My life changed forever when my husband was diagnosed with cancer in December of 2008. I became pregnant one month later and he began chemotherapy soon after. I was a whirlwind of emotions, anxiety, anticipation and change. Despite all of the stress and tears, I was ecstatic at the idea of becoming a mother and I could not wait to welcome my little bundle of joy into the world.
This little baby would make everything better. I was sure of it.
January quickly becomes October and I give birth to the most beautiful baby boy that I have ever laid eyes on. I instantly fall in love with him. I think. I mean, I have to, right? In that moment, when I ask this question, I know something isn’t right. I ignore it and try to sink into my expected state of bliss.
Soon, almost immediately in fact, reality hits. I am anxious and nervous. It must be the drugs, i think. I don’t feel right. I look at my son. He’s so…cute. Is that it, just cute? It doesn’t feel like he’s mine yet. My husband seems so enamored. My parents are in awe. I don’t feel that way. I have not experienced that life changing moment, when you look into your baby’s eyes and all your problems melt away. Isn’t that how I’m supposed to be feeling? I should be happy. I should be so head-over-heels in love with this baby. Overjoyed. I’m not…at all.
The hospital is a little crazy so I’m bound to be edgy, I tell myself. I haven’t even left the room since I was wheeled in two days before (we had to stay a couple of days because of some minor jaundice) and I’m feeling as though I’ve been cut off from reality. Everything is new to me. I’m breastfeeding and it hurts. I’m concerned about the jaundice. I’m concerned about him peeing and pooping enough. I’m worried about everything and convinced there must be something wrong. I’m in a state of constant worry; it’s a normal place to visit, but a seriously horrible place to stay. I begin to think that I’ll feel better once I leave the hospital and get back to the comfort of my own home, but I also have this odd fear of leaving the room. I don’t really want to venture out. I literally feel scared, terrified of…nothing? Something? I don’t even know. When the evening comes I find myself feeling even more nervous. It’s embarrassing to admit, but it appears that I’m now afraid of the dark. Yeah, like I’m 4-years-old again. I’m scared of the sun going down and I don’t want to leave my hospital room. What the hell is wrong with me? I’m not sure I love my baby.
Laura, meet postpartum depression. Postpartum depression, meet Laura. Great.
As we pull slowly out of the hospital parking lot, with our new bundle of joy tucked snuggly in his car seat, I slowly check out the world around me, as if I too have never seen it before. In all of the reality shows that I had watched the new mom always sits in the back seat staring at the baby, making sure he’s okay. Admiring her amazing little bundle. I don’t want to. I want to feel normal. Sitting in the front passenger seat is normal. In fact, for a few minutes, I pretend there is no baby in the car. I find myself wishing it were true. But it wasn’t true. There was a baby in the car. I had to be a mom now.
Back at home the family oohs and ahhs at the little guy. I sit on the couch and wonder what to do with myself. I guess I should feed him. It literally hurts to feed him, but I need to so his jaundice will improve (well, and because humans need to eat, right?). I read online that jaundice can cause brain damage. Seriously? Sometimes the Internet should just be shut down, especially in moments like this, when your son is two days old. Okay, I better feed him, I think. Tears well up in my eyes. I don’t want to feed my own son. I blink quickly. I can’t let anyone know that I don’t want to feed him. I’m a good mother. I’m a good mother.
That evening I take a shower. I let the hot water roll over my face, into my eyes, down my back. Deep breaths. I look around the room. I’m at home. Everything is okay. This is the same place it used to be, I promise. Yet, it feels so different. I wonder if I was cut out for this. I don’t think that I am. I sit down on the floor of the shower and cry for a very long time. I let go, put my head down on the wet tile, and sob. This is not what I wanted for my life. I’m alone with the reality of my emotions and it’s terrifying.
As the hot water begins to cool, I realize I’ve been in there too long. I need to get back downstairs to my baby. I need to get my stuff together and take care of my family. My baby needs me. Stop being so selfish, I think. I turn the water off and hear the faint sound of screaming coming from downstairs. I need to feed him again. Awesome.
And so the days pass before me, one after the other. My husband goes back to work, and I try to plan things to get out of the house each day, my sanity still very important to me. Mornings are the most difficult. Fall brings with it a very cold chill in the air and a lot of rain, and I have a hard time rolling myself out of bed each morning just to do…. well, nothing really. Some days are better than others. In fact, some mornings are filled with all those warm cozy things that you think of when you envision life after baby: cuddling in bed through the morning, a warm shower, followed by hot chocolate, oatmeal and crappy daytime TV. What else could a new mother ask for? But between the feeding and showering, the crying and hushing, the bouncing and rocking, I tend to just…sit there. Staring at nothing. The fog lingers.
