“Being a mother is learning about strengths you didn’t know you had
And dealing with fears you never knew existed”
– Linda Wooten
Dear mom’s who came before me,
Soft music plays in the background. You are worn yet at peace. Your heart is full, having just delivered your beautiful baby. Your birth plan went flawlessly. You feel complete as you embark on your most thrilling journey yet. You are comfortable as you nestle your delicate newborn in your arms.Guided by maternal instinct, she has effortlessly latched on to your breast. You are aglow. The bond is instant, sealed upon her first breath. You feel natural, beautiful and strong; you are confident that you will meet all of her needs.
Was this you?
It was not me.
I had so much fear. At 12:30am, as I was trying to find a comfortable position in bed, I felt a pop. My water broke. No, not yet I thought, wanting to push the clock back, not hours, but days and weeks. As we ran out of our apartment my husband hailed the first cab heading our way. Fluid seemed to flood the back seat I apologized to the driver.
By the time I was wheeled into maternity, I was paralyzed by the anticipation of pain. I regretted ever watching videos of live births, replete with women howling like wolves. I began to feel more like a vessel than a person. My body was exposed to every stranger who entered the room but I was only focused on getting the epidural before the pain hit. While waiting to dilate further, I yelled at my husband for his disheveled appearance and ordered him to fix his hair; I was irrational and irritable. Labor wasn’t progressing and Pitocin was administered. I was keenly aware of the pain lurking around the corner. After begging anyone in my path for the epidural (including the maintenance staff) it was finally administered. Despite having no feeling in my legs, I felt utter relief.
During delivery Ialternatedbetween vomiting and pushing. After a multitude of profanities, sweat, physical pressure and discomfort, my baby girl was born. She was cleaned, swaddled and placed in a bassinet. As the joyous nurse began to place her in my arms, I responded with a reflexive “No”. No one asked why, but I sensed disapproval.
In recovery room I was exhausted and aching. I had cotton mouth and a migraine that made the fluorescent lights unbearable. New mom’s rested in beds with only curtains between us. They seemed so calm and confident. I was beginning to feel I was different, removed. A new mom in the bed across from mine listed groceries for her husband, as if she was sitting in her kitchen. I wanted to go back in time; I wasn’t ready for this new reality.
Back in the room with my baby, I felt enormous pressure to nurse. She wasn’t latching and multiple attempts caused physical pain akin to back stabbing knives. When the lactation nurse arrived, she espoused how essential nursing was, magnifying my anxiety and my fear of failure.
A day later I was signing discharge forms as my bundled up newborn was placed in my lap. A nurses aid wheeled me to the car and helped me and my husband secure her into her baby seat. How could they send me home so quickly? I needed guidance and I wanted instructions; How was I to care for this helpless being, especially when my maternal instincts were buried. Thoughts berated me. “I’m damaged, something is wrong with me, I can’t do this.” I didn’t dare utter my secret. I let it swell inside of me.
Why didn’t you tell me this could happen? Were you too ashamed?
Is it because as a society, we tend to judge, even label difficult emotions? Isn’t some of this normal and inevitable? If I had known, I would have been more inclined to open up, to seek help.
Society’s expectations of motherhood can set us up for failure. There’s enormous pressure to attain the unattainable, to be the ideal mother. There is an unwaveringdictate that a woman’s most esteemed role is child bearing. And that we should be damn happy about it. If we are not,are we damaged?
Is that why you didn’t tell me? Were you trying to protect me?
I thought I would snap out of it.
Were you afraid of being vilified, even punished if you spoke? Did you worry about Child Protective Services intervening or being hospitalized against your will?Were you jaded by the sensational, parading as the norm? Does Andrea Yates come to mind as an example of Postpartum Depression (PPD)? Did you know she didn’t have PPD? That she had Postpartum Psychosis, a separate and rare illness? Did you know that both family and friends watched her descent and failed to intervene?
Do you watch much tv? Surely you’ve seen the sitcoms; mom cries out and sweats while humor lightens the scene. The birth is almost always followed by elation, a family celebration at the bedside.
Did you have a baby shower, decorate your nursery, read pregnancy magazines? It was all so bright and colorful, wasn’t it? How could you be anything but happy?
Did you take sides? Judge other mom’s or feel judged yourself? Were you ‘team homemade’ or ‘team Gerber’s’ ? Breast versus bottle? Co-sleep versus crib? Did the other side make you angry or maybe insecure?
I understand your silence.
Dear mom’s, will you consider sharing your war stories? Peace emerges from struggle. Light arises from healing. We look up to you and the challenges you overcame. You are wise and strong. You hold hope and a key to our recovery. Tell us how you made it through this. Tell us we are not alone.
As our newborns become children we should teach them that pain and loss and failure are as sure to knock us over as the sun is to rise. Then maybe they won’t fall as hard. And when our children become parents, perhaps they will be more prepared for the journey.
Must we sit here in the darkness believing we are alone in our despair?