I’ve always been a people pleaser – the laid back peace making joker. The latter is more so in recent years but even so, it’s all related.
So when it was time to go to my doctor 6 weeks after delivering my little one I kept it even keel.
She asked me if I had feelings of depression and I joked back “Only at 3am when she has woken me up several times!” and we both rolled in laughter.
The problem was that I was masking my real feelings in jokes because I was too scared to admit the truth to her – to show her my weakness. In fact, that fear went on for a long while and it didn’t begin on its own but rather was intensified by many factors.
Postpartum depression. We are all warned about it during our pregnancy. All the books discuss it. all the classes emphasize how it’s absolutely normal and how most of us go through it to a degree. We all have heard the stories…
But, have we?
I know I’ve read about it but no one ever spoke to me about their experience. By the time I had Emma, all of my friends were on their 2nd or 3rd child. I may have heard about how it’s difficult in passing but I heard more about the joy the children were, the instant bond and unconditional love they felt for their child.
When Emma was born after a difficult conception period, difficult pregnancy and difficult labor marred with lots of anxiety, I thought I would feel relief quickly replaced with crying joy and bursts of love heaving from my chest.
Instead, I felt indifferent. Almost like I was in a dream.
Then, breastfeeding was difficult. The reduction I had 5 years ago proved to reduce my milk like I had always feared.
Then, they called her a “barracuda” that always attacked instead of latched. The combination was fruitless and eventually we gave in and gave up. Add a notch to defeat.
Still, I felt responsible for this being and in awe that I created it but still no real attachment per say. I knew I would be fiercely protective of her but I didn’t understand why, really.
She was pretty typical the first couple weeks. Then the grunting started. It began one day at 3am and lasted an hour.
Eventually it would start at 8 pm and last until 3 am. By this point, we were up all night.
I was pumping every 2 hours (since I couldn’t nurse and wasn’t producing much milk) and then up in-between with her grunting and feedings.
My husband was back at work and I had no one to turn to – no family, no friends, no sitter. I didn’t want to be a bother.
I was a people pleaser – an ‘I can handle it myself thank-you-very-much’ type of person.
My friends all offered to help but frankly, they had so much on their plates already. My mom never really did offer.That hurt but I understood. My sister had spoiled that for me because she had abused my mothers’ availability over the last 9 years with her little ones.
Still, it continued. I found that I would ask questions and hear the PC answer coming from a blank look on the person’s face. It almost seemed rehearsed, like they were trying to convince both themselves as well as me.
When I mentioned how hard it was, how isolated I felt – I would get these blank looks or worse, looks of judgment from both moms and those who didn’t have children.
In my mind they were saying “Well, isn’t this what you signed up for? Didn’t you pray for child? Shouldn’t you appreciate that you even have a child?“”
Others would swear by books and techniques that had their little ones sleeping through the night at one month, two months or three months – all of which I tried and didn’t work.
I think that a lot of the options out there fit all babies into one little box and it’s just not the case. Just as adults have different personalities – so do babies.
The difficult things were when my family (or other moms) acted like I didn’t know anything. They would even test Emma to see if she really would freak out if they tried to put her to sleep or if they let her cry for a few minutes. Of course – she did.
Then I’d hear “why did you let her get so attached to you?” Or “you must hold her too much and that’s why she is the way she is” – um, excuse me?
My infant daughter shouldn’t be attached to her mother with whom she spends the majority of her day? Or I shouldn’t hold her in order to somehow put her in her place? Really?
The best was “you must put them on a schedule and let them cry-it-out pretty much right away. They try to manipulate you right from the beginning” … Huh. If you feel like your baby was able to “manipulate” from the beginning remind me to keep my child away from your future ax murderer. Unbelievable.
The truth is that people lie and people judge. You find that those who supposedly sleep through the night are either sleeping 5 hours at a time (which is what “sleep through the night” typically means) or that their mothers want to be viewed as June Cleaver who has a family of bluebirds that fly up and eat right out of their palm while deer prance around to see the awesomeness of this new mother who has complete control over their home, their child and their life.
You usually find out the truth after said mother has had a few margaritas and starts complaining about how they are barely able to keep it together. And that’s the truth folks – we are all just trying to keep it together.
Why do we do this? Why are we so afraid to be honest about our difficulties? Why are we so afraid to show our weaknesses? Why do we judge every single woman out there instead of trying to lift them up and help them?
This all added to my postpartum difficulties. I didn’t have it together. I wasn’t bonding with my difficult baby.
I did at times wonder if I made the right decision and if I should have been a mom. I compared to the other mothers, I listened as all the women around me judged one another and I shut down. I didn’t share except with my poor loving husband who was doing everything he could to help me but it just wasn’t enough.
I needed to be on medicine even though it was the last thing I wanted. I didn’t want to use a “crutch”; I didn’t want to be “weak”.
But the truth is, I wasn’t weak, I wasn’t incapable – I was depressed because of the chemical imbalance caused by the pregnancy and I shouldn’t have been embarrassed to share it. We should never be embarrassed to share ourselves with the world.
So, here we are, 9 months later and I’m on medicine to control my postpartum depression. You know what? I feel really, really good.
I feel like myself again. I’m not crying on the bathroom floor, I’m not crying while holding my daughter who is looking up at me and trying to grab at my tears, I’m not crying while keeping a distance between my husband and I with whom I was feeling both a bit abandoned and resentful at. I am beginning to feel like me again.
Please don’t wait the 9 months that I did to help yourself. Please talk to your doctor from the beginning.
Secondly, being a mom is hard. Being a first time mom is confusing and difficult. Being a woman in this day and age is impossible. We expect way too much from ourselves and from each other.
The moment I shared about my postpartum depression with my friends – they started sharing with me. I couldn’t understand why this was the first I was hearing about it but one friend said that she was afraid of being judged and thought it made her look weak.
Remember that whatever you are suffering from someone else is suffering from it too. Sharing your stories with one another (not just about the difficulties of parenting high-needs babies or parenting in general but all the aspects of your life) helps someone.
We can cease the judgment by freeing ourselves from the bondage of the fear of it. If we open up and be honest about all of our lives we’ll see how hard it really is. Then, instead of judging we can actually join together and help each other so that no one suffers in silence.
That’s my kumbaya moment but I really do believe that we can really make a difference in each others lives just by being more transparent.
My beautiful little baby Emma is still high-needs. She is still a handful but now I’m able to appreciate her individuality.
I’m able to see that she is creative, independent and that her inability to sit still is really her curiosity about the world around her. That’s something that I’ve missed the last 9 months that I can really share and cultivate with her.
I’m realizing more and more that she’s her mothers-daughter and we can now both learn from each other and scavenge together to learn new things.
My laundry still sits in the dryer for a few days but when I realize it, I just smile and turn it back on to get out the wrinkles then head downstairs to bang on boxes or tear up paper with my munchkin.
Life is good again.
Sophie is a 30-something first-time mommy who is finally getting a good nights rest after 8 months of desperately seeking solace. She feels blessed to work from home because of her hapless and supportive husband of 6 years. Together, they are enjoying Emma’s ever growing and all encompassing personality every day.