Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Breaking the Silence

[part 2 in a series...part 1 is here]

One of the places I’ve found encouragement as a struggling mother has been from an unlikely source: Heather Armstrong of I say unlikely because in almost every way, Heather and I could not be more different. But she has been refreshingly candid about her hellish journey through postpartum depression, and if nothing else, her blog has been a place for me to see that I am not alone in my struggles with motherhood. Her PPD was so severe that she spent a few days in a mental hospital about six months after the birth of her daughter, and several months ago, she felt compelled to write a post about the joys of parenting her now-four-year-old, wanting to encourage women who need to hear what she needed to hear back then. Heather wrote:

Maybe it's because I've been going through collections of old photos from the first years of her life, or perhaps it's because the anniversary of my stay in a mental hospital is this month, but this morning I felt like I needed to say something to someone out there who may need to hear this right now like I did so badly back then: it gets so much better.

In fact, better is not even a word that can do it justice. There are very simple times that I'm with her, when I'm brushing her hair or watching her read herself a book on her bed, when the feeling that comes over me is not unlike how it was when I was a kid walking through the gates at an amusement park knowing that I was going to have the most awesome, most memorable day. And it's not the feeling of riding the roller coaster or being allowed to eat an entire bag of cotton candy, it's the feeling before all that. It's the excitement, the anticipation, the general sense of being in one of my favorite places.

When Leta was born I thought I would automatically feel this way, and many women do. But I did not. And I did not know if I would ever get here. So many women reached out to me to let me know they had gone through the same crisis and came out the other side, and it was the hope they gave me that pulled me through. If you happen to be in that place right now, I want you to know that it gets so much better. And one day you're going to be having a complex conversation with that baby who is screaming her head off right now, and you're going to go, holy ****, I made it. You will make it.

Like Heather, I thought I would automatically have those feelings so many moms describe. But I did not. And although I enjoy Elijah so very, very much more now than I did a year and a half ago, in many ways I am still struggling—still clinging to the hope that it will get better. I am floundering, falling far short of my expectations. I am wondering when I’ll ever feel comfortable and confident in this mother-skin, when I’ll love its weight instead of squirming in this ill-fitting identity.

The comments on Heather’s post showed me just how un-alone Heather and I are. I read comments like this:

You wrote this for me, as I bounce my crying, 8 week old son in his bouncy chair. There are lots of days when he and I just cry together and I think I am so not cut out for this, even though I've wanted it my whole life. It's a lonely place…

And this:

Yeah, everyone gives you that crap about "falling in love with your baby immediately" and so NATURALLY I felt like a total failure for not loving the newborn phase and the newborn who was in it.

And another:

This cannot be said enough. I have no doubt that women (and men) are genuine in declaring that their absolute, passionate, and unwavering love for their newborn switched on in the delivery room, but it's not a universal experience. And the love of a mother whose love for her child grows over a matter of days, months, or years--rather than hitting all at once as in a lightning strike--can be just as strong and is every bit as valid.

I actually went through and skimmed all four hundred of the comments. It was kind of incredible to read about all these other women feeling like I do. It’s like the best kept secret in motherhood. I thought about how much I wanted to write about it on my own blog, but how scared I was of doing so. Then I read this comment:

I wish more women who've experienced post-partum depression or have simply been overwhelmed by the whole motherhood thing would share their experiences. It would sure save those of us who went through that "I'm not so sure I like this being-a-mom thing" a lot of guilt and heartsickness.

I guess I have to.

So here I am several months later, blabbing the secret—hoping to save another mama some guilt and heartsickness.

More to come...

1 comment:

Kayla said...

Hey Amy,

These posts are great! I totally hear your fear about being judged to really share the truth, but you know what I've found; people rarely judge the truth. They relate, they sympathize, they support and they pray. And if they aren't people like that, they aren't people you should worry about, AT ALL!!!

Secondly, I did not experience this with my first son. Jayden was everything I wanted and I fell in love immediately. So, when Lincoln was born and the experience wasn't the same... I felt like a HUGE FAILURE!!! How could I do it with one child, but I couldn't with two??? I felt ugly, unloveable, lonely and was VERY UNWILLING to talk about it because I didn't want anyone to think I didn't love Linc or didn't want him. Especially when I still felt like this when he was 5 months old.

I tell you this because I want to encourage you that every experience is different and both ways that I felt were normal. Don't fear what hasn't come to be yet. Your next pregnancy might be totally different. And if it's the same, don't be afraid to share it.

I (and all your readers) know that you LOVE Elijah (and will love any future children if you have them), you would do anything in your power to do the very best you can as a mother and more importantly, we know your UNDENIABLE love for the Lord and that He will hold you while you walk through these stages. You are being carried by the Savior, so you aren't going to go anywhere or through anything that He isn't aware of and watching out for dangers. You have favor from the Lord Amy, rest assured that He SO proud of you!!!!