“Having kids is going to change everything,” a co-worker said to me with a warm smile.
“I know” I replied, absent-mindedly stirring clumps of powdered creamer into my half cup of decaf coffee. Then I uttered the biggest lie of my life, “I’m ready.”
Fast forward about 4 weeks; I was lying awkwardly in bed trying to roll over to my other side. I reached down and scooped my gigantic belly up with my arm like a spatula; about mid-roll I felt a warm gush as my water broke. 20 minutes later I was in a full blown panic chanting, “Oh my god I’m not ready!!!”
I had 18 hours to get ready. I won’t share the entire birth story here, that’s a telling for another time. Suffice it to say that labor earned its name and that we experienced some rather traumatic complications by the end of which left me feeling exhausted, battered and bruised.
That first night in the hospital, I remember looking at my face in the bathroom mirror and literally not recognizing my reflection. This was not the image of new motherhood that I had envisioned. I had postpartum edema (swelling) from all the IV fluids so my face looked like I had suddenly gained 50 lbs, my eyes were framed by deep, dark circles and my cheeks, neck & upper shoulders were covered with little red spots from broken blood vessels caused by pushing for over 3 hours. I went to bed, my new baby boy isolated in NICU, I was exhausted and desperately wanting to sleep but all I could do was cry. I cried the entire night. And the next night, and the next night.
At 3 weeks postpartum I called my midwife and told her that I couldn’t stop crying. She asked how much sleep I was getting, I told her not much. I had insomnia so I couldn’t sleep when the baby slept; and besides, he hardly ever slept. My little boy had moments of calm, quiet contemplation; he would stare out at the world with these knowing eyes that seemed to take in all of existence. The rest of the time he screamed as if someone was forcibly extracting his toenails.
We described him as a “highly sensitive child” this is the nice way of saying that he spent every night screaming for hours until he eventually passed out from exhaustion. Colic is mean. It tortured my baby and completely undermined my confidence as a mother. I was convinced that he hated me. I was inept. What kind of mother can’t comfort her own child!? Apparently a lot of them, but at the time I didn’t know that – I thought some mysterious maternal instinct was supposed to be bestowed upon me that would suddenly make me a ‘good’ mother. I figured I had gotten in the wrong line.
I was determined that I could get through it. Asking for help felt like admitting that I was a failure. If I let someone else hold him and he quieted down for them it made my soul ache, so I rarely let anyone else hold him. I was his mother and this was my job and I was going to figure it out. I had an amazing support group and I pushed them all away except for my husband. I latched onto him like he was a single buoy afloat in a vast ocean of nothingness. He was my lifeline. And when he was gone I was terrified. I was afraid to be left alone with my son.
After my husband left for work I would collapse to the floor and sob hysterically. I wanted to run. I fantasized about leaving. I wanted to get in the car and drive and drive until I ran out of gas and then walk to the nearest motel and never come home.
I wasn’t bonding with my baby, I loved him but it was like he wasn’t mine. It felt like any day his real mother; his competent mother would show up and claim him.
I continued to pull my way through my days. Every minute, every moment a personal victory. And it slowly got better, more tolerable. I had days when I didn’t even cry. But I didn’t feel like me anymore either, I was impatient and irritable. Even on the good days I felt a darkness buried deep in my belly, pushed down out of sight but always there threatening to take over.
Over time and as my son’s colic ebbed and we both started to sleep better I was able to convince myself that I was okay. I had felt my way through the murky waters and arrived at the other end armed with solace and beauty. I felt empowered and finally began to even feel like a good mother.
I felt good enough that I even wanted to have another baby. I was terrified to give birth again but rationalized that all the struggles that I had postpartum were simply a result of a difficult birth experience and having a baby with colic.
I sought therapy to help me finally process and come to terms with the birth and to prepare me to enter the arena again, this time on MY terms.
26 months after the birth of our first child we delivered our second, a beautiful baby girl whose birth was peaceful and perfect. I felt like a warrior, I had slain the demon, confronted my fears and arrived victorious! I was no longer a first time mom floundering about not knowing my way around a newborn. I was a seasoned professional, I had this shit down!! Hear me roar!!!
Imagine my surprise when I once again found myself staring down the face of the beast.
Continued in Beauty and the Beast Part II