Monday, May 4, 2015

What Child is This?

"Someone take care of this baby so I can go home to my son."

I can still remember the sickening feeling in my gut when the nurse quietly rapped on my door in the dead of night. Instead of getting the sleep everyone kept telling me I needed, I was silently suffering in my hospital bed. I curled myself around my still-swollen belly, kneading the thoughts in my mind like dough. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw the face of my toddler and I missed him so terribly. When I opened my eyes, I felt crushed by the quiet of that delivery room and the solitude only added to my anxiety.  My arms were empty and ached to hold my boy. I wanted to feel his warmth pressed against my chest, let him tuck his head into the space under my chin.

I felt cold, lonely, and vacant. I wanted nothing more than to pack my hospital bag and make a break for it.

It was the craziest thing, you guys.

I didn't love my baby.

Everything had gone perfectly according to plan. I had taken profile photos of my growing belly, decorated a nursery and bought a brand new crib. To be fair, the only reason #2 got a new crib was because the one we used for our first got recalled because apparently it had been blamed for a few infant deaths. So we returned that death trap that our first baby had slept in for the last 22 months and got New Baby a sweet new one.

I had learned lessons from becoming a mama the first time that I knew would serve me well the second time around:
  • Get the epidural as soon as possible
  • Start popping stool softeners like Tic-Tacs until that first horrifying bathroom encounter is over
  • Raid the hospital bathroom and smuggle all the mesh panties and ice-pack maxi pads you can into your suitcase
  • Buy industrial sized containers of Tucks and Preparation H
  • When labor is difficult and the doctor suggests placing a commode on top of your hospital bed and having you squat over it and try to push the baby out like the most terrifying bout of constipation of your life, go ahead and pass on that.
  • The contractions that the uterus puts out while it's trying to put itself back to normal are almost as painful as labor contractions. Why does nobody tell you this until you've already turned down the pain killers? Take the drugs, honey.

I even went into labor on my own this time. Less than 5 hours from start to finish. When it was time to push, I looked at the clock and told my nurse that we had 45 minutes to get this baby out before midnight because I didn't want my baby's birthday to be September 11th. He was born at 11:56 pm. The cord was wrapped around his neck, but my doc got him squared away and put him on my chest. I looked at him, my second son, and the first thought to cross my mind:

Good God. He looks just like my father-in-law.

(Forgive the chins, everyone. Unlike certain British royalty who shall not be named, I cannot look like a cover model right after giving birth.)

Once I had moved beyond the realization that I had just birthed the miniature version of my husband's father, I handed him over to be cleaned and weighed and measured. The nurses checked him out while my doc continued to hang out in my nether regions. At one point I heard her chattering something only to hear a ginormous SPLOOSH, followed closely by a "Whoops." 

Can I just go on record here and say that a Sploosh followed by a Whoops is not exactly the ideal sequence of events you want to experience when you are laying spread-eagle on your back? Makes for great blog material though.

While someone was sent to handle the clean-up on aisle two, I gazed over at my newborn as the nurses took care of him. My husband snapped photos and my little one was wrapped and handed back to me. We smiled for photos together, he and I. But something didn't feel right. I had done this before and knew what I should be experiencing right now, but it wasn't there. That attachment, that bond that a mother is supposed to feel for her child just wasn't there. I felt like an actress, smiling and sharing photos of our new bundle of joy on Facebook, but not feeling that authentic connection with him at all.

Since it was the middle of the night, my husband went home to get a decent night's sleep before returning in the morning to bring our oldest to meet his new baby brother. I was left alone and as the time passed, I became more and more convinced I was having some kind of psychotic break or something. Every time I had to nurse, my resentment of that child grew stronger and the detachment more pronounced.

Then that gentle knock. The nurse padded in, pushing a wheeled bassinet holding the hungry newborn. She went about her duties, pressing on my belly while I stared off into space. If she asked me any questions, I don't really remember them. She updated me on how long the baby had slept and encouraged me to try a different hold when nursing this time. Gently, she gathered him up and handed him to me and I took him with numb hands. Smiling softly, she left me alone with him.

