I’m four months into parenthood the second time around. All the new motherhood things are true: I’m exhausted. I need eight hands. I can’t remember the last time I had a cup of coffee that was still hot. I’m overwhelmed at times and I feel like there’s not enough of me to go around. But in spite of all that, I’m happy. Truly happy. I couldn’t have said the same with my first leap into parenting. I felt all of those things then too, but it wasn’t fine. I wasn’t fine. I felt my world collapsing in on me, the weight of it too much to bear on my sleep-deprived shoulders. But I thought, hey that’s motherhood.
It’s only now, four years after giving birth to my first baby, that I realize I had postpartum depression.
I remember those early years so well. They were full of pain and I had no idea it didn’t have to be that way. As I sat in the dark gray glider in the nursery, rocking my son to sleep after his first birthday party, tears streamed down my face. I hardly noticed them as they were such a ubiquitous presence. I sang lullabies through the tears, my throat catching every few words. As I reluctantly laid him down in his crib, wet, salty, drips landed on his forehead. I wiped them away simultaneously hoping he wouldn’t wake up and he would, so I could hold him in my arms again. It was the only thing that made everything OK — holding and comforting my sweet precious baby.
I knew as I walked out of his room that I wasn’t OK. I knew I couldn’t go on like this but for some reason, I still felt it was normal. This was parenthood. After all, the first few weeks after my son was born were wonderful. I distinctly remember what piece I was working on as I sat at the breakfast table, baby laying on a pillow by my side, when I thought confidently to myself, “I’ve got this. This isn’t so hard.”
And then the colic struck. The incessant, heart-breaking cries that wouldn’t stop no matter what. The cries that lead to persistent worry, feelings of defeat, and complete and utter exhaustion, both physically and mentally. I was a walking zombie. I drove my car into the side of the garage not once, but twice. I had no energy for fitness. No energy for friends. No energy for my husband. Unless it directly involved my son, I pretty much shut down.
At night, in the rare moments I slept, I dreamed of running away. I dreamed of grabbing my baby and holing up with him in a hotel. I dreamed of clean white sheets and soft comfy beds. I dreamed of indoor swimming pools and all the fun we could have together. For some reason, I thought if I ran away from my life, all the hard parts would stay behind. In the back of my mind, I considered that these thoughts weren’t normal, but since I wanted to bring my baby with me, I rationalized that it wasn’t postpartum depression. Plus, my son was older now, the window for PPD had passed, or so I told myself.
Fast-forward to baby number two, four years later. (Four years later because that’s how long it took me to “get over” the emotional trauma and physical exhaustion of baby number one.) I’d hoped we’d already paid our dues and this baby would magically sleep. Despite crossing every pair of fingers I have, we had no such luck. He catnaps during the day and is up at least every hour of the night. I have every reason to be as exhausted, stressed, overwhelmed, and as miserable as I was the first time around. Even more so, because now I have two children that need me. While much was the same the second time around, something was very, very different: I was happy.
I can wake up in the morning, having been up most of the night, and still look down at my baby (and 4-year-old, who has likely busted into my bedroom at some ungodly hour of the morning) and smile. I can still muster the energy to laugh and joke and play with them. I may want to glue my eyes shut for a few more hours, but it’s OK that I don’t get to. I don’t have it all figured out and I have days that I have no idea how I’ll manage to keep both kids fed, alive, and happy, but the very realistic thought of failure doesn’t crush me. It doesn’t smother me and overwhelm me and make me want to run away.
And that’s when I realized what a bad place I’d been in the first time around. That wanting to run away from your life — even if you want to take your baby with you — wasn’t normal. It didn’t matter that it’d been months or over a year since I’d given birth. It didn’t matter that it was hard or I was tired or that it was all new. The feelings of utter defeat, hopelessness, and darkness weren’t OK.
As I look back now, I wonder how many beautiful, wonderful moments I let pass me by the first time around because I was too far down a dark hole to truly see them. It’s too late now, but I wish I’d done something to help myself. I wish I’d shaken some sense into myself and seen how bad things were. I wish somebody else had seen it when I couldn’t. I can’t go back and change the way things happened the first time, but I know this time around if a “bad day” turns into weeks or months, it’s not normal. Bad days are OK; endless bad days are not. It’s not just motherhood, and it’s not just a phase.
Motherhood is hard. It’s life-changing. It’s all-encompassing. But if it’s miserable, it’s not OK. Reach out to whoever you have to find a way to make it better — it takes different treatment for different people, but there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel — you just have to find yours.More On