I never wanted a baby until I did.
Desperately. With basically every fiber of my being, the feeling just came over me one day – borne from a loneliness that I have never experienced before and haven’t experienced again.
I suddenly wanted a baby. From that moment on, I became a sputtering mess over baby names, diaper commercials, and anything and everything baby related.
I (wrongly) thought that a baby was going to fill a piece of me that had always been missing and would bring the ultimate happiness.
I wasn’t expecting to see that positive sign glaring back at me so ominously and so soon. From the minute I saw it, the panic set in.
Now, five years later, I see that my loneliness was actually depression – which had reared its ugly head again for the first time in ages.
And that wave of sheer panic that rushed over me as soon as I saw the “POSITIVE +” on that pregnancy test? Anxiety.
Which I’ve always known I’ve had, but in that moment its grasp tightened on me and pushed me to a new level of anxiety I hadn’t experienced before.
My daughter is now five years old, and she is the light of my life. But I couldn’t always say that – at least not truthfully, anyway. The part of me that thought having a baby would heal me.
It was the ultimate self-deception.
Having a baby did the complete opposite: it brought all of the childhood trauma, depression, abandonment and isolation back again – and then some.
But, looking back now in a strange sort of way, having a baby did heal me.
My postpartum depression forced me to face the demons I had so artfully hidden away for years. After experiencing PPD, I couldn’t ignore the trauma anymore. It all came back with a vengeance.
I should have told someone how I was feeling that day when I saw that pregnancy test flashing back at me. In hindsight, the terror that came over me was the first sign that things just weren’t going to be easy for me. But I had no idea at the time.
Denial and Fear
My pregnancy and labour were as textbook as they come. I was barely nauseous, and found being pregnant much easier physically than I had thought it was going to be.
Mentally, though, I was a mess. I did a good job trying to hide it, for the most part. But that crippling anxiety had a hold on me, and I wasn’t enjoying myself at all. I lived in absolute fear of childbirth.
Not in the “I’m scared to deliver my baby” sort of way, but in the “I should never have done this and I don’t want this baby to come out, EVER” kind of way. I felt scattered and on edge.
I teetered cautiously between total denial and absolute fear, but nothing more – not even a fleeting moment of happiness.
Now I know that how I was feeling wasn’t normal. I had wanted this. Why was I so terrified?
I didn’t dare show excitement, or place a hand on my belly in public. I had dreamed of playing music for my baby, or reading Shakespeare aloud, feeling innately connected and securely bonded, but those moments never came.
I thought maybe if I found out the gender of my baby, it would help me form a better attachment. It didn’t.
Maternal Didn’t Come My Way
I had watched about 1,000 episodes of “A Baby Story.” And, like the many portrayals of pregnancy in the media thrown our way, I wanted those prenatal experiences so badly, and I hated myself for not having them. I wanted to be the mother who knew she wanted 6 kids and who didn’t bat an eyelash. I wanted so badly to feel ‘maternal’.
When my daughter was born in June 2013, my anxiety quickly amplified – and with the sudden crash in my hormones post-birth, I felt lower than I had ever felt before.
As soon as she was born, I felt nothing but relief. There were no tears shed, no Hallmark moments shared between my partner and I and our new baby.
I was just DONE. Even after holding her for the first time, the love didn’t fill me as I expected it to. I felt disconnected and exhausted and like a freakshow on display.
I felt traumatized, not filled with love. Instead of feeling fiercely protective of my baby, I selfishly wanted someone to take care of ME.
After all, I had just gone through hell and back, hadn’t I? The anxiety I experienced throughout my pregnancy made it feel as though I had just fought an epic battle. I was war-torn and weather-beaten, and no one cared. They only cared about the baby.
Home Was No Sanctuary
I felt rushed out of the hospital and came home feeling terrible.
I hadn’t slept. I couldn’t eat. My daughter cried incessantly, and I couldn’t sleep. I struggled to breastfeed. I felt as though it was the only thing I had control over: if only I could just master this breastfeeding thing, I could redeem myself. But I couldn’t make it work.
I sunk into the depths of postpartum depression. And is it any wonder? Looking back now, I see the signs everywhere.
The first year of my daughter’s life is a blur.
I remember nothing. We didn’t get the newborn photos, because I was bleeding profusely from my nether regions and hadn’t slept more than 2 hours in days.
And either had my baby.
We managed to take a few amateur photos when she was one week old, but they are blurred and out of focus – as if they were a mirror of how I was feeling at the time.
I see the perfectly curated newborn photos and the mothers who look so polished and awake, and I feel those familiar pangs of envy.
At 1 week old, my spouse and I were arguing bitterly, I was trying to get a newborn to latch, my milk still hadn’t properly come in, and no one was sleeping.
There were no love drunk moments, no photos of us cuddling our new baby, asleep in our arms.
There were no milestone photos to document that first year. Her baby book still sits untouched.
Five Years Later
Even now, 5 years later, I’ve barely documented her early years. I didn’t take the careful pains to curate her nursery. I didn’t buy the coordinating Mommy / Baby outfits.
I couldn’t even leave the house because I lived in fear that she would need to nurse in public, or that she’d cry and I wouldn’t be able to calm her down.
You see Moms who are just so natural. They make motherhood seem effortless. Not me. I still clumsily fumble as a Mom, not certain I even belong in this ‘hood’ and wondering how I ever imagined I could fit in with these people.
Postpartum depression and anxiety made me feel like a fraud.
I was convinced that I never wanted to repeat those newborn days again. But now that my daughter is 5 and so easy to care for and my window of opportunity is closing, I see myself slowly wading back into the wave pool of pregnancy. Well, not wading.
Maybe standing closer and closer to the edge of the pool.
I desperately want that postpartum experience. I want the maternity photos and the newborn photos and the punch drunk love moments. I want the perfectly curated nursery.
I want the love to fill my chest the moment I see my baby. I want to sit in my rocking chair playing music and reading Shakespeare to my unborn child. I want to savour every moment of that sweet newborn time, instead of dreading it and waiting for it to pass.
I desperately want the postpartum experience I never had.