The last thing I ever wanted this to become was an “Advice On Parenting” blog…because I am so not the person to be doling out advice.
I’ve sort of been doing that though, huh?
I’m sorry about that.
Want to hear a good parent-foul to even things out?
You guys aren’t used to posts like this from me, mostly because I like to keep things happy and if possible, funny. Because parenting is pretty funny, maybe not at the time, but usually you’re able to look back and laugh at most things.
Sometimes though, sometimes life kicks you so hard in the vagina that you lack even the lung capacity to huff out a simple laugh. Believe me, my twisted brain tried to infuse humor into this post – but some things just aren’t funny, and some things aren’t ever meant to be.
Here’s a good kick-to-the-vag bedtime story for you…
You did it.
Its your second child, and just like the first – it was planned, so you feel pretty prepared. You’ve got this.
Its still just as exciting when your kicked from the inside for the first time by your second child as it was with the first. You plan, you prepare, you pick names and fall in love with the little person growing inside of you. You dream of the life your family will have. You pump up your son about being a big brother, you buy him the shirt and everything.
You deliver your bundle with your husband by your side and you hear “It’s a girl, mama. Congratulations!”
Secretly you hoped it would be.
You wanted her, you wanted her so badly.
You hear her first cries and your heart aches to hold her, but you’ve had a C-section, and just because she’s born doesn’t mean its your turn to hold her yet. They have to put you back together first. That’s ok though, you’ve had a C-section before – you know the drill and it’s a pretty quick process.
They let you see her for a moment, and you can’t believe how much black hair she has. Dear god, shes perfect. The most perfect little girl you’ve ever seen. She needs to be weighed and measured though. They have to make sure your perfect baby is in fact, perfect.
You tell your husband to go. “Go, watch her…be careful, she’s so tiny. Don’t let them drop her. DON’T DROP HER!”
..Ok, you’re a little irrational too. These are professionals, they handle babies everyday, they know what they’re doing. No one is going to drop her, who drops a baby? You just want her to be ok, that’s all any mom wants, is for their child to be ok.
Finally, you’re in the recovery room and its your turn “Gimme, gimme, gimme!!”
The nurse brings her over, but something is different.
The nurse nods with a kind smile “Yep, some people like to lay with their babies skin to skin to form a bond”
“Oh, ok…I didn’t do that with my son. Cool!” Whatever, right? Just give her to me!
So you pull down your hospital gown, and your heart is about to burst out of your chest because you know whats about to come. You’re about to hold your daughter for the first time. She’s yours, you made her, she’s filled your heart already – and you’re about to hold her. Its intense, its amazing.
Here she comes!!
What would you do if before you even looked down at your tiny baby, your world shifted and nothing was right? Nothing was ok. What if something goes terribly wrong?
What if you looked down at your daughter and the first thing you noticed wasn’t her beautiful eyes, her perfect nose, her puckered little lips…
What if the first thing you noticed was that you didn’t notice anything. Not the feeling you got when you were handed your first child, not a pleasant feeling at all. Instead you feel pain, and confusion, and anxiety.
“She has some, um…after-birth on her cheek still I think” You mumble, because you don’t know what else to say. You aren’t disappointed, you aren’t afraid.
You’re fucking terrified.
All of your instincts, from the moment you read the pregnancy test to the moment you met her said she was yours. Your instincts told you to protect her, to defend her.
What if your instincts are now telling you she isn’t yours?
What if you couldn’t claim the baby you just birthed because something snapped inside of you so abruptly, so violently, that you didn’t even know how to properly love your own baby?
“That’s ok, we’ll clean her off a bit more in a few minutes” The nurse responds.
You shake your head “She needs a blanket”
“Oh” The nurse says and waves you off “She’s warm enough pressed against you honey. She’ll…”
“She needs a blanket right now!” You demand
Your husband and the nurse share a look, they think you’re being weird. They have no idea how weird it actually is. How bad it’s quickly becoming. Nobody knows, not even the innocent baby on your chest. Or does she? Her mommy isn’t claiming her, what kind of monster mommy doesn’t recognize her own daughter? What kind of mommy doesn’t feel her own child?
You have to keep her far away from whatever you’ve just become, so you do what you think is best for her.
“Please, you have to cover her!”
So you protect her from you.
They wrap your baby in a pink blanket with your doctors name embroidered on the corner. Those are the small details your focusing on right now, because your heart and your brain can’t handle the ugly details. Like the fact that your husband is holding your daughter now, cooing and kissing her because he’s already recognized that she’s the most amazing human being on the planet and all you can do is read the doctors name over and over again.
