My most vivid memories from when B (my oldest) was born are not pleasant ones. I remember collapsing on the floor of the shower and sobbing uncontrollably the night we got home from the hospital. I remember trying to sing a lullaby to help her sleep, but I couldn’t remember the words to a single one, and silently crying as I couldn’t understand what was wrong with me. I remember panicking when my husband would leave the house, asking him to text me as soon as he got wherever he was going because I was certain he would be in a terrible car accident. I remember staring at the ceiling at night and worrying about my sister and my parents. Were they alive? Healthy? Safe? What were they doing right now? Would it be inappropriate to text them at 2am to check on them?
I remember that I was completely and utterly exhausted, but I was afraid to go to asleep, because every time I did, I had horrible, colorful, terrifying nightmares.
I held it together outwardly, but what Don and I saw at home scared us both. Even as the anxiety slowly subsided around the time I went back to work after six months, the tears and the sadness stayed. I didn’t just cry, but sobbed every single night, as soon as I put B to sleep and the door clicked shut. I felt like everything was happening way too quickly, and that I couldn’t enjoy or remember or relish anything the way I wanted to. I bawled every single day on the way home from work. As soon as I got in my car, the tears would come, for no real reason at all. I loved my job, and I wanted to keep working. Why did it make me so sad? It made no sense. And I distinctly remember closing the door on the last guest of B’s first birthday party and sliding to the floor with my back against it, weeping uncontrollably. She was ONE. Where had the year gone? Why did it all feel like it was happening too fast for me? Even that day, the party felt like it was over so quickly that I wasn’t even sure I had actually been there at all.
I am so glad I took a million photos and videos so that I can remember that I was, indeed, extremely happy…much of the time. I would just get incredibly sad and overwhelmed, too, multiple times a day, for eighteen full months. I was so beyond grateful for my daughter, my husband, my family and friends and job…TOO grateful, in a way. I felt like I didn’t deserve all the joy…so many days felt unreal…and I kept waiting for it to be snatched away.
I had similar feelings when I first came home from the hospital last month with R. Everything was too perfect. How did I get here? Why did I deserve these three beautiful children and an amazing husband? It had to end…when would that be? I would cry every time I looked at my big girls…W’s hand suddenly looked HUGE in mine…how had they grown so fast? I was ashamed because they wanted to know why I was so sad and why I cried all the time, when I was supposed to be happy because we had a new baby. I couldn’t answer them; how do you explain to a preschooler that you need to slow time down?
I would cry when I tried to remember the magic of R’s pregnancy and birth story…it had been so wonderful; how could it already be over? I would see photos of my beautiful neighbor finishing her senior year of high school, and they literally took my breath away. I felt like I would blink and we would be doing the same rituals for R. The fear of time going too fast gripped me and stole the present away even as I held an infant in my arms. I remember crying while on the phone with my dad as he said, “It’s hard, isn’t it? Doing this again?” It was hard, of course. Birth and recovery ARE hard. But that wasn’t it. That wasn’t why I couldn’t seem to pull myself together. It was something deeper, a feeling almost visceral, and entirely out of my control.
After three kids, it’s fascinating to me how different my postnatal experience has been every time. With B, I suffered quietly from a significant postpartum depression that lasted for 18 months…ironically, until I got pregnant with W. With W, it was the opposite. Our first weeks at home were one of the happiest and most peaceful times of my life. And with R, that same deep, uncontrollable sadness returned in spurts on and off for ten days or so, but it didn’t grow roots. It was a classic case of the “baby blues”, I guess. Two weeks or so later and the fog has mostly lifted.
In an oddly meta-way, I am so very thankful to be not QUITE so very thankful.
Postpartum feelings are something else, aren’t they? I’d love to hear your stories, too.