As a child, I had always dreamed of Africa. It was a place of imagination. A place of wonder. A place full of wild animals and people who lived in huts. I place that a young, dreamer of a child like myself always wanted to explore. Africa to me conjured up images of elephants, giraffes, lions, and zebras roaming freely among nature at its purest; a place that I held fiercely in my young mind for many years to come.
One year after the birth of my first child, Max, my father and I had the chance to finally fulfill my childhood dream. We went to Africa. Physically getting to Africa was a piece of cake. All I had to do was board a plane. Mentally getting to Africa was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. I had to overcome over three months of severe Postpartum Depression, and pull myself out of the darkness and up onto the road to recovery. To this day, that was the most difficult, life-changing experience I’ve ever had to survive and at the thick of it, survival didn’t seem possible.
It had all secretly started months before the birth of my son yet blindingly, I was unaware of the symptoms. Pregnancy was supposed to be a time of great joy and happiness. You are surrounded by attention from family, friends and strangers. You are often complimented on how “cute” you look and how “happy” you must be to be expecting. Yet, I didn’t always feel that way. I missed the old me, the active adventurer who loves to run, bike, golf, hike,ski and do anything outdoors. I found my changing body to be difficult. I suffered serious morning sickness for sixteen long weeks, crazy moodiness and hormones, and then had difficulty sleeping. By the second trimester, however things were finally perking up. I was feeling better, stopped eating saltines in the middle of the night, and was finally walking around the lake again and playing golf. My rollercoaster hormones subsided and I finally felt “happy” again and excited about the new bundle of joy growing inside of me.
I rolled along for the next few months until complications struck and I wound up in the hospital with pre-term labor at 34 weeks. Scared and sick, the anxiety of pregnancy crept in and I was confined to weeks of bedrest, isolation, boredom and fear. I was absolutely miserable. Being confined and all alone in my house for a month straight was not good on my body and soul, especially given my physically and socially active spirit. It was hell. But what came after the birth was even worse than I had ever imagined. A day or two after the birth of my son Max, something was not right. Instead of joy and happiness at the birth of my first child, I felt anxiety, fear and dread. These feelings combined with a huge drop in hormones and lack of sleep worked in a vicious circle perpetuating the problems and making me completely unable to eat or sleep or literally do anything. Completely and utterly taken off guard, postpartum depression had hit me like a brick. It was the most horrifying experience and state of being I’ve ever had in my life and unfortunately it took weeks to finally get the right kind of help and get my life back under control. It took a ton of support, love and care by my husband, my family (especially my mother and mother-in-law who spent weeks with me) and doctors, to pull me out of the darkness and debilitating anxiety and fear that I was in. At my worst point, I was sleeping only an hour a night, had lost all 35 pounds gained during my pregnancy in a month and couldn’t even hold my baby. I was beyond afraid and shrouded in darkness. I didn’t know how on earth I’d ever manage to survive let alone care for a brand new infant. About six weeks into it, I finally found the right professional help and slowly was able to pull myself up to the surface over time. Although each day was a struggle, I finally could see a light at the end of the tunnel and knew that I’d get through this horrible thing, I would survive. Everything would be ok. It wasn’t my fault. I wasn’t a failure. It was just something that had happened. I felt relieved in finally realizing that soon I’d be able to resume nurturing and loving my child.
Six months had passed and I was truly on the road to recovery. My son Max was finally sleeping through the night and no longer colicky (he used to cry for hours on end as a baby which fed into my anxiety, depression and sleeplessness). I was running again, sleeping again, and rediscovering myself. I was feeling good and so relieved to be myself again, not this miserable, crying, depressed new mother. I found a new support group of new moms, a babysitter and was able to get my life back to normal. It was around this time that the idea brewed about taking a special trip with my dad.
My father and I had done a lot of special trips together, one-on-one, throughout the years. We went to Ireland to visit my uncle, Peru to climb Machu Pichu, Australia to see the Great Barrier Reef and the French and Italian Alps to go skiing. I had thought that our traveling days would be numbered once I had a baby, however, I remembered a promise my mother had made me after I got married. Like her parents did for her, she promised to babysit my children one week a year as long as she was able. Thus, here I found myself a year after the birth of my first child, doing something that was completely unimaginable just a few months before: Boarding an 18-hour plane ride to South Africa.
I left right after my son turned one and took his first steps. Leaving him, after all that we had been through together was extremely difficult. I had nightmares for weeks before I left and had this insane fear that I wouldn’t come back. Going half way around the world didn’t feel right. How on earth could I leave my son? Conflict and anxiety arose once again, but thankfully my mother and husband were able to talk me through it. I knew deep down inside that getting away would be the best thing I could do even though it didn’t seem right to leave my son.
The day of my departure was very hard. I cried and cried as I loaded my bags into the cab and saw my tiny yet somehow bigger son blowing kisses at me through the window. But once I made it to the airport, met my dad in Atlanta and had a cold glass of white wine, I was fine. In fact, I was more than fine. I was me, that crazy, wanderlust, adventurous woman who couldn’t wait to fulfill a lifelong dream….a trip to South Africa!
Stay posted…..there will be more stories to come about my first adventure sans enfant to South Africa!