Catherine is a natural caregiver.
There aren’t many women I can say this about, including myself. When I needed a babysitter over the holidays in Los Angeles with The Lion King, I found her on a friend of a friend’s referral. As soon as we let her in the front door, she swiftly and confidently scooped up five-month-old Eva, and sat down excitedly to play Legos with Max. With Catherine, it was easy. We didn’t have to explain much — she just seemed to know. Mike and I scrambled to leave, gleeful to have zero reservations about leaving our kiddos with this stranger. Catherine’s years of experience as a nanny, babysitter, doula and aunt to 26 nieces and nephews made her one of our most trustworthy sitters we’ve found on the road.
However, Catherine is also proof that motherhood is indeed complex and powerful. Now a parent herself, she reflects on her first year as a mama battling post-partum depression, and reveals what’s surprised her the most about her relationship with her son Ambrose.
Catherine Shrake, 29
Occupation: Full-time Mama & Entrepreneur
You are such a seasoned child caregiver. What was it like to finally have your own child?
When Ambrose was born, I was scared out of my mind. I loved him so much, but the process of putting into action the selfless love necessary to care of him was extremely difficult. It was an adjustment — a huge all-encompassing adjustment that was redefining my identity. I was no longer just Catherine; in a bigger way than marriage, I was bound to a person. Figuring out how to do life with someone constantly at your side was hard, especially for someone like me who values her alone time.
All of these feelings were so unexpected that it made it even harder to transition into my new role. The combo of my newfound responsibility, mixed with the hormone roller coaster my body was going through, put me on the fast track to postpartum depression.
Just how much of a shock was it for you to realize you had post-partum depression?
I expected to be a super mom. I had 26 nieces and nephews under my belt when Ambrose came along. I had worked in labor and delivery, I was a doula, I had been a babysitter and nanny throughout my entire life. So, all of the experience was there for the makings of a knowledgeable, loving mother of the century. It made me so angry and guilt-ridden that I wasn’t. My husband had to hold Ambrose, because when he would cry, I would cry. I was crying all the time. I wanted the best care for Ambrose but I did not want to do it myself.
The hardest part was that everyone around me was so confused by my behavior. I’m the laid back one. Catherine goes with the flow, is never anxious. She’s steady, smart and good for a laugh. Who was this girl? No one knew and neither did I.
It took almost 5 months, therapy and some medication to settle into the new role. Blood work revealed that I had a hypothyroid, so the exhaustion caused from that was a hurdle in and of itself. It still is. Now that I’m settled into being mommy, things are much better. My love for Ambrose is stronger than my love for myself. Whereas before I felt helpless, now I wake up every morning with a plan for the day, armored with love for my son and my new role.
Ambrose is my chubbster. My pride, and yes, my joy. He’s the hardest part of my day but always the best part of it. He’s scrumptious, funny, endearing and my love for him has taught me about God’s love for me.
What advice would you give women who think they’re going through PPD?
DO NOT WAIT TO GET HELP. Ask for it. Beg for it. Don’t think its all just going to go away, or get better, or that “it’s fine.” The extreme guilt that comes along with PPD is crippling. You WANT to be better, you WANT to feel normal, but you just can’t so it feels that something is intrinsically wrong with you. At least that was the case with me. I hated every part of myself and wanted to flee, crawl into a dark hole and never speak to anyone again.
Tell your spouse you need support — whatever that means for you. Your spouse may feel helpless, so if this is the case, tell your spouse you need assistance finding outside help. You may worry that you are being a burden but you aren’t; in fact you’re asking for help to be “less” of a “burden.”
Also, I would advise every new mother, especially mamas that are far away from family, to make sure you have help set up for that first month after baby comes home. Don’t feel rude asking friends to schedule dinners, visits or calls. Get the help you need lined up and don’t feel bad or that you creating an imposition. Those mamas may want the same from you when they bring home their baby.
And I don’t want to give too much away right now, but this entire situation has resulted in an incredible idea of a way to help women connect and be a support to one another. I’m building a website call MothersLanding.com, and I cannot wait to share more down the line.
When Ambrose finally said “Mama” last night, I cried. Everything is worthwhile.
What’s been the most surprising thing about motherhood?
The most surprising thing is that no matter how much I thought I knew before, I really knew nothing. I didn’t know I could love so much. You hear that a lot but you don’t really understand what it means until you’re a mama. I now share an unspoken bond with all mothers and I love it.
What’s your favorite mama product?
Believe it or not, I love my pump. I have the Medela In Style portable pump and I have used it every three hours for the past 7 months. Breastfeeding was not working out for me, I was having all sorts of complications but I wanted Ambrose to have breast milk! This pump made that possible and I am so grateful for that.
I feel beautiful when:
I do my hair and put on some Spanx 😉
How has motherhood changed you?
Motherhood has made everything in life so real. I feel for my fellow man in a more tangible way. I have a sense of communion. That we are all in this life together.
For years, you’ve been an aunt, doula, nanny, babysitter to my own kids. Now that you’re a parent yourself, what’s the best piece of advice you have for other parents?
I have many! Don’t have expectations. Live day by day. Talk to other mothers about their experience to gain a realistic perspective, but don’t make their experiences your own. Do something for yourself everyday, even if it’s pooing in solitude. Above all, keep pursuing your other dreams. You’ll be a better mama for it because you’ll be setting a powerful example.
Describe a typical “date night” for you and your husband.
That usually consists of sushi by ourselves, or dinner with friends and a movie. We also like hosting friends at home. We’ll cook dinner and eat on our back patio. The night usually ends with laughs around the firepit.
I couldn’t have gotten through PPD without my spouse. His willingness to help and his continuous encouragement was vital to my healing. I’m just totally in love and obsessed with my little family.