Our culture, our society, the media, our peers and basically everything that surrounds us in the day to day of our little lives teaches us that babies are a happy thing. Babies are a miraculous event we should all be grateful for and everything associated with this is meant to be positive. I’m not here to disagree with all of this. After all, there’s something unprecedented about having a baby and realizing that there’s a little human being now alive because of you.
But I’m writing this post because I need to point out that not everything is peaches and cream when a baby is born. I want to say this because, in light of what appears to be a baby boom where many people I know are having children right around the same time I did, I was forced to come to terms with the fact that my instant reaction to having a baby didn’t quite mirror theirs. Theirs being the reaction we “expect,” the reaction we’ve seen and the reaction we’ve been taught: sincere happiness, marvel and wonder, immediate bonding and acceptance of all that surrounds the new bundle.
As mentioned in previous posts, I did a whole lot of reading during my pregnancy in order to “prepare” for what was “expected.” Every good pregnancy book will have a chapter on “Baby Blues” and postpartum depression. Bored, I skipped over those chapters. In fact, I incorrectly thought that postpartum depression was triggered because the mother “missed” being pregnant and I was certain that wouldn’t be the case with me since the last few weeks of my pygmy hippo-ness was chalk full of aches and pains. I figured, I’ve never been a truly depressive person (minus the abyss of eternal despair I’d throw myself into post break ups in the past) and the idea of being depressed, in every sense of the word, just didn’t register with me. Those weren’t the experiences I had heard about and it wasn’t something that ANYONE I knew even remotely hinted about. That type of thing happened to lonely, depressive, crazy cat women, who fell into loveless marriages at a young age.
Um, except it DID happen to me and let me just say, it was UUUUUUUGLY. Now, before your imagination starts running wild, I wasn’t psycho depressed, a la wanting to hurt my baby type of thing. No way, no how. I guess that now that I know how desperate things can seem, I am grateful that that extreme kind of postpartum depression (PPD) didn’t affect me. But it was bad enough that I began to question my own sanity and I wondered if I’d ever smile or laugh again and feel truly happy about anything. Perhaps this sounds dramatic and unnecessary and to that I say, F off!!! You have no idea what it’s like to have a baby and not feel motherly about it. Quite the contrary, in fact: feel as if it’s the end of the world as you know it.
I know that this doesn’t totally make sense. After all, you might say “hey, you were preggo for nine months and had nine whole months to get used to the fact that you were going to be a mom and have to worry 24/7 about this baby.” Except I’m here to REPEAT that no amount of time, studying, reflecting, reading or investigating actually prepares you for life with a baby. The before and after are so close together, it’s almost a mind f*ck to remember that just the OTHER DAY, you could come and go as you pleased and didn’t have to worry about a crying baby next to you.
I would cry every single day and wonder what was wrong with me. I couldn’t feel happy about the baby because I felt as if it was a little stranger and, even worse, that I was a stranger to my own self! Who was this person who now had to worry about breastfeeding and diaper changes and crying babies and color of poop (hers, not mine)? In a sense, it was as if I was in mourning and “what” I was mourning was my former life and my former self. That person, in a sense, had “died” when my new role as mom was appointed to me. Add to the fact that no one tells you that how lonely the first few weeks can truly be. Yeah, people come by and visit you and that’s always appreciated, but in my case I just felt like they were visiting me in prison and I envied their freedom. It depressed me that I couldn’t go out, not even with the baby because of the cold weather. If you’re not used to being home 24/7 with the sole responsibility of taking care of a newborn, then all of a sudden doing so becomes your own personal hell realized. I felt lonely – as if I was truly the only person I knew walking through the strange land of being a new mom (at that point, I was.)
Adding insult to injury is the guilt you feel for not embracing motherhood the way it seems that everyone else embraces motherhood. Facebook might tell a million lies via happy pictures that everyone (incl myself) upload to their pages but it was exactly those pictures I recalled of smiling moms with their newborns in my Facebook feed that made me feel like I was the worst woman – worst MOM – in the world. I was certain that if we lived several hundred years back, I’d be burned at the stake like the witch I was for not reacting “properly” to the birth of my daughter or not wholeheartedly embracing my new role as a parent.
Yeah, those were some tough times that I don’t wish upon anyone. I know it sounds weird… after all, society makes us question “how can a new mom not instantly love her baby?” As I said, I’m thankful my PPD wasn’t as extreme as it could have been and I was by NO MEANS near reaching the horror of Andrea Yates. But I was sad and I was scared. I felt lonely and overwhelmed and I felt that if anyone besides my family and G knew, that I’d be horribly judged.
So then … can I tickle you pink with a story of a happy ending? Part of the reason as to why I waited this long to write about my experience post my daughter’s birth is so that I could genuinely give you hope for yourself as a future mom who may go through something similar … everyone said this to me and I didn’t believe it at the time, but now I can jump on the bandwagon and tell you – remind myself – that IT GETS BETTER!! In my case, the first step was putting aside the fear of judgement (my own and by others) and merely recognizing that I wasn’t feeling what I wanted to feel or reacting how I wanted to react. I had to trust others, namely my doctor and my husband, and accept help in all of the required forms (there are many options that a medical professional can explain). I also had to help myself and though it was hard, I’m now writing from a position where I can look at my daughter and want to hug her and kiss her, just as I always imagined I’d do. Of course the passing of time helps immensely – now I can go out with her! We run errands, go out to lunch, get our Starbucks fix, etc, etc all with baby in tow. It’s how it should be. I’ve also returned to my pre-baby routines at home, something we all take for granted but something vital I had put aside unknowingly when I was in the midst of the PPD.
With the passage of time and with the help of my doctor and husband, things got better. Things are GETTING better (to the tune of baby sleeping longer stretches and for me, learning the ropes – yay!) and I’m happy to say that I’m closer to my former self than I’ve felt since my little 9-pound human was born. Pretty soon, I’ll be going back to work and though I’m sure it will be another hard transition, I’m very much looking forward to it: A return to a role I recognize from my “former” life.
At the end of they day I feel that I went through hell and back when I became a mom, but I reached the light at the end of the tunnel. While it’s hard work and still somewhat overwhelming, I embrace the fact that since going through this, I’ve been empowered to get through ANYTHING – and just in time as I head back to the corporate world (don’t mess with the bull, you’ll get the horns!)
So to answer my own question, does reality bite? THANK F*CKING GOODNESS, NO, REALITY DOESN’T BITE. Not anymore.