When I was pregnant with my daughter I prayed over her almost daily. I asked God that her life would be defined by peace and joy. Now that my daughter is almost one year old, I can see nothing but the fruit of that prayer, but in none of the ways I expected.
When my son was born, it was instant love. Before I had the chance to see him, my midwife laid him on my stomach, and as I felt him wiggle on the outside of the place he had held for nine months, my heart filled with so much love I thought I might burst. By the time I laid eyes on him, I was sure I had never known true love until that moment.
I assumed that meeting my second child would be just as beautiful of a moment, but instead I feel like that moment was stolen from me due to what I would later be defined as Post Partum Depression (or PPD for short).
Which is why, when I first laid eyes on my daughter the only thing I could think was “ewww… What an gross looking baby”
I am haunted by that memory. I hate that the first moments of her life are marred by my disgust, rather than my overwhelming love. Immediately I knew I was having the “wrong” reaction to this new life and I began to shut down. Shame had already crept in within the first few seconds of my daughters life.
The weeks and months that followed were some of the hardest I think I’ve ever encountered. Having a newborn is HARD, no matter how healthy you are mentally, emotionally, or physically. Add to that difficulty a cocktail of heightened hormones and it throws everything.
My anxiety levels were intensely high. I was beyond anxious about everything and I became obsessive. I was most worked up about breastfeeding, and every time I had to nurse I found myself resenting Cora and becoming incredibly anxious and depressed. She was thriving, her numbers were off the charts, but I could not escape the feeling that I was messing everything up. A lactation consultant had given her formula in the hospital without my consent, and from that point forward she hadn’t gone a day without supplementing with some formula. She seemed to be insatiable and I was losing my sanity with every cry for more.
Her cry was intense. Her cries were piercing and would cut me to my core. My husband often describes her cry of mild discomfort akin to the sound of someone screaming while being stabbed in the face. Adding these bone chilling shrill screams to my already unbalanced state often sent me overboard.
I began having panic attacks every time she’d cry. This meant having 5 or more panic attacks a day, some rendering me nothing more than a lump on the floor. I’d crawl into the fetal position, cover my ears, and cry until I felt like I could breathe again. It terrified Spencer and he would often cry with me.
At other times I felt overcome with rage. I couldn’t handle my children’s need for me. If Spencer didn’t do exactly what I wanted him to do, exactly when I told him to do it, I’d fly off the handle. The worst case was when I slapped him (not hard, but still) for not picking up his toys fast enough.
I have never in my life felt as awful as I did as I tried to comfort him after that moment. He didn’t know how to respond because he clearly wanted to be comforted by me, but he had also learned so quickly in that moment, to fear me. He cowered like a dog just outside of my arms reach, and a part of my heart died.
I don’t know how I didn’t realize right then that something wasn’t right.
It didn’t click for me until a few weeks later. At six weeks my husband admitted to me that he thought I had PPD. I was insulted. I absolutely wasn’t depressed! Yes, I was incredibly anxious, and I was angrier than I had ever been in my life, but depression was not a problem. Little did I know that despite the word “depression” being in the title of the disorder, it was actually one of the lesser symptoms of PPD. I would have never guessed that anxiety and anger were actually the major symptoms of PPD.
As I researched I found that I was pretty much a textbook case. It came as a relief to realize that the way I had been feeling was primarily due to an imbalance in hormones. I think I had feared that the way I was feeling and acting was just how life was going to be for me now that I had two children. I had even spent time mourning the desire to have more children. I figured that if this is what life with two children did to me, there would be no way I could ever have another kid.
Once I admitted there was, indeed, something wrong with me, I quickly set myself on a mission to do whatever I could to fix the problem. I began working out, and oh man, did that help alleviate some of the issues. But the gym only seemed to have a temporary effect on my mood. That led me to going to see a counselor. She was of great help as well, but still, I felt troubled. Eventually I got on anti anxiety medication, and again, it helped somewhat but none of my efforts seemed to “fix” things immediately.
I chose to stop nursing. This was a heartbreaking decision for me. I had such hopes for breastfeeding the second time around. However, it seemed that I had something called D-MER that causes depression and anxiety during the let-down process of nursing. It’s something that can be overcome with time and effort, but adding this to the other anxiety issues was too much. I wanted to be able to make every effort to try and be the most stable mother I could be for my kids, and part of that meant I needed to be on medication and eliminating everything that caused me anxiety or depression. Knowing there was a risk of that medication passing to Cora, as well as all the other complications I was having lead me to decide to stop nursing.
Despite the difficulty of that decision, I know it saved my sanity, and ultimately was the best thing I could do for my daughter.
I did get better, but it was a slow, frustrating process. My counselor once told me that if there was a list of steps to take to overcome PPD I would have found them and done them already. She could see how badly I wanted to be better, and how frustrated I was that there was no instant fix. It took time, and persistence in pursuing health, to get better.
Around the six month mark, I started to feel better. I felt like I fell in love with my daughter at that point. I celebrated feeling well. I was so excited to be feeling normal once more, but I wasn’t out of the woods just yet.
Even though I was finally feeling balanced, I began to be hit with shame. Deep, haunting, crushing shame washed over me. I felt my baby had been stolen from me. The sweet moments of early life with my precious daughter had been stripped from me. I cried over and over again at the memory of her first moments. I did not admit to anyone for a long time how much I didn’t like Cora for the first few months because I felt like a terrible mother. Even now, as I think of it, I cry.
And then, my loving husband set me straight. After several months of penance and emotional flogging, he finally told me he’d had enough. He reminded me that despite the fact that I didn’t feel love for my daughter immediately, I had loved her the whole time. By that, he meant that I cared for my daughter. I treated her with great love and tenderness despite being on the fence about how I actually felt. I did not let my emotions get in the way of how I treated her. He reminded me that that is what true love is; caring for someone despite what our emotions tell us.
As this truth permeated my mind, it eventually hit my heart, and I felt free. He was right, my daughter had never not known my unconditional love. And she never will.
Peace, and joy. These are the things I prayed would define my daughter. I can say, without a doubt, that because of her life, and the trials it brought early on, I now know true peace. That peace could only come as a result of going through a storm with Jesus at my side reminding me that not only was he holding me during the storm, but that He actually held authority over the storm itself. Now, when I look at my daughter I’m reminded that I’m cared for, I am loved, and I have nothing to fear. That is the definition of true peace. And when I see my daughter smile, I have nothing but the deepest, most heart-wrenching, aching love for her.
Nothing could bring me more joy.