I loved being pregnant. For 32 years I had taken my self-functioning body and all its amazing capacities for granted, but in the instant I knew I'd become pregnant, that all changed. I was pregnant, and my body, once just a female figure with two legs, arms and a head (and of course some other parts), was now a miraculous mechanism able to create, grow and protect another human being. Wow. Just wow.
I know many women desperately despise those nine months (or at least some of them), but I was not one of them. I adored them all. I was connected -- or so I thought -- to the baby growing inside me, and I was particularly proud of my body's seemingly superhuman capability. I was growing a human. A human, people! A real, live, kicking, healthy human!
And then she came out. And me? I was no longer superhuman. In fact, in mere seconds I plummeted to what felt like less than human. I was a crying, defeated, exhausted, anxiety-ridden mess.
Let me backtrack. In the weeks leading up to my daughter's birth, I began to worry. In all my pregnancy-loving glory, I had neglected to mentally prepare for what life would be like after my baby's birth. Once I started thinking about it, however, my anxious-by-nature self began to do what it does best: worry. Already plagued by pregnancy insomnia, I agonized over the severe lack of sleep that was surely on the horizon; I panicked about my relationship with my husband and how drastically our quality time together might decrease; I was nervous about managing to take care of myself post-childbirth while also caring for a completely dependent infant. The list of things I worried about continues, and by the time she finally arrived, I was convinced my OB should simply put her back in and let her live in my womb permanently. Unfortunately (or actually, very fortunately now that I think about it), that was not an option.
Out she came, and with her, so too did my tears. I cried so much I thought the salty cascade might float us both away. I didn't know what was wrong with me: I didn't feel connected to this beautiful creature, who, minutes ago, was my Prized One miraculously growing and living in my belly. I looked at her and knew I was supposed to feel immense love and joy, but instead, I felt panic and fear. Making it worse, I was wracked with massive amounts of guilt for feeling the way I did -- lacking affection, and full of dread.
I didn't dare tell a soul about my sentiments. I was petrified they would see me as an unfit mother -- something that, within the first hour of my daughter's life, I felt was true. It certainly didn't help that my delivery went nothing like I planned. A planner by nature, I tried not to have expectations for how the birth would go because even I, Mrs. Totally Type-A, realized this one was going to be out of my control. But after being induced and spending 12 hours in labor, I truly didn't anticipate a C-section in my future. And so, after the aforementioned 12 hours of labor, complete with epidural, migraine and vomiting, I was carved open like a turkey and my little one was pulled out. I was terrified. Laying on a table, teeth chattering from chills, bright fluorescent lights overhead, and listening intently to the nurse telling me "it's all going to be alright," I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. I just stared blankly at the curtain separating me from my sliced-open stomach and my infant.
After her birth I was whisked away to a recovery room, while my husband and my newborn went together for the immediate care that happens after infants are born. I felt scared, alone, confused and tired. I wasn't feeling the joy that I had long been led to believe was supposed to accompany childbirth. Maybe it was because I didn't go through the marathon of childbirth, finally reaching the point of being able to push, and the endorphins that explode like fireworks once the baby makes her way out? Maybe it was because I had loved being pregnant so much, and for the first time in nine months I was no longer pregnant and worse, was separated from my child? Maybe it was because I was experiencing the exceptionally common Baby Blues that often befall new mothers in the moments, days and weeks after baby is born? Or maybe it was a combination of all of it and then some?
During my four-day stay in the hospital, I cried heavily many hours of each day. I pleaded with the doctors to tell me what was wrong with me, and they said, "It's normal. Your hormones are raging. Just be patient with yourself, and soon you'll feel like 'you' again."
On the car ride home from the hospital, I sat in the backseat, my heartbeat racing, hovering over my daughter's carseat to ensure she was still breathing, or that if we ran over a bump her tiny body wouldn't fling face-first out of her carrier. I was a mess. A panic-stricken, sorrowful, teary-eyed mess. It didn't get better. The doctors were wrong. Weeks, months, even a year passed, and I did not feel like "me" again. In fact, by my daughter's first birthday, I didn't even know who "me" was. I knew who I used to be: a positive, cheerful, friendly gal who came alive when writing, being physically active and spending time in nature. But I'd reached such a low point, that those components of my personality were severely and very noticeably absent. Even those activities that, in my formerly childless life had been so glorious and always uplifted me, no longer ignited my spark. Except for the constant, stomach-churning anxiety, and the deep, dark, cavernous depression, I felt nothing inside except dead.
Remarkably, during this time I managed to be a good (or "good enough") mother. I was raising a sweet, wonderful, happy little girl who I grew quickly to know, love and adore. I even managed to continue -- and succeed at -- my graduate school courses and internship. But inside, I was falling apart. And so, sadly, was my marriage. Amazingly, I have a truly wonderful husband who, committed to his marriage vows, has stuck by my side through it all. He has been there for me even when I could not be there for myself, or him. I, a writer who prides herself on working through issues through journaling, and a soon-to-be mental health professional, could not even recognize the signs within myself. Or perhaps I did, but I was too terrified for what admitting "It" meant for me -- "It" being a perinatal mood disorder; namely, Postpartum Depression.
My husband missed his wife desperately. He told me so endlessly. I wept heavily each time because I missed me too. And I felt like a failure: a failure that I couldn't get it together; a failure that I wasn't a brilliant, do-it-all mother like so many of the moms I followed on Facebook or Pinterest; and a failure that I'd let myself fall so deeply into a state of despair that I wasn't sure how I'd ever manage to emerge.
My supportive husband suggested couples counseling so we could learn how to rebalance our lives again, reignite our spousal relationship and how he could best help me cope during this tumultuous time. It was a very good thing. I clicked with our therapist immediately, and began seeing her for individual therapy too. She helped me manage my overwhelming anxiety, the insomnia and panic-attacks that had begun to assuage me nightly as soon as my baby began sleeping through the night, and the isolation and melancholy that had transformed my old, joyful self into a sad, fragile shell of a being. She and my husband offered me hope when I had none. They continue to remind me of the importance of putting my own oxygen mask on first, meaning I must take good care of myself in order to take good care of my child and my marriage. Self-care is not gluttonous. I repeat, to new moms, experienced moms, all moms, and everybody: SELF-CARE IS NOT GLUTTONOUS. It is mandatory for happy, healthy living. Do it. Seriously, do it.
My child is 20-months-old now, and I continue to fight the daily fight. I finally began taking helpful medication, I continue my tune-ups with my therapist, and I utilize helpful techniques to keep the nighttime panic attacks and insomnia at bay. The difference now is that I finally feel better. I feel happy, hopeful and healthy. My life force has returned and my desires to write, work out and be in the world have returned with it. I don't feel overwhelmed anymore, and I don't feel like a failure. I feel human. In fact, I feel like the superhuman I did when I carried my lovely little girl for nine months. Why? Because I battled, because I sought help, because I clawed my way out, because I survived. To anyone else out there going through this, you can, too. You are NOT alone. And you ARE going to be OK. You are doing the best you can, every day, and that is all that any of us can do. Keep doing it.
So here's the thing: The doctors who told me to be patient and that soon I'd feel like myself again? They were wrong. I'm not myself. I'm a NEW self. We are all new selves, better versions of ourselves, all the time. With each challenging experience, we develop, learn, and grow. Our battle wounds are signs of strength, and with each challenge we fight and work to overcome, we continue to grow stronger. I am not myself. I am a far better self than I was 20 months ago, and I have my difficult postpartum journey, and beautiful daughter who I love with all my heart and soul, to thank for it.
This post originally appeared on BloomaBlog. See it here