Everyone said you’re never really ready. You have a child when the feeling is there and you have most of the pieces in place or it’ll just happen and you’ll get ready along the way. 9 months is a long time is what I figured. I wanted a child so badly, I had been going through baby fever for 2 years by the time my husband decided he was somewhat ready and open to the idea. Then BAM I was pregnant, to him it seemed amazing and fast and wow! To me it wasn’t, because I had been trying to get him ready and convinced it was time for quite a while. I had been using a period tracker and knew when I was ovulating and even planned a trip so we could really live it up our first time through trying. And this was after one time of not trying but thinking I might be and then being heartbroken I wasn’t. I assumed after that scare we’d have a few months of getting it on and nerves, but turns out for us, unlike many families who struggle; getting pregnant wasn’t so hard. We were very very lucky.
Through my pregnancy I read all the books, I joined the pregnancy forums, I consulted my mother and aunt and mother in law and friends and literally every woman I knew, who had given birth or raised children. I wanted all the details…except about c-sections because I was certain I wouldn’t need one and was terrified of them.
A little background may be needed to explain this, it wasn’t as simple as I was afraid of surgery because generally I am not, I’ve had a few already in my life. But as a kid my mom had taken me to work with her occasionally to her job as a mother child nurse. This wasn’t just take your daughter to work day stuff but times when there was no school and no sitter, and my mother had to work. Her job was to go and see the baby and weigh them and check on the moms healing at the family’s home. Often this was for moms who had c-sections, sometimes for moms who’s c-sections weren’t healing well. This meant dressing changes. My mom, the saint that she is, did her job so well. She calmly walked those mothers through their fourth trimester and helped them heal. She honestly thought I might follow in her footsteps if I saw her working. Well I DID NOT want to be a nurse. In fact I was grossed out and terrified of that happening to me. So when it came to the part of every book about having a baby that addressed C sections I’d just skip it. My mom had 4 natural births and I’m built just like her, so I wouldn’t need to read that part of the book anyway!
Well surprise surprise I ended up with an emergency c-section. After 56 hours of labor, yes 56 hours of scary traumatic ups and downs ending with the professionals saying “hey you could continue this but we don’t think it’s productive you’re only at 4 cm” and my mom saying “honey it’s time, the baby is struggling and in danger and so are you” I accepted my fate and cried my eyes out had a panic attack and they cut that baby right out of my belly. Several days in the hospital later I went home, with my brand new beautiful baby girl, who looked nothing like I expected and half of me was afraid something was wrong, with her and even more so, with me. I was so ready to go home and get the hell out of there, because the hospital was making it harder. I wasn’t sleeping AT ALL. We were in a baby friendly hospital so that meant no nursery, no breaks, the baby stays with you. I was sleeping in 45 minute increments. So my Mom and Ollie and his parents packed us up and off we went home.
But when I got home I realized things that people had told me weren’t holding up. I was told I would be able to breathe through my labor and my body was built for this and I was so terribly sad and angry that I hadn’t been able to. I was told that after you give birth you get this blissful happy high and immediately fall in love with your baby, I never felt that. I was exhausted and in pain and just lost. I was told that you will figure it out as you go, I guess we did but it took quite a while. I had no idea, but I was in the midst of some pretty heavy Postpartum Depression or PPD as I later heard it called. I didn’t know because when people talked about it, even if they’d had it they’d skim over it. Because it’s something shameful to say “no I didn’t immediately fall in love with my baby, no I didn’t feel that amazing blissful feeling after birth.”
But the truth is I didn’t. I looked at her and saw a stranger, someone I didn’t know. She didn’t look how I expected, she was swollen and had jaundice so her skin was golden and I couldn’t see even a little of myself in her. It took months for me to realize something was really wrong; not with her but with me. And it wasn’t just that I was so tired. Because I fucking was, I was exhausted down to my bones. Did I mention that newborns need to feed every 2 hours, which means you get at most 1.5 hours of sleep at a time? Yeah so fun. Add to that she wouldn’t take a bottle, so it was all on me. And my c section hurt so so badly. But I was determined to seem like I had it together, I wanted people to stop coming by so I could just cocoon into myself and hide. That’s what I do when I’m depressed, I hide or I run away and obviously running away wasn’t an option. I wanted to stop seeing my in laws and having them stand around me while I ate. I wanted to have some normalcy. So I pretended everything was okay. I had it HANDLED. Everyone said “Liz you’re such a natural to motherhood!” and I though “Yes yes I am, but this shit is fucked up and why didn’t anyone say so!”.
During this time we started to find our flow, our new normal. That taking turns at night didn’t work for us, that she was only going to breast feed especially at night. That in the morning Ollie would get up early and let me nap until the next feeding and then take her right back out of the room so I could sleep some more since he couldn’t handle the midnight wakings. And it was around this time, she was probably 2 or 3 months old I started falling in love with her. To be clear I had seen her beauty before this. Her swelling went down and skin turned to a pale pink and she was gorgeous and delicate.
But it wasn’t until reading another friends blog about her own PPD I realized what was happening. I needed help. I joined the Y because they have childcare and even if I didn’t work out, at least I’d have some time alone which I desperately needed. I started letting my Aunt Liz or my mother in law, Ling, watch Juni while I went to work for a few hours. That I could get back to being involved in my business and feel more like the old me. And I started seeing a therapist. My PPD showed differently than what I thought PPD was. I thought PPD was just being super sad. I wasn’t sad, I WAS PISSED. I was so so angry that nothing was as I had expected. I had prepared you know! I had done the birth classes and bought the birth ball and done the breathing and tried so so hard and yet I still ended up with a birth that wasn’t what I wanted and left me drained and sad and angry. I had to accept that it was okay that I was mad about that. I also had to tell myself that this goddess myth of perfect motherhood ISN’T FUCKING REAL. That SOME women may find themselves feeling powerful and beautiful, but I didn’t and many don’t. That SOME women feel an insane bliss and some women are going through REAL FUCKING TRAUMA, and that was me. After I started accepting this I started feeling proud, of myself as a mother, of my beautiful child and of what I had gone through.
Now a year later I look at these pictures and think wow I didn’t really enjoy that. I wish I had but maybe the next time because I know how bad it can be, and know what needs to be done to get through it, it will be different. I’m starting to feel the twinges of baby fever as my baby becomes a toddler, one with opinions and tantrums and a sense of humor that I love. I look back and forward with resolve that I won’t get caught up in the goddess myth of perfect motherhood that is exacerbated by Instagram and other social media. And I swear I’ll tell everyone that it’s okay to not immediately fall in love with your baby, that it’s okay to be tired and angry and sad all at once. And that they aren’t alone in feeling this way, that it will get better the more they talk about it and share it and sit with other mothers who have done it and felt it before. If you are feeling this way, talk to someone, I’m here, always.