9 years ago, I was sold a lie. That in itself is bad enough, but the heartbreak of it was that I had no idea until it was too late. In fact, lies are told to new parents every day, and in the most oblivious way. Well wishers and proud parents tell you how lucky you are and how much you’re going to treasure your new child. When they’re born, you’ll look into those big eyes and your heart will swell.
Well, guess what. That’s not necessarily true. Let me tell you a story about what it was like for me.
Waiting for Baby
My daughter was born the end of August, on a day that I can’t remember much about. It might have been hot, it might have been windy (it probably was because its always windy here). I honestly don’t know though. Partly because I was busy preparing for childbirth and partly because I had to be induced, so I was admitted the night before.
My mom had arrived two weeks beforehand because she wanted to make sure she was here whenever the kiddo showed up. Mom showed up on my due date and the kid…well, she waited the full two weeks. I didn’t mind though since I knew it was my time with my mom, and likely to be the last bit of “free” time I would have. Or rather, on the surface I knew that. Every mother out there was telling me to cherish these last bits of time carrying her because it’s “so much harder once they’re on the outside.” I’m not saying they were wrong, but I really wanted my own body back.
It’s not that pregnancy was difficult. My mood was fine, appetite and activity level were pretty normal, and I tested perfectly on all of my check-ins. I just really hated being pregnant. Some parents cherish the feeling of their child in them, but I found it creepy. There was a whole ‘nother human in there, waiting to get out and I really didn’t like that. But I did like getting to have Mom all to myself.
Suffice to say, delivery was painful. Induction is supposed to be one of the hardest forms of delivery, but honestly, they all hurt. I know the arrival of my son was miserable, even though he actually showed up on his own.
The truth is, I can’t remember much about it. I know I ate cheese-its while waiting for things to actually start and turning the baby was excruciating. I also recall accidentally turning the TV on with my elbow, because my husband suddenly stopped counting me through my contractions. Mike denies it to this day, but I know better. Everything else is a fog.
Eventually, she made her way into the world, 8 lbs 14.7 oz, scaly and hairy, and according to the doctors, absolutely perfect. It was that moment a parent dreams for, the moment you lay eyes on your creation for the first time, you lovingly cradle their hands and count fingers. I appropriately obliged when the nurses encouraged me to feed my little girl that first hour, but it was a little off. The nurse helped me reposition and latch correctly and gave us our privacy. My husband stared down at us, tears in his eyes.
But still, something was off.
I’m not sure when I figured it out, but eventually I realized my magic moment was never coming. I cradled the child that I had created, I did all the actions I was supposed to, but the feelings of love and awe never appeared. Everyone I had spoken to told me that all the pain was worth it because when you hold your baby for the first time, you feel a fullness, a rush of joy and love.
It was a lie.
Or rather, it was a lie for me. At the time I didn’t know it, but not every new parent feels love and joy when they meet their baby. For some of us, it takes time to develop a connection. For me, it was over two years for that sense of awe to arrive. Two years. Somewhere between the bipolar disorder and the severe postpartum depression, it was impossible for me to feel that love.
Where to go from there?
I was lucky because we knew that postpartum depression was likely for me. Still, we didn’t recognize the reason for my disconnect for quite a while. Actually, our cue that something was wrong was completely unrelated to my new, tiny human. My new Wii balance board wasn’t working. I remember Mike telling me I needed to get to the doctor because sobbing on the floor over a broken thing wasn’t normal. Not even for me. He told me it wasn’t worth breaking up over and I screamed at him… It mattered to me.
We scheduled an appointment that day.
After that, it felt like things started to take a turn for the worse. Suddenly the sense of disconnect started to feel a little more sinister as stories about moms hurting their kids started flashing through my head. I began to panic when I started to feel the normal parenting stress, and eventually I became scared to even be around her.
Mike rearranged his schedule to stay home with me when I was having a bad day. Then he filed for FMLA as the bad days got more frequent. And then one day he got a call. They let him go. Apparently his paperwork wasn’t filed correctly and with the economy tanking, he was the one to go. After all, he wasn’t ever there.
The next two years
The next two years went by in a blur for me. I returned to work full-time to help carry the finances, but every day was guilt-ridden. I’d failed as a mom. I’d cost my husband his job. I was a mess. And yet, I tried.
Eventually we were able to get me in to a therapist and he got me on meds. I only stayed on them a few months (we moved and I couldn’t be bothered to get a new one, I guess), but it did help. Meanwhile, Mike basically became a single parent.
Ultimately, I moved away to go to school full time while my husband and baby girl (who was two at that time, so not quite a baby anymore) stayed behind. We talked every night and they visited as often as they could, but I was here and they were most definitely there.
I’d missed years by the time we were reunited. It wasn’t until 2014, around my daughter’s 6th birthday, that we finally lived in one house. And, somehow, it was different. Somewhere in those 6 years, my heart healed. Maybe it was all that time or maybe it was the realization of how much I’d lost that I would never get back, but finally, I felt the love I’d been promised so long ago.
I don’t know how it happened, though. I wish I did because I know so many other parents go through the same pain and I wish I could hand them the key to fix it.
But I can’t.
Instead, I’ll teach them what I learned. I tell them congratulations and wish them well. When they ask for advice, I tell them “It’s okay if you don’t love your child right away. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent. You will love them eventually, even if you don’t feel it to start with.”
It may seem an odd bit of advice, but I promise I will never sell a new parent the same lie I was faced with all those years ago. And I promise I will do anything I can to help them if they ever land in the same place.
Curious about PPD and what to look out for? Here’s a post all about it, with links to some useful resources.
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