Guess what I've learned more than anything? Most new moms are liars.
Yep. I said it.
And you know what? It's really, really unhelpful. It does a huge disservice to mums-to-be, pretending that everything is sunshine and rainbows. It would have been a lot more helpful to me, someone who had a bad case of postpartum blues, if other women who had PPD actually talked about it. Or at the very least, if they didn't cover it up.
When I confessed on the blog that I was dealing with PPD, I was inundated with emails from friends and strangers who said they, too, had it. Some of them suffered for years before they realized what it was, and most of them didn't even understand that they had it until they came out of it. It's much, much more common than you think, and I suspect it's a lot more common than even the studies suggest.
As for me, I'm not talking about typical baby blues here. I'm talking about spending most of the day in tears, having no interest in playing music or writing, not wanting to answer the phone when my best friends call, and ... and here's where you'll gasp in disbelief and shake your head in disapproval: not wanting anything to do with the baby.
Most of my symptoms centered around guilt. According to all my mother friends/books/articles, this is supposed to be the happiest time of my life. I'm supposed to be completely in love here. I'm supposed to want to snatch my baby away when another woman wants to hold him. I'm not supposed to exhale with relief when David's parents ask to babysit for a few hours. I'm not supposed to take them up on it and run out to the pub with my husband. And if I do go, I'm supposed to think and talk about the baby the entire time I'm gone. If I don't, well, then I'm an unappreciative new mother who doesn't deserve to have a perfect little one.
Believe me, I absolutely know how lucky I am. I'm 34 years old, we planned this baby, and I had a healthy pregnancy and delivery. When I was in the rocking chair trying to get this screaming baby to go to sleep, and he was scratching my face, and I was sobbing as much as he was, I really did try to take deep breaths and remember how many people would give up so much to be in that position. I appreciate it. I do. I can also tell you that now I absolutely adore the wee boy, and I actually enjoy spending time with him -- though I, too, would be lying if I told you I loved every minute.
I remember distinctly the first time I actually looked forward to the next day; it wasn't until the baby was almost three months old. Up until then, I think I was just living one minute at a time, awake, exhausted, and unclear as to what the tiny boy wanted. I loved him, of course. I was in awe of him -- amazed that he could possibly have been the same alien that turned inside of my body, twisting, hiccuping, doing jumping jacks on my sciatic nerve. Still, I did not feel the kind of bond that I'd read about. All I felt was guilt.
When I was unable to soothe his tears, but my husband could make him melt ... I cried. When someone else asked to hold him and I felt not a twinge of jealousy or instinctive over-protection ... I cried. When he would lie happily on the floor staring at a book, entertaining himself, I was flooded with relief and a desire to have a minute to myself. And then again -- I cried. I should want to be with my son at every minute. My friends said all they wanted to do was stare at their babies for hours at a time. Me? I wanted alone time.
So, yeah, he was three months old before I distinctly remember going to sleep one night and looking forward to playing with him the next day. Three months! I smiled, relieved that I was finally having motherly feelings. Then I felt even worse with the realization that I hadn't felt that way until then.
And guess what? I've talked to loads of other moms who have felt the exact same way. They just never say that in public. Who can blame them?
It's many of these same mothers who post Facebook statuses saying how they'd "never been so overcome with love" and are "absolutely in love" with their babies. There are photos of them holding the wee ones with captions like "the perfect morning" and "the greatest feeling." I'm not saying that every new mom is depressed, nor that we should be posting statuses like "This sucks" or "I want a nanny."
But we should not hoodwink future parents by saying that every moment is wonderful and that it was like that from conception.
Maybe I've read too many fairy tales. Maybe my expectations were too literal (or maybe these other moms have never actually been in love before). I believe in romance and butterflies. I wanted to be overwhelmed by emotion. I expected a rush of pure love like nothing I'd ever felt before. The strong desire to jump in front of a bus for this tiny creature. The warmest fuzzies of them all. I wanted that beautiful hospital picture that everyone posts when a baby is born. Here's the closest I've got to one of those sweet just-born photos:
And yes, that's the "smile for the camera and look happy because everyone expects you to be in complete and utter love at that moment with stars twinkling in your eyes and bluebirds of happiness floating around."
What did I actually feel? Relief. I was effin' tired. I'd been through twelve hours of back labour (he was posterior) without an epidural, including about four hours of pushing. I hadn't slept in two days. I wanted to take a nap. I was loaded with whatever natural cocktail of hormones is cooked up when you have a hippie birth, so I was expecting to feel differently. But, no, I wanted to sleep, not cuddle.
The real "first photo" looks like this:
I'm sure there are those who truly love every minute, but I do not. And I'm not going to lie about it. I feel like I would have been much better prepared for these emotions if someone had told me -- even if you don't have a proclivity for depression -- that:
1) There will be moments when all you want to do is cry, and that's okay.
2) You aren't supposed to be able to handle it all by yourself. Remember that whole It-Takes-a-Village thing? Most women throughout history had lots and lots of help -- from relatives, neighbors, siblings, etc. If I had a bunch of aunts and sisters around who were lactating, I would have gotten a good night's sleep by now.
3) That perky new mom at the mall -- or even your closest friend whose Facebook page you stalk -- who has perfect hair, makeup, and a yoga butt, and who glows about how easy and wonderful motherhood is ... well, she's probably lying. Or she has a nanny. She'll never admit to you (but she should, she totally should!) that she's cried herself to sleep or that she doesn't instinctively know how to soothe every cry.
4) Social media makes it worse. People filter their pain and show only what they want you to see. Don't judge your own feelings based on what other people put out for public consumption.
I wrote most of this when the wee boy was six months old. For three months, I've kept the blog in draft, wondering if it was better off as a journal entry. Someday my boy will probably read this, and I don't want him to think he wasn't loved. I absolutely adore him, and of course I would jump in front of a bus for him. I'm feeling a lot better these days, which makes me realize just how bad I was.
I wish I'd been able to post this months ago when I wrote it, but again...the guilt. Well, now I'm [mostly] over it. How I reacted, and how you're reacting to your situation, is totally normal. I've coped and managed, and now I wake up most days looking forward to playing with this little guy.
On the days I don't, I let it go.