Like many moms, when I received the news that I was pregnant with my first baby, I was elated. I spent the next ten months… yes, ten, she was very late… preparing in all the ways that baby and pregnancy magazines tell you to. I cleaned everything with toothpicks, I painted rooms, (well ventilated, of course), I bought brand new furniture and accessories, I got a bunch of bottles ready, nursing supplies ready, crocheted a blanket, dug out my lamp from when I was a little girl and sang songs to my tummy so the baby would know my voice. Took infant first aid and cpr classes, parenting classes and birthing classes. I did everything I was supposed to do to prepare for a new baby.
But what I was not prepared for were the horrible thoughts that plagued me. Having had dealt with terrible thoughts for years, it troubled me why they seemed to get worse with my pregnancy. I had trouble preparing meals. Being around knives and stoves made me think things I was deeply ashamed of. The beautiful nursery I crafted with love, painted myself, put up a gender neutral border, and arranged just so with furniture… I didn’t want to go up the stairs to see. More specifically, I didn’t want to have to go down the stairs. I’d stand at the top of the stairs, knuckles turning white as I gripped the rail, staring at the staircase going down. This was the happiest time of my life! So how come it didn’t feel like it? Don’t worry, it’ll get better, I told myself. As soon as you hold that gorgeous baby in your arms, it’ll be better.
Except it wasn’t. It got worse.
When I finally had my baby girl, I was so happy. It was a difficult delivery; she was already two weeks late when they finally induced me. I kept telling them I felt like something was wrong, but I was reassured everything looked great and not to worry, “you’re a first time mom.” But I had a gut feeling that would turn out to be right. After thirteen hours of back labor and absolutely no progression, the doctor on call made the unilateral decision to break my water. I had terrible back labor and I didn’t want to lie down. It took 5 nurses to hold me down and there was meconium in the fluid, I passed out and both me and my baby’s heart rates started to drop. When I came to, I was told that I was being rushed in for emergency surgery and I felt my heart sink. I had already failed at being a mother, my own body refusing to do what I was created to do.
Just as I started going into crisis, my regular OB arrived home from her vacation and came straight from the airport to the OR and she delivered my baby. My baby had been face down, but not facing the right way, the wrong part of her head was presenting and the cord was wrapped around her neck three or four times. As I came to from time to time in the recovery room, I had to keep asking the nurse on duty if I had had a baby yet and what it was. My husband at the time and I had decided not to find out the gender. She told me I had had a girl. I couldn’t wait to see her. But wait I would, as I would wake back up and ask the same questions three more times before I was really recovering. It would be hours before I saw her.
When I did, she was everything I had hoped. Beautiful. Bright blue eyes. She had porcelain skin and a healthy set of lungs. She was crying inconsolably as they wheeled me in, but the moment she was placed in my arms she stopped, looked up at me and just smiled at me. Peace. I fell in love with this tiny, beautiful person with my entire being in that one lone moment.
When I got home, I waited for the thoughts to go away. I waited to stop being afraid and I waited to start enjoying my baby more. Breastfeeding was failing and I didn’t know why. All I knew is that not even a week into motherhood, I had already failed twice as a mother. The guilt was so heavy. I had friends who had just had babies and complained about leaking boobs and how gross yellow, seedy newborn poops were. My baby cried and cried and finally as I sat in the darkness of the bedroom, I offered her one of those two ounce premixed baby formula bottles. She began to gulp it down with a fever… and that’s when it hit me. She was so hungry. And as she ate I cried silently so no one would hear me and told her how sorry I was as I rocked her consolingly.
One night when my daughter was about six months old, I saw a special on a news program about Postpartum OCD. As I sat there I began to understand why I felt so terrible. I watched the woman on the screen explain everything that I had been going through. The terrible thoughts, the anxiety, the compulsions I didn’t even fully realize I had. As I sat there watching, my husband at the time asked me if that was anything I could relate to. I never replied. I think the tears running down my face were answer enough.
The next morning I did some research and made phone calls that resulted in my first therapy session that would begin a journey of healing and acceptance. I would resist medication something fierce, but when I did start it, that was when I really began to pick myself back up. It’s a journey in some ways I’m still making, since I am recently postpartum once again, blessed with a baby boy this past September, to join his big sister who is now thirteen and his older brother who just turned three.
Postpartum issues are why I am here. Having been through them myself, I’ve always shared with friends and family about what was going on, what I was going through. It was nothing to be ashamed of, and gosh darn it, I was not going to be ashamed. Sharing my story lead to other moms pulling me aside and telling me their stories. Some people said I was brave to be so bold and open and others said I should keep such matters private. Some said that they could not understand or relate to how I could be having such a hard time when I had such a beautiful baby girl. How could I be so sad? I bet they didn’t know I asked myself that same question over and over.
While support for postpartum issues has grown and become much more prolific since I first saw that news program thirteen years ago; there is still much work to be done. I hope contribute to that effort, in sharing my stories, journeys and lessons here with you.