During pregnancy, we spend our time daydreaming about how amazing we are going to be at this parenting thing.
We imagine all of the other moms oohing at our flawless breastfeeding skills. We envision them awing at the way our postpartum body looks somehow even better than its pre-pregnancy self. There is this incontestable reassurance that our baby will never cry because we will love it so much that there is no way it could ever be unhappy. Sure, we hear all of the horror stories about raw bleeding nipples, sleep deprived insanity and how a new baby will kill any romance left in a relationship, but it doesn’t scathe us. That’s because we have looked into all of the latest parenting trends and have read every article on child-rearing that Google has to offer. We are ready.
This described me perfectly mere months before giving birth to our son Lars.
I was young, in love, and blissfully oblivious to the absolute hell that was about to consume me. The pregnancy had been an unexpected one. Mine and Jamie’s history is a rather lengthy one. It’s been bumpy and real and magical and terrifying all in a matter of what seemed like minutes.
It was after a three-year break from the relationship that we ran into each other at a local bar in our hometown. Both of us, a bit wiser, older and utterly under the influence, decided it would be a great idea to try this dating thing out again. Why couldn’t we seem to make it work in the past? I’m not sure. Perhaps it was just us. We both are the type of people to wear our passion on our sleeves, which makes for awkward small talk.
In those first three months of the blooming relationship, we found that arguing was our favourite pastime. We yelled. We fought. We bickered back and forth until one of us got sick of the banter and decided to start kissing the other to get them to shut up.
Which brings me to the second thing we did best.
Sex. And with sex, sometimes it doesn’t matter how careful you think you are being—little surprises seem to pop up at the most inopportune times.
I showed Jamie the peed-upon stick and explained its implications. He then did not speak to me or anyone for the next six and a half hours. He broke his silence by saying, “Okay.” He was not angry or happy or manic by the news. He was reflective.
Years later he would tell me that he had been thinking of the true magnitude held in those two tiny pink lines. He knew at that moment his life had forever changed—he just wasn’t entirely sure how. Over the next few days, we spoke calmly about the fetus that was growing inside of me. Then we yelled. Then we spoke calmly again. And then we broke up for a day and a half. We cried and told each other how stupid we were being. Eventually we came to the realization that this child, despite his surprise appearance, was very much wanted.
I became overly obsessed with parenting information. I greedily devoured any article or book I could get my hands on. Jamie found comfortable work in something he was willing to make a career out of. We were on the straight and narrow with our sights set on family life. I had never been so excited about something so domestic.
The labor was shitty like all labors are.
The only difference was this labor, my labor, was real shitty.
Now don’t get your mesh panties in a knot — I know you had a lousy time delivering too. I’m not trying to belittle your thing. The OBGYN who had performed my emergency C-section had been working for 16 hours straight. By some unforeseen oversight, he had nicked an artery with the scalpel while digging around inside of me. This minor detail went unnoticed until long after I was sewn up and out of recovery.
As I held the boy I had worked so hard to bring into this world, I knew I should be feeling something more.
The pain they had promised would be gone by that point was still loud and oppressive. So I invented what I thought I should be feeling with smiles and kisses. Now, years later, I recognize that this was the beginning of my hellish descent into postpartum depression.
One moment I was looking into baby Lars’s eyes and the next I was screaming for a nurse to take him away from me. Vertigo washed over me, and I feared I would drop him as weakness assaulted my muscles. One of the last things I remember was Lars being wheeled out of our room in a clear plastic mobile bassinet.
A nurse was shoving a waiver form in my face telling me I must sign it. She explained that I would be receiving a blood transfusion because I had lost a lot of blood. I agreed to whatever the words on the paper said by drawing a random line across it.
Then I was out.
The ICU unit was where I remained for the next three days.
Isolated from family and the new baby after coming down with a case of pneumonia, I laid in my own solitary confinement. I fixated over the missed bonding time with my son. At the risk of sounding like a wartime movie, the days felt like weeks, and I was left alone with only my obsessiveness to accompany me.
All the research, anticipation and excitement had been for nothing. In every book I read, it stated that those first 72 hours of a babe’s life were crucial for bonding, breastfeeding and overall happiness.
