Jessica Taylor On Being A First Time Mom, Postpartum Depression & Healing

Meet Jessica Taylor, whom I call Mrs. T. Fun Fact: Mrs. T was my amazing high school dance teacher. She shares her experience on the blog today on being a first-time-mom, postpartum depression and healing. She also discusses not having her birth experience go as planned. I believe many mama’s, especially me, can relate to this experience.

Tell me a little about yourself (How many children do you have, groups, organizations..etc)

My name is Jessica and I am 40 (almost 41!) years old. I am a dance teacher at Piscataway High School where I’ve been teaching dance elective courses, coaching the dance team and choreographing our annual musical for 14 years. It’s an extremely rewarding job, yet, sometimes emotionally and physically exhausting. I love exploring my creative side and consider myself to be someone who needs to make art in order to survive. It’s just my way of being. I am a first-time mom with one son, River. 

How are you feeling? At this particular moment, are you happy?

Most days, yes, I am happy. However, that happiness can often be consumed by overwhelm, anxiety, frustration and/or worry. As a first-time-mom, I am learning, changing and evolving everyday, alongside my son. Honestly, I sometimes wish I could just shut that all off, even just for a few minutes. Growth is great, but can I get a pause button? (😂 kind of kidding) Truthfully though, I know that I was chosen to experience this type of growth for a reason and I just need to breathe, hold on and embrace the ride. I know my future self is proud of me.

As a first-time-mom, I am learning, changing and evolving everyday, alongside my son

As my return to work date is rapidly approaching, I am feeling more anxiety about how I will be able to make it all work. Prior to having my son, I had a very hard time creating boundaries between work life and home life. I would stay at school for hours into the evening working on choreography, creating materials, or finishing lesson plans. Often I’d look out my classroom window to see it was now dark and my car was the last left in the parking lot. I’m a perfectionist at heart, so this behavior is part of my inherent work ethic. That will all have to shift now, and I feel worried about how I will be able to manage my commitment to my students/program and not wanting to miss a moment of my son’s first year of life.

I consider myself to be highly self-aware and was able to recognize the signs of PPD as soon as I began to have moments of extreme sadness coupled with intrusive thoughts.

Did you experience postpartum depression with your child(ren)? If so, when did you realize you were experiencing it and what steps did you take to heal? If you are still experiencing postpartum, what steps are you taking to heal? What feelings are you working through?

I definitely experienced the ”baby blues” for a few weeks postpartum. I am also still dealing with some postpartum anxiety. As someone who has dealt with anxiety and bouts of depression throughout my life, I definitely assumed there was no way I was going to get through the 4th trimester to a year after the birth without experiencing some symptoms of either PPD or PPA. I just kind of thought, “Why would this not happen to me?”. So I made sure I did everything I could to be as proactive as possible and set myself up with lots of support in postpartum. I began seeing my therapist more regularly to work through my worries and to have her help me through those first few weeks. I took some classes on PPD/PPA so I could understand and recognize the symptoms more easily, and have some tools in place to take any necessary actions. I spoke to other mom friends about their experiences. After doing some research, I decided I wanted to have my placenta encapsulated. Although the evidence-based research is still limited on the effects of placenta encapsulation and PPD, I can attest to the fact that as soon as I began ingesting my placenta I felt a world of difference emotionally. So I would advocate to any mom-to-be that, if possible, this service should be a part of your postpartum care plan.  

I consider myself to be highly self-aware and was able to recognize the signs of PPD as soon as I began to have moments of extreme sadness coupled with intrusive thoughts. I made sure to communicate what I was experiencing with my support team – husband, therapist and doulas. I also made sure to advocate my needs to my husband. God bless him. He held me up literally and emotionally through all of it.

I’m still working through feelings of overwhelm, anxiety, frustration and worry. I believe these feelings are all rooted in my wanting to be the best mom possible, and are also linked to my perfectionism. I have found that making sure I continue to communicate my feelings and needs is paramount to my healing. Also, allowing myself some grace and embracing the messiness of it all has helped.

