The world I inhabit now is one where sleeping-in is a distant, sweet memory. Where four hours of consecutive sleep is something to celebrate. This is a topsy-turvy, merry-go-round world where every two hours is a cycle of greeting baby when she awakes, diaper changes, breastmilk, burping, spit-ups, playing, dressing, undressing, cuddling, carrying, soothing, fussing, crying, sometimes screaming, and finally guiding baby back to sleep. This goes on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There are no breaks.
In this world, I sleep so lightly that I can hear from a room away when her breathing changes. Whenever she calls me, every molecule I am made of JUMPS, LEAPS and is pulled like a powerful magnet to her. At night, every night, when she calls me I am at her side, picking her up even before I am fully awake.
I know when she needs me even on the rare occasion that we are not within hearing distance of one another. Most nights, I wake up the moment before she does. Even the times when I think that I cannot do it another time, that I am absolutely done, depleted, I get up and do what it takes to care for her again. I can conceive of no other option.
Getting outside anywhere is a major feat. Eating proper meals is … well, I haven't finished a meal in 12 weeks. I gulp down whatever I can, whenever I can. Suddenly, things that used to matter (rest, food, leisure, personal space) just don't anymore. And other, new things (plugged milk ducts, poop color, tiny fingernails, fontanel) matter a whole lot.
Her cry isn't just loud, isn't just sad, it's soul-ripping. It feels like part of me is being torn apart when she is inconsolable. Feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, doubt and (yes) resentment are so closely intertwined with joy, wonder, gratitude and serenity, that my heart has had to grow several sizes to accommodate. I can no longer recognized myself. I am scared a lot of the time.
In this new world of mine, a tiny human subsists solely on the sweet, warm milk my body makes just for her. No water or other nourishment has ever passed her lips. She thrives because every three or so hours, she latches on to my breasts and sucks like her little life depends on it, which it does.
And then there's the mother-fear. Mother-fear comes from the awful realization that your heart no longer resides safely in your own body. Now my heart is her and she's completely and totally helpless. How will I ever feel fully safe again, knowing that she's in the world and that so many things could happen to her? I watch the news with mother-eyes now and see that EVERYBODY was somebody's precious babe once. I would easily, thoughtlessly rip apart and obliterate anything or anyone that threatened her harm. I would do it unconsciously, even, more automatically than I would save myself. I would sacrifice ANYTHING for her well-being, including the entire planet, if the choice were ever mine. I would sooner suffer anything than have her suffer. And that's not altruism or selflessness at all. Truthfully, it's selfish, because if anything ever happened to her, I would be destroyed. Something bad happening to her is far, far, universes worse than something bad happening to me. I dwell on this too often.
The weird thing about my new world is that I don't mind (most of) it. In fact, I appreciate (almost) every leaking, snotty, sweaty, desperate and absurd minute. I often feel lost. But I know I am finding my way. Mothering through this anxiety and depression is by far the hardest thing I have ever done. One glance at my child, though, and I am blessed with a moment of certainty that it's all worth it. Her smiles, her coos, her hands caressing my face are the best things in the universe. Her feet, her bottom, her ears are miraculous. I never knew I could be this anxious, this happy, this exhausted, this in love.
My Dear Child:
I am a mama.
This defines me but is not all that I am.
I am also a woman.
Some mama's child.
And I need nurturing, too.
Although I love to being a mama
and motherhood often fulfills me,
It also drains me.
I cannot nurture you from a dry well.
When I don't nurture myself,
things begin to fall apart.
We all suffer.
self care is not a luxury.
Because before I can mother you,
I have to mother me.
When I get overwhelmed,
in fact BEFORE I get overwhelmed,
I nurture myself
with activities I enjoy,
With friendly positive connections,
With solitude and nature.
I nurture myself by pursuing my personal passions
and by honoring my creative self,
by having fun,
and by resting.
Although I strive to meet all your needs every day
Every so often, I must put my own needs first.
By insisting that self care is a priority,
by keeping it always at the top of my endless to-do list,
I am the best mama I can be.
There are many things that I consider luxuries.
Self care is not one of them.
It is precious to me…
Because I am so precious to you
Sarah Pond works part-time as an Early Childhood Development Community Facilitator and facilitates a local postpartum peer-support group in Canada called Mama2Mama. Sarah's experience with postpartum depression and anxiety began on the 3rd day after giving birth to her beautiful, healthy daughter and continued for about one year. It ultimately transformed her life for the better.