When I Realized I Didn't Want to Hold My Baby
Nighttime is here, and as I sit here with a soon-to-be 8-month-old sleeping peacefully in her rocker, I think back on the day’s events. This is a routine for me. I get my daughter to sleep, zone out for a bit reading articles/news/social media, and before I get started on my work for the night, I take a moment to reflect on my day.
Today, I got to catch up with an old friend. We chatted about her work, my work, day-to-day lives, our husbands and then my kids. My daughter showed off her new crawling skills and even managed to kick my friend’s coffee cup out of her hand, spilling coffee all over her sweater. (This is why my wardrobe consists of leggings and T-shirts.) I stared at my daughter, as I often do, beaming with pride over how fast she’s becoming so mobile, and then I thought about how last week she wasn’t crawling at all. It seemed like yesterday I was just bringing her home from the hospital. I shared this with my friend, and before I knew it, I was telling her all about labor, delivery, and the horrible postpartum depression and anxiety I struggled through. It is not my favorite part of this life I am building with my little one, but it has been an important part. I’ve learned a lot from my struggle.
I’d been in labor for about 17 hours. The time was finally here to push, and after only two pushes, the doctor was throwing my little girl onto my chest. I remember feeling the weight of her little body resting on me and being so relieved the pain was finally over. I kissed my husband, cried, looked at her, cried some more… and then I asked the doctor if I was bleeding too much. From that moment on, for the next few months — everything would be one giant blur. The minute my body recognized I was no longer pregnant and the hormones did whatever the hormones do, I was not the same. I obsessed over my postpartum bleeding. I convinced myself I was swelling and my blood pressure would sky rocket. I called the nurse in every few minutes to examine the swelling in my feet (there was none). My brain was on a rollercoaster that had no end. I couldn’t stop obsessing. I couldn’t stop crying. I didn’t sleep for the next two days at least.
I knew I shouldn’t have left the hospital without being put on some sort of medication for my mental state, but I was so set on breastfeeding. I had the Solly baby wrap, I had the breast pump. I had everything I needed to be “super mom.” I was going to breastfeed her for a year. I was going to conquer this crippling anxiety because I had to. I got home and I collapsed. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t do anything but cry, shake, panic, pace. I couldn’t see my postpartum bleeding without feeling sick and having a panic attack. I called the hospital nearly every night after I was discharged. I called to ask if things I was experiencing were normal. I called because I had a temperature of 99 point-something even though the handout I was given said to only call if it was above 100.4 degrees. I took my temperature exactly 200 times that night. My husband grew concerned and called my parents. It was like I was losing my mind. I was trying so hard to control my thoughts and feelings, but they were so far gone at this point. I was unrecognizable.
Only a week after having my daughter, I got a minor infection and had to take antibiotics. I had to stop nursing temporarily so she wouldn’t be exposed to the medication. I started my daughter on formula. This was my breaking point. I hated myself. I couldn’t do anything right. The world was cruel in my eyes. I’d wanted nothing more than to breastfeed, and here I was, only one week postpartum and I was already “giving up.” I told my parents I was a horrible mother. I lashed out at my husband. I didn’t want to exist. I was so ashamed of myself. I was so sorry for my daughter. She deserved a mother who was so much better. She deserved a mother who had her life together. The hatred for myself surpassed everything. I couldn’t even look at her. My husband would take care of her and offer her to me. I kept telling myself to hold her, take her, cuddle her. I told myself to like it. The truth was — she reminded me of what a failure I was. When I recognized that I “didn’t want to hold her,” I knew something was definitely off. I needed help. For six straight weeks after delivery, I was never alone.
I had an amazing support system. My husband, my family, my friends. They were all here. Someone stayed with me constantly. They helped take care of my babies and they helped take care of me. My OB-GYN called to check on me. She saw me every time I called my doctor’s office with some new irrational fear. She talked me through my postpartum depression. She built me up. My psychiatrist listened to my fears about medication and relayed to me her own postpartum experiences. A member of her staff even came to my car to talk to me when I was sobbing too hard to go into the building. My therapist, a Godsend, has helped me every step of the way.
As I sit here nearly eight months later, I can’t help but feel grateful for my experience. I know that probably sounds unbelievable — but it’s true. I learned from my postpartum depression and anxiety that every mother’s story is different. This idea of the “perfect mother” I had in my head was just that, an idea. It wasn’t reality. Motherhood is messy. Life is messy. It never goes to plan. I was dealt a hand of crappy cards. My hormones were out of control. They were bigger than my obsessive need to control them. Not being able to do it alone did not make me a failure. The important thing was connecting with my daughter. The important thing was being happy and healthy for myself and for her. I wasn’t currently the mother she deserved, but I could get there. I worked hard the next few months to get on medication that helped me level out. I made sure to get some sleep. I meditated. I went to therapy. I prayed. I survived.
My relationship with my baby is better than I ever could have imagined. She and her brother are the lights of my life. They are the joy I feel in my heart every single day. I am so blessed to be their mother. All of those days I spent worrying the bond between my daughter and me would be destroyed were for nothing. She loves me. She smiles when I smile. She laughs when I laugh. I feel she knows my heart, and she knows I always loved her and will always love her, even when my mental health issues overwhelmed me. Postpartum depression and anxiety are scary, hard and exhausting. It is so important to see a doctor, build a support system and ask for help. They say it “takes a village to raise a child.” My village saved me. And because I’ve been through such a dark time, I feel the good times are now just a little bit brighter than they would have been. I can see how fortunate I am and feel that gratitude on a new level.
I experienced postpartum depression and anxiety. Something I can now say without shame. I survived postpartum depression and anxiety. Something I can now say with pride.
Image via Thinkstock.
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