I'm a new mom. To say that the first year of motherhood was difficult is an understatement.
Four months after I moved to Japan, I found out I was pregnant. Child-bearing and -rearing seemed like a burden when coupled with adjusting to a new country, learning a new language, and juggling two jobs. But like any other overseas Filipino worker, there was no other choice but to persist.
They always told me the first month was the hardest. I thought it was some parental cliché that seasoned parents say to newbies to make it seem like babies are a handful. I was convinced we were going to be the exception. We weren't, however, and the first 30 days were full of tears, blood, pain, and sweat.
On the second month, I suffered postpartum depression (PPD). PPD is not just about random feelings of maternal blues or a profound, quiet yearning for your old self. It is heavier, darker.
I fantasied about falling 7 floors down with blood gushing and my insides splattered on the pavement. I was gripped with fear, and it prevented me from bonding with my baby. I didn't feel any connection. Instead I complained how this tiny human can be so demanding and needy. But almost immediately guilt would set in and send me to raging tears. For months, the idea of taking care of my baby – while working full time and managing all domestic tasks – was enough to put me on the edge. I was extremely unhappy and tired.
At the end of every day, I felt like there wasn't enough of me to give anymore. I worked too many hours, changed too many diapers, and cleaned too many corners. On most days, it was a constant rotation of moods from irritation to tenderness, desire to boredom, and indifference to ecstasy.
I had no support system and even my husband could not comprehend the gravity of PPD. To him, it was something that can be remedied by going to the park or by buying me new brassieres. When the one person whom I expected to understand failed to, it was a strange sense of aloneness, so I built an impenetrable shell of emotional seclusion.
I didn't tell anyone else about my depression. I hid its existence. I didn't even want to say it out loud anymore, for fear that a mere admission would make me look incapable as a mother and wife. I bottled it up because I knew it was not what was expected of me. People didn't want to hear about how lonely it can be to care for your baby all alone, or how tiring it was to exclusively breastfeed while trying to meet your work deadline. They wanted to listen about the saccharine tales of parenthood. They liked to hear tiny baby snores and see knee dimples.
So I played the part. I sent them the most flattering images, prepackaged these with filters, and exclaimed my love with poetic musings of a brand new mother. Social media does just that, and we often become so engrossed with this voyeuristic addiction that we forget that these photos are not exactly a precise representation of what is true. Lying was easy. It was my reality that was hard to escape.
No matter how I tried to conceal my depression, there was a boiling point on my proverbial cup that came spilling out. I unraveled and broke down. I have a lasting memory of hitting my husband. He hit me back and I pulled a knife at him. I can never forget his look of disgust and fear. It sent me reeling back.
Postpartum depression turns you into a monster. The overwhelming emotions eat you away until you are unrecognizable even to your own self. It feels like being stuck in an endless labyrinthine of pain, contempt, weariness, and self-pity but with no exit.
It wasn't just me that was suffering because I hid in this veil of contentment. In a way, we all suffered because I wasn't being truly honest with what I felt. For me, truth was subjective, and I woke up to which version of it I was comfortable with. I told myself these narratives because it was convenient but it was also mentally damaging.
Our capacity to be resilient is not taught but usually it is instinctive. I knew I had to force my way out of the deep hole of paranoia and depression. What helped me most in powering through PPD was telling people about it. The candor of my confessions wasn't always taken well by others.
I remember voicing my frustrations and feelings of being overwhelmed about becoming a new mother, and being met with blank stares. I was censored and chided. My mother-in-law even questioned my ability as a mother simply because I asked for a day off. I was told that this should be the happiest time of my life and that I should never complain or ask to be separated from my baby. In being truthful, I was called names. I was personally attacked. I, a first-time mother, was compared to a seasoned nurturer of 4 kids.
I think what stuck the most was when I told I was selfish when I took a vacation. Kala was 10 months old. She won't remember the week I took off but what she will always remember is the tone of my voice when I'm extremely stressed toward her.
It is easy for motherhood to evoke such public scrutiny from people who feel overqualified to give advice. They are those who observe only from the outside but are armed with their justifications based on their own perceived expertise and moral high ground.
But I don't see the need to bear everything silently.
Take care of yourself
Motherhood is the most terrible and most wonderful experience. It can be exhilarating and delightful, and it can also be boring and draining depending on the moment. Being a mother is hard, and there are days when I just don't want to do it anymore, but it doesn't mean I love my daughter any less. Sometimes, I just feel like a butter spread over too much bread. Every night, I just want to cleave quietly into myself rather than have more of myself further dispersed across yet more demands. Reacquainting myself with my own thoughts is crucial so I can begin to take the pleasure of gifting myself to another.
When I became a mother, I wasn't given the chance to be vulnerable. All of a sudden, I had to be this grown-up who had to take care of both my husband and my baby. They say that to be a mother is to be selfless but that's not what motherhood is only about. It is more than just what you do for your child, it is also what you do for yourself.
It's okay to say you are a mess or that you need help or that half of the time you don't know what you are doing. If only more people are willing to talk about it all, women wouldn't feel so guilty for the mixed bag of emotions.
As mothers, we halt our lives to raise a family and all together relinquish everything. I understand how it can be easy for us to lose ourselves in our children. For the first year, I was devoid of myself – I felt like my daughter and I were one and the same. Motherhood required me to be completely dissolved into a task that demanded my attention every minute, every day. But bit by bit, it is important to try to get myself back again.
We are expected to always put our children first before us. We should – but never to the point that we are remiss with ourselves. It takes more than just perseverance, common sense, and hard work to be a parent. It will, more than anything, require you to be sane. The fundamental rule in taking care of another person is to also take care of yourself. It is not selfish, it is necessary. Your personal needs are also equal to the needs of your children. We also matter, and no one will benefit simply by putting ourselves last on our priority list. There should be a vague border between absolute love and sacrificial love that all parents should not cross – for our own sake and for the happiness of our children. I do not have to leave my own personality, dreams, and goals in the delivery room.
Like children, mothers also have their own road to journey on. We can only ask for guidance but no one can walk the path for us. At the end of the day, mothers are not just mothers; we are also a wife or a girlfriend, a daughter, a sister, a friend, and our own person.
Depression should be talked about more often and not just quietly discussed among friends and family. Telling our own stories is a compassionate act toward those who feel they are carrying their depression alone.
We don't live once, we live every day. There's no need to spend the rest of our days suffering simply because we are afraid of being shamed and ridiculed.
Let us nestle with our demons tonight, but unburden our heavy hearts tomorrow by getting help. – Rappler.com
Demsen Gomez Largo, 27, is a full-time mother to daughter Kalayaan.