I just had a baby. So why wasn't I happy?
When I had my son, I was overwhelmed, to say the least. The lack of sleep, the constant caring for a newborn, the willy-nilly. It all floored me. About a month after my son was born, a dear friend from high school came to visit.
I remember her seemingly carefree way with my son—she was so comfortable picking up this tiny creature with his wobbly head. She even propped him up under his arms and moved his teeny upright frame so he was "walking" on the floor, which I can remember panicking about at the time. (What if he's uncomfortable? What if he doesn't like "walking?") Her son was 6 years old, so she had been-there-and-done-that—and you could tell.
At the time, I wasn't sure I would ever get to that place. I felt so out of sorts and unsure of what to do. But I wasn't really expressing that to anyone. I knew that I was supposed to be so happy I had a healthy baby and in love with his tiny fingers and toes and excited to be a mom. People would say to me, "Aren't you just so in love?" And, honestly, I wasn't sure. Of course, I loved my son, but when I looked at him I didn't feel a rush of emotion. I just felt overwhelmed.
It never crossed my mind that I might have a form of "baby blues" or postpartum depression (PPD). As an editor at Fit Pregnancy, I associated PPD with its extreme symptoms of anxiety attacks, upsetting thoughts and fear that you may hurt yourself or your baby. I never experienced that. But other symptoms include sleep problems (I wasn't sleeping, but I chalked that up to nursing) and questioning your ability to be a mother—which I did on a daily basis. I also remember feeling very ambivalent about my favorite time of year: the holiday season. My son was born in November, so soon after it was Thanksgiving and then Christmas—and I could have cared less.
About two months in, I do remember sitting on the couch with my husband and telling him I didn't think I was such a great mom and I was worried that I was feeing that way. He insisted that I was a terrific mom and suggested I call a therapist to talk things out. Maybe it would help put things in perspective, he said. I did find the time between diaper changes to contact someone, but I never followed up on the call. I just kept plugging through and thought, "People become new moms everyday. I'm sure it will suss itself out eventually."
Eventually, it did. But looking back, it probably would have helped to express how I was feeling more often or to ask my son's pediatrician or my doctor for a referral to a therapist. Or to simply listen to the supportive voices around me. In fact, I found a hand written note left by my friend after her visit. It said, "I know you've said that you've struggled a little with mothering, but I want you to know that you're doing a really fantastic job. More will come with time—more confidence, more knowing exactly what to do and more sleep." I know I read the note, but it didn't really register then. But it was comforting to know that there was a mom out there (a really good mom, to boot) who believed in me even when I didn't believe in myself.