Column: A lot can change in a year and that’s something to remember

Courtney Denard and her daughter Bree taking a break during fieldwork last summer

Share Adjust Comment Print

Last year at this time I felt like I was drowning.

We were in the thick of planting season on our family farm and I was also a new mom.

Our beautiful daughter Bree had been born on November 1 so I was about seven months into my post-partum journey and to be honest, it was kicking my butt.

Starting some time around March, I began feeling this low-grade level of dread. Nothing alarming and nothing that stopped me from living my every day life but I was just a little worried, like all the time about so many things.

I knew my days of having my husband close by to help with the baby were coming to an end because with the beginning of planting season came, what I envisioned, my time as a single parent.

It’s no different for many women who live on farms, whether you have children or not.

Courtney Denard and Bree enjoying a little quality time before the rush of the busy planting season this year

Even before we had our daughter, I spent many a night eating alone at the kitchen table during the farm’s busy time. Okay, let’s get real, I was sitting on the couch watching Netflix, plate in hand but I was still alone.

It was lonely and sometimes boring but nothing I couldn’t handle.

After baby, I was suddenly confronted with the beast that is sleep deprivation, along with the heavy responsibility of having to keep another human alive.

I also had anemia, as a result of my pregnancy, and let me tell you, that was unlike anything I had ever experienced in my whole life and I don’t mean in a good way.

Even walking up the stairs to our bedroom would leave me winded and tired. Picking up our 15 pound baby left my muscles screaming like I’d just done a boot camp with a ferocious personal trainer. And loading the oversized jogger stroller into the car was out of the question.

I was already struggling and we hadn’t even put a seed in the ground.

Just like everything in life, no matter how much worry you put into it, it happens anyway so of course planting began last year just like it did the year before and the year before that.

A younger version of myself might have put a smile on my face and told the world I was doing fine but honestly, I didn’t even have the energy to do that.

Just like I’d predicted, I did end up feeling like a single mom though my husband did the best he could to take Bree in the tractor with him and help me clean the house on rainy days.

He tried his hardest to stay awake past 8:00 p.m. when he was in the house and we did a bit of meal prep so at least there was supper on the table most nights.

As the season moved from planting to first cut hay to second cut, my physical and mental health didn’t improve.

I would literally watch the clock, waiting until my husband could come in from the fields to give me an hour’s break to have a shower or get five minutes to myself.

Courtney Denard and her daughter Bree, grabbing a little mommy and me snuggle during a break from fieldwork last week

They were long days but that’s what everyone tells you, right? The days are long and the years are short when you have kids. I get it, I really do but I couldn’t help but fantasize about those families who only work Monday to Friday and have the weekends off.

The weekends off! Can you imagine?

When I moved to the farm 11 years ago, I made a commitment to this life that comes with yes, many sacrifices but also so many rewards.

I never complained about the cows’ constant demands or for being late when a heifer calved unexpectedly. I gave up camping on May 2-4 weekend and accepted the fact that life on a farm is this bizarre mix of relentlessness and awesomeness.

The farm didn’t bother me and in fact, I loved it. But last summer, I didn’t love it anymore. Farm life was killing me and I grew more and more resentful as my husband went off to work and I stayed home caring for our baby.

Some time around August, on a particularly hard day, I pulled out my phone and wrote a post on social media.

It was raw and honest and vulnerable and it basically said, “I am struggling.”

I asked women online how they managed being a mom and a wife and a farmer and every other label they wear every day of the week. I asked for advice but what I was really looking for was support.

The result of that post was an endless stream of comments telling me “it’s going to be okay” or “I’ve been there, you’re not alone.”

There was practical advice too like hiring a baby sitter to come over even when you’re in the house or bringing your teenage neighbour grocery shopping with you because as every new mom knows, any task alone with an infant is no easy one.

Some people just sent heart emojis and that was nice too. You don’t always have to use words to get a message across.

A little ways into the thread the word isolation popped up and a conversation unfolded around the level of isolation new moms feel in those amazingly difficult first months.

I had never really considered myself an isolated person even though I work alone in a home office, five days a week. Isolated people, to me, were seniors with no family close by or people living in remote areas.

The word took me by surprise and I have to admit, I needed a minute to wrap my head around it.

Isolated? Me? Really?

Turns out I was a little more secluded than I realized and I needed to do something about it.

By the time the season made its way into third cut hay, I was starting to feel a little better.

I had finally found an iron supplement that was helping my anemia and I had made a plan with my sister and another mom friend to go walking with our babies every day.

My energy was nowhere near normal yet but my sister loaded the stroller in and out of the car for me and we would walk slowly on flat land.

The walking helped. The getting out of the house helped. And the surrounding myself with supportive women really helped.

I also started seeing my therapist again. She had helped me through the miscarriages my husband and I suffered before Bree was born and so I turned to her once more.

She didn’t really understand the complex reality of living on a farm but she did speak a lot about post-partum anxiety and just how common it is (regardless if no one is talking about it).

It was support I needed and I was grateful we were in a position to actually afford going to a therapist because I know a lot of people who are not.

As we moved closer to spring this year, I braced myself for another busy season filled with dread, worry and anxiety. I mean; if I thought life with an infant was tiring, life with a toddler is next level!

Exhausted as I am most days, I am happy to report this year doesn’t feel like last year at all.

For starters, my daughter is in full-time daycare, another thing I am grateful to have access to because I know many farm families don’t have the same luxury.

My anemia is gone; thank goodness. And although my anxiety is still here on some level, it’s a heck of a lot quieter and much more manageable than a year ago.

Finally, I am back to my off-farm job, which was something I missed incredibly during my yearlong maternity leave. Being a stay at home mom was not for me.

My overactive brain has had a lot of time to think about this over the past couple of weeks. Long hours in a tractor tend to do that to a farmer but I wanted to put pen to paper because a) that’s what a writer does and b) because it’s important to know a lot can change in a year or in a week or even overnight.

A year ago I felt like I was drowning. Today, I do not.

The writer is an editor with Ontario Farmer

Comments