Friday, October 26, 2012

The baby blues

Tuesday officially marked my baby's two-month birthday. By the way, her name is Ava.

Ava celebrated this momentous occasion by sleeping through most of the day, only opening her eyes and squeaking or crying when she wanted to be fed (right now she doesn't ask for much). For the first time in eight weeks, I finally -- finally! -- have time to sit down and write something, which I really should have been doing from Day 1, but all other excuses aside, I've been so busy with Ava that I often can't remember what day it is, much less how to even begin recording my thoughts on this whole process online or getting back to writing the book. While time, or the lack thereof, was a factor keeping me from blogging, I have to be honest and say that I was also scared to start writing about it all. Especially that first month of having her. Why? Because it wasn't the idyllic situation that I always envisioned having a baby would be like.

I felt that if I admitted this through words it would make me a bad person (and an equally bad mother). Something like Joan Crawford's character in Mommy Dearest, minus all that wire hanger business. By week 4 or 5, I literally felt like I was going insane. Of course I love Ava to death, but those first few weeks were so foreign to me. It felt like I was tossed into a maelstrom of transition that I wasn't prepared for, what with the sleepless nights, uncomfortable healing "down there," and the stress of hearing a tiny baby emit hours of bloodcurdling cries and an inability to understand what it is they actually want after diapers are changed and tummies are fed.

The frosting on the cake for me was my detachment from the situation. I felt like I wanted to turn in on myself and disappear. Sometimes I felt like she was a stranger when I'd hold her. Other times I felt like she didn't love me because she didn't recognize me as her mother (which is stupid, really, since at that age she couldn't recognize a zucchini, much less her own mother). Often I'd resent her -- for needing so much of me that I had nothing left over for myself. Terrible to say, right? And I feel guilty for even writing it now, although I've since come to grips with most of this. I'd cry for no reason, missing my "old" life even though I was happy to say goodbye to it up until the day we brought her home. I'd be so pissed at J, sometimes even resentful of him, for giving me this new life and being able to leave every day for work while I had to suffer through it alone. I hated how my post-baby body looked and missed the old times where I could actually feel my core and use it for good posture.

Every day was an up/down confluence of emotions, going from extremely sad to (once in a while) very happy. I felt like I was stuck in someone else's life, taking care of this baby that I had no connection with. I was scared that I felt any of this, even though I'd read about it in popular baby books and heard from endless television doctors that this was "normal." Well, it might be considered normal but it didn't feel normal to me. Normal moms were put together and organized, loved their new lives as mothers and got pure satisfaction from their babies. I felt sad and resentful, terribly absent-minded and mentally scattered, like my brain was in a fog. The worst part was that I didn't want to talk to anyone about it. J was the only one who knew what I was going through. I felt guilty for feeling the way I did and that I'd somehow be a failure if I admitted any of it out loud to close friends or family, which made me feel more isolated because I didn't feel I could be honest with anyone, sometimes not even myself. This would just feed into my sadness, which would make me feel even more isolated and...well, you get the cyclical point.

So at my six-week postpartum checkup with my doctor (you know, that awkward office visit where doctors pretend everyone alludes to sex as "intercourse" and they let you know whether you can or can't have it yet), they made me take a written postpartum test. On this test I had to circle answers in multiple choice form and apparently I couldn't hide my sadness enough because my doctor told me I had borderline postpartum depression.

My first thought was: "Great, I'm officially a statistic," because though I'd read about postpartum depression I didn't think I'd actually ever get it. It was one of those scary things you hear about and hope to never experience, like foreclosures or herpes. Other people might get those things, but those type of people serve as cautionary tales. My second thought was "Jesus, if I'm borderline, I cringe to think what full-blown postpartum depression is." After all, I was always a happy-go-lucky girl, easily finding humor in even the worst situations. That girl is still in me, but now I just need to work at maintaining her. My third thought was: "How the hell do I get better?" I didn't like feeling blue all the time.

My doctor's answer was simple. "Prozac," she said, suggesting it like taking Prozac was as common as chewing gum.

"I'd really rather not," I said. After all, she had just said I was borderline, not full-blown, and I refused to believe that medication was the only way to happiness again. At least not in my circumstance. 

"It would only be for a month or two. Three tops. Then you can stop taking it," she said.

I think the look on my face, a look made of two-parts confusion and one-part fear with just a dash of skepticism, said it all. "Okay, but is there anything else I could do besides take pills?" I asked. Visions of me losing my mind and moving to L.A. to be a failed actress with my anti-depressants instantly surfaced, because clearly -- to me, at least -- anything related to pills has to be lifted from the pages of a Jacqueline Susann novel. Yes, my limited knowledge of prescription drugs pretty much centers around Valley of the Dolls.

She asked if I used to work out, and through my haze I did actually find this funny since there's nothing I loathe more than working out, except maybe men who wear athletic sneakers. I told her I used to walk a lot, but this wasn't so much for working out as it was a good excuse to get out of the house and listen to my iShuffle. Nevertheless, it was still some form of physical activity that didn't include getting off and on the couch according to Bravo's TV show lineup.

"You could try walking again," she said, and then went on to tell me how endorphins play a part in us humans being happy. "...But when I see you at our next appointment, let me know how it's going and whether you want to start Prozac," she added (endorphins aside). Jesus, I thought, this lady was really pushing the meds. I thanked her and said I'd think it over between now and our next appointment, but the truth was I wanted no part in Prozac.

