This could have been my theme song, Fergie’s version, that first year with Caitlin. I sang it daily, to myself, when things got bad. It was both a reminder to suck it up, and an apology to my daughter, that it really had nothing to do with her. They say that hindsight is 20/20. No kidding. It has taken some 4 years to come to terms with the fact that I was both too stubborn and too scared to admit, that I had postpartum depression. So I’m going to do it now. On this blog, that thankfully is a place of comfort.
What spurred this confession? It will surprise you. It was an episode of The Real Housewives of Orange County. A new wife named Peggy Tanous. She is being honest and admitting first and foremost that she has been dealing with postpartum depression for three and a half years. In what is usually a very light hearted and fun, albeit guilty pleasure of a show, I found myself grounded and relieved. Tanous was very honest and real when she said that it doesn’t matter what you have or what you look like. It can happen to anyone. She’s right. It happened to me. I just couldn’t bring myself to admit it. I haven’t had the courage.
My love for Caitlin was instant and fierce. I was worried those last few days before I went into labor. Her birth changed everything. I wanted to do everything for her. I wanted nothing less than perfection for her. I wanted to be the best mother this world had ever seen. I had read the books. I had the nursery decorated. There were clouds on the ceiling for cripes sake. I would have never imagined my world would turn upside down.
My first year of motherhood was marred by the feeling of failure and despair. I felt incompetent and inept. I was tired and fat. I hated my body and its inability to provide the basic necessities needed. I was scared and debilitated by the fear that admitting to anyone that I wasn’t happy made me a horrible mother. Motherhood was not the best thing that had ever happened to me, and I felt like a really horrible person. I was so confused and angry. How did I get here? Why was this, this natural occurrence, so damn hard?
Three weeks into new motherhood with Caitlin, reality set in and I realized that this was my new job. With that realization was the conclusion that I frankly sucked at it. I’m a super type "A" personality. I was goal oriented, confident, a real go getter. How could I not be a perfect and fantastic mother? It was supposed to be natural right? It’s what nature intended. That’s why I was a woman and not a man? Well it wasn’t happening. I was upset and hormonal, and truly felt it was my entire fault.
I think it started with breastfeeding.
I’m going to put this disclaimer in that if you CAN and DO breastfeed, then that’s a wonderful thing and I’m happy for you. I however am not a fan, and do not believe it’s the only way. It has taken me years to say this and really believe it.
When I was pregnant everyone, and I mean ladies in the grocery store, were grilling me about and preaching to me the benefits of the boob. I would always answer the same “If I can”, to which they would answer, “Of course you can its easy and natural”. So I went into it full speed ahead thinking that it would be as easy and as natural as breathing. I was sorely disappointed. Caitlin never latched, and it wasn’t without practice and commitment. I tried and tried and eventually fed her using an SNS system and supplementing with formula which absolutely crushed me and John.
It was in all honesty, my first epic failure as a mother. Why couldn’t I do this? Why couldn’t I provide for my baby? Why did my boobs fail me? Two long weeks in and a full 24 hours of crying and zero sleep, we made what I refer to as our forfeit bottle, and started using formula.
It didn’t end there. On the advice of friends, and as a concession to the failure of actually breastfeeding, I started pumping. This was most likely the worst thing I could have done since it not only reminded me every 4 hours that I couldn’t actually breast feed, but it made me feel like a cow. The pump became my mortal enemy. I was convinced it was pumping every ounce of self worth I had. I hated it and hated to pump. My pumping sessions were awful, and for the time and energy spent at the pump, my measly 4, yes 4, ounces did nothing to make me feel any better.
I’m sure it didn’t help that my darling daughter never slept. I say this and most people don’t really believe me, but she never slept. She still doesn’t. She is 4 sleeps roughly 10 hours a night with no naps. Her first year was a vicious cycle of sleeping and not. A typical day went like this: up 3am; sleep 7am; up 11am; sleep 3pm; up 6pm; sleep 11pm; up 3am; and so on. I was a zombie and a hot mess. It killed me that no matter what we tried it didn’t work. I bought sleep book after sleep book and even tried to Ferberize. She still would not sleep. Again, I was convinced that it was something I did. It was something that my feeble mind couldn’t figure out. Again, an epic fail.