I worried endlessly about what Lars was doing. How he was eating. What he was eating. Deep down I knew he was fine. The nurses were wonderful. Our support system of family and friends were incomparable, and without them I still don’t know how we would have done it.
Jamie and Lars were well looked after. Except it killed me a little inside that it wasn’t me who was looking after them.
The day came to be removed from the intensive care unit and be reunited with my boys.
I looked forward to holding my son and kissing my boyfriend and thanking all of the people who had helped us through this challenging time. I couldn’t wait to hug them all and be a family and just get on with the life that had been temporarily postponed.
Then somewhere between the elevator ride and the agonising transfer from a rolling bed to a wheelchair, my positivity vanished.
A dark stranger stared back at me from the reflection of a passing window.
She had a sickly, bloated look about her. The thick bags under her eyes made her indistinguishable. Her skin, dressed in pale green, was accompanied by greasy hair and an aura of hardship. This woman could not be me. This woman made me sick to my stomach.
As I was wheeled into the room, I saw a close friend of mine changing Lars’s diaper.
She glanced at me hastily, trying to hide the anguish it caused her to see me in such a state. She wasn’t fooling anyone. It wasn’t that facial expression of disgust, however, that hit me like a blow straight to the gut, it was the fact that someone else had changed my son’s diaper before I had.
There would be many more missed “first moments,” I would learn of in the coming days. Throughout the next 24 hours of catching up on current events, I discovered that my sister-in-law had fed Lars for the first time. He had spent his first night in the world cuddled with a nurse instead of his mother. His cries had been met with Granny or Granddad’s loving embrace when Jamie was not available.
However happy I was to have this support, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed in myself that it was not me who was there for him in those first pivotal moments. I stuffed those feelings down in an attempt to get on with life. I had to try to move on from this horrible series of events. The loss of blood combined with the post-op pneumonia did a number on me.
I remember a friend of mine coming to visit while we were still in the hospital and describing me as a swollen version of Frankenstein.
We stayed in the hospital for almost two weeks after I birthed Lars.
In that time, Jamie came through for our family in ways I didn’t know were possible. He took on evening shifts at work to be in the hospital during the day. He cleaned me in the shower when the nurses were unavailable and I was getting impatient. The second surgery to mend the wounded artery had left me feeble and, quite honestly, pretty pathetic. I couldn’t even drop myself onto a toilet without someone having to lower me onto it. That person was usually Jamie.
He participated in events that no spouse should have to in those first few pivotal years of a relationship. He never complained or recoiled at my ghastliness. He was always smiling warmly and kissing me on the forehead, telling me in his matter-of-fact way that we would get through it together.
It wasn’t just me who noticed his efforts.
The nurses, our family, and friends all noticed and were in awe of in his attentive nature when it came to Lars and this disabled spouse he had all of a sudden accumulated. He had a natural inclination with the baby and was immeasurably more comfortable holding and caring for him than I was. More than once Jamie would have to take Lars from me to calm him because my embrace, my comfort, would not suffice. Each time I was not able to quiet my child or place him to my breast to nourish him, a subtle resentment began to cultivate inside of me.
The day came to move home from the hospital.
In the weeks to come, visitors would pop by to see how we all were doing. They would come and see Jamie doing the work of five people. Washing clothes, cleaning floors, minding the newborn and me all at once. I’d be feeling helpless and sorry for myself, laid up on the couch doing absolutely nothing. This was the dynamic others would see while peering in at our lives. I was lucky to have such an amazing man. I was told this on numerous occasions.
It was from there that the resentment would ripen and begin to bloom. I was starting to hate the person who I had first laid eyes on in that floor-length window pane back at the hospital. However, now that person was no longer a stranger. It was me, and bitterness had trapped me there.
I quietly belittled myself with each failure when it came to my son. Every time I could not manage to get him to latch to my nipple and gave him a bottle instead, I found a little more disgust inside of me, feeling like less of a mother and more of an invalid each time I’d need to ask for help. “Jamie can you change the baby’s bum, the wipes are out of my reach,” I’d whimper as another wave of self loathing wash through me.
I tried to confide in my mom but upon calling her and hearing her strong voice, I withered away. How could I tell her that I was failing miserably as a mother? I was sure that motherhood was something with which she had never faltered. Therefore she would not be able to understand.
