Postpartum voice of the Week: Mommy Guilt Starts Early


Today’s Postpartum Voice of the Week post is shared with us by a dear friend of mine from way back. Kim and I “met” at iVillage when we were pregnant with our first kids back in 2003. Her second child was born around the same time as my second daughter. iVillage was the first place I found a community of support and the first place to encourage me to seek help for Postpartum Depression with my first daughter. Kim and I have stayed in touch and evolved to FB friends these days. We still have to meet in person but she truly is a friend. She’s hilarious, tenacious, and just all around awesome. The piece below is something she emailed me a few weeks ago. She wasn’t sure what to do with it. I asked her to consider thinking about sharing it with my readers as it left me in complete awe. When she emailed me to let me know I could indeed share it, I squealed with delight. Kim’s words capture what so many of us have experienced and they capture it exceedingly well. May her words mean as much to you as they have to her, to me, and I hope you share them with others who may need to read them.

Mommy Guilt Starts Early

I never would have thought that one of the happiest days of my life would involve peeing on a stick and waiting, breathlessly, to see how many lines appeared in the window. It also would be the beginning of a journey so wrought with pitfalls that left me battle scarred both inside and out.

My pregnancy was not a blissful, glowing and euphoric time in my life. It was amazing, yes, but I was so sick and miserable that the “mommy guilt” started before I even gave birth. I should have been radiant. I should have been mesmerized and enchanted by the little things that make growing a human such a miracle. I should have been breathless with anticipation of becoming a Mommy, the greatest profession ever. But, I wasn’t.

The Best Laid Plans

We had planned a natural birth. We had a doula, we took Bradley classes, we were ready. Baby had other ideas. Eight days after his due date, I was induced. I won’t go into the nitty gritty details, because scaring other ladies about childbirth is not my goal, but suffice it to say nothing went as planned. Not the pregnancy, nor the birth, and not even the first few hours and days after he arrived.

I was completely overwhelmed. I chalked it up to not knowing what to do having not really been around babies before. I attributed it to not getting enough sleep, the pain meds, and to the fact that he was a fussy baby. At night, I would awake in the midst of a panic attack and bolt upright (not an easy or comfortable feat after a C-section) to check on him. He would cry and my anxiety would go through the roof. Sitting in the dark, rocking and nursing him, should have been soothing but my skin would crawl and I just wanted to run away. In the dark, he wasn’t my baby. In the dark, he was the reason for the internal battle that raged inside me; the darkness that ate at me and consumed me. I cried. A lot. We both cried. A lot.

He grew and thrived and I swallowed my anxiety. We went for walks and play dates and splashed in the puddles. He was sleeping better at night and we enjoyed each other. He still wouldn’t be left with anyone else and had the random crying fit but, in general, life became a comfortable place. That’s when we decided to give A a brother or sister. As before, my husband barely breathed on me and I was pregnant.

This pregnancy wasn’t any easier and I was even sicker than the time before. The doubts started creeping in and I was finally able to verbalize a small part of what I’d gone through before. My OB mentioned post-partum depression and offered Zoloft for the end of my pregnancy. I felt fine. I refused and said we’d keep an eye on it. Baby N arrived and things went better. I chalked it up to knowing what to expect the second time around.

Little A was a good big brother. The first year was a blur of trying to balance the baby’s needs and those of his big brother. As the boys approached their birthdays (A turning 3 and N turning 1), life began to get more complicated. Little A began really acting out. I mean, the 2’s had been hard enough but the 3’s were looking like they were going to be the biggest challenge yet. The mommy guilt came hard and fast and I felt completely ill equipped to handle these toddlers. Little A became more and more angry and belligerent. He began to hit his brother when he was angry. I visited a therapist and she made me feel like it was my fault. He was just a little boy.

He wasn’t intentionally hitting my buttons and it was my inadequacies that caused the escalation in behavior. I tried talking to the pediatrician and was told that it was normal behavior on the part of a 3 year old. The darkness started coming back. I cried. A lot. I felt like a complete failure as a mother. We hadn’t bonded. I had un-diagnosed, un-treated PPD that held me back from bonding with my son and he was showing this to us. That’s what I thought; what I felt in my heart. That same heart was broken.

My heart was broken as was my kid. *I* had broken my kid. My son. My beautiful boy who had depended upon me for his very well being had suffered because of my inability to be the mom he deserved.

After the birth of our third child, I could no longer deny that I was depressed. I was having anxiety attacks frequently and for days on end I would start every day by sitting in the shower and sob big, body-wracking, sobs. Finally, I spoke up and my doctor listened.

No longer was I viewing my son through guilt-riddled lenses and I began to see other things that I had missed. It became clear that the things I felt had been my fault were not. I was suffering from a chemical imbalance, as was he. The rages, the meltdowns, the complete irrationality were not, in fact, due to my own parental failings but a chemical reaction within his brain coupled with the fact that my son is gifted. Put those two together and it became a whirlwind of emotion, both high and low, and instead of seeing this objectively, I took the blame.

Shoot, I didn’t just take it, I doled it out in big giant steaming heaps. I have been my own worst enemy. I saw fault where there was none. I suffered guilt when it was there was no need.

I did not break my child. Whew. I did not break my child.

Those of us who hold the platinum award for Mommy Guilt could easily find guilt in missing out on so much pleasure from his childhood because of all of this. But I won’t. I refuse. I did not break my child. I did not ask, nor cause, myself to suffer from Postpartum Depression. My son and I ARE bonded and I adore him; madly, completely, and without question. Because of me (ok, and his daddy too!) Little A is crazy smart, he’s sweet, and funny, creative, athletic and loving.

My son is whole. I did not break him.

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2 thoughts on “Postpartum voice of the Week: Mommy Guilt Starts Early

  1. Heather,

    Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I’m glad it spoke to you and, hopefully, if more folks like us speak up there will be more and more women who realize that the depression they are going through is NOT abnormal and they are not broken.

    I think being aware of your past experience will change your next one drastically. Be open, talk to your doctor, your partner, your family. They all knew what to look for with me and it was a comfort to know that I wasn’t alone.

    I, too, think you have a lot to give as a mom.

    Blessings,
    Kim

  2. Thanks for this post — it made me cry. I had a scare during pregnancy (my daughter had an irregular heartbeat, it was like an episode of “House”, and still to this day we aren’t sure what happened — just that she’s OK now). My birth experience was… well.. less than ideal (3+ weeks early, 26 hours of labor which later was determined to be BACK labor, several hours of pushing). It all ended with a c-section anyways, during which I was shaking uncontrollably and I could barely even open my eyes to see my daughter for the first time. I didn’t get her for at least 6 hours, and what followed was a 2-3 struggle with breastfeeding that had me feeling so horrible about myself and my ability as a mother. It was one of the darkest times of my life. I had struggled with depression before, but I felt like I was a hostage in my own house, and I wanted so desperately to escape. Then, knowing that this wasn’t “normal” I felt even more guilty.

    I’m mostly OK now… mostly. I still have some bad patches, usually corresponding to my daughter being sick [she is ear-infection prone — going for tubes #3 in 2 weeks & just diagnosed with a peanut allergy]. I just weaned off medication in hopes of having #2, but I’m really scared about getting PPD again. I’m hoping that the experience and knowing what to expect will help, but I still have internal struggles with my own confidence. I think I have a lot to give as a mom — hopefully my daughter & [if it comes to pass] her sibling will agree down the line.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Heather

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