A Word of Encouragement From the Other Side
My husband and I were married for seven years before we decided to have a child. He knew he always wanted a child (or children). I wasn’t so sure. The fact that we weren’t in the same place with the idea didn’t really matter because both of us were busy working and enjoying our jobs and each other. We were enough. We were totally happy. As I got older, we discussed it a bit more often because BIOLOGY. At 30, I wasn’t ready. Nope. Not 31. Or 32. I had Ellen when I was halfway to 34.
My least favorite thing about having a child in the beginning? Everything.
Every. Single. Thing.
Let’s take it back even farther to the pregnancy. I didn’t have such a great time with that either. I set myself up for a big fall from the get-go without even realizing it. You know, because I was going to make everything perfect. I set myself up by thinking that there was only one right way to do everything. If I made one mistake, I was a complete and utter failure as a mother, wife and person. No pressure.
Expectation: I would be a cute pregnant lady, gain the recommended amount of weight, no mood swings. No anxiety.
Reality: Nauseated, tired, paranoid (see next paragraph), gained more than the recommended amount of weight. Moody.
My Perception: Failure
I forget just how far along I was pregnant with my daughter when I had a (now party-worthy story) 2:30am freak-out. It was mid-2009, and information about THE DANGERS OF BPA seemed like it was all over the Internet. It seemed like it was all over the Internet to a person that read nothing but pregnancy-related articles. I read an abstract to a paper about BPA’s effects on a population of fish. My take-away from the tidbit? I was going to have a hermaphroditic baby. With cancer.
Because I was drinking from a plastic water bottle at work: score one for the Internet. I woke up my husband. I cried a lot. I told him of my fact-based fear of the inevitable. I read to him about those unfortunate fish. From 2:30am to 4:30am he listened. I think I almost had him convinced that we needed to go to the hospital to have the baby checked out. It turns out that he had done some reading too, that saved us the trip. He had been reading all about pregnancy hormones. The post-freak-out discussion he initiated about my pregnancy hormones is a story we don’t tell at parties.
I eventually made it to the end of the pregnancy with only a few more breakdowns, the fish freak-out the most memorable by far. Then came the labor – or the lack thereof in my case. 40 weeks. Nothing. 41 weeks. Nothing. I couldn’t be a “good mother” if the baby never came out.
Expectation: My water breaks, my husband and I share the “MY WATER BROKE!” moment, I go into labor and we have the baby.
Reality: My water didn’t break. I never went into labor.
My perception: (Necessary) Induction = Failure.
I came to terms with the induction because there was so much more in front of me; there were so many more chances for me to get it right… until it was time for the baby to come out.
Expectation: I push. Baby comes out.
Reality: I push (a lot). “This baby’s head won’t fit through your pelvis.” C-Section.
My perception: Failure.
But now I had this baby, this beautiful baby. I could still be a “good mother.” I could negate all of my failures up to this point with BREASTFEEDING! “I will breastfeed my daughter until she’s three, damnit.”
Expectation: Breastfeeding is easy. Everything is great.
Reality: Breastfeeding is HARD. Pain. Crying. More pain. More crying. Pumping/Formula. Formula.
My perception: Failure.
I had managed all of this failure BEFORE WE LEFT THE HOSPITAL with our baby and was nearly buckling under the weight of it by the time we arrived home. I smiled for a few “bringing the baby home” pictures, but I wasn’t happy. I was grief-stricken, tired and scared. My house didn’t feel the same when I stepped inside. I didn’t feel peace. There was no relief in coming home. Emotionally and physically exhausted, I remember thinking, “What did we DO?” I had a quiet panic attack at my kitchen table, holding my husband’s hand while my mother and mother-in-law were cooing over the baby as they changed her diaper in a room down the hall.
It was a strange feeling that I remember so vividly – being paralyzed in that chair, holding my husband’s hand. I wanted to run but at the same time, with the same intensity, I wanted to be the best mother possible to my child. I tried to take it one day at a time from that point. Anything beyond that was too overwhelming. Some days were bad. Some days were better. I experienced so many other perceptions of failure during the next eight months of my new daughter’s life that I had NO IDEA I was suffering from postpartum depression. I just thought I was doing it wrong and that feeling this way was my punishment for being a failure. As if the fact that I was still wearing maternity pants six months postpartum wasn’t punishment enough.
I realized I needed help and sought it out before Ellen’s first birthday. There is no typical timeframe when most new mothers just snap out of it. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment. Mine involved a lot of talking, efforts to put better food into my body and some major work on self-acceptance. You know what? I’m a good mother. I’m not a failure. I may even be a better mother for having gone through that trial. My daughter is five and she’s awesome. Now I’m here, on the other side, holding my hand out … for you.
Maybe you’re not like me. Perhaps, having a child is all you’ve ever dreamed about. You’re glowing and perky and you know what you’re doing. Your pelvis is a good size. Your kid sleeps. Your boobs work. It can still happen to you. If you feel it creeping in, talk to someone. Talk to your husband or your doctor or both. Talk to other mothers. Comment here and we’ll talk. Don’t stop talking until you get the help you need. We are a sisterhood, a community. You are not alone.