If you are experiencing postpartum or have experienced it, why do you think postpartum can be challenging to overcome?

I think it’s challenging to overcome because of the fact that as a mother, you do not get a break. That pause button doesn’t actually exist so it’s hard to keep it all together. I think we also are taught through toxic positive messaging that we should be able to “push through” our emotions. Rarely are we encouraged to sit, feel and truly experience the depth and breadth of sadness. There’s a general push to hurry up and get better. I’m not saying that I think anyone should sit in sadness without the correct support system in place, but I also don’t think there should be an emphasis on finding a quick fix. Healing takes time. I also think having an appropriate maternity leave is crucial to mental health. It is sickening to me that most women only have 6-8 weeks of leave before they have to return to work. I have absolutely no idea how that is possible. I am so very lucky that I was able to have 5 months with my little one, and for me, that is still not enough time. How are we expected to go through the most beautifully difficult, physically, mentally and emotionally draining experience of our lives and return to work within only a few short weeks to months of birthing a human, all while performing our jobs in the same ways we did prior? I believe this pressure only adds to the stress of motherhood and can be crippling to the possibility of overcoming postpartum mood disorders.

What are your five favorite ways to take care of yourself especially during this pandemic?

Early on in the pandemic, I did a lot of Reiki and energetic healing work on myself and felt called to share it with others. Deep meditation also soothed me then. Since becoming a mother, it’s become tricky to find large enough chunks of time to practice Reiki and/or meditate, so I’ve had to rely on more accessible modes of care. Some of my favorite self care rituals are listening to podcasts, taking a bath, working out, eating well, EFT tapping and giving myself permission to be messy and embrace the mess both outside and within.

What advice did you receive when you became a mom? Did you receive any advice on postpartum care?

Believe it or not, I did not receive a whole lot of advice other than, “sleep when the baby sleeps”, which any mother knows is pretty difficult to nearly impossible.

In terms of postpartum care, the first bit of education my husband and I did was a “Thriving in Postpartum” workshop, led by 2 doulas and a nurse. I joked that we kind of prepared ourselves in reverse of what most women, I think, typically do by starting our education journey in postpartum. But it ultimately was the best way for me to educate myself because it gave me ample time to prepare for the 4th trimester. A true blessing! I never really gave much thought to the importance of postpartum care, so this workshop was enlightening. Truthfully, I never even knew that the term postpartum was a segment of the journey of pregnancy (there’s a 4th trimester, what?!) because I only ever heard the term used in conjunction with depression. After the workshop, my husband and I discussed the importance of growing our support system and decided to seek support from a postpartum doula. (Shout out to our amazing doulas – Lorraine & Annelle – at Repose Birth Services!!!) Having their help was exactly what we needed to thrive and care for our son. They helped give us the confidence and care we needed to survive those first few weeks.

How was being pregnant during a global pandemic? What ways did you practice self care?

Being pregnant during a pandemic was definitely frustrating, moreso I think for my husband because he couldn’t attend appointments with me. Luckily though, he was able to come to most of the ultrasounds at the high risk doctors office. I definitely had some anxiety about whether or not both he and our doula would be allowed in the delivery room with me. I was fortunate enough to have a majority of my 2nd and 3rd trimester fall during the summer months, so not having to work during that time was a true blessing and the exact type of self care I didn’t plan for, but absolutely needed. I also made sure to work out and practice yoga throughout my pregnancy. On the advice of my doula, I also sought chiropractic care, which helped relieve pregnancy aches and pains and prepare my body for childbirth. 

What does self care mean to you?

Self care means prioritizing all the layers of me, my physical, emotional, spiritual selves in order to function optimally and move through my days with ease.

I respect any woman’s choice to have the birth she desires, but for me, I really wanted to have a natural birth. I felt I did everything in my power to educate and prepare myself for that experience and to have that experience pulled away from me was definitely traumatic and something I’m still working through.

What is something you remember about giving birth to your child(ren)? How did you feel? How did people around you make you feel? (Whether a doctor, family member, spouse..) 

