When I shared the news of my first kiss with my best friend, her immediate advice was not to think about it too much or the memory would fade more quickly and I would lose the giddy feeling I got every time I remembered it. I can speak from experience, however, when I say that particular advice did not apply to the experience of your birth. In fact,since you arrived 9 weeks ago, I’ve replayed that whirlwind of a day in my mind many times and if anything, the emotions tied to it have only gotten stronger.
Oh, what a day. You were a day late, but that didn’t make me any more prepared for your arrival and the overwhelming emotion that it entailed. All of the pain, the pushing, and eleven hours of being in the delivery room became worth it when I heard your surprisingly powerful cry. But being able to hold you and look into your eyes? That feeling is what people search for their whole lives. I’m confident that if the rest of my memory one day evades me, that moment will not. Even now, weeks later, thinking about it fills me with pure bliss. When the nurses handed you to me, my heart swelled with pride and unadulterated happiness like I had never experienced before. I only wish the same was true of our first week or two home.
I was absolutely thrilled to be able to bring you home. You had spent four long days in the NICU hooked up to various monitors with lines running from your tiny hands under the constant supervision of medical staff. It was a rough start since we didn’t get any real one-on-one bonding time in the hospital aside from when you were first handed to me. Even breastfeeding was a spectator event since the nurses were doing their best to help you latch. Needless to say, when we heard we were being sent home, we were ecstatic! We were finally able to have you to ourselves without the constant bombardment of doctors and nurses checking in and taking vitals. Your dad and I took turns snuggling with you and marveling at your perfect little features. Your little pink baby smell was positively intoxicating paired with the feeling of your fuzzy blonde hair nestled under my chin as you slept peacefully on my chest. Even your soft little breaths had me over the moon. My love for you was intense right off the bat, kid. But hormones are fickle beasts and they ruined our magical first days together.
During the day, I cried tears of joy because I simply couldn’t believe something as precious as you could ever be mine. When the sun went down, the darkness crept in on my mood and something shifted in me particularly around 9PM. At that point, the tears were flowing for a different reason and it didn’t take me long to realize that the thing I feared most about being a new momma was my reality: baby blues.
After talking to the doctor, it was determined that what I was experiencing was something more than just the normal emotions all new moms deal with upon coming home with a tiny human (baby blues). I was borderline Post Partum Depression and it was like living out a nightmare that you can’t wake up from, no matter how hard you try. While I was pregnant with you, I anticipated that the middle of the night feedings would be exhausting, sure, but I also expected them to be a special bonding time for us. I pictured it as the two of us in our own little quiet corner of the world rocking in your nursery. The reality was not quite as picturesque as I had hoped.
I began to feel a sense of dread wash over me each evening around 6PM because I knew the night was coming. Your dad returned to work just a couple of days after you were born, and since I was breastfeeding you instead of pumping, there wasn’t much he could do even if he did wake up with us. Instead, it was just the two of us sitting in what felt like deafening silence even with Netflix playing in the background. Our home became a prison; I was too overwhelmed to get out and about, but it felt as though the walls were closing in on me. I felt desperately alone and guilty because I couldn’t focus on the joy of having a perfect new baby due to the suffocating weight of anxiety and tightness in my chest. I was absolutely exhausted, my eyes were swollen from the tears, and I was convinced during these desperate nights that I was not cut out to be a mother.
The truth of the matter is that, even compared to my intense battles with depression prior to your arrival, this was the absolute hardest thing I had ever dealt with. I was terrified to be alone with you, not because I was afraid I would hurt you or myself, but because it felt like I was dying during what should’ve been the happiest days of my life. I realized what I was feeling was not normal Friday night the week you came home. You and I were attempting to nurse in the rocker in your nursery, and I could not stop crying. I kept repeating, “I can’t do this,” referring partially to breastfeeding but what I really meant was motherhood. Suddenly, it seemed that me running away would be the best option for both of us, and that seemed a bit drastic for any new mother.
I am not proud to admit these things to you, love, but I never want you to experience these horrible feelings, if you one day become a mother, and be too embarrassed or ashamed to ask for help. Thankfully, your Meme and dad were wonderfully supportive and understanding when I broke down to them and explained what I was dealing with, and the two of them assumed full responsibility for you at night time despite both of them working during the day and I am forever grateful for it.
On our first Sunday back to church, I remember looking down at you sleeping in your carseat in what has to be the cutest cardigan known to man. I wanted so badly to experience those feelings of joy I had in the delivery room with you -the same feelings that moved me to tears when singing you “You Are My Sunshine” – but those feelings had been replaced with a hollow, empty, sadness. A chemical imbalance had robbed me of the positive experience I had hoped and prayed for before you had arrived and I was not alright with it. I credit my rapid recovery to the unwavering prayers of our family (church & otherwise) that Sunday as they all stood over daddy & I, and the support I received from those same sweet souls in the days that followed.
Slowly but surely, I have become the mom I always wanted to be with you. I just wish it had been that way from the beginning.
I guess what I really want to say with all of this is I’m sorry. I’m sorry that the monster that is PPD made me feel anything other than thankfulness for you. I’m sorry that tears still well up in my eyes when I think about how miserable I was during your first two weeks of life, what I can remember of it, anyway. I’m sorry that I wasn’t capable of taking care of you at night time when I should’ve been falling asleep with you in my arms like all the “normal” moms. I’m sorry for the times that I could only respond to your tears with tears of my own. I’m sorry that I feel like I failed you when I know that I had no control of it.
Life with you now is so much more than I could’ve ever hoped for. Don’t get me wrong, it still isn’t easy. Your little personality is starting to shine through and it’s clear you are just as headstrong as me, but your smile is contagious and I’m relieved to say that it’s sometimes enough to make me cry… but for all the right reasons. You are my greatest blessing, my biggest challenge, and I’m so glad I get to watch you learn & grow. Already, you’re not the same baby you were when I was struggling the most, and I’m not the same mom. I hate to think about what I would’ve missed if I hadn’t kept fighting. Just know that should you ever go through something like this, mama’s here and always will be, sweet girl.