In the day or two immediately after birth, I am pretty sure I was in shock, as I’d assume most first-time mothers are after going through the amazing and somewhat horrific experience of expelling a child from her body. I hadn’t been sleeping well due to the uncomfortable end stages of pregnancy, and in those first days after birth, I was just settling into the exhaustion that would be the most prevalent characteristic in my life for the foreseeable future. This was the precursor to my stint with extreme sadness, or possibly postpartum depression.
However, I thought I was doing ok. We were learning to breastfeed and working nonstop on little lady’s latch. I ate like a horse (I mean literally – I ate six eggs for breakfast my first day home). I spent time trying not to freak out when she had a hitch in her breathing. Overall, I felt like things were going fine. I’d been really worried about postpartum depression since I have a prior history of both depression and anxiety. I’d made it through a crazy roller coaster couple of days and seemed to be handling this baby thing alright. My mom left the day after we got home from the hospital and we even had friends over for a couple of hours. They were saints who came to help move the heavy furniture that didn’t arrive until after I’d delivered.
Everyone left, my husband and I sat down, and the little lady started crying. And didn’t stop. After another utterly sleepless night and hours upon hours of dealing with a crying baby, four days postpartum I lost it. And I mean totally lost it. Like stage five meltdown, ugly cry, runny nose lost it – and I didn’t really stop crying for about two weeks.
What have we done?
There were so many hours in those first weeks that I spent holding a crying baby while crying myself. Or nursing a baby while crying from pain and general misery. I was afraid of night time because I knew I wasn’t going to sleep for more than an hour or two at a time. Nursing was so painful at first that in those middle of the night hours all I could think was — What have we done?
All I could see was what was right in front of me, and it felt like my life was over.
Why were we struggling?
I really thought I’d never be able to leave the house again. My little lady had a lip tie clipped at four weeks and was diagnosed with acid reflux by six weeks. Non-stop nursing and an inconsolable child didn’t help my view of the situation. We were a few minutes of crying a day away from a colic diagnosis and I was almost at my wit’s end. If she was awake and there wasn’t a boob in her mouth, she was most likely crying. Since putting said boobs in her mouth was incredibly painful, it was pretty much a no-win situation.
I cried almost all day every day for at least two weeks. My husband was convinced I’d gone off the deep end and told me that I needed to see someone if things didn’t get better stat. I agreed with him but was having trouble stopping the tears long enough to get out of the house, much less get through telling someone what “was wrong.” I couldn’t have defined it myself other than that I felt like life as I knew it was over. I felt like I was useless and failing in my new role as a mother, and I was pretty sure I’d never be happy again. I’m glad to report that although the first part of what I was feeling was true, (life has changed a bit) the second part absolutely wasn’t.
When did it get better?
Luckily for all of us, I calmed down a little bit and by three weeks postpartum was only crying about once a day (maybe twice). At six weeks, we started going for walks in the morning which helped structure my day, and once I wasn’t in pain every time I nursed – which may not have happened until eight weeks – things improved drastically. I don’t remember a lot of that first couple of months since lack of sleep left me in a fog, but I do still remember the feelings of sadness and uselessness that surrounded my first few weeks as a mom.
What I’d tell my postpartum self
Looking back there are so many things that I’d tell my postpartum self. I’d actually heard them all before, but was in no shape to fully absorb the importance of the following mantras. Here are a few of the key things I wish I’d really believed, and should have repeated every hour just to keep myself sane:
- It will get better. (It will also get harder.)
- You will sleep again.
- Accept the help. No, Really. Take it.
- YOU ARE NOT FAILING
This is not the end
It will get better. If there is one thing I wish I’d believed, it’s that it will get better. I really thought that I’d wrecked any semblance of a life that I could enjoy. While my life has DEFINITELY changed, I’m still able to fit in glimpses of the life I used to have. I’ve also gained a whole new life as a family of three that I may love even more. And there’s no question that I love little lady more than any amount of sleep, flexibility, travel, or financial freedom that I had to give up. Although things were hard at first, adjusting to a newborn gets easier, and you gain a whole new life with this other person included.
