After the birth of my daughter, I felt shattered, and everything felt hard. I had expected some hardship—physical pain, exhaustion, the “baby blues.” What I didn’t expect was the dread that settled over me when I was finally alone with my daughter.
I didn’t expect how small, and how desperate, my voice would sound when I picked up the phone to ask the nurses for help. And I didn’t expect the strange thoughts that came during that long first night, as I lay awake in the bright room cradling my new baby.
The hospital’s security procedures—my ID bracelet and a matching, tiny one for my daughter—filled me with fear. The uniformed guards in the hallway seemed ominous. I wouldn’t let the hospital post our birth announcement online, because I was scared that someone was going to come and find me. And do what? I didn’t know. I only knew I wanted to stay hidden from everyone. But I couldn’t hide forever.
I came home from the hospital and into the care of my husband and my mother, who had flown across the country to be near me. My husband came home from work at lunch every day to check on me. My mother went grocery shopping and refilled my water bottle when I nursed. They took care of me.
I did what they told me to do, ate the food that was put in front of me, slept when the baby wasn’t crying. Most of the time I sat, with the baby in my lap, and stared dully at the snow blowing noiselessly past the window.
Here she was—the child I had thought I would be so happy to greet. Where was the joy? Where had my love for her gone? Six weeks later, I went to see my doctor. After an exam, she asked me about postpartum depression (PPD).
Was I feeling anxious? No, just numb, with a vague sense of dread. Did I look forward to things? I looked forward to sleeping and eating—which ruled out the next question, since I had no trouble doing either when I got the chance.
Did I cry uncontrollably? Well, there was that one day when I accidentally hit the baby’s head against the changing table, and wept for hours. But it was just that one day. Did I think about harming myself or my baby? No, but I was sure I would rather let someone else look after her.
But I didn’t say those things. I answered “no” to every question. So I walked away, not with a diagnosis of PPD or postpartum anxiety, but with a prescription for birth control pills, which I immediately stuffed into my bag and forgot. I wrongly imagined that whatever was wrong with me was something to be endured, not cured. So endure it I did.
My story is not a model for anyone to follow. I am one of the lucky ones. I should have spoken up; I should have said, loudly, “I need help. I am not OK.” But I didn’t. I just kept going, doggedly, because I didn’t know what else to do.
I kissed my daughter on the forehead and told her that I loved her, even though I was not sure that I did. I talked to her, sang to her, held her close and tried to show her the love I knew she deserved.
And as she grew older and I kept putting one foot in front of the other, my heart started to open up, cautiously, bit by bit. And then one day, when she was two years old, she said, “I love you, Mama,” and my heart exploded into tiny little pieces.
Suddenly I knew that I didn’t have any more doubt; that I was not faking it, that I had really made it. That I was a mom, and not just someone trying desperately to act like one—which was how I had felt for the first two years of her life.
My daughter is now five, and it still doesn’t feel easy, or natural, much of the time. Yet the thing that threw me so completely off-balance is the same thing that brought me back to myself: This tiny, maddening, wonderful miracle that I helped create.
I wish I had known sooner that the chasm between me and the rest of the world wasn’t real. But these days, I’m just grateful that I made it to the other side, and found the love that was waiting here for me all along.