The “if only”s.

My sweet boy.

As I’ve built this website, I’ve unintentionally had to remember and relive the “trenches” that were the first six months of your life.

I had realizations that came five years late.

Fraught discoveries at all that I didn’t know.

Wishes and hopes for the should-have could-have would-have but never-had.

I got stuck in the if onlys.

If only I could have better known your sleepy cues.

If only I could have better known your hunger cues.

If only I could have better known your signs of teething.

If only I could have better known the million things you were undoubtedly trying to tell me.

If only, if only, if only.

Instead, you were my bundle of hot, angry, and frustrated tears. Exhaustion, worn edges, and frayed emotions became you (and me, if we’re being honest). We lived, cried and grieved as one in the cavernous hallways of colic.

I tried.

To hear you, to see you, and to truss out from the misery of everything the need you were trying to communicate.

But that everything became one, and more often than not, I failed.

Yet here in the now, this is where I stop myself.

For in those failures – failures of first time mothering, failures of laughable pre-birth expectations, and failures of selflessness I wasn’t yet ready to let go of – I grew.

Those were the days that defined me.

If I had those if onlys, would I have learned to say fuck it and let go? To laugh at my utter lack of intuition, and just go for it on a wing and a prayer? To wade deeply into the murky Nile of motherhood, and still be able to find it’s soggy, muddy, messy beauty?

I don’t think so.

I intend not to write these soliloquies through rose coloured glasses, my mental health would have frankly moved mountains for those if onlys. My marriage with your father would have breathed sighs of reliefs in their reprieves.

But in those days, weeks and months — I became. In that battleground of exasperation, love, annoyance, and adoration (and the bravery to admit I felt all those ways), you taught me. You pushed me beyond myself. You gave me the greatest lesson I ever learned.

You made me a momma. ❤️

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I promise.

Dear me,⁣

I’m sitting here on our phone looking back at pictures you took. It’s January, 2016. You have just recently become a mom for the first time, and are six weeks postpartum.⁣

The majority of the pictures are of the babe your body created. You aren’t in many, and in those that you are, there is a purposeful effort on your behalf for the photo’s focus to be on anything else but you.⁣

But, I look to you anyways. Your face. Your hair. Your eyes. The layers that tell a story. Faint smiles, tangled curls in sloppy buns, dark circles and sleepy squints, a breast milk stained cardigan on it’s sixth day of wear. The story of a woman trying. Trying and tired, trying and unsure, trying and afraid.⁣

Ah, all that what would come in those months ahead. The countless hours of colic, the incredibly little, little sleep, the exasperation at the useless futility of everything you tried, the heart pounding anxiety at anything “gone wrong” that would envelope you in a bundle of trauma. The culmination of it all breaking you. Chasms laid wide, intrusive thoughts hungrily consuming the darkness now bare. An unspoken guilt that consumed you, perpetuating and furthering the cycle. Rinse, repeat, remorse and regret.⁣

It will be okay, I whisper to you. Gently placing my finger on your shoulder on the screen, as if it could be a hug that transcends time and instils in you the hope you didn’t have. You WILL overcome. The colic goes away, eventually. He sleeps, eventually. You get help from doctors, finally. It starts to work. The pieces come together. You find what he needs. You find what you need. Together, you thrive.⁣

You’re even crazy enough in five years to do it all over again, mental health reckonings and all. But, we figure it out that time sooner. ⁣She actually sleeps. She’s happier. She’s easier.⁣

Right now, though.⁣

It feels like you can’t breath.⁣

I know. I hear you.⁣

But, you will.⁣

We will.⁣

I promise.

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And now, postpartum OCD.

Postpartum OCD entered my parenting journey at six months in.

It took me doing a lot of thorough and careful research after a counsellor, someone not at liberty to diagnose, made an offhand comment while recommending I see a psychiatrist during my postpartum anxiety and postpartum depression battles.

Despite it having been years since, I have never spoken publicly about this.

I can count on less than one hand the people I have privately told that I have about my postpartum OCD, internal thoughts and actions.

Many of my closest family members do not know.

If I had previously shared my struggles with you about my supposed postpartum anxiety or depression, I purposely did not correct myself.

And typing this right now?

It’s terrifying.

There will forever be a piece of me that believes speaking this truth to power will result in my child being taken away from me.

Even in this very post of me admitting to it, it will glaze over the details of *how* and in what ways I suffer from postpartum OCD. The fear of repercussions — it is strong and deeply, deeply real.

