It’s a dark and lonely journey sometimes. The one leading from the day you have a child to the day you become a parent. “It’ll come,” they said. “It’s all natural,” they shushed.
It didn’t feel natural.
I ignored it, basking in the surrounding warmth. My mom was there to help me, a welcome breath in the blur of new parenthood. I rarely got to have her around, so it was lovely to have her by my side. I was surrounded by helpful and positive souls. That helped. Helped me forget there was a problem. Helped me sweep it under the rug.
“It’s just baby blues. It’ll go away,” I told myself.
Baby blues! That even sounds ‘cute’. And dismissible.
So I dismissed it.
That mommyhood ‘glow’ was not something that happened to me. I’d had a C-section. My body was struggling, not because anything went wrong, but because someone had to cut through seven layers of me to get to a baby, only to sew me back up and send me away, tasked with the care of said baby.
I call her Murphyskid. She was born in distress and had infant reflux. She never slept for more than 40 minutes at a stretch, and when she did, it was sprawled out across my chest.
This is the stuff you’re unprepared for. The stuff no beautifully presented prenatal class or book tells you.
Three months of lovely, helpful guests, having meals cooked for me, and endless helping hands later, my mom left. I remember her trying to prop me up a few days before. She’d pretend the baby wouldn’t settle with her and hand her over to me (having done most of the heavy lifting first) and when she did fall asleep, I’d get big smiles of,”Look how good you’ve gotten at this.” God bless that woman. She is my hero. No matter what your relationship is with your mother, make it work. Fix it; shine it. You’re going to need her (or the closest equivalent thereof) if you plan to do this baby thing.
The night before my mom left, I lay in bed crying. I could not imagine doing this without her.
She left and I had no choice but to cope. My husband and I lived in Dubai at the time and we had access to some household help. My in-laws came to visit. They were all great with the baby, but I still felt like something wasn’t right.
Was it normal to only feel fine when the baby wasn’t with me? It sounded wrong. It made me feel guilty. So I ignored these vague wonderings, grabbed a footing and hung on for dear life. All the while, I was feeling nothing for my child but mild curiosity. Cue more guilt.
Then the rug was pulled out from under my feet when we moved to Toronto. That in itself is a task of mighty proportions, but add in a sick, cranky baby and it was almost unbearable.
Symptoms got worse with the baby. Unknown to us, she had a dairy allergy, one that took the doctors (two different competent ones on two different continents) 11 months to figure out. Allergies often have associated pain. And when they are too young to tell you, they cry, and gripe and cling. In our case, Murphyskid did all of those. For nearly the whole first year of her life, when she was awake, she sat on the back of the couch, behind me, hanging on to my hair. She only slept with me beside her, holding my hair. I’d stay still and not breathe, in case I woke her and we had to do it all again.
Personal space was gone. I felt claustrophobic and angry all the time. Completely out of control. And guilty. I felt so guilty.
I fantasized about ending something. “We’ll put her up for adoption,” I said. “Lots of people want babies. She’s young enough that she can forget us.” Or we could move to someplace where we have a bit more help. Or, at worst, I thought I could just kill myself.
My husband, M, listened quietly, helplessly, desperately trying to help take the operational burden off me, so I could breathe on my own. That helped a bit, but still it was so much easier for me to just sit there and feel sorry for myself. So I did. And I was passive aggressive about it. Even malicious. I hugged too hard. Pushed too far. Yelled too loud. Cried too often. Maybe if I did that enough she’d stop wanting to be so close? Maybe then I’d have more space and that would make me happy?
That’s when M and my cousin suggested that I look into the resources available for mommy depression. “You cant be the only one,” he said.
I dragged myself to our family doctor, and I say “dragged” because it was such an effort. Shower, get out of pyjamas, and go out? That’s got to be more than I can take. Why cant I just stay here and sleep? I did a lot of that at the time…sleep. And feel guilty. My typical day involved: Wake, ineffectually cope, feel guilty, sleep, overeat, cry, cope, sleep, feel guilty, feel guilty… you get my drift.
The physician was great. He was matter of fact, and empathetic. He suggested self help as the first line of attack, primarily because we didn’t have insurance to cover rounds of psychotherapy, and secondly because he is a fan of cognitive therapy. In normal speak that means being aware of what you’re thinking, feeling and doing; trying to establish patterns that will help you find the sticky areas, which hopefully you can work on fixing by being less negative. It’s heavily reliant on your action and that’s exactly what I needed. Control. Not in a bad way, but in a, “I need to be responsible for stopping my life from spinning out of control” way.
It was an investment of time. I had to read a book he recommended. I had to fill out exercise sheets with how I was feeling, when and what triggered it. I had to quantify emotions. What a load of crap, I thought. How can this possibly help? I hated my life, I hated my child; how could the way I felt at 7:30 am this morning possibly help me figure this out?
But then I surprised myself. I found those patterns. M helped me distance myself from some of the situations that aggravated my anger and helplessness. Even today he does more bedtimes than me because that was one of the things that undid me. My claustrophobia would come out to play when I was trapped in a dark room with her climbing all over me because she didn’t want to sleep.
Soon I needed less and less logging. My mind found clarity. We paid to take Murphyskid to a naturopathic doctor for holistic help. The dairy allergy was found. A switch to soy and three days later she was a new person. The wasted time and effort of it all could’ve driven me on a downward spiral, but instead I felt relieved. Like a mom would. It was a sign of wellness.
The doctor also put me on B vitamins, which were responsible for the functioning of the central nervous system. She told me carve out a portion of the day for myself. Have a few drinks with a friend once a week. Exercise.
I can’t say I did all of those things. But I did some. And it helped. Oh, how it helped!
Yes there is a happy ending to my story. I am now 3.5 years into my relationship with a walking, talking, feeling, intelligent little person whom I love from the bottom of my being. We could’ve got there a lot quicker if I had had the right expectation. If that default screen saver image of what motherhood should look like hadn’t been planted in there to mess with my head.
I am respectful of the mind now. It’s not all about thinking, it about feeling. It’s about making deeper, more meaningful connections. It’s about letting myself love, both myself and those around me. It’s about learning coping mechanisms for when life becomes overwhelming. It’s about talking to people. And most important of all, it’s about taking it one day at a time.
Susan Diaz is a writer and independent communicator. She lives in the mad bustle of downtown Toronto with her husband and challenging 3 year old who drives her to blog most days! In her blog Carrots and Peace, she offers a humorous perspective on the things close to her heart – food, no holds barred parenting and musings on just about anything else in-between. She’s on twitter @susandiaztweets.