I've read about how terrifying thoughts and fears about a new baby are pretty much universal, that 80-100% of new mothers picture dropping their baby at some point. It's a totally natural response to the sudden responsibility of being a mother. You're responsible for a fragile little life and there are about a million things in the world that could be dangerous. Everybody feels the pressure of keeping a baby safe and happy and alive. That makes sense.
In some people, that natural response goes haywire.
In people like me, who were given to moods, to begin with. People like me, who had a lot of troubles with living. In some people, those thoughts about dropping the baby turned into a paralyzing fear of the stairs.
I couldn't start the car without a graphic image of an accident and my baby being trapped and hurt stopping me in my tracks. I couldn't bathe her without picturing how she might slip out of my grasp in the soapy water. Taking a walk was scary because the stroller could get away from me. Feeding her was scary because what if her food was contaminated? Sleeping was impossible because, what about SIDS?
Looking back at it all now, it seems almost silly. Of course my baby was safe and happy. She was the most loved thing in the history of all the world. There was no way in hell that I would let anything happen to her, but I didn't know to trust myself. I had no idea that I was enough.
My anxiety was out of control. I had panic attacks every day. They mostly happened when I was at home, alone, in the middle of nowhere. A tiny apartment in the woods and Kurt left at 5am. He didn't get home until seven. I avoided going home. I held my baby while she napped in the silence of my mom's living room. I got coffee and aimlessly wandered the aisles of the grocery store. We sat in the grass in the summertime. We did everything we could keep my mindset from collapsing. I couldn't bear the low ceilings and worn linoleum. I couldn't bear the world. My daughter was the first beautiful thing. She was the first person who ever needed me to be okay and I was letting her down.
I was too scared to call my doctor. I had no idea that what I was experiencing was something that thousands and thousands of women are going through every day. The only things I'd been warned about were feelings of sadness and excessive crying. I wasn't sad. I didn't cry. I was losing my mind. There was no way I was going to pick up the phone and say,
"You know how everybody in the world thinks I'm a fuckup and they're all waiting for me not to be good enough to be a mommy? Well, I keep obsessing about dropping my baby, about her falling out of a window, rolling into traffic in her stroller. I can't sleep because I think she'll be kidnapped or that she'll suffocate because I let her use a blanket. I've been washing my hands until they bleed. I've been avoiding my own home because I believe it causes me to have heart attacks and I'm pretty sure I'm totally insane... thus living up to everybody's expectations that I couldn't do this. That this was a mistake."
If I had any idea that I wasn't crazy and that everything that was wrong with me were symptoms of a common disorder and that it was easily treated and that nobody would have decided I was incapable of caring for my baby... things might have been different. I might have saved myself from a year of total terror and panic. My daughter's first year of life might have been a happy time.
By the time I was pregnant with my second child, I made sure to tell my doctor ahead of time that I had PPD last time and that I wanted medication. I didn't beat myself up about not being able to breastfeed. I didn't believe that I would be a stronger person and a better mommy if I just toughed it out. I didn't feel ashamed of the prospect of taking an anti-depressant. I still take Zoloft; I don't care who knows. Isn't that so much better than feeling like a freak of nature?
I want to grab the cheeks of every new mama in my palms and look them in the eye. I want to say to them, "How are you really feeling?"
Because being a new mommy is scary. You feel like, if you're not doing wonderfully, you must be doing something wrong. If you're not finding it totally easy and natural, you must not be a good mommy.
The truth is that nobody finds it easy. It's easy to love our babies, but the rest of it is pure hell. I want to hold all the new mommies of the world against my expensive, specialty store, padded post baby chest and let them feel how real and solid and warm I am. How I was shaky and doomed and sleepless, how I wasn't going to make it, before... and here I am. I am so big I blot out the sun. I am so strong, I carry the world over my head. I have intentions like ancient oaks. I bleed the blood of every woman who has ever lived. Not only did I make it to the other side, I beat the shit out my fears and strung their carcasses up in the trees. I am not afraid of anything, anymore, because inside of me is a fear of everything and still, I lived.
I wasn't even kind of crazy. I see that now. I wish I knew it then.