Looking out my kitchen window I can see into the parking lot. My neighbors are getting in the car with their days old baby. They are an adorable, lovely young couple. All smiles, mom climbs into the back seat to sit next to the baby. Memories came flooding back of how I felt in the few days after my son was born. I recall climbing into the back seat as well, not feeling the least bit connected to this extra person in our lives. Wonder where we were headed. Probably to that three day old doctor appointment. But I can remember how “out of it” I felt. Who was I?
I’m one of the older mother’s in our elementary school – simply because I have older children. At the back-to-school social, I recently saw a pregnant mom. My first thought was she looks like she was due yesterday! And my second thought was that I adored being pregnant with my son. I anticipated hating pregnancy, but I didn’t.
I wonder if she is having a boy or a girl? I was beyond excited to be having a boy. Overall, I felt pretty good physically up to the end. I doubt this expectant mom has much longer to go until her baby is born. I wonder how her delivery will be. For me, the contractions began one Sunday evening as we were sitting in bed watching “Trading Spaces.” We timed the contractions and headed to the hospital, in agreement with the OB/GYN, about 4 a.m. I checked in, got the epidural in place – ready to go…push, push, push.
The doctor seemed irked that the little guy wasn’t out yet and started screaming push, with clear anger in his voice. Like time was frozen, I looked at my husband. I was able to say, “Why is he yelling at me?” The doctor soon told me that based upon when the epidural was given, it would start to ware off at around 11:30 a.m. My son was born at 11:29 a.m.
At the pediatrician’s office for the kid’s annual physicals that new mom in the waiting room seems to have everything under control. Look how smiley her little girl is! That was not us. I recall a time at the doctor’s office when my son was an infant. He was crying and crying and I couldn’t get him to stop. The nurse took him and said, “This baby is hungry! He needs to eat!” We carried the hospital samples of formula in the diaper bag. We whipped one out and the nurse fed him. My little guy seemed quite satisfied, as opposed to when I was feeding him. I was trying to be a good citizen and be a nursing mom. I had no idea if it was working and if he was getting enough to eat.
Shopping in Target is part of my repertoire as a suburbanite parent. I’m there more often than I would like to admit. Walking around Target there’s a mother and her infant. The baby aisles still give me the chills at times. When my son was a baby, we spent hours upon hours at our local Target! He was born in November and lucky for us, the stores were starting their holiday hours. We’d walk around that store aimlessly and he’d fall asleep in the stroller. I would stare at him knowing that he was the most beautiful baby boy. I questioned my ability as a mother and desire to be mother every single second of the day, but I knew how perfect he was.
I see the new mom gushing with glee at the park running with her little one in the stroller. She may be eager to get back into shape. I was not, but I thought I would be. I had the exact date that I’d be returning to Weight Watchers in my head during the whole time I was pregnant. Then plans changed and I didn’t care. I was all about just getting through the day. Losing weight and getting in shape was the furthest from my mind. What I was losing though was my mind.
There are days when I wish I was my new neighbor, the pregnant mom at school, the new mom at the doctors office, the mom in Target and the mom pushing herself to get back in shape. I wanted to be like them, but I wasn’t.
It wasn’t so much that I “wasn’t” – it was more like I “couldn’t.” You see, I had Postpartum Depression, which is a mood disorder that may affect women after childbirth. The clinical definition according to the National Institute of Mental Health is when mothers experience, “feelings of extreme sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion that may make it difficult for them to complete daily care activities for themselves or for others.”
More specifically I had Postpartum OCD. Postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder has a symptom called intrusive thoughts, which are quite difficult to ignore. They are scary “what if” thoughts that come into your head. You don’t want to have them, but they keep coming anyway. You try your best to stop them, but they are consistently there.
The good news is that perinatal illnesses are treatable. When I finally received the proper diagnosis, as well as therapy, medicine and time, I recovered. And I’ll preface all of the scenarios above by saying that we never really know what is going on behind closed doors (as I reference in Myths About Postpartum Illnesses), because us postpartum mamas tend to hide our ailments well!
But there are times when looking at a new smiley mom sometimes makes me twinge. Because I couldn’t be that for myself or my son. That’s a fact that will never go away. As the years go by, the twinge becomes less and less. I’m not currently depressed and I don’t live everyday wallowing in the fact that I had a postpartum illness. Yet, my son is 13 and it’s been 12 years since my low point, but there are times when, “Bummer, I wish” pops into my head.
Often I’ve stated that I “missed” the first year of my son’s life. Physically I was there, but emotionally, I was not. If I could turn back time though, would I? If I was offered the opportunity to get those precious days with my baby boy back, would I? If I were able to look at pictures without thinking, “before diagnosis” and “after diagnosis,” would I? Those are questions that I ask of myself.
And the answer is “I don’t know.” Would I give up who I am now and what I accomplished since? I’m unable to give a straight answer. There are many things that being a survivor of this illness has helped me accomplish. It made me stronger, helped me grow, taught me how “not to sweat the small stuff” (as much) and opened my eyes to parts of life that I may never have seen. I started a writing career, I changed jobs and industries, I live a better quality of work/life, and I started to drive – I’m just not sure any of this would have happened if it weren’t for suffering from PPD. Still, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have felt what the women in my scenarios above seem to be feeling?
I’m thankful for how far I’ve come from those dark days. It’s part of me – it’s who I am. I’m a survivor and wholeheartedly feel that I’m a better person for going through that experience. But I cannot lie – those pangs appear sometimes. And when they do, they sort of sting. It’s not guilt nor jealousy – just honesty.
So would I change things if given the chance? Not sure I’ll ever have a definite answer on that. And that’s okay.