I was prepared. Beyond preparation, I had envisioned myself as a mother so many times that I had nearly begun believing that I lived those moments. Holding my baby as if I had done it a million times, nursing him with a natural ease, and gently yet effectively laying him down to sleep after a day of babywearing all seemed so real that up until I entered the doors of the hospital I let myself believe that I knew what I was doing.
As I made those final urgent and panicked pushes, my baby made his way earthside and I felt immense pride. “I did it”, I tearfully said to my husband, as the weight of the last 9 months trickled from my body and out into the room. But something happened then; our baby didn’t cry the way they do in the movies and the birth videos I had so studiously watched. He didn’t make any sound at all. The nurses took him over to the table to check him and my husband followed, leaving me alone hooked up to a machine. Within moments, he cried, but his breathing was shallow, and so he was monitored for the next hour before his lungs were suctioned out. It turns out he had inhaled meconium (a baby’s first bowel movement) which is sticky like tar.
In my breastfeeding class we talked about the importance of the first hour of birth to establish a healthy latch. It was imperative to connect baby to breast and get colostrum into baby’s body. As I watched the nurses gather around my baby all I could do was sit with the reality that my planning was already failing. I didn’t get him on my chest, I didn’t get to breastfeed him, and I was already not the mother I wanted to be.
For the first six months after my first son’s birth, I sank in guilt and let it swallow me whole. Every nursing session, every time he cried uncontrollably for over an hour, every night as I tried to lay him down with no success, I blamed myself. I had prepared for what kind of mother I was going to be, but all of my attempts to find her left me deflated. It would take me months to finally realize that what happened during his birth was in no way my fault, that birth is an unpredictable process, and preparation does not always equal success.
During the first three months postpartum, I didn’t know many other mothers, especially not around my age. I knew I should have gone out and tried to socialize, but it took me finally going to see a doctor to snap out of isolation. Her recommendation was to join a playgroup, go to the breastfeeding support group at the hospital, and go on a low dose antidepressant. The last part was a suggestion and she made it clear it was up to me. I was no stranger to antidepressants and so I had no issues with going on one, especially since I wanted to ensure that I had every tool necessary to take care of my baby and myself.
I never let myself feel guilty for taking medication, because I knew that the best possible way to take care of my family was to first and foremost take care of myself. If I let myself sink deeper and deeper into my depression, it would cause a ripple effect that would harm my family, and the last thing I wanted to do was hurt the ones I loved. But most important, I needed to sit with myself and realize that I alone was reason enough to get better. If you took away my entire family, wouldn’t I still be worth working on?
Unsurprisingly, the part that made the biggest difference in my mental state was meeting other mothers. Getting out of the house and our daily routine and talking to women who were dealing with the same issues made me realize that there is a difference between failing and struggling. And that comfort was a slow burn to finally realizing that I was not alone in my struggles, and that everything I was feeling was a part of the life altering experience I had just gone through.
I was struggling hard, but I was not failing, because I had not given up. I was trying, every single day, to become a better mother. I didn’t like crying as much as I was and I didn’t enjoy comparing myself to the mother I had envisioned for myself. I developed a hope that things would some day get better, that one day I would look back on this time and see how far I’d come and how much I learned from that experience. I hoped that one day I would stop having such high expectations for myself and maybe even let some things roll off me without reacting emotionally;and that one day I might be able to tell a struggling new mother that I understood, because I was there once, and I made it through.
I’m proud to say I did, and so can you.