I find it funny they call it the “Baby Blues,” because if I could assign a color to represent the dark thoughts and feelings that accompanied my initiation into motherhood, it certainly wouldn’t be one as bright as blue. Even navy or indigo, or any other shade is too warm a hue.
But I’m not sure black would be appropriate, either. Because black is too much of a void, and that time in my life was anything but devoid of emotion.
I knew I was a prime candidate for postpartum depression based on my history, but there was no way I could have predicted how dark it would actually get.
It started before we even left the hospital. Mikey was born just after 9 a.m., and all throughout that first day we had doctors and nurses in and out on what seemed like a 20-minute rotation. We also had both sets of grandparents parked in our room. But then, that first night, when everyone was gone and we were left alone with our newborn, the panic started to set in.
The nurses suggested we send Mikey to the nursery so we could sleep. They said they would even bring him back into our room every two hours to nurse. But I refused. Part of it was guilt. I felt like a bad mom if I sent my baby away his first night so that I could get some shut-eye.
The other part of it was panic over the fact that he wouldn’t be in my vicinity. I carried him with me for 10 months, and they wanted to take him to another room at the end of the hallway. Out of arm’s reach. Out of sight.
When we got home the panic amplified. My mother stayed with us the first week, but then I sent her back to western New York because, I thought, it was time we did this on our own.
That was when I really started to fall apart.
My husband was working a new job and was gone from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and I was left alone with a crying, non-sleeping, fussy-as-they-come newborn that I had no idea what to do with.
I know a lot of people who say the baby stage is easy. “All they do is eat, sleep and poop.”
For me, the baby stage was the worst, because babies have no way to communicate other than through crying. Is he hungry? Tired? Does he have a wet diaper? Does he have a diaper rash? Is he gassy? Does he have a fever? Is he pulling at his ears? Does he have a hair wrapped around a toe?
Answer “no” to all of the above? Then why the heck is he STILL crying? And when will he stop? And will he ever sleep? Will I ever sleep again?
I was so panicked and downright distraught that I was physically uncomfortable all the time. I couldn’t eat. Couldn’t sit still. Couldn’t turn my mind off.
When Mikey would finally sleep, I would find myself Googling all sorts of random things: “How do I know if my baby has colic?” “Will a baby turn his head if he spits up in his sleep?” And (this is one I’ve never admitted) “How can I tell if my newborn has a handicap?”
These spiraling thoughts, combined with sleep deprivation, put me in a very dark place.
It didn’t help that Mikey was fussy. He cried all the time. Looking back, it’s very possible he was simply reacting the nervous energy I was projecting, which is another source of guilt for me — but I can’t do anything about that now.
I used to walk back and forth down the hallway in our condo just bouncing newborn Mikey in my arms. Either he was crying and I was trying to soothe him, or for once he wasn’t crying and I didn’t want him to start. And with every step all I could think was, I can’t do this.
The best way I can describe my postpartum (I say “my” because everyone’s experience is different), is that every thought was like a one-two punch.
There would be the initial emotion, the left-hand jab, if you will: I’m so tired, I just want to sleep. I’m not cut out for this. My husband and I had a great life, what have we done? Will I ever get my old life back? This isn’t what I expected. I want my freedom back. I can’t do this. I don’t want to do this.
And then, immediately following, the harder right-hand blow would came in the form of guilt for having the first thought: What kind of a woman with a beautiful, healthy baby has buyer’s remorse because she’s tired? If you can’t put your big girl pants on and step it up, then you don’t deserve to be a mother.
It had only been about a week since my mom left when I broke down while on a phone call with my sister, who at that time had a 4-year-old of her own. She called my parents and told them I was falling down the rabbit hole and my mom was on our doorstep the next day.
Enter more feelings of guilt and shame: I’m 35 years old and I need my mommy to help me adult because I just can’t get it together.
The anxiety and postpartum continued despite my mom’s presence, and it took a toll on my body. I was at the lowest weight I had been since high school because I couldn’t stomach anything. I couldn’t eat one whole egg for breakfast. I couldn’t finish an apple.
My body was cold. Mikey was born in March, so obviously it was cold outside. I thought nothing of the fact that I was walking around our condo in sweatpants and fuzzy socks, and wrapped in a big fluffy bathrobe — arms always crossed tight around my midsection — and cranking the heat up every time I passed by the thermostat. Meanwhile my husband and mother were stripped down to shorts and tank tops while I jacked the heat up because I simply couldn’t get my bones warm.
Then, I made an appointment with my endocrinologist because I couldn’t swallow. I was certain something was wrong with my esophagus because I just felt like there was this lump forming.
The doctor was very professional and pacified me, fully examined me, then very carefully told me — for lack of a better phrase — it was all in my head. I had the proverbial “lump in my throat” that forms when you are nervous or stressed
The postpartum (mixed with the weight loss and lack of sleep) even prevented me from producing enough milk to nurse.
I think all these factors led me to resent Mikey. I felt like I didn’t love him. I definitely felt a responsibility and duty to keep him healthy and protected, and loved, but I didn’t have this overwhelming, I’ve-just-been-hit-by-a-Mack-truck love radiating off my body that other new parents gush about.
Enter some more guilt.
In my darkest moments, I thought maybe I could leave in the middle of the night and run away to my parents’ house back in western New York. But then I would lose my husband. I remember even thinking that maybe I could persuade him we should leave Mikey in someone else’s care.
Here comes that right hook… How could I possibly think that?! Something must truly be wrong with me and I have no right raising a child.
Reflecting on how, for the first time in my life I had something I truly couldn’t just walk away from, and feeling like the walls were closing in and the tethers tightening, I had the darkest thought of all: Well, there is one way out of all of this.
Whoa! Back up. What did I just tell myself?
That’s when I knew I needed help. Well, that and when my husband broke down in tears and told me I needed to see someone. And my mom said she wasn’t leaving town until she was comfortable leaving me alone with the baby.
What? Was I seriously that bad that they thought I would actually harm him? Or myself?
A few things helped pull me out of the darkness: Medication, returning to work, my husband’s support, and time.
We enrolled Mikey in daycare at exactly 6 weeks old, which is the earliest anyone would take him. I remember it was a Wednesday. As hard as it was to hand him over to a young woman at a center that was a sea of children of working parents, and as much as those first few days and weeks brought on a new panic until the caretakers had gained our full trust, it helped to return to work and get my mind on things other than my baby.
Here comes a little more guilt… How can I like being at work more than I like staying at home with my baby?
But you know what else helped, hearing other parents speak up and say, “Oh, please. I could never be home with my kid(s) all day. I’d lose my mind!”
The darkness didn’t leave all at once. It wasn’t like someone just came and opened the blinds and all of a sudden I was cured. It was more like someone twisted the wand ever so slightly, every so often, and let in a little more light. And some days the blinds slammed back shut again.
They still do, sometimes.
Today, however, my relationship with Mikey is completely different. I love the ever-loving tar out of him. His sassy mouth that I want to smack. His strong, fully-abled body that stops my heart every time it propels off a piece of playground equipment. His kind heart and mind. His independent thoughts that are sometimes exactly something I would say, and other times I have no idea where they came from.
But it was a journey to get here, and I am thankful for the place we are at. I am thankful to be a mom… I am thankful to be a working mom.
Holly Crocco is editor of the Putnam County Press/Times newspaper and mother of a 4-year-old. She can be reached at email@example.com.