There I was: living in a gorgeous garden apartment in a cute Brooklyn neighborhood, married to the love of my life, mother of the sweetest child, dedicated and passionate educator at the school of my dreams. I had all of the things people are supposed to want- stability, success, passion, the best friends, an amazing classroom of children who inspired me daily, colleagues who challenged and lifted me up, supportive and loving friends...and I was in turmoil. Where I was also overflowing with gratitude for all that I had been given, I was also in a confusing and scary place. My identity had always been so clear to me, my goals solid, my life mapped out. I knew what I was here to do and how to get it. And then I crossed that bridge from maiden to mother and everything turned on its head.
With my motherhood, I experienced the greatest joy and amazement I had ever felt, but also I was suddenly torn between two worlds: the way I had been before and a new one where all of the same expectations were still there but I just couldn’t hack it anymore. More honestly, I didn’t want to do it anymore. On the outside I was a happy, glowing woman in the prime of her life. And on the inside this way of life I had built around myself of constant running, organizing, controlling, achieving, proving just didn’t make sense anymore. I found myself trying to negotiate it all and just failing. Miserably. All the time. In everything. I had fogginess, forgetfulness, guilt, shame, embarrassment, a sense of feeling judged. I was constantly overwhelmed, angry, and on the defense. And completely exhausted.
And then one day something happened. I remember I was sitting on the floor of my classroom surrounded by yet another an endless project and 30 minutes late to picking up my daughter, yet again. My husband had called me twice already wondering where I was and earlier that day I had inadvertently angered a colleague and lost my temper more than once with my class. As my co-teacher walked in, I rallied myself to face what I was sure would be yet another failure on my part. And then something magical happened. Instead of putting up defenses, making excuses, and trying to fight through my self-imposed storm, I gave in and said my truth out loud. I said I couldn’t do it all anymore, that something had to give, that I needed relief. That I was trying my best but my best wasn’t functioning and I felt so trapped. I must have cried for an hour and with it, began to shed my supermama complex. That day, my co-teacher lovingly wrapped her arms around me and said the empowering words that rocked me back to my truth: “instead of being afraid to change things, you should fear what could happen if you DON’T change anything.”
Once I began to talk, I couldn’t stop and I began telling my story to anyone who would listen. The most glorious thing happened - I discovered that I wasn’t alone in my experience. And I realized I must have postpartum depression and had possibly had it in different iterations for a long time. It all added up: When Ella was a week old, both my mother and husband returned to work. I was suddenly left alone and in shock. At week two, I completely lost it; I remember pulling at my hair, screaming and crying on the floor. Breastfeeding was excruciating but I so desperately wanted to “do the right thing” that I battled through the torture. I could hardly sleep. I lashed out at my husband and was hysterical at times. And then after four months, I had to return to work was before I was ready, which devastated me. I couldn’t understand why the world wasn’t allowing me to be with my daughter. “Jumping back into work” felt foreign, wrong, and confusing. I constantly felt like I was failing and of no use to anyone. I cried all the time and most days it was a battle to get out of bed. My head was foggy, I felt violent and unstable and very alone.
Flash forward to 2 years in and I was still suffering. It took a long time to admit, but I slowly realized that I had never fully recovered from being torn from being with my little girl, something I felt in every fiber was wrong but did anyway because I thought I had no choice. That day, I made a new choice. This time, instead of hiding back in a hole of assumed responsibility, fear, shame, and inflexibility, I visualized what I really wanted and needed and began working towards it, even if meant losing money, “security”, even friends.
That is how in an instant of naming my truth I began to learn more truths about myself. And I became braver. I no longer wanted to “rise the ranks” and I no longer wanted to run and I had the privilege to stop. I wanted to slow down! Breath in nature! Live more mindfully and consciously and somehow support my family through my talents and passions while doing it. So instead of suffering through the rest of the school year I did the best thing I could think of for my family, my colleagues, my students, and myself: I asked for relief and I got it. I went to the leader of my school and named my postpartum depression. I told her about it all. In the end we negotiated a four day week and shorter days. She gently encouraged me to seek help, and I did. That is also when I began to build what I call a “love village” by surrounding myself with the people I knew would let me be me and I could lean on without shame.
Those “self-care Fridays” and my therapy were a life elixir for my battered soul. I shared my story with others, realized that my hormones were imbalanced, and got help for my postpartum depression.* I got support and love from friends and family. Sometimes I stayed in bed all day - guilt free! Other days, I worked on the mountain of research, bureaucracy, and connections I would need to build a new life. Sometimes self care meant making time to be with a good friend. Other times it even meant allowing myself to dive back into the classroom for long hours and passionately guiding my students. You see the lesson that I learned is that once things are on your own terms and you are able to be honest with what you want and need (and get the necessary help as well), you become free from all the other stuff. Finally, I could put on the break and ask for what I needed without worry about the ramifications or what that would say about me as a mother. Actually, once I named my shame, embarrassment, and guilt, it all melted away. I no longer had to prove or defend myself. I could just be. Incredibly, many things that had been hard up to that point flipped back into focus and I was able to teach, partner, give, take, parent, celebrate with all my heart again. And most of all, I was able to finally embrace my need for a new way of living with an overflowing tank of gratitude and joy.
A year after this story took place and almost every way my life had felt has changed. It still isn’t easy and some days are of course super difficult, but I now live according to my true terms. After quitting our jobs and setting new intentions, my husband, daughter and I now live in a small, nurturing intentional cohousing community in Asheville, NC. I wake up to the forest and sun shining through the windows of my bedroom. We have organized our physical space and systems to support and work for our ideals of peaceful parenting, sustainable living, community connection, and creative, flexible living. I have become a mamapreneur, a soulpreneur, embraced my musical and artistic roots, allowed myself to rest and reboot.
This is a story of the beginning of learning how to actualize my truth and throw away the societal trappings that had held me back. It is the story of how I began to match my inside world to my outer one. It is also the story of how I named my truth, unapologetically stated my needs, and accepted support from many sources with extreme gratitude.
I believe that the greatest things that can hold a person back are regret of the past, comparison in the present, and fear of the future. It is important to me that my daughter watch me lead my life with unabashed honesty, humble graciousness, and without fear. It is important to me that my daughter see me stripping postpartum depression from its taboo and not take it lightly so that help can be given. It is important that she watch me build my dream despite all the naysayers, despite the fact that it might not work out in the end, and to also hear me name my privilege in being able to do so.
Because it already has worked out: I’ve been given what I need to be able to try my best and have begun to follow my heart’s truth of what I am meant to do at this moment, in this life. I am far from done with this work, but I already feel free. By shedding away what I thought was expected of me and instead digging deep in order to define how I actually wanted my life to look and feel, I was finally able to take the risks needed to get there. I was then able to boldly and joyfully leap, and am the happiest and most fulfilled than I have ever been in my parenthood and my life. And now I open up my heart to you and ask you, are you ready to define your truth?
*It is important for me to say that I do not take postpartum depression lightly and is a very serious issue, and that if you feel you are experiencing it, you should reach out to a professional to get diagnosed and receive the support you need. There are people who can help you, as I was helped, that it is not something to feel ashamed of, and that many women experience it.
Some resources to begin your healing:
If you would like to know more about how I help parents identify blocks and challenges in order to get the parenthood experience they truly seek or want more information about my coaching services and Four Phase Methodology towards a Joyous Parenthood, visit here!
Sivanne Lieber is a parenthood coach and consultant for parents and caregivers of the soft years, ages 0-5 and beyond. She works with families to find the confident, calm, connected parenthood they deserve.