Eighteen years ago, when I gave birth to my son, I was a wreck; depressed and racked with guilt over it. I learned later I wasn’t alone. Many mothers felt the same way when their kids were born, only they kept it quiet. Today, thank God, the silence is broken and women can admit just how imperfect their mommy-ness feels at times.
Back in the old days, however, it was odd for a woman to confess that she didn’t feel a strong traditional pull to be a mother. We’re talking way back — before cell phones, before the Internet, before Facebook, even before reality television shows!
For my husband and me, circumstances beyond our control forced us to consider life without children. Having the choice taken away from us because of my chronic illness was depressing and we had to work to accept it. Just as I was wrapping my brain around being childless, the disease went into remission, and my doctors gave us a green light. When I got pregnant easily it felt like a miracle.
Fast forward to the day after my son’s delivery, which, through no desire of mine, was experienced without the joy of drugs. He was perfect. A healthy, big seven pound, eleven ounce baby boy. My husband sat on the edge of my bed, held his son in his arms.
“I love you,” he whispered to the baby, “I love you.”
I couldn’t relate. I didn’t love my son. It was weird. All I felt was exhaustion and anger for what he put me through. Where was that maternal instinct? Was there a delay switch? Did it come with the breast milk which they said would be ‘letting down’ in a few days?
Here’s the really bad part: I hated breast feeding. Hated it. Hate-ed-it! Those pictures of serene madonnas content and complacent, giving their infants the milk of life, lied. Breast feeding was painful! Whenever my son ‘latched on’ it was like a vacuum was sucking the very soul out of me. There you have it. I didn’t love my son and I dreaded feeding him. Bad mommy!
Today I know what I had was a typical case of postpartum blues or baby blues, a much misunderstood condition often confused with postpartum depression. Over 50% of new mothers experience lowered mood, tearfulness, irritability, etc.; eMedicineHealth.com reports as many as 80% of new mothers “feel upset, alone, afraid, or unloving toward their baby, and guilt for having these feelings.” The baby blues typically lifts after several days to two weeks with no need for treatment.
If I had known that baby blues existed and was so common, I wouldn’t have felt like such a freak.
The more severe condition, postpartum depression, occurs in 10-20% of women after giving birth. The Mayo Clinic says:
Postpartum depression may appear to be the baby blues at first — but the signs and symptoms are more intense and longer lasting, eventually interfering with your ability to care for your baby and handle other daily tasks. Signs and symptoms of postpartum depression may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Intense irritability and anger
- Overwhelming fatigue
- Loss of interest in sex
- Lack of joy in life
- Feelings of shame, guilt or inadequacy
- Severe mood swings
- Difficulty bonding with the baby
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Thoughts of harming yourself or the baby
If this describes you, or someone you care for, call your OB-GYN and let them know what’s going on. He or she may ask to see you right away and refer you to a psychologist for psychotherapy and/or a psychiatrist for a medication consultation.
In my case, after coming home from the hospital, with the help of my husband and my mother, over time I bonded slowly with my son but love was still elusive. Breast feeding got easier, although I was never crazy about it. My husband woke up with me in the night to feed the baby, participated in his care and my mother assured me everything was normal. Boy, did I need to hear that. I think we all do.
Weeks later, I quietly rocked and contemplated the sleeping baby in my arms, smelled his sweet smell, in awe of his perfection. Suddenly I was overwhelmed by a tide of emotion that swelled from my heart and rushed to my head like a geyser! It happened so quickly it made me high as a kite.
‘Wow!’ I thought, ‘So this is love.’
Photo courtesy of fotorita via Flickr