Real Life Mama: A motherhood blog through the eyes of a mental health therapist

I met my husband on a blind date weekend arranged by a mutual friend Heather! Heather is one of my good friends from graduate school, and she had known Tom since her college days when she studied abroad in Scotland! She must have some mad matchmaking skills because it was love at first sight. I picked Tom up from the airport in Nashville and we headed straight to the Wildhorse Saloon for some line dancing. During his visit, we had an incredible four days of canoeing, playing soccer, hosting a dinner party, and laughing our heads off. We became a couple that long weekend and did long distance dating for a year and a half, with my Scottish lad in North Carolina, and myself in Tennessee and then California. At a year we were engaged, and at two years we were married. Right now, we are approaching our 8th wedding anniversary! We both always knew we wanted children and we tried to really savor our ‘coupleness’ in those years before having kids.

Now we are raising our two young children in San Diego, California. My daughter is 5 and my son is 3. They are both wonderful and wild! They are intelligent, funny, kind, caring, adventurous, independent, brave, and free-thinking. Both kids have the temperaments and traits that will make them wonderful adults, but man are they hard to parent!

My husband and I tried for a family after a couple years of marriage. I have an anatomical abnormality in my uterus, meaning, instead of the typical shape, mine is shaped like bunny ears -- two half uteri connected at one cervix. It’s called a bicornuate uterus. It unfortunately can cause loads of fertility concerns, but by some miracle we avoided it all and had two successful, full-term pregnancies! My daughter was in my left horn for her gestation, and my son was in my right!

The birth of my daughter kicked off with my water breaking and progressed naturally. After 10 hours of triple peaked contractions, I was ready for a rest from the pain and requested the epidural. The pain ended, but as my body relaxed the delivery progressed, my daughter moved down, and it was time to push! No nap for this laboring Mama! It was a hurry up and wait situation, though, because pushing took the full two hours. All in all, it was a very good labor, but I did have a sense of feeling like things were happening to me and that I was not in control. With my son, my contractions started on their own and my waters were intact. His labor was fast and furious and by the time I got to the hospital I was at 10cm. Pushing just took 30 minutes, putting his total labor time to 4.5 hours. The labors were quite different, but honestly, they both had pros and cons. I think a 7-hour labor would be ideal... enough time to wrap your head around what’s happening, but not so much time that labor lasts forever.

“This is a nightmare” were the words I told my husband, resulting in our first parenting spat when our daughter was maybe a week old. He couldn’t believe I would say such a terrible thing, but it was honestly how I felt. I had never been so tortured by sleep deprivation, nursing was not going well, and our daughter was seeming like she had colic. As a new mom I felt like I had to meet my daughter’s basic needs, and yet I couldn’t tackle her sleep and feeding problems. I felt like a failure. The vision of me serenely caring for my child was not at all the reality I was experiencing. I also had a delayed postpartum hemorrhage a week out from my daughter’s birth that required hospital care. It was so shocking. I awoke in the early hours of the morning to use the bathroom only to find that I was losing blood quickly and passing clots the size of frisbees.

And somehow then I was supposed to pack up this newborn who we had not driven anywhere yet and get myself to the hospital while hopefully not ruining our car’s interior. It honestly felt so overwhelming and impossible. I developed postpartum depression and anxiety that lasted for months and continued to make things hard. I felt like a dim version of myself and I felt so much apathy about most things, including things I’d previously liked. To this day I am sad that my first-time mom experience was so painful and that I missed out on enjoying those early days with my sweet girl.

A few years down the road, and I continue to be surprised how taxing many days can be! Parenting is just so relentless, isn’t it!? I know a lot of that is specific to my children and their personalities, but oh man it’s hard. I really thought that I would shine as a mom and that it would be so natural to me, and I have had to accept that I am a great mom, but that I need more than motherhood to feel like my best version of myself. That said, I am so honored to be the person my kids so deeply want and need. I love seeing their brains at work, hearing what they think, and watching how they engage with others and the world. I am blown away by the things they deduce and how switched on they are. I had to figure out how to find myself after dealing with the trauma of early motherhood and PPD/PPA, but I am at a point now where I feel like I’m in the groove. I make time for me while doing my best for them.

I have always wanted to help others, and in college I thought I’d be a pediatrician. But I didn’t enjoy the path to get there and after some self-study I decided the helping profession that would be more aligned with the way I think, and act, was therapy. My mom is actually a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and I hadn’t ever considered that I could do a similar thing. When I realized that I wanted to be a therapist as well, it felt so freeing. So, I went back to school and I earned my master’s in professional counseling in 2011. I began working at a domestic violence center and an outpatient clinic, allowing me to begin my career with a diverse population and a variety of mental health needs. After moving to California, I began the licensure process, which is quite long and complicated.

I was a parenting educator and behavioral support therapist with a large non-profit before moving to a hospital outpatient program working with youth and their families. After years of acquiring the required hours of experience, I was able to sit for and pass my exams in 2016! I love supporting others in their journey to wellness and fulfillment.

I started my blog, Real Life Mama after I had a rocky start to motherhood in order to shed light on all sides of being a mom. So much of what we see from others is a highlight reel, and it can make you and your own experience feel less than. I wanted to normalize authentic motherhood and support others so that they didn’t feel alone. At first the blog consisted of Facebook posts, and then it quickly evolved into an actual blog. I speak about everyday topics through the lens of therapy to provide perspective and evidence-based guidance, and I am writing for the “every mom”. Motherhood is really hard, and we all need support, and we are all doing our absolute best. The moms that are wanting to feel validated and who are looking out for their own wellbeing while aiming to nurture the social-emotional wellbeing of their children will find something they love through my website and social media.

On my blog, Real Life Mama, and on my social media accounts, I offer relatable, poignant, and supportive articles and posts about the everyday ups and downs of parenthood as viewed through a therapy lens in order to uplift, encourage, and empower moms. I want everyone to know that it’s okay if they don’t love every minute of motherhood, that it is hard and that’s okay, and that they aren’t alone!

My biggest advice for Mom’s-to-be, is to also plan for postpartum, not just labor and delivery or what the nursery will look like. Plan with your partner or supports who will do what for the baby, the household, food/groceries, etc. Map that out ahead of time, and then when the baby is here and you’re living your plan, make adjustments as necessary. Often the parents have different, unspoken ideas about what things will look like. That’s where my second biggest advice comes in: communicate, communicate, communicate. If you need something, speak up and be clear. So many partner challenges can be avoided with clear, conscientious, and kind communication. And my third biggest advice is to review ahead of time what the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety are so that you are familiar with them, and so that your partner knows to be aware if you begin to show any symptoms. Discuss how PPD/PPA symptoms would be handled and what supports you have available to you. Having a fire-drill style plan can mean the difference between getting help right away and suffering through months of anxiety and depression before seeking help.

In the coming years I would love for my website and blog to continue to grow so that I can support moms, parents, and their kiddos via my blog posts, children’s books, and social media posts.

I am also on a new journey towards being a published author! My new children’s books help kids feel capable of tackling life’s common challenges and gives them the skills to do so! My first book “A Not-So-Friendly Friend | How to Set Boundaries for Healthy Friendships”, is set to launch on Sept 14, 2021. And we just signed the deal on my second book “Fear Not!” and that is planned to be released in Spring 2022!

In addition to someday offering private practice therapy, eventually providing courses on my website, and watching my book series take off (fingers crossed!), I hope to carve a spot out for myself as a public speaker and presenter!

Please get in touch with me! I love to connect!

- Christina, Mom of 2, California, USA

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