In the two years that we were trying to conceive, I spent a lot of time thinking about what it would be like to be a mother. To have a little peanut that I could snuggle whenever I wanted for as long as I wanted. To be able to finally pour all the love and nurturing I had to offer on a little someone I loved more than life. And then my son arrived, bringing with him all these dreamed-about gifts.
What I didn’t count on, though, was the daily struggle of caring for a newborn. The insecurity. The frustration. The complete overwhelm with a feeling of failure as neither of us slept – not enough anyway, or at the right times.
Why is this so hard for me? I wondered. I started babysitting when I was 12; held jobs as a nanny, preschool teacher, swim instructor, camp counselor, and orphanage volunteer. I had my Masters in Child Development for crying out loud! No one should have been as prepared for this job as I was.
And yet I was not happy. I was crying every day. I felt like I wasn’t cut out for this after all. And I was so ashamed of that. As a social worker and a fairly insightful person, I didn’t waste much time with diagnosing myself with post-partum depression. I sought out a good counselor and got the help I needed.
I’ve thought a lot since then about post-partum depression (PPD) and whether it might be more common in women in women who go through fertility struggles. A brief overview of the literature on the subject does not draw this direct conclusion, though it does name stress, previous loss, and history of depression as risk factors. But I have to wonder if the build up, the waiting, the bargaining “if only, then…” had something to do with my shock that new motherhood was not the bliss I’d imagined. It also contributed, I think, to how hard I was on myself for not being happy. If this was all I ever wanted, and I wasn’t happy, what was wrong with me?
Somewhere around six months, we (all) started sleeping through the nights again. Life improved dramatically. I felt more confident as a mom. As we settled into a routine and I had more energy, I embraced my new role. I realized that nothing was wrong with me. I was, in fact, meant to be a mother. Just like I thought.
Recently, I discovered this article by Jody Peltason about the realities of new motherhood. I found a lot of comforting familiarity in her reminiscing about those early days and the accompanying emotions. The part that stood out the most to me, though, was her discussion of what constitutes post-partum depression. She writes,
“…the problem with that question as our primary approach to the struggles of new motherhood is that it suggests that the post-partum experience itself is just fine, unless of course you have a legitimate clinical illness that distorts your perception of it. And the post-partum experience is not just fine. It is immensely, bizarrely complicated. It is, at various times and for various people, grueling and joyful and frightening and beautiful and disorienting and moving and horrible.”
I read this and a lightbulb went off. Maybe I didn’t have post-partum depression after all. Not that it really matters one way or another, because getting help when you’re feeling depressed is crucial. But I also think it’s important for new moms to know that if things aren’t fine, it’s more normal than abnormal. Especially for us post-infertility moms. Our expectations – for ourselves, our babies, our experience – are so high. So inflated by our months and years of dreaming. So, if this is your experience, I encourage you to remember these things: It’s hard for everyone. You were meant to be a mother. And seeking out help is healthy and good – for you and your baby.