One truth I am not afraid to glaze over is this: there are few things in the world that make you feel more like a terrible person and a terrible mother than postpartum OCD. (Yes, I am far past postpartum now, but I still have the same symptoms — though not as often, so I struggle with what else to call it). The guilt that comes with this disorder is a heavy, heavy load to bear. It hurts in ways I didn’t know one could feel pain, and it can be a gut punch from nowhere that can derail a whole day.

But, I have learned to reframe it. I have learned to positively see the whys. I have learned to function.

Others haven’t. Postpartum OCD is not something widely understood, or rarely talked about. Predominantly from the very people who need help the most, those who are suffering in silence and with my same fears.

If I am ever to truly heal, my truth must be heard.

And if you’ve ever been here, or are here, you are not alone. I hear you. I am you. This will not defeat us.

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This is what I know.

For the past five or so days I’ve been on a massive cleaning, purging, MAKE IT LOOK GOOD frenzy. It was brought on by some other changes going on in my life, changes that are going to give me more time to invest love into our home, and this endeavour of organizational overhaul was seemingly the best place to start.

(Can I just say that organizing does my brain better than ANY therapy, religion or mindfulness could ever dare hope to? It’s good. So freakin’ good. Like thrillingly good. ANYWAYS.)

As I’ve been tossing, donating, giving away, straightening, fixing, redecorating, focusing on what matters, etc., I’ve had time to think. Time to dwell. Time to ponder and ruminate.

And I’ve come to this conclusion, a conclusion in answer to my last post… if I wish to write (which I do), and have it be from a lived experience, then isn’t the answer simply to write what I *do* know?

And what is it that I know, anyways?

So, to begin (and perhaps one day end…):

I know what it is to be a mom and feel like I have absolutely no freakin’ idea what I’m doing, but, amazingly, things seemingly work out okay and my kid loves my anyways (*pats self on back*) – even if I genuinely have NO idea how.

I know what it is to be on the receiving side of the toxic realm of mommy shaming in this world we live in, and how inexcusable, hurtful and NOT necessary it is, and that I so very much want to spread LOVE to make all the moms I know feel worthy and good enough – ‘cause I don’t always feel that way myself.

I know what it is to be a mom of a child with special needs/special rights, who asks of the world differently than what it’s able to typically give, and the tears and the struggles and the JOYS that come with such an identity of nurturing.

I know what it is to mentally struggle as a mom, and to struggle deeply, bearing fourth my vulnerabilities to the therapists and close friends in my world, always hoping my story gets better… or helps another know that the light isn’t always so dark.

I know what it is as a mom and wife to be blindsided by the addition of a baby and now toddler, and how it forever changes one’s marriage, and how HARD that can often be to help kindle, heal and give it the attention that it needs.

I know what it is to be a mom without a village, or without a real and *present* network of support (except Tina, god bless that woman), and how “without” that can make one feel, and sometimes less than – and the startling realization of being able to physically count on so few.

I know what it is to become a mom at an older age than some, and the shock of a system it can still be at times to put on mommy shoes when for so, so long that was never, ever the case – and the at times *incredibly* trying adjustment it can be to shift into a mothering state of mind.

I know what it is to be a somewhat “new to being a mom” in this very digital world of Facebook mom groups, mom blogs, “overly eager advice sharing people with a keyboard”, and the trials, triumphs and tribulations that have so far come with parenting in a (perhaps too) technological rich realm of information/misinformation.

I know what it is as a mom to want to embrace said technology, but only giving teeny tiny little bits of it at a time to my child, deeply afraid of it being harmful to his growing brain or becoming unstoppable – as technology in my life past was want to do.

I know what it is to be a mom that is guided deeply by the tenements of trust and respect for my child, even when he’s doing what a two year old often does, and how I refuse to shush or distract him from what he’s feeling/going through for the sake of an easier road – even if an easier road sometimes would be much, much easy to bare.

I know what it is to be a mom who is bigger than most, who looks different than others, and who doesn’t always love her body – even if my kid ADORES it, tummy and all (which boggles my dang mind).

And as all moms do, I know what it is to sacrifice. To give up sleep, food, my own needs and my own wants, all for a child who is rested, full, healthy and happy. How he gets there, I’m not so sure, but I’m seemingly doing *something* right.

This is what I know.

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The bough.

I’ve been quiet on here for a bit, hey? I haven’t forgotten about Soundly Sarah, however. Rather, I’ve chosen to be purposefully quiet. While I have had many, MANY things I have wanted to write, a large part of me couldn’t consciously put any of it to paper until I addressed something that took place not long after I last posted here. Addressing that something has been an extremely private, long, arduous, six month journey for me, however, and I have returned here now as I am finally ready to write it out and begin again in this space that I have so missed.