As I slowly adjust to the way that I’ve been feeling, I decide that I’m not ready to be alone when my husband travels for work. So my very best childhood friend, Angie, plans a visit. We haven’t seen each other for about two years and I am really looking forward to it. We have fun together and I pretend that everything is fine. I don’t admit that I’m losing my mind and that I don’t feel like myself, yet I cry when she leaves the room since, as it’s my only opportunity to give in to how I’m feeling. But I try to put on a happy face. We make stupid jokes, watch chick-flicks and laugh about old times. We go on walks and reminisce. We stare at my little boy together, in disbelief that one of us actually has a baby. Disbelief that we are old enough for this. Weren’t we just 10-years-old, riding our bikes to get ice cream and then to the rope swing. Damn, where did those days go? It all feels so hard right now, and I long for those simpler times.
Angie can only stay a few days and just before she needs to leave, she accompanies me to the doctor for my little guy’s 2-week appointment where I’m asked to fill out some sort of questionnaire.
- Do you feel sad? Check
- Do you feel anxious? Check
- Are you crying a lot more than usual? Check
- Do you want to hurt yourself or your baby? No (and for this, I am very thankful)
- Do you feel restless or irritable? Check
- Do you have less energy? Check
- Are you having trouble eating? Check
Okay, clearly I know where this is going.
The doctor tells me I have a very high score. Gee, thanks Doc, do I get a prize? He tells me that I am at risk for postpartum depression. You think? And with that, the tears fall over my cheeks. I tell him I don’t know why I feel this way, but that something just doesn’t feel right. I am sad and anxious and nervous all the time. Angie says nothing, and just hugs me. Thank goodness for best friends.
The next day I call my doctor and share with her nurse the way that I’m feeling. And just like that, a prescription for Zoloft is sent over to my pharmacy. I’m not yet sure if I’ll get it. I mean, I am not suicidal. I don’t want to harm my baby. I am taking good care of him. But, on the other hand, I’m not happy and I’d like to enjoy some of my child’s infancy while I can. I’ll sleep on it. It’s just good to know I have options, and that I’m not crazy. Then I wake up and I can’t bare the thought of starting a new day. I decide to pick up the prescription.
It isn’t long before Angie needs to leave and my mom comes to visit. In fact, I pick her up when I drop Angie off so that I don’t have to spend even five minutes alone. I’m still scared, literally, to be alone. She stays the rest of the week and we get out of the house often. I make a visit to my work to show off my beautiful baby, acting like the glowing new mother that I feel I’m expected to be. People say I look amazing, that I’ve lost so much weight (this is true, but it’s because I am depressed and not eating). They tell me that I look so happy. They actually say that. Oh, the irony. I am asked if it is everything I ever thought it would be? Is it absolutely amazing? No, It isn’t. Am I just so in love with him? No, not really. I do some nodding and smiling, depending on who asks and how much time I have. But, mostly, I try to tell the truth.
“How are you?”
“Not great. Sometimes I wonder if I made a mistake.”
Hey, I’m not going to lie about it. I feel like shit. It’s been three of the longest weeks imaginable and I want my old life back. I’m tired and stressed out and feel like I’ve lost all control of who I am. I want people to know that it’s not always how it appears; that there is some false version of motherhood floating around out there. Okay, maybe for some people their life really does turn magical the moment their baby enters the world. Maybe they really do look into their baby’s eyes and see butterflies and rainbows. If you are one of them – awesome! I’m jealous. But if you are anything like me, it’s a different experience. We each have our own. And you know what? When I start being honest, I start feeling better. People really respond to this honesty, and I find out very quickly that I am not alone. People understand. Turns out its normal to feel this way. I’m not crazy; I’m not a bad person. Lo and behold – I am a good mother!
Slowly but surely, by continuing to put one foot in front of the other, things start to fall into place. One day at a time. One LONG day at a time. But eventually, months later, it happens. Life starts feeling normal again. I would even consider myself happy again. I smile and laugh again. I look into those big blue eyes of that little boy and feel something. Love. Joy. Pride. It was all under there. Was it the Zoloft, the passing of time, the fact that I was being honest about my feelings and talking to others? Some combination of all of it, I’m sure. I don’t question it. I just enjoy it and begin moving on with my life, with my son by my side. It’s all going to be okay, I think.
The two months that followed the birth of my son were some of the most difficult days in my life. Beyond the middle school drama (and seriously, middle school was awful, right?). Beyond the college heartbreak (uhg, that was horrible). Beyond the cancer (need I say more). Yes, the cancer – isn’t that an awful thing to say? I wish that it wasn’t true. I’d love to turn back time and find myself in a different place. I wish I would have reacted different. I wish my body would not have responded the way that it did. But this was my reality, and I can’t change that now.
Five years later, and I’m hardly the same woman I was, who was terrified to leave that hospital room with her new baby. It’s not easy, but it’s okay and even pretty amazing sometimes. I have no words to describe the love I have for my son and the joy he brings to my life. I always thought motherhood would come so natural to me. It just made sense. I was meant to be a mom. I never knew it would start out so difficult and that I would continue to be so challenged. But I’m here now, and I’m happy, healthy and in love with my son. I’m thankful for my place in this world as a mother and for the little boy who I call mine. What a wild ride this is.