The Darkness

This post is the first in a series chronicling my battle with postpartum depression.

 

 

There are two reasons that I am writing this:

  1. So much of my journey was spent judging myself for the way I was feeling and for the things that I did when I wasn’t myself, and being absolutely sure that no one could relate to what I was going through. That isn’t true. No woman should ever suffer silently or alone.
  2. I need to forgive myself. As I write this, there is nothing in the world that I want more than to have the first four months of H’s life back so that I can do it differently. This is an entirely fruitless endeavor, and the only way forward is through, so through it I go.

 

This post contains triggers. If you are someone who is experiencing intrusive thoughts or someone who is triggered by them, please practice self-care when deciding whether or not to read this post. If you or someone you know needs support, please call the Postpartum Support International warm line at 18009444773 or the National Suicide Prevention Life Line at 18002738255.

 

 

It’s hard to remember when exactly it all started. A few moments stick out in my mind, but postpartum depression crept in and before I realized it, it had settled, as is the way of darkness.

“Normal” isn’t really a thing with a new baby, especially if it’s your first. For the first few weeks I just assumed that everything was as it was supposed to be because having a baby is fucking hard. It’s a total shock to the system. But in my determination to breast feed H, I went to meet up with yet another lactation consultant. My anxiety was high because it really hadn’t been working out and he would always eat great when we were with a professional but then we would struggle at home. The first impression I got from this particular LC was not great, and while she was typing some notes in H’s chart I looked at Derek and mouthed that I wanted go. Then I started uncontrollably crying. The LC tried to reassure me that it was normal, hormones are crazy at that time, and it’s all really stressful.  Maybe some baby blues? Maybe. Why don’t you call your doctor’s office? So I called and left them a message. Apparently the LC was actually very concerned because she sent a message to them and then I got a phone call to check up on me.

From the day he was born I struggled to sleep. The first night was restless, largely due to our care team coming in to check on us. The second night I walked in to the hallway and started hysterically crying to my nurse because I was so tired and hadn’t slept much in the three days I had been there. Once we were home and settling in, H slept great, but I could not sleep. No matter how exhausted I was, I laid awake and would maybe doze off just in time for him to wake up and eat again. The worst part was the phantom crying. Most new parents know what I am talking about! You are sure that your baby is in hysterics but once you get to them they are sleeping peacefully. Second to this was the obsessive worry that he would die suddenly in his sleep, and my anxiety about attempting to breast feed him upon his awakening.

Evenings were the hardest, especially once D went to bed. It started slowly.

“This is not at all what I thought it would be.”

“I kind of regret having a baby. This was a terrible idea.”

Maybe those sorts of thoughts are normal? I don’t really know.  It’s not something that I ever talked to anyone about because I was certain that regretting your newborn was one of the worst possible things a new mom could do. How could I feel that way about something we so badly wanted? So the days ticked by with those thoughts in my mind at varying degrees of intensity. They were especially intense surrounding attempting to feed H. Breastfeeding was a constant struggle and it turns out that when you hinge your worth as a mother and human on feeding a crabby newborn from your breast you can be unduly hard on yourself. Waking up every three hours to pump and feed a baby simultaneously was wearing me down.

One night, after a particularly hard day, H was crying as I was attempting to swaddle him for the tenth time. I looked at D and said “I really hate this. I really hate being a mom.” This was shortly before Christmas, if I remember correctly. From that point forward the thoughts started getting worse in both intensity and content.

“I am a failure as a mom.”

“He deserves a better mom.”

“I fucking hate all of this and wish we wouldn’t have had a baby.”

“I hate this baby.”

The last one still hurts to type, but postpartum depression makes you think and do things that are not yourself. I wish I could say that this was the worst of it – rock bottom, if you will – but it wasn’t. My battle was not close to over.

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Sparklers

“You’ll get so much farther in life if you learn to just be quiet.”

Nearly my entire life people have told me that being more compliant, more agreeable, and quieter would allow me to experience greater success than being, well, myself. This has always bothered me. But, it bothers me even more now that I have a loud, opinionated, and determined child of my own.

Motherhood has taught me that there is a term for these children: spirited. They are children who are “more.” More intense, more sensitive, more pissed off that you didn’t get their banana fast enough. I recently started reading Raising Your Spirited Child and it has given me great insight, both with Harlan and with myself.

A big part of this journey is accepting that my child is not who I thought he would be. Sounds silly, right? Some babies are snuggly and affectionate. They have very mild temperaments and go with the flow. That has never been H! When he was just a few hours old the nurses and hospital staff were commenting on how “awake” he was. It was at that point that I realized that we were “in for it” for lack of a better term. We tried bedsharing to get some sleep but it turns out that being near mom and dad just means it’s time to wake up and check things out. As a newborn, he was in a hurry to become mobile. He didn’t stop moving when he was awake. He was picking his giant head up from the beginning. Rolling started around four months, crawling at five and a half, walking at just over nine. This. Kid. Doesn’t. Stop.

Having a spirited child (or a “sparkler” as a friend and fellow mother of a spirited child calls it) is frustrating. It’s exhausting. It’s hard to not try to “change” my child. During those times, I have to remind myself: I, too, am a spirited child. I am chaotic, emotional, sensitive. I am loud and opinionated. I have spent most of my life dealing with people who have desperately wanted me to be something I am not. And because of that, my “strong personality” is easily my biggest insecurity. I cannot overstate how badly I do not want this to be the case for my son.

Sparklers can’t be changed. They are who they are and I need to embrace that, starting with myself and starting with my son. The world needs all kinds of people, including determined and driven spirited ones. Parenting a spirited child is hard, but worth it, because they make a difference. They push boundaries, they challenge the status quo, they think outside the box. They make stuff happen. Being spirited – or any of the adjectives that go along with it – is not inherently bad. Many of those traits are desirable: driven, determined, intuitive, sensitive, persistent, passionate. But, they can be hard to see in a positive light when learning to parent a child that exhibits them.

Some days raising a spirited sparkler feels like an exercise in futility. But on those days I have to remind myself that he won’t always be standing on the seat of his trike, or trying to pick all of the rock fragments out of the pavement when we cross the street, or yelling at strangers in Target. Some day he will be a mover and a shaker. Some day my spirited little guy will be an awesome adult and he will change the world.