On a Friday morning near the end of July, I had a breakdown. It was a full on, anxiety ridden, nerve stricken, tears and screams, I’m losing my mind, I can’t breathe, I can’t think, why am I shaking?! breakdown. It was very real, very scary, and with D’s help, immediate medical attention was sought for me to understand what the hell was going on.

But to make clear to you what I eventually learned about myself, I first need to give a bit of back story.

Many of you are already aware, but for those who are not, the first hundred days of O’s life were a nightmare. He would not, could not, be put down. At all. He slept nowhere but on us (no matter how many times or how hard we tried to change that). If he was awake, he had to be moving or breastfeeding 95% of the time or he was livid. It was all this and so so so so so much more. A part of me has chosen to purposefully forget some of it because I just have to. His colicky, angry and needy demands drained from me every ounce of energy, every ounce of sanity, and my every ounce of EVERYTHING, joy included. The posts I put on FB from during this period were mostly a façade of the few good moments he did have. All the other moments that didn’t make it on FB were the REAL ones, and by god did those real ones hurt.

But after those first hundred days, we found a bit of reprieve. We found a little bit of peace. I was able to find some happiness once again. I started to feel a bit more human. I bit more myself. A bit more like I could do this motherhood thing and that we would survive.

Near the end of July, however, O began a vicious cycle of teething. At the time I didn’t know it, however, as you tend to not know a lot of stuff during that first rodeo until you get slapped in the face with it, and boy – did it ever. The reprieve we had been experiencing? It was shattered to the ground, stomped on, set on fire and proceeded to have its ashes obliterated into one million pieces. Well, that is exactly what was happening in my head at least. Because, unlike freaking out like a normal person and hoping for the best, I began to have a series of PTSD like flashbacks that quickly worsened.

Imagine holding your child as they are screaming at you, unable to find comfort or calm. You are sitting in a rocking chair in their dark room, trying your best to help their exhausted, pained body. But rather be there and be present, your mind is waging war on you. Your mind is telling you that you are going back to those first one hundred days and you are never leaving it. Your mind is telling you this is it from now on. Your mind is telling you that there will never be better. Your mind is SCREAMING at you, as you struggle to breathe amidst a rapid tightening of chest, that this is going to be FOREVER. There is no escape, there is no way out, you’ve gone back and you will never return.

And then imagine telling no one for days and days that this is happening to you continually and soon constantly because you are ashamed, unsure, embarrassed and deathly afraid.

On that Friday morning, the bough finally broke. Like a river it all flowed out, unstoppably and rapidly, and the shell I had been frantically trying to encase it all in soon gave way.

With the help of BC Women’s reproductive mental health unit, psychiatrists, counselors and medicine, I soon came to learn of a thing I had never heard of before. Postpartum anxiety. I knew of postpartum depression, but anxiety? That was a new one. Additionally, I came to learn of the concept known as intrusive thoughts. They were the thoughts that were giving way to the PTSD like flashbacks and they were the thoughts I soon set out to try and understand, come to peace with and, if I was lucky, banish for good.

However, the weird thing about getting help for mental illness – which anxiety falls under – is that it breeds other things. Admitting it can be a chain reaction, and a revelation of so much can be equally clarifying AND unhinging. It brings you up the depth to which you’ve denied, it forces you to acknowledge that which you have refused to do, and it leaves you raw. It leaves you weak. It leaves you to realize just how deep, multifaceted and pervasive our minds can be, and how much they will refuse to let go and morph anew no matter the amount you shake.

Six months later, I still wouldn’t call myself healed, but I’m trying. There has definitely been some harder moments, and they’ve absolutely effected how I deal with the outside world (I apologize to those who might have read this who I KNOW have gotten the receiving end of some of that), but I’m trying. Intrusive thoughts are still a daily struggle of mine, though they have decreased in intensity and occurrence. But I am making my way back. Always.

Most importantly, and this has taken me a LONG time to say, I finally know now and can say with confidence that this doesn’t make me a bad mom. This doesn’t mean that I don’t deserve O. An inability to cope doesn’t make me abnormal. It makes me human. Admitting it here, on a public blog, can in fact be empowering. It can be healing in itself. And while this has been a damn hard journey to wellness, I am determined to get that shell of mine back. That is a belief that I refuse to let go of. And to those of you who are willing to join me for this journey, thank you. I appreciate you more than you know.

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