It didn’t help that my new job of being a stay at home mom was a total and complete disaster. I was home all day, so why were there dishes in the sink? Why was there never dinner on the table? Why was I never showered and dressed? This too was in my mind, and epic failure. Even more so I felt I was not only was I failing at motherhood, but now I was failing as a wife. At what point was my husband going to ask for the person formerly known as Megan to come back? This was my job, and it was the first one that no matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t seem to get it right. My hard work and determination were not paying off. It was just making me sink further.
As the weeks passed and the sleep depleted and the breast milk disappeared, I retreated. I stopped calling my other mom friends. It became harder and harder to talk to them. Their babies were sleeping through the night. Their boobs were working. They just loved late night feedings and cuddling with their lovely newborns. I was convinced that Caitlin was the devil sent to destroy. Why were they successful and happy? I was like them. We were friends, we liked the same things, so why was I the one who wanted to run away from home and they just wanted to be at home?
It was heartbreaking and maddening at the same time. I had wanted to be a mom, I had hoped and prayed for it. Now that I had it, I was drowning. I was living, but not really. The first 4 months of Caitlin’s life are a blur, and it makes me cry just thinking about it. I was so angry and sad that I missed those joyous moments you read about. You know the ones where you stare into each other’s eyes and your heart is about to burst. When I looked in Caitlin’s eyes I would apologize to her for having such a crappy mom. I actually whispered to her once “I’m so sorry, you deserve so much better”. I’ve never told anyone that. It’s hard, even now, for me to realize that I truly meant it.
So how did I get from there to here? There were a few things. That first Christmas John asked me what I wanted. I’m sure he was thinking Coach Bag or diamonds. I said that I wanted to put the pump away for good. It was one of the best Christmas presents I ever got; only second to a Victorian doll house I got on my 5th Christmas.
A real breakthrough came from an actual mommy confession. I thank God every day for this mom and her truth and faith. After a really horrible night, my friend Krysten called me. We exchanged the usual pleasantries and she could tell by my voice I was having issues. She simply said “It’s ok to hate it”. With that I was transformed. The revelation that I could love my baby but hate motherhood. It was like finding a pot of gold. She saved me with that statement. I had a new sense of motherhood after that conversation. It was my gateway to a fresh start.
This is by no means a cautionary tale. I can’t provide you with a list of warning signs. The thing about PPD is that it manifests in different ways. There isn’t one true blue warning sign, save for actually wanting to hurt your child. I think that’s what is so confusing and frustrating. Sadly, it’s also really taboo. No one wants to talk about it until they are out of the woods. I found I could only admit it to myself a year later. In conversations with some of my closest friends they too admitted that they had wrestled with bringing up PPD. They were afraid they would hurt my feelings, or offend me. They were worried such an accusation would really send me over the ledge. I agree, at that time, I would have really been offended. Why? I still don’t know.
Somehow I found my way. A new way. Without books and advice, but with my gut. I began a new journey. I could laugh at myself and enjoy a child that was challenging but beautiful. Who really did bring me great joy, and give me new life. Caitlin really changed me and I was grateful for that change. Even better, I was finally in a place to appreciate it.
Perfection became a dirty word. It’s no longer something I strive to be. Sure you can shoot for it, but I find it’s truly a letdown. Happiness is much better and more realistic. Now I strive for happiness. Happiness is a blessing, it’s less stressful, and more rewarding.
I’m glad I was ready for the battle the second time around. I was worried that I would fall back into a dark place after Mackenzie was born. It turned out that experience won out this time. I was more prepared and only freaked about a few things. I didn’t breastfeed in case you’re wondering.
If I would have gone back to the dark place, if the old feelings would have returned, I would have asked for help. I would have been braver this time and admitted that I did in fact have PPD and it was OK. When I think about Peggy Tanous I think about her bravery and her honesty. I wish I could have been that brave. I know I can be that brave now.
From the edges of motherhood I survived. I love my girls with every thread of my body. I survived the horrors of early motherhood, and then got the chance to do it again. I love Caitlin and the survival story we share. Like war vets, we have a few scars from that year, but we are here. I love that Caitlin is a true example of unconditional love, and no matter how much I struggled that first year, we still have love.
I love Mackenzie for the gift she gave me. Mackenzie was my second chance to live the joys of motherhood. An opportunity to understand the joys and the blessings of motherhood. She was my chance to look into my newborns eyes and see true love. The chance to have my heart burst and my smile shine. To feel like the mother I was always supposed to be. A good one.
I have my days. As we know, motherhood is challenging, but it’s my life. I would not, could not have it any other way.