Before my daughter was born, I was given a slew of solicited (and unsolicited) advice. Some “pearls of wisdom” were more helpful than others, i.e. sleeping when the baby slept proved to be a lifesaver and whoever told me to place “mama snacks” around the house deserves a freakin’ medal.
However, the advice I really needed — the words I didn’t know I wanted to hear, and desperately needed to hear — remained unspoken.
Those words remained the shameful secrets of pained and exhausted parents past.
So when I felt “it” one Friday night — the first Friday my husband was back at work — I didn’t know what “it” was. I knew “it” began snaking its way up my back while I was on the phone with my husband. It wriggled and twisted when he told me he was going to be late because he was going out for celebratory drinks with a few colleagues and friends. I know “it” spent the next few hours worming its way through my spine while I waited for him to come home, but even when he did, “it” didn’t go away. It just settled in my shoulders where it grew and festered until “it” was one big, hard, entangled mess.
Of course, admitting this is not easy, nor is it something I am proud of. In fact, I wanted nothing more than to be “that mother,” the one who gave birth with a smile on her face and a exhilarating flutter in her heart. I wanted nothing more than to love the sleepless nights. To be lost in a sleep-deprived delirium filled with whispered words, soft snuggles, and lullabies. And I wanted to live the “new mommy” dream, the beautiful, head-over-heels, “everything is perfect” dream.
Instead, I felt isolated. I became increasingly frustrated and exasperated, and I was angry. I was annoyed. Before long, annoyance became bitterness. Bitterness morphed into cynicism and contempt, and I became cold.
Resentment permeated my body, my being, and every ounce of my soul.
I hated my husband for going to work, for being happy about going to work, for riding the bus alone, for eating breakfast and lunch alone, and for peeing alone.
How dare he pee alone?
I hated my daughter because she needed me, she relied on me, and because I wasn’t just her mother: I was her comforter, her pacifier, her butt-wiper, and her cow.
(Well, I felt like her personal milk cow.)
I hated myself for having these thoughts. For feeling hate at all.
Even when I had the chance to “get away” — when I was able to walk alone, shop alone, or sit and sip coffee alone — I still grumbled and stewed because I knew what was waiting for me at home: a tired child, a hungry child, and a crying child.
The sound of her tears got on my nerves and cut straight through my heart. Before long, I felt discouraged and dejected. Before long, I felt helpless. And before long, I felt hopeless, because I was trapped: trapped by myself, my anger, my animosity, my rage, my resentment, and my exclusively breastfed baby.
I remember thinking, “These are supposed to be the best days of my life, and I am supposed to be happy. Why am I not happy?”
I determined something was wrong with me. I decided I was a bad mom — actually, I was the worst mom — and I concluded I shouldn’t have become a mom. I was clearly too cold and callous to do it well.
I thought about abandoning my daughter. I thought about leaving my husband, and I even considered taking my life.
It was when I began making plans that I knew something was wrong. Very wrong. I knew this was more than remorse, resentment, and regret, and so I immediately called my OB/GYN. Less than 24 hours later, I not only had a doctor’s appointment but a diagnosis: I was suffering from postpartum depression. And while it would take me many, many months to feel better and “come out” of my depression, it was a start.
Acknowledging my feelings was that start.
So if you are a new mom who is struggling — if you are a new mom who feels sad or angry or just off — know you aren’t a failure. You are not a bad mom. You are not crazy, and you are not alone.
It can and will get better, if you recognize your feelings. If you accept your feelings, and if you reach out and get help.
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