream music. I was not taken seriously. I was laughed at and teased.
All these memories intruded my 12 years later yoga session in those mornings of my maternity leave. But then I allowed myself to acknowledge the memories, just as yoga instructors will suggest, “acknowledge your thoughts and then let them go” they would say. But a funny thing happened. I acknowledged my thoughts, and more memories piled on top of those. More powerful memories. Memories that I instantly knew served to guide me in a better direction. Memories of me laughing at the callousness, of standing up for myself and asking them to stop. Of the looks on their faces when their bullying was so directly acknowledged. The memories carried with them my first time feeling pride in myself, strength in my character. I felt the first time I felt confident in myself. I felt the first time I asked a boy to dance and he said yes. I felt the beauty that trials and tribulations of life brought me to, as life guided me through those trials and tribulations and the problems, the pain itself shaped me into a woman of integrity, compassion, strength, confidence, and empathy.
This flood of memories and feelings all came from that simple mantra “I am grateful for this life.” And it took mere weeks for my mind to stop focusing on the what if’s regarding my son experiencing pain, and instead to celebrate the opportunities to thrive in this world that such pain will generate within him. I read recently a quote from someone that stated that they preferred to be around people who had suffered, for they were kinder.
This world is a perfect balance of pain and suffering and joy and happiness. You cannot experience one without the other, and you can’t experience any of it sitting in your apartment afraid to leave.
I was told later that I may have been experiencing symptoms of anxiety, depression or possibly agoraphobia. I have since been diagnosed as having anxiety disorder. This part of me has proved to be a blessing. For with my worry comes the appreciation and acknowledgment in those moments when I am not worried. With my fear comes courage, as I have lived through fear and moved through it and danced with it on many dark lonely nights and woken up to a bright sunlit kitchen and coffee aroma carrying me from my bed and into a day where the fear has subsided and anything is possible. I have trained myself through the power of attraction to put my positive intentions out there in the world. And the positive intentions do find me. It was only through these crippling weeks living in fear of my new babies life that I had to make a decision to live with more positive focus or else risk missing out on the pure joy that comes from motherhood, from watching your child survive and thrive.
Perspective is the most powerful thing we humans have the ability to play with. We can shape it to work for us, or against us. I enjoy ALL of it truly now because if I don’t, then these less than 60 years I have left, (if I’m so blessed), will be one big long rainy cold life. I have had fearful moments and days since then, but I have never let it get the best of me, because I know that this too shall pass and life goes on whether your running huddled under your umbrella as it rains and rumbles around you or you go skipping in the storm.
My son starts kindergarten next year. And he has been in preschool for a full year now. He has been teased and pushed around but I will never forget the day I watched him stand back up brush himself off and say to his buddy “If you’re going to push me again could you make me slide all the way to that tree!” Both boys smiled and ran off to enjoy the fun. He is grateful for this life. Like mother, like son.
By Angela Aurigema
Prenatal and Postnatal Classes offered at CNY Healing Arts Centers:
Mondays, 7:15-8:30 pm (Prenatal Yoga)
Mondays, 6:45-7:45 pm (Prenatal/Postnatal Yoga)
Mondays, 5:15-6:30 pm (Prenatal/Postnatal Yoga – Beginner Level)
Tuesdays, 6:30-7:45 pm (Prenatal Yoga – Beginner Level, April 24th-May 22nd only)
Thursdays, 6:45-8:00 pm (Prenatal Yoga – Beginner Level)
Saturdays, 10:30-11:45 am (Prenatal Yoga – Beginner Level)