Before my daughter was born, I assumed that as soon as I held her in my arms for that first magical time, we’d have a Hallmark moment: She would settle down and coo, I would smile like the beatific Earth Mama I’ve always wanted to be, and we would fall in love.
It was supposed to be like meeting someone I had known forever.
See, for 40 weeks and two days, I had cherished the fragile life inside me, thrilling with each nudge, each kick, worrying – always worrying – and imagining the moment when I would hold her in my arms for the first time. But seeing her as she was, purple and slimy and coated in cheese, was a shock to the senses. And, instead of gazing up at me when I held her a few seconds after she was born, my daughter was a writhing squirming, pissed off stranger. I panicked; convinced I’d drop her onto the cold hospital floor. I trusted the nurses to hold her more than I trusted myself, and without my own mom to guide me through the terrifying first few weeks, I was lost.
Every time I changed her clothes, I would tremble, terrified that I’d break her floppy neck, and my husband, B, would say “you’re doing it wrong, you’re doing it wrong. Let me do it.” And self-loathing would rise like bile in my throat.
Growing her for 40 weeks and 2 days made me the incubator, but not her mother.
I had hoped nursing would be the bonding experience that
the Bitches of Breastfeeding La Leche League promised it would be, but it wasn’t. Instead, my milk took too long to come in, M couldn’t latch, and she spent hours yelling at my painfully engorged breasts. Once she was able to latch, we embarked on an era of excruciating agony. Now, I’m no stranger to a little light S & M, but the nipple pain was mind-numbing. It was so bad that every nerve in my body twitched, and I wanted to tear her off of me and feed her formula for the rest of her babyhood. It actually made me miss the halcyon days when she couldn’t latch and would scream at me. But, the pressure was on to breastfeed, so, sucking it up, I stuck it out, and eventually, the pain subsided.
Meanwhile, tweaked out on hormones and adrenaline, I refused to sleep, fervently convinced that the only reason this tiny, fragile creature was alive was because I was there to monitor each breath, keeping her alive through sheer force of will.
And then the colic started. Oh the
asshole colic: Four hours of non-stop screaming each and every night like clockwork starting at 8:00 pm, and culminating in a bout of projectile vomiting, after which she’d finally shut up and go to sleep.
Clearly, it was not love at first sight.
Every time someone asked “don’t you just love her?” I wanted to cry.
Still, while I wasn’t feeling the love, I had a neurotic need to protect her — and her pediatrician can attest to this since we practically lived at his office during her first month. I was anxious all the time, convinced that if I held her wrong, I’d break her, sure that every time she sputtered at my boob she would develop Aspiration Pneumonia, afraid every time I’d wipe her bottom that I would tear her crepe-paper skin. M was so utterly foreign to me, so tiny, so fragile, and so new.
Now, I know some of you Mamas were blessed to experience love-at-first-sight. Do me a favor. Don’t rub it in my face or I will hate you. For-evah.
And then, I spiraled down into a nasty-ass depression that lasted for 3 long months. The cocktail of hormones, sleep deprivation, and sheer New Mama terror was almost deadly, and for a very tense few weeks, I thought about killing myself. I had this fantasy of slitting my wrists – “down the street, not across the road” – and taking a bath in my own blood and freshly squeezed breast milk. The only thing that kept me from doing this was the knowledge that I couldn’t pump enough freeze for my daughter and – God Forbid – she had to have formula. Over my dead body! Oh, wait.
But I was supposed to be happy. And so, each morning I got up and put on a smile that never quite reached my eyes, and I faked a new mama glow the way porn stars fake orgasms.
But when I started weeping midway through my postpartum exam – yes, while my legs were in the stirrups – Dr. B gently brought up the topic of Post Partum Depression.
“No, I’m fiinneeeeeeeeeeeee,” I blubbered, using the corner of the drape covering my Lady Business to furtively wipe the snot dripping from my nose. “I just have a case of the Baby Blues. I’ll be ok if I can just get some sleep”
Um, yeah. Only Tom Cruise would believe I didn’t need meds.
Dr. B smiled gently and explained that sometimes the Baby Blues can be more serious. And when this happens, you need more than a good night’s sleep to make it go away. So, he referred me to a shrink, who referred me to Zoloft, and we all lived happily ever after. The End
Ok, so it wasn’t quite that simple, but things did get better. M started to become more like a baby and less like a chicken. I was too exhausted to wake up every hour to check to see if she was breathing, so I accidentally managed to actually sleep when she slept. And then, either the meds kicked in, or the hormones began to even out, or both, but at last, my feelings started to make more sense.
But then, somewhere in the beginning of my second pregnancy, the goblins came back—niggling, little monsters, clawing and scratching at the outside of my sanity. Hungry little fuckers. And while it would probably have been safe to go back on Zoloft, my thoughts were doing the ‘what if’ dance, so I did the next best thing: I started writing.
And I’m still here.