Two weeks post-partum, my husband outright forced me to take a walk in the garden. I remember crying out “I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel”. Today, I’m a mother to a 20 month-old tiny monster and would like to say the following to all the expecting and/or postpartum moms out there (and perhaps also to my past self): There is light at the end of the tunnel. Perhaps not as shiny as the disco ball from your carefree past, but it still manages to warm your heart without blinding your eyes.
My story began after a 20-hour labor followed by an emergency caesarian. I was so tired from the pain that I literally slept my way through half the surgery.
My boy was beautiful. I was still smiling from what was left of the anesthesia and our hospital room was brimming with guests. My milk was flowing, my boy was quick to learn his way around the nipple, and he merely fell asleep in his own crib by my bed. Oh, the bliss.
Our first night home was a nightmare! My stitches were hurting and now I also had a terrible headache from the anesthesia. We were home, 7 adults and a baby, trying to coexist. At night, my husband and I would firmly declare that “we got this” and retreat to our room. Boy, were we wrong!
Every book I had ever laid my on said that 3-day-old babies were supposed to sleep 20 hours a day. Then why was my boy wide-awake from 11 pm to 5 am?! He would stare at me with wide eyes while breastfeeding, and start crying the second I pulled him away. I had a million thoughts running through my head “Is he uncomfortable with me? Does he not like our house? Does he not like me?” The whole world would be asleep and even my husband, who was lying right next to me, would doze off now and then. I was all alone with my baby in my arms and for the first time in my life, I felt ignorant, inexperienced and utterly desperate.
Then my son wouldn’t settle at my breast either. It hadn’t even been a day since we had left, and we were right back where it all had begun; the hospital! “There’s something wrong with him!” I cried to the doctor. “There is,” he said, “he’s hungry”. My boy had chugged down a bottle of formula and was now sleeping like an angel in the arms of a nurse. I barely refrained myself from saying “you’re doing such a good job, why don’t you keep him?!”.
And so began my half breast, half bottle adventure. I began searching for ways to increase my milk and completely lay off on the formula. The internet kept saying that “every mom can breastfeed” that “formulas are the easy way out” and that “we should listen to our motherly instincts and not the doctor, and keep breastfeeding”. As a result, I would spend hours unsuccessfully breastfeeding a crying, hungry baby with tears running down my face. (Important note: I combined breast and bottle for 15 months. I stopped not because I ran out of milk, but because I felt like it. Don’t get caught up in preconceived opinions.)
I don’t know if it was the fact that I hadn’t been able to give birth naturally, or that my milk hadn’t been enough that lead me to a depression. Perhaps it was entirely hormonal. I wasn’t even alone, which stands as one of the major reasons for postpartum depression. My parents and my husband were with me at all times, making sure I had every help I needed. Regardless, I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders, feeling heavier and heavier as each day went by.
I didn’t feel ready to take on a responsibility of this magnitude. This tiny little creature, who wasn’t able to voice his thoughts was entirely dependent on me. I had never been needed this much by anything before, and it felt like a huge burden on my shoulders (and in truth, it really is, isn’t it?). In hindsight, my biggest mistake was that I had valued and spent way more time on the internet that I ought to. On social media, all moms are perfect, motherhood is the greatest feeling in the world, babies are breastfed effortlessly, and no one’s nipple cracks or bleeds or gets infected, ever. They too are complaining f not getting enough sleep, but somehow all is forgotten with a single smile in the morning. Why was I not able to forget? Why did I end up dreading my breastfeeding sessions, almost anticipating all the pain that was awaiting me?
On a different note, most information out there regarding baby care, baby health and feeding was almost contradictory. Not even doctors seemed to agree on a subject, so how was I supposed to know right from wrong? How was I ever going to be a good mom? My postpartum hormonal cocktail needed a splash of “worry”. There. Perfect.
I had a few friends who had given birth before me. I called each and every one of them to ask why they hadn’t told me. This is so hard. Is it always going to be this way? Does it ever end? They all knew what I meant and went on to tell me their individual stories…because I asked.
Some struggled for weeks, some for months. Some didn’t want anyone touching their baby, some were aggravated for no reason and pushed everyone away. Some didn’t even want to see their baby. I quickly realized that everyone has a postpartum story and that we all experience it differently. We are so socially pierced with the image of “divine motherhood” that most of us keep the “ugly” thoughts to ourselves. This is why I have decided to talk about how hard and complicated the first days are, as humanly possible.
As to how I got better: I am not going to stress the importance of not forgetting who you are as a person and making time for the things that give you joy in life, not only during postpartum but also in the days and years to come. Both professionals and experienced mothers agree that this is crucial in the psychological well-being of both mother and child.
Speak up! I basically barfed people out by constantly talking about my feelings. I didn’t act as if everything was fine. I asked for help, I didn’t hold back. I was scared of being alone and nagged my parents, who stayed with me and supported me for months.
I separated my love for my son from my depression. I love him more than I will ever love anything in the world and everything he does is a miracle to me. What I found difficult was how my life had changed with it. I also did my best to stay away from people who demeaned the concept of depression and refrained from sharing with people I felt did not understand.
Perhaps most importantly, I included my husband I the thoughts and feelings I had, and never took them out on him. My husband is a person who believes that parenthood is a shared task, and has always made himself available in any way that he knows how. Yet, fatherhood is a different adventure, and there have been times where he has “failed” to understand me. Despite our common efforts, he has at times not understood what I have meant, or his actions and efforts have seemed dissatisfactory to me. Even then, he hung in there, and we made it through. There were of course also many things that I had to work on. I forcibly came to accept that fathers simply do not hear their babies sigh in the room next door, they don’t stare obsessively at the baby monitor, and they honestly don’t really care how many minutes the baby napped or ate during the day.
Despite my efforts and the fact that Ali Omer was now 4 months old, I still had symptoms of depression. I would still cry every day. I would have a hard time sleeping at night. I would worry about everything and nothing. More importantly, I was enjoying neither motherhood nor life and could not convince myself that I was, in fact, a good mother. I made a difficult but right decision to see a therapist. After our first sessions, he explained to me that giving birth is a trauma for women, and that unresolved issues from the past can trigger a depression. For the first time in my life, I took a journey towards myself. I understood that being a happy and peaceful mother must begin with being a happy and peaceful person. I felt grateful for Omer Ali, for being the vessel for this journey. I have only just begun and have no specific destination. I’m aware that I must learn how to enjoy the journey itself. At least, I’m making an effort.
I wish everyone had the chance to see a therapist, but I understand that not everyone has the means to do so. If the ultimate goal is to feel better, there are many ways to do so. One is searching for (free) online resources: you can start by researching EFT, Miracle Morning, Life 10, The Work, to name a few, and see if this is something for you. Even meditating for a few minutes a day can do wonders.
I sometimes still struggle as a mom. I can’t wait to go to work in the morning, and I can’t wait to come home in the evening. I admiringly (and somewhat dreadfully) observe stay at home moms around me – Kudos to you! I will perhaps never understand women who have more children, and yet I love my son with an unprecedented kind of love. He changed me, transformed me into a new person that I am slowly but safely, starting to like.
So dear fellow moms, please remember that feeling the way you do does not make you strange, it does not make you an outsider and it definitely does not make you a bad mother.