Recently I was in a labor and delivery unit of a hospital in my hometown. Thankfully, this time I was just a visitor. Last time I had been in the maternity ward was just nine months ago when I gave birth to my youngest son, Asher. I look pretty different now; I stand much taller. You see, I had postpartum depression. Now, my emotional balance is much more stable, and I’m actually smiling (I didn’t smile much as a patient there).
As I walked in to greet my friend and meet the new bundle of “joy,” I pushed the hard, cold steel doors and immediately heard the familiar buzzing and smelled the hospital anti-bacterial smell. As I knocked on my friend’s door, I was greeted with the scent of flowers. The flowers and balloons reminded me of my times in the hospital. That recognizable scent took me back to my own babies and their birth stories.
On the drive home, I reminisced about my sons’ births. It’s too bad that my babies’ birth stories are always plagued with my own memories of the postpartum depression that inevitably followed. I had my first son, Dylan, at the eager age of 27. Looking back, I realize that ignorance really is bliss, and recognize just how little I knew then about the sacrifice that motherhood entails. To say that my husband and I were blindsided would be the understatement of the century. We walked into the hospital excited to start our new life with our new “accessory” or “playmate” of sorts, and we walked out of the hospital petrified, sleepless and begging our mothers to allow us (and our offspring) back into their homes.
Looking back, Dylan was a sweet and relatively easy baby. At the time, however, I thought he had every type of reflux, colic and new baby syndrome that I could find on WebMD. I was a fish out of water and anything and everything that Dylan did scared and alienated me. Thank goodness my own mother has an infinite amount of patience. I must have called her name and asked her the same questions thousands of times. I was sure I was doing something wrong. With each day I felt more hopeless and distant from my previous life. I remember waking up to Dylan’s little “kitten like noises.” He was not a big crier (thank goodness for that). As he made his hunger noises, I slowly dragged myself out of bed. I had every intention of brushing my teeth and hair and starting the day on the right foot, but one look at myself in the mirror, and I was horrified. My eyes were puffy from lack of sleep and from crying, and my hair was a total mess from falling asleep on a wet head of uncombed hair. I had one earring in and the other must have fallen off somewhere along the way. I was wearing one of three t-shirts that I wore during this postpartum period. Ironically, it was a faded and loose “Life is Good” t-shirt. Looking at the words “Life is Good” on my t-shirt was like a daily reminder (or guilt trip, depending on the state of mind). My mom and sisters used to joke that the “Life is Good” t-shirts and an old pair of George Washington University sweatpants were my uniform. The sight of myself in the mirror threatened my already fragile state.
I had never been overly self-conscious or vain, but I’ve always taken care of myself. Whether it was going to the gym or a quick stop at the mall for window shopping, I took pride in my appearance. Now, I was failing at the “Life is Good” part. Despite my feelings of sadness, I adored my son. Unlike some women struggling with postpartum mood disorders, I made sure Dylan was my first priority. But I struggled with the feeling that the shoes I had to fill were too big and that the show would have to go on without me. I depended wholly on my mom and became a shadow of my former self.
Days became weeks, and weeks became months. My mother finally looked at me, in my “Life is Good” t-shirt and sweats, and said it was time to see a professional and figure out why I felt so out of sync. I began to see a psychiatrist who promised that I was still me, and that I was just experiencing postpartum depression. He asked me to trust him, and he prescribed an antidepressant for me to “try.” He said I did not need to sign a contract or promise to love and always take the antidepressant, but he did think I should give it a try. I think back to the visit now, and I know I looked desperate and sad. I had my “Life is Good” t-shirt and some black yoga pants. (I justified wearing the shirt because at least I now had on nicer pants!) The minimal effort on my outside appearance was nothing compared to the sluggish and distant feelings and thoughts that filled my head. I kept wondering why I felt that everything was falling apart?
This story does actually have a happy ending. I got through this sad and helpless phase, and I went on to enjoy my son. My doctor was right, and the combination of the therapy and anti-depressant was successful in “gluing me” back together. With time, not only did I connect with Dylan, but I absolutely loved my baby (he is now almost six years old). The postpartum — as bad as it was — did not mean that Dylan was destined to be an only child. As a matter of fact, I went on and had two more wonderful boys. The hormonal changes were never easy for me, and the sleepless nights and new demands were taxing. But I found my rhythm (sort of) and learned what works and what doesn’t work for me. One thing is for sure, that being comfortable and wearing my old, wrinkled “Life is Good” t-shirts are no longer a tribute to my failed attempt to get dressed. I actually do feel that life is good (mostly when the boys are well-behaved). I look at my friend and her new baby girl and wish I could warn her of the highs and lows, and why each phase is, in fact, worthy of the next. In the same vein, I look at myself, my husband and our three boys, and I know that my question has been answered: Things do fall apart, but what we rebuild is always stronger than what we had before.