Out of the Darkness, Into the Light: A Case of the Blues
Updated: Jun 2, 2018
For as long as I can remember, I have LOVED children. So, naturally, after getting married Warren and I both knew that having children was on the horizon. When we began talking seriously about having a baby, we went back and forth about whether it was the right time for us, wondering "Are we ready?" "Will we ever really be ready?" "Are we at a place financially where we can afford a baby?" "Should we wait and save more?" There were so many questions, so few answers. Ultimately, a coworker put it into perspective for us and said, "there will never be a convenient time to have a baby, but when it happens just know that it's a blessing."
It was a blessing indeed. The moment we found out we were pregnant, I felt incredibly grateful that God had granted us such a beautiful miracle. The months of preparation for a baby were overwhelming but exciting. I was overwhelmed and at times stressed by what needed to get done prior to Camilla's arrival (e.g. moving into a new home, organizing, cleaning, preparing the nursery, all while still working), but never once did I question or doubt my ability to be a nurturing mother. In my mind, I was a baby person. I LOVED babies and children, and I was experienced (given my years of babysitting and nannying), and so mentally I felt prepared and ready for this baby. Better yet, I felt joyful and excited that this time around, it was going to be my baby that I would be taking care of. I would be a "natural" of course.
Fast forward, the baby is here. Thinking back now, the first two weeks seem like a blur. We were getting used to this new life and this new baby, and needless to say it totally rocked our world, especially when we realized that the days of sleeping were long gone. I was nursing around the clock, waking up every hour in the middle of night to nurse, and nursing for as long as 45 minutes to an hour each time. I was EXHAUSTED. In the beginning, as a result of sleep deprivation, I didn't embrace breastfeeding the way that I would have hoped or imagined. This left me devastated. And I was overcome with guilt at the thought that while breastfeeding was physically easy for me, I was not connected to it. For months, I had anticipated that breastfeeding would be accompanied with excruciating pain, as so many told me it would. While it wasn't painful for me, I still found myself on the verge of giving up simply because I was tired. I'm embarrassed and ashamed that the thought of giving up so easily would have even crossed my mind, if only because I know just how difficult this experience can be for other mothers who want nothing more than to be able to breastfeed their child. Not to mention, there are so many mothers out there who even still persevere through the pain that can come with breastfeeding (special shout-out to those mamas. I truly admire you because had I been in that predicament, I honestly don't know if I could have done the same).
I'm truly embarrassed to say that exhaustion did get the best of me, and as a result of this, Warren and I resolved to come up with a system. We decided to supplement with formula for the middle of the night feeds, so I could get some sleep. Yes, I know that there are many people out there who have their opinions about formula and who would proudly preach "breast is the best," but quite frankly for my own mental and emotional sanity, I would have to argue that "rest is the best." And for us, getting rest meant resorting to formula feeding at night. Motherhood is difficult enough, and more important than the pressure to breastfeed is the the absolute necessity to sleep.
Needless to say, this system worked great for some time. But before we knew it 2 weeks had come and gone, and Warren had to return to work. Upon Warren's return to teaching, the nights of team work were long-gone. Knowing that Warren had to rise and shine for the work day at 4:45am every day, I resolved that at night I needed to let him sleep, leaving me on 24-hour baby duty. This by no means was something that Warren ever requested or imposed; it was strictly my own doing as I felt it only fair. Not to mention the urgent need to prove to myself that I could be a mother on my own; I needed to know that I could handle the late nights, the nursing, the rocking, and the soothing because that was my role as Camilla's mother. And I needed to prove that I could be the "nurturing, put together, handle it all" mother I always envisioned. Again why wouldn't I be? I was a natural (so I believed) given my desire to have a baby and my love for children (note: sarcastic tone).
Almost immediately after I set out to prove myself and to lean on Warren less (stupid I know), did my emotional state come crumbling down, leading to perhaps the darkest period of my life. My nights were overcome by intermittent feelings of loneliness, isolation, guilt, and sadness. Add to this the overpowering connection that a mother feels to her child, which inevitably leads to even more tears. When Camilla would cry (which was undoubtedly a lot in the beginning for a variety of reasons, all of which had to be deciphered by us), I would hysterically begin to cry, too. It was an automatic and physiological response, proving again just how strong the mother-child bond truly is.
It didn't take long before I became distinctly aware of how sad I was feeling, yet unable to wrap my head around why. Yes, of course I felt overwhelmed, what new mother wouldn't? But why did I feel so disconnected from motherhood? Why was I sad after being granted the greatest blessing of my life? Why was I crying every night instead of smiling from the joy that a baby brings? Why did I feel so lonely knowing very well that in the next room I had the most loving and supportive husband to lean on? Why did I feel so isolated when I very well knew that I had family and friends that I could turn to and who were in fact checking in on a daily basis?
These emotions really took me by surprise. Because, along with the assumption that motherhood would come naturally, I also assumed that my generally positive and happy self would be exempt from the ever-so-common baby blues. I now know that where there are hormones involved, no one is ever safe.
The baby blues is a normal, short-lived period of sadness directly linked to the hormonal changes that follow giving birth. And I happened to be among the 70%-80% of women who experienced the blues.
Thinking back to those days, I have become aware of just how daunting the nighttime was for me. During the day (and perhaps it was the added element of the sunlight peaking through my windows), I felt as if I could take motherhood by the horns and successfully perform my responsibilities as a nurturing mother to a newborn. It was as if each day was a clean slate, every time. During the day, my energy, my patience, and my mood were at an all time high (despite the exhaustion). However, with the setting sun, that high would come crashing down, leaving me feeling helpless, lonely and emotionally vulnerable. As Camilla was learning to distinguish night and day, in the beginning, she spent most of her days wanting to be asleep and most of her nights wanting to be awake. So here I was a very tired mama, ultimately pulling all nighters with her 3 week old baby.
It wasn't long before I reached my breaking-point, which looked something like this: me rocking my crying daughter, not knowing what else to do since I had already fed, burped, and changed her. As I rocked her, tears just began running down my face, not only a result of desperation but also in response to Camilla's crying. It wasn't long before Warren came into the bedroom, finding both of us crying (me silently and Camilla quite loudly). From the moment he walked into the room, I immediately felt a sense of relief just by his presence. This made it just all the more clear how desperate I was not only for sleep but mostly for company (and the days following this, my mom was right there with me to provide me with company, love, and comfort).
I truly can't write this without acknowledging how thankful I am for my mother. I don't tell her NEARLY enough how much I love her and how grateful I am to have her as my saving grace. Not only did she sacrifice her own sleep so that I could rest, but still, 28 years later, she was there to take care of me, just as any mother would for her baby, only proving that a mother's job is truly lifelong.
All this to say that the beginning of this journey started off quite differently than I would have expected, imagined, and wanted. I guess that's the beauty of motherhood: just as your baby is constantly changing and growing, so are you. Feelings aren't final, and there is definite comfort in knowing that emotions are temporary. That dark period (that every mama might come to know in her own way), does pass and there truly is a light at the end of the tunnel. Just when you think that things are at their darkest, your baby smiles for the first time and just like that your heart and world light up.