In 2008 it seemed like I had it all.
I was at the height of my career earning a generous six-figure income working on a financial markets trading floor in Manhattan. My husband, C, and I had a beautiful apartment with the perfect Manhattan skyline view. My parents, whom we were very close to, lived part-time in the same building as us. C was delving into the entrepreneurial world with an exciting startup business.
We took annual vacations to St.Martin and Florida (often with my parents), and I was fortunate to visit my friends and family in Vancouver and Zurich regularly. Many dear friends and family members passed through our apartment as they visited NYC. After years of practicing yoga, I had organically transitioned from the physical practice into the more holistic, guided by a few inspirational yoga teachers at my favorite studio in Long Island City.
Everything was flowing beautifully.
AND THEN. And then the financial markets crashed. And then the funding for the startup business got pulled. And then we lost all of our investment funds, or had them tied up in a failing market.
We suddenly found ourselves on one income, with our NYC living costs based on two, our savings were dry and I was pregnant with our first child. For a person educated in financial matters, I had made some pretty poor financial planning decisions.
We had to redesign our lives to fit into our new environment.
It was an extremely stressful time that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. When our son, Cale, was seven weeks old and I was on maternity leave, we moved to Chicago for a job opportunity for my husband. A few months turned into five years.
At first, it was isolating and challenging having a newborn and living in a place where I didn’t know a soul. I was lonely and, if I’m honest, a little bored. I was very fortunate to find a mom & baby yoga class near me and started going weekly. I got out of the house, met other new moms, and started feeling less alone. I surprised myself with how much I loved being a Mom dealing with baby poop instead of the adult shit that goes on in the ego-driven financial world.
After six months of mat leave, I returned to work part-time at home and started feeling the weight of all the recent life changes lift. Life returned to a new normal.
I unexpectedly got pregnant with my second child when my first was 13 months old. Despite the stresses of our situation, my first pregnancy was the most profound and beautiful physical experience I’d ever had. I felt energetic, beautiful and bonded to my growing belly, to a point that near the end of my pregnancy I was quite sad it would soon come to an end.
I loved my belly and all the hope of what was inside.
I continued with my regular vinyasa yoga practice until the day before Cale was born, as well as with a gentle prenatal class that made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
In contrast, my second pregnancy started with terrible morning sickness, which meant too many mornings were spent lying on the playroom floor trying to muster up the energy to engage with my toddler. I experienced deep feelings of sadness that I would no longer get precious one-on-one time with Cale, and regret that I was about to turn his world as he knew it upside down.
My saving grace was my prenatal yoga class where I got 60 minutes a week to focus on the baby growing inside of me.
I had to have a scheduled c-section with both kids, due to previous abdominal surgery that was needed to remove invasive fibroids. C-section was the polar opposite of the home birth I held in my dreams. I eventually accepted that this was the safest option for baby and I, but what I didn’t expect was just how difficult the recovery would be after my daughter, Noelle, was born.
I suffered in pain for four weeks due to an undiagnosed internal infection (from the cesarean) that I had to fight to get properly diagnosed and treated. Because of this, I wasn’t able to carry Cale and could barely play with him.
The guilt and sadness felt like an insurmountable mountain.
I was fortunate to have help from my husband, Mom and mother-in-law for the first six weeks, but my Mom left telling me “I don’t know how you’re going to manage this”. And I didn’t know either.
I didn’t recognize it at the time, but I started falling into a postpartum depression. I was overwhelmed with responsibility. I cried throughout the day. I felt helpless. Alone. Unable to do the simplest things. Getting both kids in the car felt like running a marathon.
So when I got a call four months postpartum for an attractive project management contract working 60 per cent, my husband encouraged me to interview.
I jumped at the opportunity to work outside the home.
The opportunity to escape the madness of life with a newborn and toddler.
To escape from feeling like I couldn’t do anything right.
To escape from the constant physical and emotional demands of these two beautiful children who were doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing.
It turns out a working mother can’t just check out of motherhood Monday to Friday, and check in on the weekends.
I had managed to trade in the guilt of being a terrible mother at home, for the guilt of a working mother who is paying someone else to raise her kids while she works. I had traded in the stress of meeting the demands of two little ones for the stress of meeting project deadlines and running client workshops while in a sleep-deprived state.
I felt like an imposter in this financial world of men talking about things I no longer had any interest in, like I was now pretending to be the businesswoman I had always identified myself with. I was exhausted by working intensely all day, coming home to put the kids to bed, working again in the evening, and then getting only a few hours of interrupted sleep during the night.
I was maxed out and was officially diagnosed with postpartum depression.
While I considered taking anti-depressive medication, I feared it would mask my symptoms and prevent me from getting to the root of my problems. I wanted to address whatever was wrong with me in a way that prevented myself, and my family, from ever being in this position again. I mentally put the medication option in my back pocket to reconsider in the future if needed.
Instead I started therapy, sought health advice from a Naturopath and revived my journaling. I focused on sleeping more, eating better and took an eight-week meditation course. I read loads of books on parenting, on self-discovery, and on getting things done more effectively. I accidentally found a spiritual guide who helped me question and solidify my core beliefs.
I took my baby to mom&baby yoga and met some amazing women who helped me see the light through my dark times. I met some women for a reason, some for a season and one kindred spirit who will surely be with me for a lifetime.
It felt good to know I wasn’t the only one struggling, to know that I wasn’t alone.
With all the professionals I sought advice from, the best advice I received was from my Mom. “Start yoga again – for yourself and not with the kids”, she advised. And I did. I found an amazing studio with a beautiful teacher who weaved in bits of wisdom throughout her class. It felt like group therapy. I stayed after class a few times to talk to her and inevitably ended up in tears. But it still felt good and I kept going.
I ended up deciding that one of my two gigs had to go.
Since I couldn’t give up the parenting gig, I quit my paying job. I wanted to focus on one major thing, and doing that thing well.
It’s been close to four years since I made the decision to be a stay-at-home-mom and I haven’t once regretted it. The days are most definitely long while the years are short. But I’ve loved being with my kids and I largely attribute my yoga practice, both the physical and spiritual, to my newfound perspective on life.
Life still keeps throwing curveballs, but I am so grateful that my journey through PPD equipped me with tools to better handle life’s challenges.
One day, in the middle of yoga class, I had the crazy idea to become a yoga teacher and to really start living what I love. It has taken a lot of patience and perseverance, but I am finally at the point where I am ready to help others as they navigate life’s ups and downs. I want to create a space for moms to feel supported in a community, uplifted physically and emotionally, and inspired in their quest for being the best version of themselves.
I know my story is not entirely unique. I know every mom struggles from time to time, or even all the time. If you can relate, I would love to hear your story too. Let’s support each other through the darkness by being each others light.
You can read more of Michelle’s writing on her website/blog: Growing Hearts.