During my pregnancy, I had immersed myself in books and other tidbits of information on newborns. Intellectually, I thought I was prepared for the sleep deprivation, caretaking responsibilities, and loss of independence. However, nothing I had read could have prepared me for feeling extremely overwhelmed, anxious, and out-of-my-element. After I returned home from the hospital, I felt like an intruder in my own life. My house, my marriage, my relationships with others all felt foreign and unfamiliar. I actually experienced a mourning phase, in which I grieved my life pre-baby. Every night, around 6pm, after that night’s sleep deprivation came to a culmination, I would sob to Jon. I told him I missed him, missed us, and lamented my independence. Although Jon admitted to me later that he had thought my emotional torrents were rather amusing, he took care in projecting understanding and compassion. And he would have gladly injured his proverbial back by assisting with my emotional luggage, but his body was not the one recuperating from childbirth.
One of my childless friends, but an amazing aunt, declared to me one day that every new mom is a single mom. She meant that no matter how supportive the husband, the mother always shoulders the burden of caring for her newborn baby. Another bit of advice given to me years ago by my father was: Give 60% to every relationship and expect 40% in return. Of course Jon had only the best intentions when he decided to “assist” with random household chores like organizing the spice rack and re-arranging the Tupperware shelf. However, what I really needed assistance with was putting Baby J to sleep, a foot massage, or a back scratch.
I could not have been more grateful that my mom took off of work the second week of Jordan’s life. Although Jon was off during the first week, it had progressed in such a frenzied blur, as the first four days were spent in the hospital and the last three days we were home dealing with Jordan’s escalating jaundice levels. During the second week, my mom consoled me as I cried to her about my cornucopia of post-pregnancy woes. I think that very few new moms will ever admit to feeling some of the emotions that I experienced that first week. However I think that it is important to explain what those feelings were, so women can have a better understanding of the blight of post-pregnancy hormones.
In the beginning, I actually regretted having a baby. Yes—you read that correctly—I actually regretted having my adorable little son. Along with the compounding feelings of mourning my life and my marriage, a miniscule part of me wished that I could travel back in time and never have conceived. Because I was now a mom, my first priority had transferred from me to him. I enjoyed my life and loved traveling on a whim and had a free-spirited pick-up-and-go attitude. Now, I had another human being completely dependent on me for meeting his basic needs of survival and my own wishes and desires were forced to the back burner. Since my moments of solace were few and far between, I actually found myself contemplating which basic need to achieve first when I did secure a free minute—should I eat, shower, sleep??
It is no surprise that Baby J ended up being very stubborn on the nature of napping. For the first six weeks, he adamantly refused to close his eyes during the day and I had to endure hours upon hours of fussiness. Eventually, I conjured a very involved rigmarole to lure him to sleep. The napping recipe was as follows: 1. Swaddle a screaming, overtired baby in a straight-jacket looking apparatus, 2. Blast a hair dryer on the highest setting, 3. Shush him in my arms until crying ceases, 4. Place a dazed-looking baby into swing, 5. Jiggle the back of swing vigorously until baby passes out.
I also felt extremely overwhelmed at the new responsibilities imposed by motherhood. As if having a new baby is not enough to cause one to feel completely and undeniably subjugated, I had to learn how to operate baby gear. Of course, I did not have time to quietly contemplate assembly of this new machinery, but everything had to be completed under the rapid fire of a screaming baby. For instance, I had to learn how to remove the car seat out of the base of the car and into the stroller (and the stroller had its own, separate adaptor that had to be installed for the car seat to click into place!). While I loathe assembly, I am not a wimpy person but the weight of the car seat plus baby seemed like an impossible maneuver. No wonder so many moms have guns that can rival the arms of an accomplished body-builder!
During the first few weeks of motherhood, I experienced major insomnia. The old adage of “sleep when the baby sleeps”, continually annoyed me when uttered by people who either had a baby thirty years ago or those who had not yet experienced parenthood. An anxiety-producing sense of extreme responsibility and hyper-vigilance kept me awake throughout the night, even while Jordan slept. I had such a difficult time unwinding and succumbing to sleep since I never knew when Jordan would awake crying and I would have to jump out of bed, 100% alert to care for his needs. After about three weeks, my body and mind eventually adapted and I did sleep during the night while he slept.While I would definitely describe my first few weeks of motherhood, as experiencing something like the baby blues, I think that it is important to mention that I never had any thoughts of harming myself or my baby during that time period. Many specialists agree that thoughts of endangering oneself or one’s baby are the defining factors in differentiating post-partum depression from the baby blues. Prior to these feelings, I thought that post-partum depression was synonymous with the baby blues and did not distinguish between the two. However, after discussing my feelings with other first time moms, I realized that the baby blues is extremely common, even in the most well-adapted and competent new mother.