I was afraid it would always be February and that God would never stop trying to kill me.
This is how I felt about my early motherhood experience. My son, Major, is now four years old and I can write about it as if it were just a bad camp experience with roaches, rats and nasty food. It is a way for me to remember how far I’ve come and to extend a hand to anyone who finds herself in the same bad camp.
I look at my son in this moment and marvel at his devilish face and angelic charm. I couldn’t love him anymore than I do. But I didn’t always feel that way.
In the first few weeks after his birth – and I feel sick about writing this – I don’t think I even liked him. He was stealing my life. The life I’d known since I left home. It was all about me. He was stealing my sleep. God, I’ve never felt so exhausted in my life. I was the scrawny boy who just joined the military – the one you see in the movies – and my face was in the mud, in the rain, doing pushups while my son, the Drill Sergeant, was barking orders at me: “Get me another bottle, Private.”
“Sir, yes sir.”
“Get me a clean diaper, Private.”
“Sir, yes sir.”
“You think you’re a good mom, Private? You’ve got vomit on your shirt, you smell like baby poop and I can tell you haven’t brushed your teeth in three days.”
“Sir, yes sir.”
I was drowning. I didn’t even know it was depression at first. I just thought I totally sucked at being a mother. I called friends, parents, I Googled everything from ‘burping a baby’ to ‘how much sleep can I lose before I die’. I was being broken down. Infantry training.
The ceiling fan started to sound like the baby’s cry in the middle of the night. I was on edge. My well-meaning friends would say, “sleep while the baby sleeps.” I couldn’t. I tried. Then I’d panic because I couldn’t sleep. There was electricity running through my veins. I’d lie in bed after Major fell back asleep and cry or pray or anything but sleep.
I would sit in the living room nursing him at 3:00 in the morning (God, it felt so lonely) and think horrible thoughts. It’s taken me years to admit that I considered giving him up for adoption. I couldn’t figure out how I would explain it to friends or even convince my husband it was the right thing to do but I swear to God I was working out the details while watching the STYLE network.
I’m lucky in the sense I never wanted to hurt my son or myself. But on my worst days, I did think about getting in my car and driving far away – never to return. I tried to imagine my husband, Keith, and my friends and family forgiving me. I couldn’t get it all to work out okay in my mind but the fantasy that it would bring relief kept me going sometimes.
I remember walking downstairs one day and saying to Keith that something was terribly wrong. I wanted him to take me to the hospital. I thought I was dying. Panic attacks. I’m a school counselor for God’s sakes and didn’t even recognize what was happening to me. I couldn’t breathe and trying to eat was like choking down sand. I spent portions of the day doubled over, sweating and praying I wouldn’t die.
It all came to a head after returning to work when Major was seven weeks old. I lasted a few days on the pure high that comes from people welcoming you back and wanting to see pictures of the baby. But by day four, I ended up on the floor of my office (thank God my door locks), rocking myself and chanting to God, “I know you are good, I know you are good.” I did something totally out of character and started asking for help. I called my doctor who had already prescribed me Ambien for sleep and one Ativan a day for panic. She wanted to see me right away. I ran to my principal with tears in my eyes. I didn’t care who saw me in the hallway. The point of desperation had come. I could barely speak when I told her I needed to go. Graciously and without question, she dismissed me for the rest of the day. I called my best friend, Jennifer, and had her talk me off the ledge as I drove to the doctor’s office.
Unfortunately general practitioners are afraid of post-partum depression. They will tell you as much. Although she is a super kind doctor, I began to think of her as sadistic. She was worried about me staying on the Ativan. She thought one a day was risking addiction. She wasn’t going to prescribe it for me any longer. I panicked even more. How in God’s name was I going to live without it? Then I thought of myself as an addict sitting in rehab with Lindsey Lohan and panicked even more. Oh God, I was trapped. Suffocating right there in a doctor’s office and no one could give me oxygen. Luckily the doctor saw the sheer terror on my face and did the very thing I needed. She said she was going to refer me to a Psychiatrist. The sound of the word made me sick. I’m not crazy, I’m not crazy, I’m not crazy. But because I was so desperate for help, I agreed to go. She managed to get me in the next day with someone who specializes in post-partum depression. When I tell you this saved my life, I am not exaggerating.
The Psychiatrist gently laughed when I asked her if I was dying. She heard me out, then summed me up as a “textbook case of postpartum depression. We’re going to put out the fire,” she said. Ding, ding, ding. The magic word. How did she know I felt like I was on fire? She got it. She assured me I wasn’t going to die. That was the beginning of my healing.
It took several months of adjusting meds, talking about my story and changing the paradigm of my life to get back to some sense of normalcy. I don’t have to take the cocktail of anti-depressants anymore. And this is not everyone’s story — but I will not be ashamed or regretful that it is mine. I’m loving motherhood. I’m loving my son and my little family.
I remember talking to Keith before the baby came and saying I thought parenthood would bring us a little discomfort much like when you’re walking along in the airport and decide to get on the human conveyor belt. You lose your balance for a moment and then recover. Ha. Haha. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. It was more like someone through a grenade into the house and six months later we were still picking shrapnel out of our skin. When talking about trying to have a baby, why didn’t any of you grab me by the shoulders and shake me? None of you told me this was Basic Training.
But I know why you didn’t. Because nothing compares to the Heaven I see when Major looks at me and knows I’m his momma. Nothing is as gratifying as when I look at him and my heart nearly bursts from the connection we share. And don’t forget about the cuteness. My God, the cuteness. Don’t you think everyone would look better in a white onesie?
I’m making a trek: from an ordinary civilian to Major’s mother. So far I’ve come from thinking we made a horrible mistake all the way to praying my son will outlive me so that I never have to know life without him. I’m turning in my civilian clothes for t-shirts covered in spit-up with a lingering scent of mustard-colored poop.
I’m reporting for duty.