A guest post by Heidi Dennis
I still remember that moment- sitting on the floor of the nursery holding a screaming baby and crying. I look up at my husband (who is also sitting on the floor next to me) and he, too, is crying (and my husband doesn’t cry. I’ve seen him cry like twice- and this was one of them). Why didn’t anyone WARN us? I felt duped. The only reason I could figure is that if anyone had told us that it would be this hard, maybe we wouldn’t have procreated in the first place (here is a line across the middle of the bed- don’t you dare cross it, or else!). But, alas, here we were with an infant, completely clueless as to what to do next- or how to get this baby to stop crying (he was lucky he was so cute).
I’ve counseled numerous people dealing with postpartum depression or anxiety. I’ve even lead a support group full of women coping with it. So, I believe that I can say with utter certainty that, if you have dealt with this, you are not alone. Having a baby is a tough season. There is no pretending that it isn’t. I swear, I wanted to throat punch anyone who walked up to me and said, “Isn’t this just the most amazing time in your life?” Ummm, no. No it is not. But, instead I smiled and nodded with my heavy head and sleep deprived eyes because I felt too guilty to say anything else. But, I feel like I’m allowed to say these things- and you are allowed to say them too. It does not mean that you aren’t grateful or that you don’t love your child. It is just like any other transition that you go through- even the good ones can be hard.
After walking through this journey with many others, I have discovered some common struggles that these sweet young mothers keep tucked away out of fear of being judged (or worse, institutionalized). Let me walk through a few of those just in case you, or someone you know, are walking through this journey in fearful secrecy.
Does this mean I don’t love my baby?
First off, admitting that this newborn business wasn’t all that you thought it would be does not mean that you don’t love your child. Struggling, or even feeling depressed, also does not mean that you aren’t grateful. It can strike literally anyone. I have seen women whose life long dream was having a baby and then depression hits them like a bandit. There is no rhyme or reason behind why it hits or who it hits. It can literally happen to ANYONE. Postpartum or not, this season is HARD! You just pushed a human being out of your lady parts (that or had your stomach cut open- they both suck). That’s right, I said it- giving birth sucks. I cringe even as I write that (because I still fight that inner battle over fear of being judged)- but it’s true. Yes, I know giving birth is a miracle and it’s beautiful and all of that, but the experience of the actual birthing process is hard, you guys. Not only is that hard, the after math is hard, too- the sleepless nights, the physical soreness of down yonder, and don’t even get me started on that weird underwear they make you wear afterwards. All of this and you are expected to take care of this tiny helpless being. Terrifying! So, when I say that this season is hard and that it’s ok to admit that it is, I truly do mean it.
Now let’s talk about this new little being that has suddenly come into your life. This brings me to my next question…
How do I love a stranger?
You’ve imagined it all of your life. They finally place this new bundle of joy in your arms that you have been longing to meet and you feel…nothing. Nada. Zip. Well, your vagina hurts and you’re exhausted, but other than that, you’ve got nothing. As far as emotions go, overwhelmed seems to be the dominant feeling. A few days go by- maybe you will feel something by then. But the sleepless nights and overwhelming anxiety about taking care of this new being seem to be all that you are feeling. Suddenly you think, BREASTFEEDING! That’s it! That will bond me to my baby- that’s what all of the doulas said anyway. But, alas, breastfeeding is even a struggle. Your baby is screaming at you because they aren’t getting enough milk and you feel completely defeated. Personally I tried to breastfeed as long as I could but between my child losing weight and screaming at me (I think he may have been “hangry”, poor thing), deciding to stop breastfeeding was the most peaceful choice I could have made. The fact that I feel shame rising up in me as I admit this to you tells me that perhaps more moms than just me needed to hear that. It’s ok. And if you don’t feel immediately bonded with your child, it’s ok. They are still a stranger to you at this point. You have to get to know each other. That takes time. And, it’s ok (Are you getting the picture?).
I’m going to take a sharp turn here. This next thing is one of the most heartbreaking parts of postpartum- and it’s not for the reason you might think.
What if I hurt my baby?
Imagine yourself carrying this newborn in your arms. “He’s so small”, you think. “What if I drop him? Oh my goodness, I just thought about dropping my baby! I am a monster! What does this mean? I better not pick him up for a while because what if I do something bad?”
Intrusive thoughts are one of the most misunderstood parts of postpartum. In the situation above, the mother had NO INTENT of dropping her baby. They merely felt overwhelmed by his vulnerability and it naturally scared them. That child and that mother are both completely safe. How do I know this? Look at the mother’s reaction to the thought- it was utter SHOCK. Here is my general rule of thumb with thoughts…
If you are shocked, or disgusted, by a thought that you have, it means that IT WAS NOT YOUR THOUGHT.
Therefore, you have nothing to feel guilty about. We all have some pretty awful thoughts that pop into our heads. It isn’t until we own them and agree with them, that they become ours. So, sweet reader, there is no need to feel guilty or ashamed at these thoughts (whether they have to do with a new baby or anything else, for that matter). Take that thought captive and put it back where it belongs- with the enemy, since he is the one who crafted it in the first place. Don’t feel guilty for something that you haven’t done.
There is a clear difference between a thought like “What if I hurt my baby?” that leads to shock and true psychosis- which would be voices in your head telling you to hurt your baby and, instead of shock, you feel compelled to do so. If this is the case, talk to a medical professional ASAP because they can get you the help that you need.
The truth of the matter is, psychosis is SUCH a small part of the postpartum population. Sadly, the mental health field will sometimes fail to distinguish between the two and may try to institutionalize a new mother if they are just struggling with intrusive thoughts that a large portion of new mothers feel. That’s why, when someone comes into my office for postpartum depression or anxiety, the very first thing I do is reassure them that I won’t “freak out” on them if they are struggling with intrusive thoughts because these are normal. It’s how you respond to them that matters.
If I could sit across the table from you right now over a steaming cup of French vanilla cappuccino, I would tell you, sweet mother, that you are not alone. No matter what stress you are dealing with as a mother, let me whisper the words to you that someone whispered to me during this season- This will not last forever. No matter how long this season seems, it will pass. You will sleep again, you will smile again, you will even enjoy motherhood again. It will not always be this hard. This too shall pass. Now, go and give that sweet baby of yours a cuddle, because you are a WONDERFUL mother.
***What about you? Did you struggle with postpartum or just struggle with new motherhood in general? And a totally different question, do you think that we glamorize this season too much? So much so that struggling becomes a source of shame to mothers? I would love to hear your thoughts! Comment below or join the conversation at https://m.facebook.com/heidid831/