The Warrior Mom Conference brought over 100 moms in the Postpartum Progress community together, safely, for a whole weekend. Many of us had never met in person, or had only met once before, but had bared our souls to each other online for years. Most of us brought wounds that hadn’t fully healed. The fact that everyone I’ve talked with felt safe enough to grieve, heal, laugh, make new friends, hug admired strangers, and just plain leave our hotel rooms, tells me that this community is beyond special. This conference was organized by Susan Petcher, on a volunteer basis, and while she may not have “known jack about running a conference,” she definitely knows how to represent and celebrate our community. And how to keep us feeling safe and cared for.
A year ago, Postpartum Progress announced the Warrior Mom Conference, and I felt relief, excitement, just so darn thrilled. I’ve been to blogging conferences once a year, at least, since 2012, and I have never felt quite at home at any of them. Maybe it’s my own ambivalence towards this space; I just resist committing to posting here regularly. But this conference… MY PEOPLE had booked a conference! Not for bloggers. For moms with mental health struggles! I was driving when tickets went on sale, so I pulled over to buy my ticket on my smartphone. Between that purchase and the actual event, this thought nagged me: “I’m not really a Warrior Mom, because I never had a diagnosis like they have.” Translation: I thought that I hadn’t suffered enough to identify with the group, because I would have experienced the same level anxiety, even if I hadn’t had a baby. It is a very big deal that I feel so much a part of the Warrior Mom tribe, because I resisted that. As I held on to my gratitude for not having “fallen off the cliff,” as Katherine Stone put it in her keynote, I kept myself isolated.
I have kept myself isolated despite reaching out to this community before I was even trying to get pregnant, despite planning to put every prevention and support mechanism I had heard of in place, despite sharing my anxieties with supportive groups and individuals I have met while experiencing pregnancy and life postpartum. Without the Warrior Mom Conference, I have no idea how long I might have kept myself just that much apart. But we came together. We were safe. And as I learned from speakers and Warrior Moms, my heart opened. To my absolute shock, out came a whole new perspective on the past three years of my life. So much makes sense, now, but there are so many feelings that threaten to overwhelm.
I suffered from obsessive thoughts, intrusive thoughts, and compulsive behaviors that looked and felt so differently from any anxiety that had come before that I did not know what they were. Perinatal OCD would fit well, if we needed a label. As I learned about how women describe symptoms of depression and anxiety during pregnancy and after childbirth, symptoms that are different from the what we report during depression and anxiety at other times in our lives, I compared the new information with my own experience, and with the stories I had heard over the course of the weekend. My own story shifted and changed, as my memories took on different layers of meaning, and I began to tell pieces of my story using this new language I was acquiring.
Mid-way through pregnancy, I began to see toxins leaching from plastic into food, from furniture into the air, from mold in a shower into my skin and lungs and blood, and all of it was moving towards the baby I was growing. As time passed, these toxins became colored gaseous monsters reaching for my child. Pesticides were a sickly greenish-yellow, off-gassing chemicals from pressed wood and flame retardants in furniture were a bright green, pale yellow came from flame retardants in most pajamas and chemicals in clothing that had not yet been washed with non-toxic detergent, while dark, swampy green came from plastics. Did I mention the pepto pink that came from phthalates and artificial fragrances in cosmetics, soaps, detergents, and cleaners?
Obsessive and intrusive thoughts about these chemical monsters just waiting to trigger cancer built up anxiety that every choice I made was a choice that would improve my baby’s health or take years off his life. There was no ambiguity. Life or death. Taking the advice of my care providers and sleeping enough, because sleep is the most obvious of my triggers, meant relaxing my vigilance. I “allowed” the very involved father of my own child to “take” our son, because a shorter lifespan seemed preferable to a suicidal mother. I was sure that if I didn’t get enough sleep, I’d lose the will to live. So I bargained with the monsters. All the while, I did not know that this was outside the average new mom anxiety experience. It didn’t seem newsworthy, so I didn’t mention it. It seems so dramatic, all typed out this way, but it was slow and insidious.
I have a lot more to say about all of this, but it’s important to note that while I suffered this way for three years, I can now mourn for that. For the first time in my entire life, I am beginning to feel compassion towards myself, a mother who keeps going and loves hard, even when I am actually certain that threats to our very lives surround us. The Warrior Moms celebrate that with me, and I don’t scare them.
I cannot adequately express how it felt to be in rooms and groups, big and small, with this tribe of women who know what it’s like to live this darkness. I have seen others say “I feel held,” and that’s close. I’m not going over that cliff again, and the embrace of this community reminds me that I’m not falling back into the darkness. And with that, I extend a welcome to OCD. It joins the GAD, major depressive disorder, panic disorder, low cortisol, and other diagnoses or labels I have accrued. I choose to access these labels when I find them useful, and I am fortunate that my providers have always done the same.
Now. Ask me. Am I a Warrior Mom? I battled green monsters that invaded my brain and whispered dire predictions about my child’s safety. Yes, I am a Warrior Mom. That’s an important part of how I became the awesome, strong, loving person I am today. It means that there’s a mighty force fighting with me and for me. I will never tire of thanking them, especially Susan. Real life Warrior Mom hugs are everything.