The other night was the eve of my second son's 6-month birthday. We had just gotten back from his 6-month check up and vaccinations and my husband and I were rushing through the bath time/bed time routine as usual. When it came to the time for me to put on our younger son's pajamas, I started to slow down. I rubbed on his "sleepytime" lavender lotion in his chubby fat rolls and on his tiny fingers. I ran my fingers through his tufts of dark hair. I blew raspberries on his stomach and I started to cry.
Post-partum depression is a real problem. It's barely becoming part of the conversation in our mainstream society. I'm sure it has been a topic amongst women for centuries, whispered between women of multiple generations over cups of tea or in darkened hallways or doctor's offices. Now, we have gone past that and we have celebrities talking about post-partum depression or their struggles with bonding with their babies or feeling like their not doing anything correctly.
For what it's worth, my only real experience with post-partum depression before the birth of my first son was a scene from a Molly Ringwald movie called "For Keeps." In the scene, Ringwald is a new mother who can't seem to get out of bed, she can't hold her baby and the baby just cries from her bassinet. That scene stuck with me for a long while, so I thought that is what PPD looked like. Little did I know that it can manifest in many ways. I didn't even realize that post-partum anxiety was a thing. Even while filling out the required and very short post-partum depression survey at my doctor's office, I didn't realize that what I was feeling was related to the most recent birth of my first child. Nobody told me that post-partum anxiety was a thing.
You see, this isn't the normal "Oh man, I'm totally screwing everything up" first time parent hand-wringing. It isn't the expected watching-your-baby-breathe-while-he-sleeps or drive-5mph-under-the-speed-limit-on-the-way-home-from-the-hospital type of anxiousness. It is that AND it's the irrational, intrusive thoughts. It's a white knuckle grip on the steering wheel the whole way to preschool drop off because you had the flash of a thought of getting t-boned and the car catching fire. It's being rendered breathless in the cereal aisle because of the idea that your child might not make it home from school one day. It's the mother who can't put down her baby because if she does, he might not wake up and then she won't be able to go on without him. It's the hot rush of acid in the back of your throat as you Google the causes of childhood cancers on your cell phone long after every one has gone to bed. It's the tingling sensation in every nerve in your body as you rush across the hall at 3am because your certain that this time will be the time that your baby won't wake up. It's kissing your babies good-bye 18 times before someone pushes you out of the house. It's whispering tiny, desperate prayers into the wisps of your baby's hair on the eve of their 6 month birthday because you never know if you will see them tomorrow.
At first, I thought it was normal. All parents worry about their children after all. It's expected. Totally normal. You wouldn't be a good parent if you didn't worry about your kids. But then, my worries increased in numbers. They became more and more irrational and improbable.
Along with worrying about when my kids will have their first heartbreak or if they will be a bully or be bullied or if they will be a good person or find true love or....
I worried about:
- spiders crawling into his ears and laying eggs
- someone sneaking into the backdoor and Lindberg baby-ing him
- his crib collapsing around him, crushing him and me not hearing it through the monitor
- tiny bugs eating him whole and me not being able to find his body like something out of The Mummy
- him falling into the laundry basket and me putting him in the washing machine without realizing it
- ghosts whispering to him and frightening him
- him falling out of the crib, learning how to crawl and shoving his fingers in a light socket
- the cat biting him in his sleep and giving him a blood infection
- a giant earthquake collapsing the house and I can't get to him in my final moments
- the end of the world happening and he can't have his Momma with him
Eventually, things got better. I went to therapy. I got more sleep. My worries even out and I worried more about the normal stuff and less about spiders in his brain.
But, then I got pregnant again. And we lost that baby at 12 weeks. It was hard and I blamed myself (to be fair, I'm pretty sure I still blame myself). I was angry and sad and disappointed and I'm usually still all of those things. I still very much miss that baby. We wanted him so badly.
A few months later, I found out I was pregnant a third time. We didn't tell anybody. I held the secret tucked in my heart because I wasn't able to live through the pain of losing another pregnancy and having to tell everyone again, of having to look people in the eyes again. Eventually, we told people. When it felt "safe." But, I still had a piece of me that was guarded. I felt him move in me and I warned my heart not to get too attached, that I never knew what could happen. I was scared to name him because it would make it too real, it would mean that I was becoming attached. I tried my best to ignore the pregnancy while simultaneously becoming obsessed with everything baby. This time, the anxieties didn't need to creep into my brain. They weren't shadows cast upon me from hormones or sleep-deprivation. They were already there. I was already on high alert and I don't think I have relaxed since.
I had my beautiful rainbow baby. A gorgeous, happy boy who has big belly laughs and has little fat rolls and makes this face at me like he has a secret and he isn't going to tell me. And, I still worry.
The other night, I nursed that baby to sleep and I cried. I cried because he might be my last baby. I cried because he was growing up too fast. I cried because the SIDS rates drop off dramatically at 6 months and what if...what if I don't get to see him tomorrow.
The anxiety might never go away. For the sake of clarity, I was never what you would call a "chill" or "laid back" person. Yet, the anxiety might go away once I stop breastfeeding, after the baby sleeps for more than 3 hours at a time, after he goes to college, after I go to yoga class more often. Or I might need to go back to therapy. I might need to find a medication to help.
What matters is that I tell my story. That other mothers who are struggling with the immense fear sitting on their chest feel like they aren't alone and they shouldn't be afraid to talk to each other, to their partners, to their friends or to their doctors.
You aren't alone. It's going to be okay.