For the next few months, you take care of her, as if she were your own. You love her, really you do. You love her very much in fact. You know this because when you look at her, it hurts, a lot. Like your love for her is embedded so deeply in your chest that your heart has to physically and unnaturally lurch itself in search of it every time you look at her. Your heart wants her, aches for her, but she’s not yours to love. Not yet.
So you go through the motions. You feed her, burp her, take her to her doctors appointments and check her forehead for fevers. But when she cries, your mommy instincts don’t pull you to her, you go because you’re supposed to.
You’re doing everything right. No one knows anything is wrong, because you’re mothering her. You’re taking care of her. Inside though, the shame is overwhelming. The shame is eating away at your soul, you’re calling yourself a terrible human being, a sick mother who doesn’t deserve her child. You’re tearing yourself apart from the inside out.
When people come over to meet your new family, you’re lips lift at the corners in happiness, because they’re supposed to. You stand next to your visitors and stare at your daughter asleep in her basinet and gush over her with them, because you’re supposed to. Its expected. It frightens you to know how good you’ve become at deceiving.
You answer their questions with appropriate answers.
“How are you sleeping?”
“Is she sleeping through the night?”
“She gets up a few times a night, but that’s what babies do!”
“What does your son think of her?”
“Oh, he just loves her, how could you not?”….Ouch.
You say and do everything you’re supposed to, meanwhile, you’re screaming inside. But you keep it together, you have to, what other choice do you have?
You slap on smile, after smile, after smile. You smile so much that the screaming you’ve been doing in your head turns to a silent ugly cry in the shower. Eventually you’re silent ugly cry in the shower isn’t enough and it moves you to the porch after everyone has gone to sleep, and you cry outside. You beg. You beg to a God you don’t even believe in to fix you.
You’re losing it.
You start to sing to her at night, it’s the only time you feel like her mother. Not when you sing, but in the middle of the night. When its just the two of you. Your husband has to get up for work and your son is asleep, so its just you and her. You have no choice but to face her – and the truth between you and her, the truth you’re terrified she already knows.
You don’t use this time to apologize to her, you know you don’t have the right to apologize to her. She deserves more. So you sing to her instead, the same song over and over again. A song that will grow to mean more to you and your daughter than you could have ever known at the time. A song that, almost four years later, you still sing to her every night. A song that she still asks for. A song that soothes her when she’s sick, a song that puts her to sleep, a song that tells her ‘mommy is here’.
She calls it “The Rainbow Song”
You didn’t know it then, but those nights and that song was your first moments of being a mommy.
Then morning comes and you lose her to the sun.
And the cycle starts again.
But you didn’t get a shower that day to do your silent cry, and the porch isn’t far enough away to let out the screams you need in order to function. You have no more outlets. None you’re familiar with anyway. So not only have your instincts told you that your daughter isn’t yours, but now those same instincts, the ones born and bred into you – meant to naturally protect you, have turned your own body against you.
You’re skin starts to tingle, then itch. So you scratch.
You pull at your hair.
You lose your fucking mind.
And those fake smiles you used on everyone? They worked. They believed you.
But you’re stupid. You’re so stupid.
Of course he didn’t believe them. Of course he saw right through you. Your husband is the guy who loves you more than anything in the world. Your parents might love you unconditionally, your sisters too, but no one has ever loved you like he has. While you know your family would love you through your worst, he lived through your worst.
He saw the woman he loved in the darkest moments of her life. He watched the light in her eyes burn out. He watched the mother of his children go numb. He saw her anger. He saw her resentment. He saw her lash out. He saw her cry, and he planted his feet when she pushed him away.
You’ll ask him “Why are you still here?”
“You want a divorce?” He’ll ask. He’s angry, he’s so angry.
“I don’t want a divorce, I just don’t know why you don’t want one. I’m not the same person you said your vows to, I know that. No one would blame you” you’ll answer. He’ll shake his head. You’ll never see him angrier, more determined than you do right now.
“You think I care about a piece of paper? Those stupid vows we took? I don’t even remember them! Divorce me Ash, I don’t care. It doesn’t change anything. The only way I’m walking out that door is if you’re with me”.
Somehow he saw her ashy, filthy heart…and chose her anyway. He chose to be the only one in her life who still remembered the girl inside. He loved that girl, more than he loved himself and far more than she loved herself.
So he protected her.
He fought for her.
He tried to make her laugh, he’d give anything for her smile. The real one. He started to push her back, challenge her to be the woman he married. He did the dishes and laundry while she slept beneath blankets. He swept the floors because she didn’t even notice they needed it. He begged her to go to therapy, but she didn’t want to go and talk to ‘some stranger about her life’. She didn’t want to talk to anyone, she wanted to be left alone, it’s what she deserved.