So I started walking. Even when Ava cried or acted fussy for hours on end and it probably would have been easier to stay at home in my PJs with her and zone out on some Real Housewives episode, I'd get dressed, pack her up in her stroller and we'd stroll the neighborhood together. She'd fall asleep while I (quietly) rocked out to Lady Gaga and miraculously I started to feel better. Just a little. At about week 6, I decided it was time for her and I to get out into the world more, past the confines of our neighborhood. I know this doesn't seem like much, especially since the old Crystal went out into the world every day, but with a baby, the world kind of feels like a new place. Taking your baby out into it for the first time is terrifying. What if she cries while I'm shopping? I'd think. How or where will I change her diaper if she needs to be changed? What if I can't get the carseat properly put in the car? What if I run of out of bottled milk while we're out and she has a fit? (I'm not one to whip out the boob in public. I just. Can't.)

Slowly we'd go out more, running an errand here and there. I got the hang of snapping her carseat in and out of its base in my car. I grew more sure of myself unpacking and packing her stroller into our trunk. If she'd start to cry in a store, I became more adept at understanding what she'd want. Pretty soon us going out became like second nature to me and the blues I had slowly began to fade.

Then one day she decided to smile for the first time and it was like sunshine peeking through my gray cloudy haze. All of a sudden something connected between us, with that smile of hers, and I couldn't help but smile back. That smile told me that she finally recognized who I was, that all this hard work was paying off. I smiled back at her and it was all over. Since then she smiles almost every time she sees me and in the last week or so she's started babbling and trying her hardest to mimic sounds I make. They're all nonsensical sounds, but it makes me so much happier to feel like we're somewhat communicating with one another. If you had told me this the first couple weeks of her being home I wouldn't have believed it -- how would a smile or babbling make me happy? But it just does. Maybe it's this instinctual thing hardwired into my mother gene. Who knows.

As much as I love the babbles, I also knew I needed to make friends with other moms in my area, which would motivate me to get out even more. So I did. Right now I'm part of two mom groups in my town and while I still routinely have out-of-body experiences when four or five of us walk down a street with our strollers (I never thought I'd be one of those women), it's nice spending time with people who are going through the same thing as me. I don't connect with all of them equally but unlike clubs for books or movies, babies seem like a true commonality you can bond over.

So in the end I am doing better (thank God) and this whole "being a mother" thing seems to get slightly easier every day. I still don't always have the time to eat breakfast or lunch, and there are days I want to bang my head a few times against my brick fireplace because I've been holding her for 4+ hours and I'm tired and hungry and my arm feels like it's going to fall off, yet I can't put her down or else she'll start wailing. But then there are days where I can see what people mean when they say it's "all worth it." Those are usually the days where she'll look up at me with those baby blues and give me a big toothless grin. Just a simple, silent grin. And on those days it feels like my heart smiles.


paisley penguin said...

Ava is a beautiful name. Glad to hear how you are doing and that you were honest about your feelings. I'm sure someone will benefit from reading. Hugs to you!

paisley penguin said...

Ava is a beautiful name. Glad to hear how you are doing and your honesty about your feelings will certainly help others. Hugs to you!

eemusings said...

Ava is such a lovely and classy name!

I'm not a mother, but I love Geek in Heels' blog because she's been so honest about all the aspects of motherhood (including the depression). Recommend if you don't already read her.

CameronPoe2409 said...

Oh wow, I'm so glad that things are starting to get better and that you and Baby Ava (gorgeous name) are getting a social life too. I feel its great that you've written about your experiences. Too often women feel that they can't talk about the hard times they can have after having a child as it seems at odds with such a happy and amazing experience. By writing about how you've felt, you will help other women undergoing similar experiences. xx

Natalina said...

Hey C! Your cute baby Ava looks so sweet! I think it's really brave of you to admit this to yourself and be able to talk about it with others. I'm not a mom yet, but I can understand it must be a hard topic! Just let others be others, this is your life and these are your feelings and experiences. You said yourself you are doing better, and that's because you really want it to work! Be proud of yourself. I work with babies on a daily basis, and even though they can be happy and play with others all they REALLY want is their mother, that's because you are special! :)

Karin said...

This was a wonderful post to read as I am 5 days postpartum and feel like just trying to survive is difficult! Whether dealing with sleeplessness, latching, breastfeeding generally, taking care of our (usually) very spoiled and (always) much-loved dog, navigating who does what and who needs sleep more between my husband and I -- there is always something! Thanks for blogging honestly and letting people know how you were able to deal. I actually love working out, but gave it up for most of pregnancy and I know that will be a big source of happiness for me once I am cleared to do it. Good luck momma!

Crystal said...

Thank you everyone! Ava was always at the top of our list of names, we love how classic it is. After writing this I felt like a load had been lifted; it definitely helped sorting out my feelings through words and just admitting that everything isn't always perfect and that's okay.

@Karin Hang in there. I know it doesn't feel like it now, but it WILL get better. Trust me. :) They say the first is always the hardest.

Finicky Cat said...

Coming late to the party... Gotta say, it all sounds like things are going "normally" - right down to the doc pushing meds! Hang in there. I don't think we're supposed to be dealing with first-time-motherhood in the isolation our culture usually imposes on us; all this trauma (call it what it is, sisters) may be "normal", as I said, but it isn't "natural".

Sorry if I sound preachy - I'm really just mad! 90% of the mothers I know of (including myself) experienced this same thing...and I wonder if the other 10% aren't lying... Why does it have to be so HARD?

As I said elsewhere, I have five children (with another on the way). The first two babies were the hardest - no question - and then it got so much easier. Now I actually look forward to the newborn phase like a honeymoon. But then, my sister has four and she says the fun still doesn't start for her until they can coo and smile!

Have you found any blogs you can relate to? I don't read many, but Calah Alexander at Barefoot & Pregnant just had a baby. And Momastery is always very honest about the emotional ups and downs of motherhood. Grace Patton at Camp Patton and Jennifer Fulwiler at Conversion Diary also come to mind.

Keep it up - it's all worth it, and you're doing a good job!

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