The show Game of Thrones had not yet released the episodes, but when I started watching the year after I gave birth, there was one scene that stuck with me. Arya is learning the fine art of elegant sword fighting. She is hesitant and clumsy on her feet. Her instructor, Syrio, crossed wooden blades with her.
“There is only one God, and his name is Death,” he continued, “and what do we say to the God of Death?”
Arya shook her head, still clutching her training sword. Syrio smiled and stepped back from her, “Not today.”
I was sitting on the steps just outside my baby’s room. She was wailing, because she was in her crib and not on my body which was the only place she would sleep—but this also meant I literally got no sleep. I had been sleeping on the couch downstairs for weeks, my husband upstairs where he had atleast a hope of getting some sleep before going to work the next day.
I sat on that step and sobbed. I grabbed at my hair, throbbed my head against the wall.
My husband slowly climbed the stairs and stood before me. “What is wrong,” he asked. He didn’t know what to do with me, and he was going through his own postpartum issues himself.
“I want to die. I want to go away. I want to pretend this never happened. I made a mistake, and I’m being punished for it. I want to kill myself,” I gasped out between hyperventilating gasps for air.
My husband did not come and sit next to me; he didn’t place a hand on my head. He stood there, tears starting to fall from his own eyes. “I do, too,” he softly replied.
That right there—that was my moment. One of us has to be sane. One of us has to buck up and go through the motions of being a parent, and if my husband was not yet ready to be up for the task, then I would.
I had no idea what to do. But I knew what I was saying to my postpartum depression, my ptsd, my suicidal thoughts: “Not today.”
I did the first thing I could think of that I do well. I organized; the house, my emotions, my daily routine. It all needed be sorted so that when the light broke through those windows and me, eyes wired open on the couch, clutching a baby who would be quiet for an hour at a time, I knew what I was going to do next.
I was not going to stay on that couch, put her on her playmat on the floor, and watch her like she was sort of strange animal at the zoo. We were going to get up, she was going in that swing while I made her a bottle and myself some breakfast. Eating. Let’s try eating, shall we?
It was simple things like that. I would put her in her bouncy seat and place it in the bathroom while I took a quick shower. I got dressed. I put on a bra. I brushed my hair. This was the beginning of something that my brain could process.
It felt awkward at first, and robotic. But, after so many days of doing it, I started to naturally know what to do. I would hold my baby, even if she didn’t need anything. I would rock her to sleep and look at her small, pinched up face and my heart started to unwrap itself from the plastic wrap that had been around it since the birth. I would talk to her.
I would tell her where we would go that day; leaving the house was important to me. I would take my adorable, well-dressed baby into any store I could get to. Little old ladies would swarm around the stroller and coo at her. They would tell me she was darling, perfect, so well behaved. She would smile at these strangers. I saw a personality emerge to take the place of the tyrannical screaming that would happen at night.
My friend sent me a book, The Happiest Baby on the Block, and it was literally the only useful baby book I had been given. It talked about how to start a daily routine for your baby so that they would actually nap and want to eat on a schedule, not just when they wanted to. The structure of the day was based around the word E.A.S.Y. So, all day you would follow this schedule for you and the baby. Eat, Activity, Sleep, You Time. The order of the things absolutely clicked with my child. I had not been doing scheduled activity like that, let alone at an opportune time to wear them down. It worked. She felt better. I felt better.
Once I felt more in control of the situation, I started to work on my husband. He hardly included himself in any baby activities. He was afraid and had some father hangups. I started small. I gave him one part of the routine during the day that was seemingly important but also hard to mess up. I gave him bath time.
Every night he would come home from work, eat dinner, and I would hand our baby to him. They would go upstairs and I wouldn’t even think about it. I didn’t stress about him using the right tempurature water, the right shampoo and soap. I gave up the control to him, for him to interrupt bath time as however he wanted to. As long as the child was clean, that’s great.
Once he mastered bath time, he asked for bed time as well. I happily gave that over to him. In that surrender, I was able to go Toth sleep before my baby, which meant I had a higher change of getting at least three or four hours of sleep before she would wake up for the first time.
These responsibilities have not changed. He is still in charge of bath and bed. He will never give them up because, for him, that was his “not today” moment.
When your family is in crisis mode for something this demolishing, you can’t do anything with therapy or medication until you get your family well first. Once we all fell into our routine, the resentment and distance passed. Parenting because a thing we did.
With that structure reinforced, when I knew that leaving him alone with the baby would not be a danger to him or the baby, when I finally realized that this is my baby, I grew her, and I loved her when she was in me, I was able to pick up the phone and make the appointments that needed to be made to then get my emotions leveled out. Only then did I feel like a mother. Only then did I feel that I had done something great for my little family.
Giving birth to our first child was not enough. It felt like the end of the world, but by looking all of my emotional hangups in the face and telling them, “not today,” I was able to slowly banish the thoughts and begin feeling like a real mother who deserved to get help.