Poet and author Cleo Wade on postpartum depression and self-love: 'My children never judge anything about themselves'

Poet and author Cleo Wade. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Liza Voloshin)
Poet and author Cleo Wade. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Liza Voloshin) (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Liza Voloshin)

Welcome to So Mini Ways, Yahoo Life’s parenting series on the joys and challenges of child-rearing.

After welcoming her first daughter, Cleo Wade grappled with postpartum depression. The New York Times bestselling author and poet remembers being in the bathtub and wondering what she could do to help herself feel better. “For me, if I'm having a tough day, I like to light a candle and sit in the bathtub and I put on a Tara Brach podcast,” shares Wade, who recalls hearing Brach say the words “remember love.”

“I can’t remember anything else she said — [but those words] plucked me from my haze,” Wade tells Yahoo Life. “Obviously, it didn’t cure my postpartum depression, but it was something that anchored me on how to be kinder and gentler to myself so that I could move through it.”

Wade says that up to that point, she hadn’t realized just how much she had been beating herself up for being in a brain fog or thinking, “I can’t do this” or “I’m so tired” or “What’s wrong with me?” “I really wasn't allowing myself to be kind and gentle,” she says.

The moment ended up inspiring Wade to write Remember Love, her new book and her first original work for adults since 2018’s Heart Talk. “A big part of this book is about finding yourself when you feel lost in the dark,” she explains. “While I wouldn't say the entire book is about a postpartum journey at all, I would say that I thought about every time I felt lost, and every time I felt that I had to pick myself up or find my own light in the dark, [and I asked myself,] ‘What did that take?’ And I wanted to share what I felt like helped me.”

One mantra that got Wade through that particularly challenging time: “Your motherhood is only as powerful as your personhood.” “There's no exact formula for healing postpartum depression; it's different for everybody,” she notes. “But [setting the] intention of tending to your personhood [helps], whether that's [getting] the extra support you need so that you can sleep more or have more time to yourself.”

Wade, mom to daughters Memphis, 3 1/2, and Bayou, 2, also focused less on trying to achieve balance and more on finding harmony. “Balance is not really achievable to me in adulthood or parenthood,” she says. “The only thing that is achievable is harmony — allowing there to be flexibility, and allowing things to look the same or different. You thought the day would look this way, and then, your babysitter ran late or couldn't come in, and it looked this way. That doesn't mean you failed and you weren't enough that day because you had to shift and change. It's just that things had to look different. The attention you hoped you'd be able to give to this thing might have shifted in this way. That's just a better, easier way to look at parenting. If you try to work towards balance, you will probably end up feeling like you're not enough every day.”

Wade was also passionate about spotlighting self-love in Remember Love as the thing that saves us on our worst days. “We often look at self-love as a battle we either win or we lose,” she explains. “Whether you're dealing with postpartum or a large life change or grief, you are not the same person you were, and so every time we change, we have to get to know ourselves again so that we can know how to love ourselves through being a different person. And I know much of why we feel that we fail at self-love is because we are actually not saying, ‘OK, you're different, and you need different things.’ And love is about providing you the care that you need, wherever you are, and it might look different than it looked three weeks [ago].”

These days, Wade is reveling in the fact that every day with her daughters is a different experience. “Something I've really noticed about living with really small children is that love is our birthright,” she says. “Our love belongs to us, no matter what. You know that to be true, because you see that in children when they're small. My children never judge anything about themselves. They don't think that anything is wrong with who they are. They delight in all things that they do. It's only as you kind of like go into the world and the world kind of says, ‘You should look this way’ or ‘this is pretty’ or ‘this is not’ that we build these kinds of judgments and shames that lead us away from our own love of self.”

The poet says seeing her children through this lens gives her optimism that she applies when she’s struggling on certain days and “not being great” to herself. She’s also looking forward to being able to remind her girls how much they innately love themselves as they get older. “I'll always be able to tell them, ‘No matter how you're feeling about yourself and what your teenage hormones are saying, or how much despair is happening in the world that you're empathizing with, if you feel disconnected to your love, it is there. And it's always been there because I saw it,’” she says.

Though toddlers have a reputation for being a bit of a handful, Wade’s over the moon for this stage. “I really love this age,” she says. “I mean, they are definitely scary — 3-year-olds are so terrifying. I'm definitely afraid of both my kids. They're just so powerful. But I think so much of parenting is just being a witness. I love witnessing their growth and their interests and their language develop and their bond strengthen as they get older.”

Ultimately, she’s cherishing the fact that raising her daughters is bringing out the “most fragile parts” of who she is. “Motherhood calls on you to meet and hold fragility and sturdiness at the same time and have them both exist, where one doesn't conquer the other,” she says. “For me, I like allowing myself to feel soft and vulnerable, scared and overwhelmed and to say, ‘This is really hard.’ Being able to hold that in one hand while I hold in the other hand, ‘I can handle this. I can get support here.’”

Giving herself the space to contain multitudes as a parent is a must. “We really try to categorize ourselves as one thing as a mom, like, ‘I'm a type A mom,’” says Wade. “Actually, if you can be all the things, if you can hold all the things you feel and allow them all to be true and allow yourself to live in contradiction, you really get to be a human and a mother.”