I propped myself up in bed, adjusted my gown, and put him to my breast. The second he latched on, my insides came bubbling out in a torrent I couldn’t control. My mind swirled and I thought I might vomit or pass out. Instead, I just sobbed. My whole body shook and heaved as I looked down at the stranger laying in my lap.

After some time, when I had endured as long as I could, I pushed the call button and the nurse returned. Her smile quickly vanished when she got a look at my face in the dim light.

"What's wrong?" she asked.

How do you vocalize feelings like this? What words could even communicate the complicated emotions I was feeling when I didn't even know how to define them? The horrible truth came stuttering out of my mouth before I could even consider the ramifications of what I was saying.

"I just….I need….someone take care of this baby so I can go home to my son."

Acknowledging that, saying the words and giving those feelings life only made me feel worse and I broke down into a blubbering mess right there in front of my nurse. The tears fell freely and landed hot on his little face as I cradled him in my arms.

What was wrong with me? I didn't even feel like he was part of me.

Thankfully, I'm apparently not the only new mother who has lost her mind in that postpartum haze and my nurse was so gracious and patient with me. She handed me Kleenex when the amount of snot pouring out of my nose started to reach dangerous levels. She listened as I babbled on and on about how I must be crazy and how I didn't know why or how, but that it was scaring me how much I just did not love my baby.

I did survive that hospital stay and we brought our son home a day or so later. We kept a close eye on me for postpartum depression because I struggled with these feelings of detachment from him for quite some time. We made sure to communicate openly with my doctor about how I was feeling.

After a few days, the clouds began to part a little.
After a few weeks, though I was exhausted and spread thin, my heart had really started to warm to that little person who was demanding to be fed every hour and a half.

Five years later, I still have a hard time connecting with Micah sometimes and that kid often says and does things that make absolutely no sense to me and I wonder if that postpartum struggle never really got better after all. I mean, the other day I asked him if he needed to go potty. He said no and then proceeded to crap his pants about two minutes later while he sat right next to me. All I could do was execute a face-palm maneuver, clean it up, and hug that kid. And Febreeze the heck out of the couch cushion, of course.

I love him so much it hurts sometimes. And he still looks EXACTLY like his grandpa.

It didn't get better overnight, but it did get better. I don't know why I went through what I did when he was born because I didn't experience anything like it with either of his brothers, but it did serve as a good reminder to me that I really have to take this whole parenting thing one day at a time and that those haunting feelings of guilt, shame and fear can take root even on that very first day.

All I know is that we mothers wrestle with the feelings that we are doing something wrong every time we take a breath. There is so much at stake. This job, this calling to be a mother, is beyond what we are capable of on our own. Where our kids are concerned, we are simultaneously at our strongest and also at our most vulnerable. We desperately need a power beyond our own, the support of those who have an unlimited supply of grace and encouragement, and a sense of humor to be able to look back on it all and laugh a little in the midst of pain.

And if we're lucky, we will make it through all those seasons of sleep-deprivation and tears and come out on the other side to a new season of new challenges, new joys, and a new set of reasons to thank the Lord that he has entrusted us with this incredible and overwhelming gift of these crazy kids. We may even find a few more like us to join arms with, drink glasses of wine after bedtime, and cry together over spilled breast milk.

Let's encourage one another this Mother's Day. Whether we have been moms for fifty years, five years, or five minutes. If our babies are here in our arms or waiting for us in Heaven. If we are moms whose bodies have labored through delivery or have labored over paperwork and background checks. Nobody's journey of motherhood looks the same, no right or wrong way to get there. We are in this together, united through our imperfections and collective awesomeness. 

I'm certainly not saying that postpartum depression heals on its own with time or that postpartum mental issues are something to laugh about. Certainly that is not the case. If you or someone you know has struggled with this, you know all too well how devastating it can be. I don't claim to be an expert on it by any means and I would encourage you to be honest and talk to a trusted medical professional if you are afraid you may harm yourself or your baby. For more information on postpartum depression and other postpartum mental health issues, there are lots of resources online as a good place to start. Try March of Dimes, Postpartum Support International, or Postpartum Progress.

P.S. Upon further review, I guess kidnapping someone else's baby would definitely be a WRONG way to get to motherhood. I would advise against that. 

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