My daughter is now 15, but no matter how many years have passed, I can still remember how postpartum depression felt in her early days on this Earth. Today is not her birthday, but I wrote this post when it was. Every birthday brings it up again. I work with a lot of moms and depression and anxiety are not at all rare. There’s not professional advice here. But there is a story of a woman who made it through and that seems important to share. As I work more and more with moms-new and seasoned it seems there is no amount of reassurance that is enough. So if you’re reading this and you’re scared, here’s a story of it all turning out alright.
September 11th 2002. The news was non-stop review coverage of New York, Shanksville and The Pentagon. The weather was beautiful, again. I was sick…and scared to death. The Girl was due that day-September 11th. We found out about her not soon after the last September 11th. You know the one.
We were on a cruise, one that we decided to take anyway, despite the post-terrorist travel fears. We planned it long before and sticking with the plans was our small way of saying we will go on.
We went with our new couple BFFs and it was supposed to be the time of our lives. Instead I thought I had mono.
I was so. so. so. Tired.
When I got back, I went to the doctor in a panic because I realized (when I fell asleep at the magic show) about 14 Dramamine later that I might be pregnant and I thought for sure the Dramamine was lethal.
The doctor said, she was perfect and healthy and adorable.
And I was terrified.
I had plenty of experience with kids. I had a great marriage. We had plenty of years together that involved lazy Sundays following late night Saturdays. We had a great life. We really wanted kids. There was no reason to be scared.
And I was.
I wasn’t good yet. I was still a work in progress. I had no idea what to do with myself much less another person. I was pretty selfish. And a girl?
What if I ruined her? What if I was a bad mother? What if I was jealous of the realtionship between her and my husband? What if she turned out like me-all crazy and questioning and…crazy?
I lived in denial for 39 weeks. I hated the attention and the stretch marks and the bulging belly. I hated it. How could I be a good mother if I hated this part?
Then September 11th came again and the memories were fresh and deep. I was sick, both in my stomach and my heart. I was worried about being a mom and now I had to be a mom in a world where buildings fall to the ground at the hand of people who hate us.
I went to bed knowing this was the last day of this life. My life-on my own.
Sure enough, she announced her presence via broken water- not on September 11th, but five hours into September 12th. She’s stubborn that way-doing things on her own terms. We drove quickly and carefully around the Beltway, from Annapolis to Silver Spring, in hopes she wouldn’t come before we reached the hospital.
She didn’t. She came quickly after we got there. She came quickly and without much fanfare in a ward that was filled with trauma that day. The morning of twin premature births and maternal cardiac arrest, She floated right into her earthly life with a little meconium and a lot of spirit.
She doesn’t make waves. She doesn’t cause trouble. She gets the job done and goes about her day, making other people smile all the while. Since day one.
I felt tired.
I felt sad.
I felt empty and literally deflated. I felt like I had no purpose anymore. I could eat what I wanted. I could have champagne. I should have felt relieved. There was a steady stream of visitors and everyone was enchanted with her and they should have been as she was quite enchanting-all lashes and big puckered lips.
I was tired. So. So. Tired.
Thank God for the visitors. Thank God they were so enchanted. Thank God there were a steady stream of people to love her and cherish her.
Because I couldn’t. Not in the beginning. The scared didn’t go away and the tired just got worse.
Nine months. It took nine months of rote, mechanical survival behavior for me to come back to life. I should have taken medicine. I should have addressed it for what it was. But I didn’t. I thought I could fight it. I thought it was just the sleep. I thought maybe it was normal. I thought I was broken.
It wasn’t normal and I wasn’t broken.
I didn’t have It with The Middle and It was mild with The Baby and by then I knew what to look for and how to proactively take care of it. But with the girl It was insidious and terrifying and It made me question everything.
I took perfectly good care of her. She survived-thrived even. But for nine months I was less than what she deserved.
Yet, here we are seven years later with a table set for five little girls to have tea. Her dad is wearing a suit so he can seat the guests. I have on my waitress shoes and my manicurist beauty coat.
We have spent seven years-minus nine months-enchanted with her, marveling at her, adoring her up close and from afar. Her father is even more taken with her now than he was that first day-when her very presence made him cry. He looks at her in a way he looks at no one else. And I am not, nor have I ever been jealous. On the contrary, their bond makes me love them both even more.
That particular fear seems silly now. In fact, all the fear seems silly.
Of course I mess up. Of course I am not perfect. But she is resilient. She will survive far greater strife than having me as her mother. We are buds. We are besties even-for now. I assume there will be a time she will hate me. But for now she adores me and wants to be me.
The feeling is quite mutual.
Seven years that I could not have imagined. Seven years where my heart has grown in ways I did not know possible. Seven years.
Nine months I will never forget. I will forgive myself for it, but I will never forget. Nine months that bring out in me a need to make them up to her for the rest of her life. Nine months of darkness that I would never change-because the result was Her.
Happy Birthday to My Best Girl. Today the gift is ours.
PS- Fifteen years later and she doesn’t hate me yet! In fact, she just gets better and better and our enchantment with her and the way she takes on the world grows and grows.
P.S. Looking for more parenting guidance and tips for self-care? Check out From Chaos to Calm a guided training to help you feel better in this tough season.