I drew inward.
I suppose the people closest to me would have seen it, but at the time, out of courtesy maybe, they said nothing. The full-fledged bitterness I felt was beginning to grow out of control. Jamie was who I set my sights on next. Fatherhood had made him so damn smug. Always wanting to spend time with the kid. The babe’s constant crying never bothering him. He was forever hovering over me when it was my turn to engage in my motherly duties. He must have been worried I would do something wrong. This is how I perceived it.
Our once endearing bickering had long stopped. Whether he was too concerned about upsetting me or I just didn’t have the strength to engage, I’m not sure. With the end of our passionate vocabulary exploits came the end of our bedroom ones too. Enough time had passed, my strength was coming back, but the urge to jump back into the sack with the man was null to nothing. I had gained a lot of weight during the pregnancy, I wasn’t feeling the desire, and I was sure he wouldn’t either. This threw me even deeper into my introspective pool of hopelessness.
I felt so hopeless. Hopeless that my son would never come around to bonding with me.
I envisioned him as a preteen coming home from summer camp, passing me by as he gave his father an enormous hug, spewing about how much he had missed him. Being the valedictorian in his graduating class and creating a heartwarming speech of thanks, in which I would not be mentioned.
I knew there was something wrong with me. I assumed it was because the labor was so difficult. If I waited long enough, all of my bad feelings would suddenly go away. So that is what I did.
I waited to wake up one morning and feel happy and okay again. There was a time when I was so beautifully positive, it made those around me sick. I waited for that part of me to come back. I loved that feeling. I enjoyed making people around me nauseous with my overwhelming cheerfulness. Now I was the one getting sick from other people’s smiles. I knew I wanted to be that person again, but I just couldn’t get there. So I waited longer.
It had been five months since the birth when I realized how convincing of an actress I was. I smiled and engaged in play dates. We had family dinners with the in-laws and took professional photos that, from the outside, looked near perfect. I had begun actively losing the pregnancy weight, and although I looked better, I continued to feel horrible from within. The resentment that started out so small and innocent had grown into an entirely new entity.
Although I never had ill will towards Lars, I hated everyone else in my general vicinity.
Myself most of all. I had become a different person altogether, and it was beginning to take its toll. Jamie and I did not talk. I did not revel in the accomplishments of my 5-month-old baby as other mothers did. I felt that these issues of mine, the feeling of inadequacy and rejection from my son, were too embarrassing to verbalize. It felt as though I was so alone, and yet I had people around me at all times.
I’d like to tell you that I eventually got help.
I’d like to tell you I finally sought out the proper assistance to pick me up out of that terrible place. I’d like to say that with the right counselling I learned to understand those awfully lonely first months of motherhood. But I didn’t. I don’t know how long I was unhappy for because eventually, the feeling became normal. What I do remember is when I started feeling joy again. It was not overnight, but little by little, more things were beginning to make me smile.
Mostly things my son would do. He would grab my face and gave me the wet slobbery kisses that only babies can. Or how when the word “Mama” came out of his mouth, he would smile and point to me—excited to see my face. Slowly I recognised that he did need me, that I was of just as much importance in his life as anyone else. I discovered that even in missing out on those first pivotal days, there was so much more to come. I experienced my own “firsts” with him. We bonded when I allowed myself to open up for long enough to let go of the unpleasant happenings of the past.
Ten years later and Lars is a boy after my own heart.
He is an outgoing and eccentric kid who loves to be the center of attention, much like his mother. Lars and I have many qualities in common and we are forever bonding over the wonderful weirdness that is us.
Jamie and I are strong. After having gone through something like this so early in our relationship and making it out (almost) unscathed, we had a solid foundation to build from. Each day presents its own trials and tribulations, but we now know that being open and honest about what we are feeling is the only way forward.
I want to bring awareness to the silent struggle that so many women feel after birth. It can be a long and tiresome journey, especially when the grips of isolation take hold. With counselling, these feeling of inadequacy could have been much shorter lived.
Speak with friends and family about how you are feeling. Talk to a healthcare professional.
Because we are not alone; we are not unaccompanied in these times of suffering. It is just a matter of reaching out and allowing another person in to listen to your story.