I'm up late writing this, grabbing some silent time where no little hands are pulling at me, no voices yelling at me to help or make someone stop or feed them. Just the ceiling fan and my fingers, typing.
Four years ago in this bedroom I lay on my bed screaming, crying and begging to give my newborn daughter way, or up for adoption. Any number of times I thought of punting her out the window, mentioned it to everyone. I stared longingly into the woods and thought of my own death, creating the beginnings of a plan.
Only the random call from a lactation consultant and the private tears I couldn't hide anymore got me any help. So determined I was to do this all on my own, to figure out this Mom stuff without a Mom, to breastfeed, to sleep, to handle my toddler, to be a wife and a person. I was going to do it, and do it all.
Of course I didn't. And in hindsight, I should have know that I couldn't, at least not for the first little while. For starters, I'm bipolar, and like many women with mood disorders, I cannot muck around with my sleep, or my eating. I must sleep, or slip into an agitated state. But even normal women can grow different on interrupted sleep, finding their moods hard to regulate. Sleep deprivation is a form of torture.
I couldn't do it alone either. In the past, we've had families around — moms, aunts, sisters, all able to lend a hand, hold the baby, clean the house, do the things we worry about. Now, we might have a husband for a week, a postpartum doula for a few days. I couldn't ask for help, hated the idea that I couldn't do it. Was driven to do it all.
It didn't get me anywhere. It got me nothing.
What I should have remembered goes something like this: You can't break a baby. Babies cry because they need us, but it's okay to walk away for two minutes to remember your own name. Love matters more than where the milk comes from. It's okay to cry. Dirty dishes never killed a soul. Husbands know what they're doing. Give the baby to anyone with empty arms. The worst it will do is cry, possibly barf on you. Smelling like that is normal.
It's hard to love something that actively seems to hate you.
I didn't love either of my daughters as babies. With my second, my mental state was so altered that it took an entire year to truly bond with her. I don't much like babies in the first place.
But you know what? I love them to pieces now, absolutely adore them.
What you feel with a newborn — I don't think it could ever BE love. Protection, yes. Devotion, relief, pleasure, joy. But love — that's something that takes time. I felt horrible for not loving them until my husband pointed out the obvious — they cry, they poo, they scream, they keep us awake and then they barf down our shirts. We'd never even like someone else who did that.
Love can come later, when they finally smile that big "I did SOMETHING!" smile and we melt just a little as we nearly break a leg running for the camera. Love comes later when they try and feed you the teething biscuit and your father tells you as a baby you did that too.
Love comes. I know it's one of those things you're "told" to worry about, but you shouldn't. Worry about figuring the bloody stroller out, or how to properly clean bottles.
There's lots of advice out there. Everyone thinks THEY have the right answer. Life is not "What to Expect While You're Expecting" — life is real. Sometimes the baby is early. Sometimes it cries for three months. Sometimes it's so good you wonder if someone switched babies on you. What works for you works. Period.
You know what to do. Trust you.
Get help if you need it. Mom groups, doctors, therapists, random tired looking women in the baby aisle — help is there if you need it. I've randomly asked bleak-looking moms in the grocery store if I can run and grab what it is they're looking for, and while they never accept, they always seem relieved to know that someone is paying attention.
Take naps, and refuse to feel bad about it. That first time you sleep for 12 hours straight after the baby, all will be right again with the world. Sleep cures all ills.
Eat take-out. This isn't a contest. Plenty of time for the master cleanse later. If you aren't sleeping, and even if you are, you need good, REAL food. Especially if you're breastfeeding. Pleasing your tongue makes the rest of you happy.
Listen to you. You DO know what to do.
Dora Thornresides in Canada and is the author of the blog Spin Me I Pulsate. Suffering through severe postpartum depression after the birth of her second child, and eventually being diagnosed Bipolar, she's become a hearty advocate of prenatal screening for mood disorders and supports for new mothers.
Thank you so much for your honesty and for saying what many women are afraid to say. There is no singular experience of motherhood, no one way that we should all be or feel or exact timetable we should meet.