As you obviously know, I have a birth story. As much as I wished for labor and delivery to be easier, Scarlet was not brought by the stork or beamed here by aliens. (I think?)
And my birth story with Scarlet is very sacred. And I don’t know if it’s really fit for sharing. So much talk of centimeters and things breaking…if there’s enough demand for it or if I eventually feel that I’ll explode without sharing – well, that’s to be determined later. And don’t worry, squeamish people – I will give a good warning in the opening. Heck, I must think some of you are squeamish. I gave disclaimers for talking about a comical penis cake and the beautiful birth of a calf!
Anyway, what I’m here to talk about today is postpartum depression. I’ve recently become a huge supporter of postpartum depression research and support. I’m also seriously contemplating undergoing a training to be a support group facilitator or counselor. The kicker is that I have never experienced postpartum depression, at least not for any length of time. However I did experience something I imagine very few mothers are exempt from – postpartum anxiety and blues (A & B). I’m not sure that’s a real term but I’d love to have just made it up! I’m not saying every single mother in the entire world gets the baby blues. I’m sure someone out there hasn’t and if so, I think you’re spectacular. But you’re not me and most mothers I know. Here below are several ways I was affected by baby blues or anxiety or just any feeling of motherhood that wasn’t as pleasant as “they” lead you to believe. I’m telling you about this because it’s personal to me and I like you. And this might be you in a few weeks or months or years. And maybe you’re already a parent and are feeling or have felt something like what I’ve described and now you know you’re not alone. Or maybe you now think I’m bat sh*t crazy, and that’s ok too. 🙂
– Baby socks. Man, they killed me in the beginning. While I still think they’re the most adorable thing ever, they had the ability to reduce me to heaving sobs right after Scarlet was born. I’d look at them and think of her, so precious and helpless. How scared she must be. And then I’d think of how that would one day change and she’d be walking. Then walking away from me. Then moving 3,000 miles from me. And suddenly I couldn’t see the creamy middles of a life spent with Scarlet and every stage I’d experience. I could see no transition from helpless, shriveled baby to haughty, rebellious teenager, or worse – self-sufficient adult with children of her own. Damn symbolic socks! Most of them don’t even stay on.
– Aging. When I was pregnant, I felt like a glowing, youthful hot mama-to-be. Now that I have a kid? I feel like a matronly middle-aged soccer mom in a minivan with short hair and khakis. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that! It’s just not…me.) Somewhere inside I know that young motherhood can be the most beautiful and even glamorous time of a woman’s life. And once in a blue moon, I feel that way. Mostly though, my bundle of joy has made me feel as if I could wake up tomorrow as gray-haired and wrinkled as a very old lady. Before I had Scarlet, I had nothing to measure time passing with. Now that I have her, time is actually moving at the same pace (and mostly even feels slower), but she’s progressing and growing at warp speed and it makes me feel like I am too. And it doesn’t help that everyone I know keeps telling me, “Enjoy it. They grow up so fast.” Please…just shut up.
– Pain and extreme discomfort. You know what? They did tell me about this one. I just chose not to listen. Or maybe it went in one ear and out the other because I couldn’t see past the birth. I read about the night sweats, potential fevers, hemorrhoids (didn’t happen to me!), soreness, chills, swelling, engorgement, bad latch, trouble standing up, etc. etc. but I’ve always been good with pain and couldn’t see how I’d care about any of that once I had my little princess in my arms. Umm…no. I was wrong. Breastfeeding hurt so badly I spent many nights crying alone in the nursery. I didn’t actually feel “normal” until somewhere around 4-6 months. I would sweat while nursing and then get the chills right afterward. I thought I was thirsty when I was pregnant. While nursing a newborn, I would have dreams about gulping down gallons of water and still not feeling satisfied. Nursing hurt for four months and I won’t get into those scabby details. In fact, I won’t get into any other details anymore…like about hair loss, cracked toenails from baby weight, uterine shrinking contractions…ok ok, I’ll stop. And by the way, not all of what I mentioned happened to me. But it might happen to you!
– Loss of excitement about the future. Not every little girl dreams about her wedding day and what her children will be like. Well I was one of the ones who did…a lot. I’ve always been a dreamer and at many times throughout life, I’ve forgotten to live in the present because I was so far in the past or hurtling into the future. As you know, I’ve moved fast in the last few years. I moved to California, got married and had a baby in quick succession. Well those were three of my life dreams! After I got married and had Scarlet, I got very sad when I thought that I no longer went to weddings and fantasized about what it would be like when I walked down the aisle. I no longer looked at babies and wondered what my first born would be like. About two weeks after Scarlet was born, I was hit with the major “I miss pregnancy, get this screaming thing away from me blues.” I hear they’re very common. There’s something so magical and mysterious about pregnancy because you don’t know what you’re going to get but you know it will be wonderful. And you’ll often see misbehaving, stupid or ugly kids and think, “Mine won’t be like that.” Actually, they might! However I did feel better after some time and lots of good conversations with other mothers. It’s not so bad to sit at a wedding now and think fondly about my own and realize I don’t have to go through the damn stress of planning a wedding ever (hopefully) again. And it’s not so bad to hold my baby in my arms and not have to dream about her because I can look at her.
