Reconciling My Post-Baby Identity

In the prime of my selfish “pre-baby” days I got married. I moved across the country from Chicago to Philly…leaving behind the super success as a radio personality I worked so hard to achieve. And I had just turned thirty.

I spent the summer without a job, but then got a great on-air position with a top-ranked radio station in Philly. Within the first week of my new job, I found out I was pregnant. I gained fifty pounds and forty-one weeks later popped out a bouncing baby boy, no thanks to a HORRENDOUS birthing experience which included for thirty hours of labor followed by an emergency C-Section.

The day I was supposed to return from maternity leave my position was eliminated. It was the first time I had ever lost a job. The good news was that it wasn’t because of my performance. The bad news? I was still fat, in a new city, new baby, no job, no family, no friends with children and a workaholic husband who didn’t have time for my roller coaster of emotions.

That was the beginning of the downward spiral that leads me to today—sharing the most vulnerable part of my life. Not because it helps me to heal, although meeting women who have gone through similar stories has given me enormous strength. But because I know it’s out there. That it happens to new moms EVERY. SECOND. OF. EVERY. DAY.

The pain. The fear. The loneliness. The loss of purpose. The loss of identity. The depression.

Here I was, with a husband in love with his son, his job and his “adult life.” He definitely loved me, too, but he couldn’t understand why I was always so sad, negative and depressed. Of course not. After all I was having a pity party for one.

It was horrible.

As I write these words I remember the days and nights of that loneliness. Feeling vulnerable. Lost. Confused. Empty. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it. There were days that I would lay in the closet while my son napped and cry. Cry so hard that my face hurt.

I was angry. Angry at my husband for not understanding. Angry at him for being too preoccupied to give me attention. Angry at the radio industry for taking away my purpose. Hurt that none of our family or old friends from Chicago ever visited.

Outside our front door, everyone had absolutely no idea. They saw me as this ‘cheery, fun, charismatic’ person. Good thing I got something out of my college education with a degree in theatre. I sure was good at faking it.

After four therapists, two psychiatrists, two visits to our family doctor, about seven DIFFERENT depression meds, and a very bad attempt at self-medication,I still didn’t get the answer I was looking for. You’d think after that many doctor co-pays someone would have been able to fix what was wrong with me!

Here I am…nearly three years later. I tried to figure it out in every way, to help myself get better. From a stint at a ranch in Tennessee searching for a purpose, to completely losing love and respect from family and in-laws, to a life-changing visit to the psych ward.

I was scared to death

I thought I’d never be me again. I thought that I was a complete wash of a human being.

Then there was family. They thought, “oh-you should embrace this!” Basically telling me that, “You’re a mother now, just forget all the other things you worked so hard to achieve.” I’d smile. And give a fake chuckle. Obviously they don’t know anything about me and how hard I worked to get where I was going.

I was not raised with the notion that women stay home and raise the kids. My family was very poor. My father worked to put shoes on his three daughters and my mom worked so her girls would have health insurance. My mother taught me to work hard for what I want. To follow my dreams. That I could do absolutely anything if I set my mind to it.

And that I did. I was in control of my destination. I was on top of the world. I had it all and assumed that the next door to open was marriage, baby, family, right? Yet here, at the time when I should be loving life, I was looking for an end. A way out.

I didn’t ask for help in the very beginning because I was so afraid. I cried, self-medicated and harbored anger. My insides ached. And it just kept building up.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my son. I’d jump in front of a speeding bus to save his life. That little boy is what saved my life.

I recently have been diagnosed with bipolar type II disorder. I still have trouble accepting it because I never had these symptoms prior to having my son. The stigma that society puts on mental health can put anyone struggling back into that cold dark place. But I want my son to know I’m a fighter.

After the day he said “Don’t cry mommy. Want my binky?” I knew that was it. I refuse to let my child grow up thinking his mom is always sad and sleeps all the time. I hate that I allowed this illness to control me for the first few years of his precious life.

The one person who has kept me alive is the one person who needs me the most, my child. I will fight. I will fight for an answer to this insanity that has been bombarding me for too long. And the more women I meet and hear their story the more I know I’m not alone, not crazy, and definitely not a bad mother or a bad person.

I am in a better place now

Today. I can’t tell you what tomorrow brings, but I can tell you that I am really working hard to accept this new life. Today? I live in the moment. I regret the past. But look forward to the future.

If you are a new mom struggling with a search of identity, know that you are NOT alone. Know that even if you don’t hear or find the answer you want from doctors, keep searching. Because what you are feeling is real, and it affects so many women in the world.

I have been handed this new life for a reason. I’m happy at my son’s sweet smile. I love the way he touches my face when he sleeps next to me at night. I love the way he looks at me when I give him a lollipop. I love the way he holds my hand when he’s scared. I love the way he randomly says “I love you Mommy.” I love the way he looks to me for life.

A version of this post originally appeared on Postpartum Progress. It has been used with permission.

Joey Fortman (Founder, RealityMoms)

Joey Fortman is the brains behind #RealityMoms. In 2008, after 20+ years in traditional media hosting radio shows around the country, Joey traded in the microphone for a diaper bag, struggling through her own personal crisis: unemployed, overweight and lost in the land of mommy bloggers. Little did Joey know, her traditional media background would pave the way for success at Real Mom Media. As a sought after media magnet, Joey has been featured nationally on Good Morning America, Dr. Phil, Anderson Cooper, the Katie Couric Show, Dr. Oz, Redbook, The Today Show, The Talk, Fox and Friends & The Newlywed Game. When not at the sports complex with one of her kids, on an island or a grocery store run, or on Facebook Live with #RealityMoms contributors, Joey is obsessed with adult coloring.

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