It’s hard to narrow it down because I remember so many things. My husband was so encouraging and supportive through every step. He did everything he possibly could to keep me relaxed and comfortable. I remember my doula’s counter pressure and the scent of lavender oil she put on cotton balls for me. I remember reciting affirmations and holding my birth necklace. I remember waves of physical and emotional intensity and relying on my breathwork to combat those sensations. I rehearsed so many different positions and movements, however I remember my body really only wanted to move cyclically on the birth ball. One of the less pleasurable memories is the feeling of frustration with my midwife’s cues to push. Being a dancer for so long, and someone who over analyzes optimal body positioning, movement and function on a daily basis, I had a really hard time connecting with her verbal cues. The imagery was not resonating with me at all. Unfortunately, this ultimately led to my having a C-section, which is still for me a very disappointing aspect of my birth story. I respect any woman’s choice to have the birth she desires, but for me, I really wanted to have a natural birth. I felt I did everything in my power to educate and prepare myself for that experience and to have that experience pulled away from me was definitely traumatic and something I’m still working through. To end this on a positive note, I felt very loved and supported by every nurse who took care of me. I was very apprehensive about my birth being over medicalized and really wanted a home birth, but due to my age/high risk, I had to deliver in a hospital. Overlook Medical Center was truly the best place I could’ve delivered.  

How do you show up for yourself vs how do you show up for your family?

As a first time mom, I have found finding this balance to be very tricky. Showing up for myself can feel guilt-inducing. I try to remind myself daily that I need to take care of myself in order to take care of River, so I show up for myself by: making sure I prioritize my self-care, moving my body everyday, eating nutrient dense meals, investing myself in a creative project. I show up for my husband and son by first making sure I take care of myself. I try to encourage my husband to do the same, making sure he gets to workout or spend time in nature.

How do you stay encouraged and inspired ?

I stay inspired by making sure I’m constantly learning. These days most of my learning centers around all things mom – breastfeeding, nutrition, baby sleep, etc. However, I do have so many interests and I attempt to focus on one every day. Some days I sew, some days I make a great dinner. It varies day-to-day, but as long as I’m learning, I’m happy. Encouraging myself requires a lot of positive self-talk, something I’m always working on. I also love a to-do list, and when I check something off the list, to me, there’s no better feeling. Even if it’s just one thing I accomplish on the list that day, I feel great about it and encouraged to keep going.

What are your favorite ways to bond with your child(ren)? How did you bond with your little one while you were pregnant?

When I was pregnant, I would bond with my little one by talking to him. My husband and I would read him a story most nights. I especially loved connecting with him when he was active, kicking and moving around.

One of my favorite ways to bond with my son now is through movement. As a dancer, I am of course immersed in communicating through the body. Since my son was born I love holding him and dancing with him. This has become an after bathtime ritual of ours.

What is your favorite quote or motto and why is it your favorite?

“Life is a journey, not a destination.” (Emerson) This has never been truer in my life than now as I learn to navigate the ups and downs of motherhood. I catch myself thinking ahead to when things will get easier – When will he nap better? When will I feel more rested? When will I be able to exhale? – and I have to constantly remind myself that everything I am experiencing, everything I am learning from him, every feeling I’m feeling is  for a reason and all I can do is stay grounded in the present moment. I can look back on all the moments that lead me here to motherhood and I am thankful for it all – every up and down. I have to keep reminding myself to stop and look in my son’s eyes, watch him slowly drifting to sleep, smiling, etc. and remember that this moment will never be here again. All I have is the “now” with him.

What are you most looking forward to teaching your little one and why?

Of course I am excited to teach him about creative expression and share art with him. He doesn’t have to be an artist, I just want to make sure he appreciates it and knows it’s a valid means of expression in the world. I am also excited about sharing with him all of the beauty in the world. The physical beauty of nature. How to keep his mind open to new thoughts, ideas and feelings. Most importantly, I’m most excited to teach him about love – of self, others and the world.

Jessica Taylor & her family

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