Parenthood is, in a lot of ways, just a bunch of sleepless nights bleeding into long days. That sounds kind of bleak, but I’m not sure there’s a more complex state of being than that of being a parent. You’re always being pulled in multiple directions and overcome with conflicting emotions. And, honestly, I’m not sure that it’s ever as hard as it is in the first gritty-eyed months of having a freshly baked baby.
Throughout Archer’s first year, inertia carried me. Once I went back to work, the force of my footsteps was the only thing that propelled me forward. Daycare. Work. Pump. Coffee. Pump. Lunch. Pump. Daycare. Home.
And through it all, I felt alone.
Physically, distance crushed me. I was half a continent away from my family. Emotionally, disconnect destroyed me. Most of my friends did not have children of their own. If I could have articulated how abandoned I felt, my words would have been scarcely a whisper.
But, again, let’s rewind.
Breastfeeding came easily to Archer and me. Despite his time in the NICU, he latched quickly and nursed like a champion. The emotional trauma of his tumultuous birth experience was healed by our outstanding nursing relationship.
Nursing sustained us. It bonded us. It provided just the right dose of feel-good hormones to shield me from the undercurrent of isolation that tried so insidiously to steal my joy. When we weaned, the loneliness reached up from the deep below and quietly pulled me down.
Without realizing it, my body and mind were being realigned as Archer nursed less. The chemicals in my brain like tectonic plates, slowly and imperceptibly shifting to create entirely new and unrecognizable continents within my psyche.
I left my job to pursue a freelance writing and marketing career and I spent each day deafeningly alone. Just me and my deadlines and – I know now – my depression.
Despite having solid support systems and amazing friends, I was borderline non-functional by the time I admitted that I needed help. Depression is a liar and she told me that no one knew my plight – that such loneliness was the result of being undesirable by friends and family alike.
In my first postpartum counseling session, I sat across from my psychiatrist and psychologist – both specially trained to work with mothers with mood disorders – and told them how impossibly isolating motherhood was. My doctor pushed up his glasses, looked me in the eye, and said, “Liz, I am not here to belittle your experience, but I want you to know that every mother who has ever sat in that chair has said those same words.”
Now, let’s fast forward.
With a diagnosis of “post-weaning depression,” I restarted on my Lamictal and recovered, once again, quickly. And, again, we reveled in my stability.
Archer became our co-pilot on a new adventure and we moved from Baltimore to Germany for a three year assignment with my husband’s job. In our time here, the isolation of motherhood combined with the isolation of ex-pat life to create a sort of mecha-loneliness that has tried to cut me down many times. If I’m being honest, sometimes, it has succeeded.
Enduring a rough pregnancy an ocean away from family and friends did little to quell the rising tide of lonesomeness. Late night nursing and long days working ignite sparks of heartache that occasionally rekindle the flames of alienation.
But, in my worst days, I rewind to my psychiatrist’s office and remember that my isolation is not a unique condition of my experience with motherhood.
You see, motherhood is a weird thing in that many mothers experience the same things, but in different ways. There are times when all of us feel alone. Motherhood, on some level, breeds some amount of isolation. But, in that isolation, we are – in a twisted way – brought together.
Great article. I still have some issues of isolation and tons of anxiety. I keep thinking I’ll search for such topics on this site, but haven’t. My kids are 2 and 4. So, I am not havig PDD at this point. I am seeing a great counselor. I call her my parenting coach! Anyway, I still read emailed articles from this blog, but wondered if there is a blog for moms who, blah blah blah… You know.. Have anxiety, stay home, are older (41) …. Miss my social life, but don’t want It back. Ha thanks for writing and listening.
Thank you for sharing your experience. I often encounter mom’s who are very happy to be mother’s and are offended if your own experience is less than joyful. I am a nicu mom of all three of my children. Being a mom has never come easy to me and i do wish i could use the words joyful more often. With my first child we went through a lot of trauma with the birth and his care afterward and both my husband and i have PTSD from the experience. Thank you for being brave and sharing your experience. I had PPD with all of my children and am a Marriage and Family graduate student. I have been lucky to know the symptoms and to seek help early. I feel for those who are not seeking help for their own downward spiral and the effects it can have on the your ability to feel like yourself, the bonding process and the family relationships. You can feel better.