The outdoors has always been my go-to and the answer to any questions I might have. What should I do next? Where do I go from here? Outside.
I found out I was pregnant with my first son when I was 22. The whirlwind of emotions were fleshed out under the shadows of the Rocky Mountains and among tufts of bear grass. I hiked every day of that summer to clear my head and, in my mind, to connect this unborn kiddo to nature via synthesis of the wild mountain air.
We had G, and everything was bright and beautiful. And then we left the mountains of Montana to live closer to my husband's home in Wisconsin. The change was a shock. I felt alone, missed the West (my home), and was confused about where to go from there. So we went outside. G and I hiked almost every day, and on days that we didn't, we biked. It soothed my anxieties about how my body had changed, how my home had changed, and this new role as mom. Winters were harder, but we bought a carrier backpack that had a rainfly/windfly, so little man was snug, and we got out. Wisconsin became our new adventure and the trails our playground.
When I found out I was pregnant with our second son, all the insecurities that I had felt the first time were non-existent. I felt "ready." I was excited to spend the summer pregnant hiking and swimming and cooling off in the lake right by our house. And then all my big plans changed. We found out little man was going to be born with clubfeet. And then, after complications with an amniocentesis, we found out baby might not come at all. I was put on strict bedrest and told things like "1% chance of survival," and "I'm so sorry, there is nothing we can do..." Suddenly, my world was upside down and everything I had thought about for the first four months of pregnancy was torn from me. I was stuck on a couch, watching the world through a window. I had no answers to questions, no way to seek solace. Getting out to seek refuge in the stillness of the wild was impossible, and I couldn't wrap my head around how my world had changed.
Then, after weeks of bed rest the doctors gave us amazing news. Baby was going to be okay- the tear had sealed, and everything could go back to normal. Except, not quite. No hiking, no swimming, no biking, no carrying/lifting my son G...so actually, nothing was normal. But the intense joy of knowing that O was going to be okay was enough. O was born, and his club feet needed surgery at six weeks and then weekly casts and then foot braces. The pain of the surgery and casts made him colicky and uncomfortable. He was born in November, and by December 1 we had several feet of snow on the ground. That was the year of the polar vortex- it stayed -20 degrees for almost two weeks. Again, we were trapped inside, this time with a 2-year, 6-month-old and a baby who was miserable, and there was nothing I could do about it.
I felt powerless, I couldn't make O feel better; somehow I had failed. I was slipping into postpartum depression without even realizing it. I was scared of losing him, both of them. I was angry and tired. Every time I would get upset that O was crying I would feel guilty: "Just be thankful he is here..." "Why can't you just be glad he is here..." "Why isn't that enough..." The guilt swirled inside and winter raged on. By spring I was deep in it. I had been in therapy for about two months. However, I was feeling like a shell, going through the motions but feeling simultaneously empty and overcrowded. I had lost myself and couldn't remember how to get back to her.
And then one day G asked if we could go on a walk.
And the cool spring air filled my lungs as we walked down by our little creek flooded with spring runoff, and I felt a small pinprick of light pierce the dark. And then the next day, we walked again. It took all of my energy to get the boys loaded up into the appropriate gear, and I might have cried a bit at how hard it all felt. O cried as I slid him into the Baby Bjorn and G cried at having to wear a coat, but we made it outside. And it felt like I could breathe. Like I had come up for air after having been underwater for too long.
My husband made an effort to keep the momentum going. On days where it all felt too much, he would come in and remind me to go out and look at the stars. It became routine. Slowly, we ventured farther. With every hike ,I remembered why I had always found my answers outdoors. Little by little, I remembered who I was. I watched the boys marvel at rocks and twigs and streams, and I began to be a little less scared. We started going outside when O was crying, and it helped. I felt a little less helpless.
Now, four years and one more baby later, the outdoors is our second home. It is the fresh air and open sky that calms my youngest when she's crying, like her brothers before her. It is the winding trails that connect us and ground me when everything feels too chaotic and loud. I had always found answers outside. This time, the answers came before I even knew the question. I had to lose myself first. It wasn't until the world had come apart that I was able to build it again, with a stronger foundation, rooted deeply to my love of the outdoors.
Postpartum isn't something to hide or keep a secret. It isn't something to be ashamed of. For years I kept the struggle a secret, like it was somehow an embarrassment. It wasn't until I was able to look back on it and reflect on it all from a distance that I was able to see how important it is to share the story. Seek help if you feel the same way...talk, and get outside.