Mom-Guilt and Post-Partum Depression
Our 20-week Anatomy Scan brought on so many concerns and questions. It instilled fear and anguish, but it also jump-started my “mom-guilt”. As my mom-guilt festered, it grew and made my anxiety almost unbearable. To this day, it still does at times. I just seem to have a better handle on it (thank you, therapy).
As a new mom, you often hear how you need to take time for yourself. You need to make sure you find time to shower and nap and feed yourself. Let’s not kid ourselves though. Whether it is your first or your fifth, having a child is a HUGE adjustment. Finding time to do anything other than be a human Dennys (open 24 hours) is exhausting. It is draining physically and mentally too. If you’re not careful, postpartum depression will sneak up on you and make a home in your mind. Well, you can be extra super careful and it can still settle in your mind.
I truly believed that after a few weeks into the NICU, we would develop some sort of routine. I thought it would be easier over time. As I’ve mentioned before, the NICU is a very overwhelming place for a new mom. Between the lights and alarms, it is overstimulation central. We managed to develop some form of a system once I returned to work. It involved waking up at 4 am to go see Mark in the NICU, driving to work, work for 8 hours, go home and let our dog out, get back in the truck and drive to the hospital after work to see Mark until about 9 pm. We’d do it all again the next day, and the day after that.
This became our usual. This was our normal. At work, I was functioning at the bare minimum. I was waking up all throughout the night to pump so I could bring fresh milk to the NICU for Mark. It felt like the ever-so-elusive Sandman had evaded me night after night. I wasn’t able to spend the time I needed to with my son, and I wasn’t able to keep up his milk demands. I found myself calling the NICU for updates often, and pumping every chance I could at work. Work kept my mind busy for what only felt like a moment.
Leaving the hospital without Mark almost killed me. I don’t mean that figuratively. My heart was living outside of my body and it was inside of a box miles and miles away. The anxiety from that alone probably had my blood pressure back at a hypertensive crisis level again. Leaving the hospital to go home for the first time without Mark had me in tears. I remember getting into my car at about 6:00pm and the sun was setting. It was bright, it was beautiful… but my eyes were so sensitive that I closed them. It was the first time in over a week that I was outside. It was the first time in over a week that I felt the sun’s rays kiss my skin. It was the first sunset I got to see since becoming a mom and my son wasn’t with me to enjoy it. Instead, he was in his incubator fighting for his life (you can read a brief overview of our NICU adventure here– more on that coming soon).
When Mark finally came home from the hospital, it was a very cold and windy January morning. It was the first time he got to smell fresh, non-hospital air (although Downtown Jacksonville air isn’t much better). He got to feel the sun’s rays on his skin, the cool breeze brought his first instance of goose bumps, and the world was that much bigger for him. I honestly thought this was going to be a walk in the park. We spent the last month of our NICU stay living in the hospital with him. We had the fortified formula conversions down, multivitamins and dosages down to a T, and could change his diaper in under 5 seconds. We knew the 3 hour schedule and had it synced with the 2 hour pumps. We were prepped for reflux and the 11 pm feeds. We were ready… or so we thought.
I thought my mom-guilt was bad in the hospital. I thought I was at my lowest before we came home. Well, I am here to tell you that was certainly not the case. The first few days at home were a dream, an absolute dream. I had my baby boy, in my arms, on our couch. We would snuggle up together in bed. I got to pick him up and cuddle him without any wires or leads. I could dress him however I wanted, whenever I wanted. The family came by and got to hold him for the first time ever. The first few days at home were remarkable. I was on cloud nine.
Eventually, that “new baby” celebration fades. Not so much for the parents, but for the family and friends. People stop coming around. Partners or spouses return to work. Sooner or later, you’re left with the baby and you’re doing everything alone. The great thing about this is that it definitely jump starts that transition from “person who just had/ cares for a baby” to a mom, a super mom at that (and dads/ super dad if any dads are reading this). It gets lonely after a while. You begin doubting yourself and your ability to care for your child. You start questioning if you’re able to handle this responsibility and wonder if you’re doing all of it “right”.
My conversations were limited to Travis, Mark, and Barron (our dog). To say it got lonely was an understatement. I found myself trapped in my head a lot, questioning myself. I questioned my worth. I hated my body. I felt unworthy of being a mom. I completely forgot how to talk to other adults. As sad as that is to admit, it is true. Prior to having Mark, I had been told I was charming and pleasant to converse with. Now I am lucky to get through a conversation without mentioning Mark, Baby Shark, or Mickey Mouse Clubhouse (don’t you wish Toodles had a duct tape Mousekatool that covered your mouth when you mentioned Mickey Mouse or Baby Shark? No? Just me? Okay.).
After a while, we were able to settle into a routine. Mark would have meals at the same time every day. He would take two naps a day and I would nap during one nap while washing bottles or clothes during his other nap. I would take him to his therapy appointments and we’d come home and work on what we learned in therapy. It was the same day in and day out. On occasion, we would venture out during the non-Flu-and-RSV season. It was safe. It was what we knew. It was our routine and we felt safe in our routine.
My routine didn’t allow for much “me time”. From son up to son down (see what I did there?), I was working, moving, or just go-go-go. My friends continued on with their lives, as they should. My friends who had children had schedules of their own and it never really synced up with ours. Of course, our therapy schedule was always the priority. Mark’s health and wellbeing came before any outing or social event or play date and we had two to three appointments a week in therapy alone.
Like many women and mothers before me, I found myself on the back burner. I began living in my head and isolating myself from others. I found myself dealing with insomnia and complete and total exhaustion. I struggled to ask for help because I didn’t want to seem ungrateful. I was a stay-at-home mom and raising my son. This was the life I have always dreamed of. In those moments when I was sick, and I felt like I couldn’t get out of bed, I managed to do it anyhow. I was afraid asking for help or “coverage” could be misconstrued as “pawning my kid off” on someone, or placing a “burden” on them. This was certainly not the case, but in my mind it was.
My advice for any new moms, whether it is your first or fifth, is to please make time for yourself. If you have to ask for help to have a little me time, do it. Do not be afraid to ask for help. You are not ungrateful. You are not pawning your child(ren) off on others. You are working so incredibly hard and I see you. I see you busting your butt off from the moment that baby is up to the moment that baby falls asleep. It gets lonely. It can be very stressful. Make time for yourself, as best as you can. Find another mom friend and talk to them about what is happening. I’ve reconnected with some incredible ladies from my past simply because we are moms and our kids are around the same age. They have become my rock in so many ways. You are worthy of being a mom (or dad). You are the best parent for your child.
If you feel you may be suffering from Post Partum Depression or Post Partum Anxiety, I encourage you to talk to your doctor as soon as possible. There is nothing lonelier than feeling trapped in your head, and feeling like you don’t deserve the title “Mom” or “Dad”. You are not alone in this. Not even for a moment.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Veterans Crisis Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741