My son just celebrated his seventh birthday a few weekends ago, which got me thinking again about how crazy it is that I have been a mother for seven years now, and that my first, tiny baby has now turned into a real “kid”-kid—all the baby chub has been replaced by an angular, lean body, that fine baby-soft hair has grown into a tousled, unruly head of “kid” hair, and his tiny, delicate, pink baby feet have been transformed into these large, increasingly stinky kid feet that are hard to keep in sneakers.
And we spent some time around his birthday telling him about himself as a baby—all the usual stuff: the story of his birth, how we fell in love with him the first time we saw him, how he “baptized” his Daddy’s hands with poop the very first time he changed his diaper, which also happened to be the first time Daddy had EVER changed a diaper, etc. It was delightful to share that with him, and he would laugh and light up while hearing these stories, enjoying those memories of being loved. The memories I have yet to share with him, however, are the really hard ones, the ones that also make up part of the story of his first few months in the world.
Oh, we’ve told him about the risky way he came into this world, and how he had to be in an incubator in the hospital for two weeks after he was born. We’ve told him that he was a real rascal who did not enjoy sleeping during the night, and just wanted to be in someone’s arms all day every day. What he doesn’t know is what was going on inside of me, his Mommy, during that time. That’s a story that I will likely wait to share with him—possibly until he, himself, has a fresh new baby that has just come into the world.
Because that time was actually a really hard time, and not just because of the risky stuff, the not knowing if he’d make it, and being in and out of the hospital for the first two weeks of his life. It was a really hard time even after I took him home, especially for the first six weeks, when I felt all alone trying to figure out how to manage my mental health state while lovingly caring for a squawking infant. Because I did love him—so, so much—but a part of me really hated him, also. This was a confusing thing for me because of the expectations I had had about what it would be like to have my own little baby, and how lovely and miraculous it would all be. Now of course I am not completely cluless—having grown up with four little brothers I was no stranger to babies and their constant neediness. I did not enter motherhood with rose-coloured glasses—brown-coloured ones, perhaps—but I fully anticipated it to be difficult. But what I didn’t anticipate was how much I, myself, would change.
For example: I wasn’t happy and in love with him all the time. He was beautiful, of course, but he had so many needs, and nursing was extremely painful for me at the beginning. Also, I was irrationally terrified. What if I accidentally kill him? What if I kill this very delicate baby who had a rough start and a team of doctors and nurses to care for him, but now it’s just up to me, day in and day out? Also, why won’t he just eat? Or sleep during the night? Or stop crying? Or let me change him? Or let me bathe him? Or sleep in his own bed? Or let me put him down for five seconds? And why am I not happy?
I remember the nights with him being the absolute worst, because during the daytime, even though I was exhausted, the sun would cheer me up and the regularity of the daily routines would be comforting. But at night, there are no routines, because you are supposed to be sleeping. But my baby and I, we were not sleeping. And it was so dark and so cold, being the middle of December, and I remember thinking to myself: “This is what hell must be like.” And I was serious—I literally thought hell must be like vacillating between being up with a screaming baby who wouldn’t be comforted, and who struggled to nurse, and when he did successfully nurse my poor, raw nipples would be on fire with pain, and being racked with guilt over letting him sleep with me in our bed (for the brief pockets of sleep that we did get), because that was the only thing that kept him sleeping. People have many opinions about what one should or shouldn’t do in those first six weeks, one of which is that co-sleeping can be a hazardous and just plain bad habit to get into. But my baby, who had spent his first two weeks of life in an incubator, just craved touch and closeness with me, and would not sleep in his crib for more than five minutes at night. So for me to get any semblance of sleep, I would have to have him nestled beside me in our bed, and I was always racked with guilt and worry that I was somehow “ruining” him.
I also struggled to eat, simply because I never felt hungry. I lost all of my baby weight, and then some, in the first six weeks after he was born. This is not something to congratulate, unfortunately, because this is a really unhealthy and unpleasant way to lose your baby weight. At this time I really isolated myself as well. I’m not sure exactly why—perhaps because I believed that nobody would really “get” this, and that I would have to present a perfect picture of mother and child wherever I went, and that type of “perfection” was exhausting to execute, so I didn’t really want to bother. Perhaps I also thought I should be alone in my misery. This is all very unlike me; I am usually quite good at seeking out friends, and help, and comfort, and food!
It took me years to realize that there was actually something else at play, and that that “something” was postpartum depression, which, as I know now, is quite common. All of the signs and symptoms were there, but it wasn’t until after I started studying depression in all of its forms that it started to click for me that that is what it was.
And now here we are — that teeny little rascal is a lanky, stinky-footed seven-year-old kid now, and I’m just so grateful that we made it here. But I did not make it here alone; I think that’s important to acknowledge. I don’t believe anyone ever makes it to the other side of depression alone, which is part of why I share my journey with you. If you are here, or have been, or may be one day, you should know that are not alone in this, nor do you need to be alone in this. You can get through this, and you need to. Not just for your little baby, but for you, Mom. For you.
I want to say more about how I, personally, made it through, but first I have a newly seven-year-old to go snuggle. So click here for part two, if you’re interested to know what brought me back from this.