I didn’t realize I had postpartum depression until my son was nearly a year old. Instead of thinking I was sick, I thought the vision I had of motherhood was a sham and a lie. I wasn’t entirely wrong. I was also in more trouble than I knew. As someone who had never experienced mental illness until PPD, I didn’t recognize the symptoms. I’ve written a memoir titled “Babies Are The Worst” so women know they are not alone and that it’s possible to find the help they need. Below is an excerpt from the chapter titled, “The Hardest Cry.” * * *
Immediately after I gave birth, I knew something was wrong. They cut me open, took Owen out, and I didn’t want to look at him. I didn’t care. I was so, so tired both physically and mentally that I just wanted to close my eyes and sleep forever. But that wasn’t how I was supposed to feel, that wasn’t the movie version. I was supposed to look at him and feel the most beautiful, powerful love I’d ever experienced. A love beyond understanding. There should have been angels singing, announcing that true love had arrived. Not the case. The doctors swept Owen away to be examined and get medical clearance first thing. They may have held him up for me to see, but I also may have imagined that moment. Because I don’t remember the first time I saw him. I do remember the first time I held him. Because I put on a show. They brought him over, and as I held him, I laughed and smiled and did the things that I had seen in movies and on TV. I figured that was what was expected of me.
I stared into Owen’s all-knowing eyes and continued to coo my hellos and thought, “Why don’t I feel anything?” That feeling, or lack thereof, went beyond the emotional. Because I had been shaking so badly before the surgery, I literally couldn’t feel my arms. As in, my arms were totally asleep. When Owen was placed in my arms for the first time, I just remember a heavy feeling. You know when a limb falls asleep and you can poke it and it feels like a hunk of meat, unattached yet attached to yourself?
That’s the feeling I had in that first encounter. Owen’s seven pounds felt like a seventy-pound weight on my chest. My mind and my body were, quite literally, numb. Once the doctors and nurses had cleaned us both up, it was time to transfer to the recovery room. They propped this ginoromous weight of a baby on my chest and nestled him in the crook of my arm. I felt panic. He was going to slide out of my dead arms on the way down the hall. There was no way I’d be able to hold him and keep him safe during the transfer. As the nurses arranged him in my arms, I asked, “Can’t Dan hold him?”
The nurses exchanged a concerned look. One asked, “You don’t want to hold your baby?” Her tone clearly sounded worried. Which pissed me off!! Don’t shower me with pity and concern, lady. It’s not that I don’t want to hold him — I don’t want to kill him! I snapped back, “Of course I do! But my arms are asleep. I’m afraid I’ll drop him.” They exchanged that look of concern again. How dare they?! The other said, “You won’t drop him. Don’t worry.” I felt dismissed. Don’t worry?? I wanted to scream, “You don’t know that!!! You don’t know anything!!! And stop looking at me like something is wrong with me because I don’t want to hurt my baby! Or have anything to do with him!”
If I relived this moment now, having been through PPD, I would join those nurses in the look of concern. Instead, I shut down, swallowed my sobs and let the heaviness of it all lay on my chest, along with my sweet baby, as they pushed me to the recovery room. I was too tired to do anything else. It was when we were in the recovery room that I stopped swallowing the sobs. I was trying to breastfeed for the first time and Owen wasn’t really able to latch. I thought maybe if I sang it would relax us both. I started to sing, “Hush little baby don’t say a word, Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird . . .” and my voice cracked.
Suddenly I was crying and I couldn’t stop. I tried to keep singing through the tears; I’m certain I sounded like a lunatic. Singing to my baby for the first time was too much for me to handle. Maybe that sounds like a typical reaction, that singing to your baby to help calm him for the first time is a big event. And feeling emotional about it is nothing to be concerned about. But these weren’t tears of joy. An immense sorrow was starting to creep into the corners of my heart. Water was starting to seep under the door. All of a sudden, I was in complete denial that I had a baby. I couldn’t reconcile the actual events with my imagined version, the version of how it was “supposed” to happen.
So the fact that I was singing to my baby for the first time didn’t compute. And why did I pick that song? Is that what I really wanted to sing for the first time to Owen? No. Did I actually have a “first song” picked out? No. But he was crying and I wanted him to hush. And I wanted to eat. Oh my god why won’t they just let me eat? That’s when the tears started. * * *
Babies Are The Worst (You’re not the only one thinking it: A Memoir about Motherhood, PPD, & Beyond) will be available June 2018, on Amazon. For updates, please follow the Facebook page.