I’m not going to sugar coat it – it also gets hard again, but only because it’s different. As you move through each phase it’s all new, and you and your family are constantly adjusting to the next step. Each new milestone is a building block in the foundation of parenthood, and the only way to build the house is one brick at a time. Although there have been challenges as we’ve moved into toddlerhood, I’ve felt nothing like the first few weeks postpartum. I may smack the next person that calls it the “baby blues” because, for me, it wasn’t the blues. It was a big black storm cloud with hurricane-force winds that took over my life temporarily, but the good news is, it gets better.
You need to sleep
I think I’ve belabored this enough, but I was so exhausted at first, I didn’t think I’d ever catch up on sleep again. While it took us a little while, we did eventually get to sleep through the night again. If anyone had told me pre-baby that I might not sleep through the night for a year I might have reconsidered this whole kid thing. However, we made it and now I’m even staying up until 11 p.m. on school nights 🙂 In the interim, sleep when you can. Postpartum depression and sadness are only exemplified by lack of sleep. I know it’s a bit of a joke to tell a new mom to rest, but any amount of extra sleep you can get will do wonders for your mental health.
Take the help
I’d read enough articles and blogs to know that I should “accept help” if it was offered or given. And I’m no martyr, I was all about letting someone else hold the baby. Where I got tripped up was with my own insecurities about being able to handle motherhood. My husband was a saint when our daughter was born, and stepped up in a big way. I was so emotionally taxed during that time and knew he wasn’t sleeping either. It was hard for me to accept that he could cook us dinner, clean up the kitchen, AND help change diapers while I was basically a puddle in the corner.
I felt like such a failure since he essentially had to care for himself, the house, the baby AND me during those early weeks. All I could do was try to sleep a little and nurse the baby. As someone who is totally a type A personality, it was SO HARD to have him do everything, even though I really couldn’t do it myself.
I couldn’t fathom that he was still functioning while taking care of all of us. Most of that was the hormones, and if I could go back and do it over, rather than freak over the fact that he was able to cook dinner, unload the dishwasher, AND get the baby to sleep, I’d say “thank you” and then take a longer nap.
You’re killing it
A huge portion of my early days as a mom were spent feeling like a failure. Reflecting back, I think it was a combination of multiple things:
- Those damn hormones
- The responsibility of having someone else fully dependent on me to survive
- Lack of sleep literally makes you crazy
With the weight of the world on your shoulders, it’s normal to not feel fantastic, and I’d love to go back and talk to my one-week postpartum self and remind her that she was killing it. You’re healing from a major life event, hormones are actually rushing out of your body at an astronomical rate, the baby is adjusting to life on the outside, and if both of you are healthy – you’re killing it. There should be absolutely no other expectations in those early weeks and months other than healing and helping your baby grow.
The other side
I don’t remember exactly where the turning point was, but I’d settled into our new routine and life before running out of maternity leave and re-entering the workforce. Although I wish I’d been able to “enjoy the moments” of those very early days, I can’t wish myself back to a time when I was so unhappy.
Although I’m now thrilled to be a mother, entering the sisterhood of moms isn’t easy for all of us, so keep that in mind next time someone you know has a new baby. Offer a kind word (or better yet a meal) and let her know that it will get easier. Through all the challenges and changes, there are people she can turn to for help. Remind her that she’s doing a fantastic job. While it may not feel like it immediately, her new baby is the best thing to ever happen to her.
*Please note that true postpartum depression needs medical treatment and isn’t something you should suffer through on your own. It also won’t just “go away” without help. I believe my feelings of sadness were truly just a form of hormone regulation post delivery, and would definitely have sought medical advice had I not started feeling well again. If you want more information on postpartum depression, check out postpartumdepression.org