– Suspicion of other people. And I’m not even talking about the people I should be scared of – I’m talking about the ones I already know. Even before I had Scarlet and was just newly pregnant, the tension started. Suddenly I’d look at my beloved family and friends and animals and make a mental list of everything clumsy, forgetful, or bitey they’ve done. And I thought that people wanting to drop by, or worse, make me drag my baby and her many belongings to see them was the most invasive thing that could ever be done to a person. And when people asked about Scarlet saying, “How’s my baby?” I wanted to snark back, “I don’t know! I only know how MY baby is.” And I was pretty obnoxious…luckily mostly in my head. I can’t say I’ve been perfect but I have eased up on the judgmental thoughts about how others live their lives. As long as they love my baby and want to do right by her, I shouldn’t care what they do when she’s not around.
– Lack of confidence. And I’m not talking about the physical kind although yes, you will feel fat after having a baby even if you’re very skinny. And you might have stretch marks and as I briefly mentioned above, your body holds into your hair during pregnancy and then about 3-6 months post-delivery, you lose all of that hair your body held onto for nine months. It can really seem like you’re going bald, but you’re not. Anyway, totally off subject! I have suffered from low confidence for most of my life and I knew early motherhood wasn’t going to be easy. I have a very take-charge, hands-on husband and I knew it could be so easy for me to shrink back and let him do everything. (not at his fault) The beginning was hard. I hadn’t pre-thought about how newborns don’t smile at you or laugh or tell you you’re doing a good job. Heck, they’re practically blind as bats and barely look you in the eyes! Scarlet seemed so fragile to me and I was afraid to do anything in public. Granted I was taking my shirt off and nursing in front of strangers as early as day 2. It was the more menial things that made me self-conscious. Using the car seat and stroller, hooking up the carriers, holding my own baby! I used to think people would watch me handle her and think to themselves, “What an amateur.” It’s funny to think back on now but it wasn’t just Scarlet’s increasing neck strength that brought me out of my shell. Alongside her physical growth, I’ve grown emotionally. Now I fling her around and stuff her into front carriers like there’s no tomorrow. As long as she’s not complaining, I’m probably doing it right.
– Comparing. I never thought I’d do this because I don’t live in the Hamptons or the Upper East Side. While I don’t compare to other mothers how much my stroller costs (we have one hand-me-down and another purchased cheaply at a second-hand store by Ruth), I admit this – I do read “What To Expect The First Year” and all of the stupid babycenter bulletins and breathe sighs of relief when I see that Scarlet is progressing “normally”, whatever that is. I mean, she does speak German, rub food in her eyes and suck on my neck….aside from that, she is hitting her milestones. And I shouldn’t care so much. But I do. Sue me.
– Being judgmental. I touched on this one above. Having a kid made me so much more aware of what I didn’t want to be in my adult life. And sadly, many of those examples are people I know and love. There are just some sad sacks out there although I don’t believe me or Cassidy are related to any. In the non family department, I see other parents or grandparents who are just miserable, neurotic people who have never really grown up and are repeating patterns from their youth. And that scares me so much. It seems so easy and comfortable not to change. And in the family department, I see people older than me struggling financially and health or relationship-wise and it scares me and makes me internally pick apart what they’re doing (or not doing) to get that way. I believe there’s still lots of hope for me to continue to grow and love, but weren’t they just as hopeful once?
– Love at first sight? Everyone, books and loved ones included, told me I’d fall instantly in love and hear movie scores the first time I laid eyes on my daughter. And the truth is – I didn’t. I remember saying, “I did it!” and being pretty damn proud of myself for having survived labor and delivery. I remember thinking she was suspiciously tan for having white parents. I remember marveling on the amount of hair she had and how she was born a few hours before her due date, both just like me at my own birth. However, I didn’t know her. I was tired and weak and didn’t even want to hold her. It took days and then weeks and even months to be as deliciously in love with her as I am now. I had spurts of it and then spurts of feeling distant. Even now and always, I need space from her. Tonight I was ECSTATIC that she went to bed an hour early because it meant more writing and Photoshop-exploring and less whining and snotting over my work clothes. I know my maternal instinct is just fine. I always have. But I got tested in the beginning and I imagine many do both in the beginning and as their children grow.
So there you have it. The ramblings of an imperfectly dedicated new mother. All of that with a mellow baby who slept and ate well and didn’t have colic.
There’s probably lots more to say but there always will be. Motherhood is a constantly evolving and de-evolving…sport. That’s right. It’s a sport. Some play it competitively and some slackers skip their games, and some make it a professional thing and most others do the best they can. If you want to see a cause I strongly believe in, go here. It helped me a lot.