It was a random day in August. Nothing was different about this day, and that in itself was a shame. The kids were just tucked into bed, but there was still enough light to sit on the porch for another hour or so. So the young wife and mother went outside and she sat.
When her husband settled in beside her, he took her hand in his and gave it a squeeze.
“You need therapy” He said quietly, but it was a plea. She opened her mouth to respond and he silenced her with just a simple shake of his head. “You need therapy” he repeated.
They remained silent on that porch for a long time. Long enough for the sun to set, but not long enough for her to see reason. What could a therapist possibly say to her that she didn’t already say to herself? Would they put her on a bunch of medication and fix her with a pill? She didn’t want to go to a therapist and confess the ugliness of herself, to have a professional confirm that she was a shitty mother and wife. She was barely hanging on as it was, did he really think she needed to be kicked while she was down?
But just as she opens her mouth to yet again turn down his idea, he’ll speak words to her that will change her life forever. They’re spoken so calmly and quietly but laced with so much conviction and honesty that had she not heard them, she would have at the very least felt them.
“I would do anything in this world for you, Ash. Anything. But I can’t help you on my own, I thought I could, but I don’t know how”
Then he’ll turn to her and say the words that she’ll forever remember as the ones that saved her life…..
“I’m not happy if you’re not happy, and you are so unhappy. I’m in this with you for the long haul. I’m not going anywhere babe, ever. But please, don’t make me live my life unhappy”
And for the first time, in a long time, she didn’t feel alone anymore. She felt hope. Because even though she gave up on herself, there was one person who decided she was worth fighting for. And who the hell was she to drag such an amazing person down with her?
The events of my therapy are quite personal, more personal than this post, if you can believe it. The mysteries unlocked and the problems I didn’t even know were problems were realized, and I came back to my family. I went into therapy when my daughter was 5 months old, diagnosed with post-partum depression and PTSD (from an event unmentioned in this post) on the first day.
Then one morning, after a night of singing our song, the sun came up and I didn’t lose my daughter. She was six months old. I remained in therapy once a week for 13 months until I “graduated”
I don’t know what I would have done had I not gotten help, maybe things would have resolved on their own – but when? What kind of mother would I be? Would I be claiming my daughter when she was twenty years old instead of six months? Would she had even let me?
Post-partum depression can happen to anyone. It didn’t care about the kind of mom I was supposed to be, the kind I wanted to be, it just dug its claws in for no reason and pulled me under. And its hosts are like snowflakes, we’re all different – it attacks each person differently. Its not the ‘baby-blues’ and it’s not something you can just ‘get over’. Some don’t notice what it really is for weeks, some aren’t diagnosed for months – and especially in the generations above me, most are never diagnosed at all.
If I thought there was something I could do to have changed the first 6 months of my daughters life with her mother, I would say I’d love to go back and fix this wrong. But I can’t, and my job is to find the silver lining…
So I’m a humble mom now, the kind of mom I’m not sure I was the first time around. I think that’s why I so readily lay my faults out on facebook and in my blog, because I know what poor parenting looks like, I know what it feels like – and more than anything I know what its like to feel alone in it.
I know some of you don’t believe in depression, I know this because you’ve told me so. A couple of you non-believers who voiced their opinions to me are even subscribed to this blog.
“You have a good husband, two healthy kids – what is your problem? What is there for you to be so unhappy about?” – A question I’ve been asked more than once while on this shitty little journey.
The answer: nothing, everything.
When you’re depressed there is no up or down, black or white, north or south. It just is what it is and you feel what you feel, sometimes with no explanation what-so-ever.
If you were to ask me what post-partum depression did to my family, I would tell you that it stole my children’s mother and almost destroyed my marriage. I would tell you that I was hanging on by a thread. If you were to ask my husband the same question, he would tell you I’m a better mother for it and that it saved and strengthened our marriage. He would tell you that while I felt like I was hanging on by a thread, he had both feet planted firmly on the ground with two arms wrapped around me. He’d tell you that I wasn’t going anywhere.
Some of you may not get the message I’ve intended for this post and still only see the awful lost mother I once was. That’s ok, you can judge me for that. I don’t need your acceptance, I have my husband’s, remember?
And if you are still judging me, this post wasn’t for you anyway. Its for any mom who feels like she’s the only one who can’t get her shit together.
I can genuinely say that you are not alone, that I am so far from perfect and my hope is if nothing else, I can still use this blog to continue to show you that we mama’s are in this together, that I’m in it for the long haul and to maybe, occasionally, make you smile a real smile.
I’m no therapist, but if any of you mama’s are having a hard time finding your “rainbow song” and just need to vent – email@example.com 🙂
Thank-you for visiting MadStella – let’s try and make the next few posts a bit more upbeat, yeah? <3