So, I’m that girl. The one that hated pregnancy. The one crushed by guilt anytime someone around me confides they can’t conceive. Because I hated it. SO. MUCH. I was nauseous through my first two trimesters and I gained 48 pounds in my last. I was hot, uncomfortable and didn’t sleep for the last eight weeks. Any glow to my skin was a trick of my naturally olive complexion and fluorescent lighting. I was one shade of green away from Kermit the Frog and the fatter and less pleasant cousin of Miss Piggy.
At 38 weeks my doctor told me I’d be having a c-section. My daughter was wedged in such a way that she was upside-down and backwards. I wanted to watch the surgery, but my OB feared my husband would pass out and at 6’10” he takes up some serious floor space. Instead they erected a sheet-wall and in true Wizard of OZ style assured us to pay no mind to the man behind the curtain.
FullSizeRender-3They sliced and diced and yanked my daughter out. I didn’t feel a thing. The nurses cleaned her off and handed her to my husband. She cried for just a second and then stared at me. This little girl larva had straight black hair and blue-violet eyes. I wasn’t completely sure they had handed us the correct baby. I tried to look around and make sure I was the only formerly pregnant person in the room. For all I knew, behind that sheet may have been a magician who pulled this baby out of a top hat. The entire experience was very surreal. I didn’t feel different. I didn’t feel like a mom. I surmised it was just the enormity of creation and the after-glow of the anesthesia.
In the next room, they handed me my baby. My baby. My baby? You know that feeling when they first place your baby into your arms and you know you are a mother? I didn’t. Looking down at the little creature in my arms, I felt scared, and overwhelmed and ITCHY. The room was full of supportive faces all looking to me to just be a mom. To just know what to do. But my mind raced. What exactly do you do with a baby? Especially, when what feels like the the most appropriate course of action at the time is to SCRATCH YOUR FREAKING EYES OUT because you are having a “bit” of a reaction to the morphine. Also, I was still quite fat (wtf?).
Everyone talked about my daughter’s eyes. Doctors, nurses, family, friends. Those blue-violet eyes. The nurses warned us they would change. That most babies with lighter eyes born to parents “like us”, didn’t keep their original color.
“They’re beautiful,” they said, “but they change.”
Lactation consultant #1 came to help me breastfeed. It hurt terribly. Over the next few days, I saw three different consultants. None of them could help. It hurt. I bled, whimpered and winced. My husband rubbed my head each time they put her on me to feed. He told me to be tough. I tried, but the tears flowed every time. There is not much worse than feeling like you cannot feed your child. That something that is supposed to be innate, isn’t quite working for you. The first physical association I had with my daughter was pain. The surgery hurt, breastfeeding hurt. What was wrong with me?
I couldn’t sleep that night. I stared at the bassinet next to my bed at the torturous creature that lay inside. I was sure this wasn’t how mothers were supposed to feel. There was no nursery at our hospital and on the second night a heads-up nurse offered to take the baby to “show” the other nurses at the nurses station. She was gone for four hours. Thank God for her. It was my first four hours of consecutive sleep in two months and for the next three. The whole hospital stay was a blur of hunger, insecurity and an extreme fear of having to defecate.When we got home I thought it would get easier. I thought things would feel different. At the hospital there were so many people. So much going on. So many distractions and photos and longing for grilled cheeses and Norco. Maybe I just hadn’t spent enough time with her? But home wasn’t easier. It got so much worse.
She only ate at night and she did what they call cluster-feeding. Eating for sometimes as few as 5 minutes before falling asleep. If you moved her she woke up hungry again and crying. I was breastfeeding and they told me not to start pumping for the first few weeks. So, I had to feed her. Every time she ate–it had to be me. All my plans of sleep schedules and breast-feeding strategies went sailing out the window. For weeks I cried myself to near-sleep worried about the future. Because I hurt, because I was tired and because I didn’t feel like a mom. That feeling of overwhelming love, of cosmic connection? Yeah, it still wasn’t there
Instead, in it’s place was sadness and hopelessness and exhaustion. I cried while folding laundry. I cried while I gave her a bath. The first weeks alone with my daughter were christened in salt water. I was scared to talk about it. Here I was, a logical and (mostly) rational person and I couldn’t stop crying. I lied when people asked how I was. Funnily enough that was the part of me that still felt like me. I didn’t want anyone to know I was sad. That I was scared. That I thought something was wrong
One afternoon my husband caught me crying. I was folding baby clothes (Also, why was I always folding baby clothes? Why was she wearing so many clothes? Where did she even go?) when he came in. He asked me what was wrong. I couldn’t tell him. I couldn’t explain to him what this felt like. I felt wrong. That night as she lay on my chest eating she stared up at me. Her eyes gleamed black in the light of the TV. I stared at her rounded features. I thought there couldn’t be a more alien being on the planet than the tiny little one I was holding. I cried because she didn’t seem real. She didn’t seem like a person. She didn’t feel like mine and I could never forgive myself for that thought. What was wrong with me?
I went back to school a few weeks later. I needed the space. I needed that time apart. My husband stayed home with her. He was such a natural. Such a dad. I was so in love with the way he loved her. And the sadness faded. The curtain of hopelessness slowly lifted. I started to really see her. This tiny little person who needed me. She had grown in me, but she was finally growing on me.
A few months after her first birthday, I was diagnosed with cancer and we both started staying home together. I see her all-day everyday, now. She falls asleep for naps resting her head on my leg. I write while she sleeps. We read books and play games. We color and go for rides in her wagon. We make tents and eat popcorn. I wake up to her crawling into my bed in the mornings. I fall asleep seeing her on the monitor at night. I know her, now.
I know her smell, and how her eyes disappear when she laughs. I know the tiny mole on her forehead, the birthmark on her wrist. I understand her words when no one else does. I know her hair—the way it curls and the one spot in the back that’s an entirely different texture. I know her favorite toys, her favorite books. I know the feel of her cheek when she presses it violently to mine. I know the feel of her hand when it’s time to take a big step up. I know what scares her and what makes her smile. I know every inch of her now. I can feel how she is mine.
My chemotherapy is in the form of an eye drop. I take four drops per day for four days, then I get a ten day break. The first round was a breeze. Each round since, has been harder. Even in eye-drop form chemo is cumulative. This last round was tough. I spent the last two days sneaking back to bed every chance I got. Instead of writing while she napped I crawled into bed and covered my head with pillows to block out the light ever-so-softly. Yesterday, I heard her wake up from her nap. I heard her little feet as they moved along the tile. I know that sound so well it’s a part of me now. I felt her climb onto the bed. And as she maneuvered around pillows to get to me. She lifted the pillow gently from my face and stared. The nurses were right: those eyes are so different now. Somehow, they’ve changed. They’re the same blue, but of water I’ll never know the depths of. Within those eyes are a million possibilities. Thoughts, dreams, a personality, understanding and love. She patted my face.
She knows me. I know her. And I can feel how she is mine.
If you or someone you love is suffering from postpartum depression please seek help. “Baby-blues” that last longer than a few weeks could be a sign an intervention is needed. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/postpartum-depression/basics/definition/con-20029130