Finally. I can sleep.
This was the first thought I had after the commotion died down. I had given birth to my first child — a daughter, so beautiful and pink. She was bathed, fed, swaddled. So very peacefully content, sleeping in her clear plastic hospital bassinet.
I remember thinking: great, she’s healthy (thank you, God). She has all she needs. The nurses are here. My husband is here. I can finally close my eyes and sleep and hope to feel human again. Just a good night’s rest and I’ll be ready to slay motherhood.
I closed my eyes and drifted off into a strange yet soothing sleep. Soothing in that it came easily because my body desperately needed it. Strange in that I didn’t expect to be so instantly on edge — a girl one minute and a mom the next — waking at the slightest sound and wondering constantly about how I might unknowingly already be failing my tiny baby girl.
I remember going out for a walk with my new little family, a week or so postpartum. We went to one of our favorite parks; my husband and I determined the paved paths there were safe enough for our first family outing: a leisurely stroll with our precious new cargo. In the week leading up to this first excursion, I’d been in a state of confused denial. I was going to get regular sleep again soon, instead of this on-edge, not-quite-sleep sleep, right? There would be an opportunity to regroup, yes? There would soon come a day when my husband assumed the sacrificing for a while, right?
…Wait, so that’s not going to happen? My life will never [never.] be the same as it was before?
Cue the onset of a slow spiral of postpartum depression that went untreated for more than a year and a half. The thing is, in that year plus, I wasn’t able to distinguish between the sheer shock of new motherhood and the “baby blues” feelings I’d heard about. How could I know whether or not I was depressed or anxious when there wasn’t a minute to breathe and reflect? I just knew I felt lost.
When it set in that I was most likely experiencing symptoms of PPD, I had lots of irrational thoughts. Maybe it will go away? Maybe someone will intervene if it becomes obvious? I had passed all the PPD screenings, after all. From a medical standpoint, there was nothing to act on. Probably best to just deal with it on my own.
When we were finally ready to hint at broaching the subject in our mom tribe (our babes were about a year old at that point) a friend described her experience attempting to get help. She had attended a postpartum support group offered at the hospital where she gave birth. She sat through the entire session, hearing story after heartwrenching story of struggle in new motherhood.
As my friend listened, she quickly realized that many of these women were suffering in ways she deemed far more desperate. One was deserted by her partner following the birth of their first child. Another was dealing with the daily challenges of a chronic illness, on top of everything else. Another was living near the poverty line and stressed to the hilt trying to make it all work. And this was just to name a few.
My friend had a solid, committed partner at home. She had everything she needed. She wasn’t crying all the time like these women said they were. She wasn’t “strongly urged” to come to this group like some of them had been. The feeling of hopelessness so many of the support group attendees described wasn’t fully resonating. (Dazed from exhaustion? Confused? Lonely? Sure. But how could she possibly feel “hopeless” when there was a baby to care for?)
So she stopped going to the group meetings, feeling her particular circumstances didn’t meet PPD standards, and instead dealt with the feelings she was having on her own.
Hearing my friend’s story, while I hated to hear she didn’t feel “hopeless enough” to qualify, I admired the guts it must have taken to show up at that PPD group at all. In my silent (that’s kinda my thing, suffer in silence) PPD spiral, the thought of packing up the baby and all the baby things to show up at a support group like that required a bravery with which I wasn’t familiar or comfortable. At that time, vulnerability meant exposing the uncomfortable feelings — of not actually enjoying every second of this, of fantasizing about my old life and getting my body back, of questioning the life decisions and advice that lead me to this point — and I was too raw and too wounded from new motherhood to go there.
So, true to form, I suffered in silence a while longer until that day, about a year postpartum, my friend shared her support group experience with our tribe. And it kind of just happened. As in, one playdate we talked mostly about our routines, and the next, the topic of PPD broke through. I literally felt my shoulders drop. And they dropped even more when I saw the ease with which another of my friends spoke about her regular therapy sessions and anti-anxiety meds. It felt like the clouds parted and streams of gorgeous sunlight were beaming down.
I exhaled and let my guard down…but not completely. I wasn’t brave enough yet to raise my hand with a resounding “me too!” but I was ravenous to hear more. If I sound like a leech here it’s probably because I was acting like one. My reasons were selfish (and maybe cowardly): I was listening for overlap with my own journey that would make it okay for me to name what it was I was going through. Is her crazy as crazy as my crazy?
And, thankfully, it turns out we’re all crazy in my tribe.
A lot has transpired in the two-and-a-half years since my daughter was born. I’ve sought counseling. I’ve taken prescription medication. I’m taking better care of myself. And I’ve found a strength derived from faith in God I didn’t think possible.
If you’re dealing with some hard feelings in new motherhood (or even not-so-new motherhood), I want to say: I see you, mama. I pray you find a tribe that loves and accepts you wholeheartedly and that you know there’s a God who loves you and knows your heart and your struggle. There is hope ahead.