It’s been three months since Greta was born. And while I knew my life would drastically change when I had her, I just didn’t know how, exactly.
So many people said, “You’ll be surprised at how much you can get done at the beginning - newborns sleep soooo much.” LIES. She slept, sure, but only if she was being held. Tom and I took turns holding her for chunks of time while the other slept. I look back now and don’t understand how we got through those nights. Greta could not be set down for the first month of her life. Even changing her diaper prompted screams that sounded as if someone was stabbing her. Her tears were met with my own. I couldn’t stand the sound of her cries. They made me want to claw my own skin off they were so unbearable. I remember leaving the hospital - when we first put her in her car seat. She cried so hard she made herself hoarse. I’d seen all these Insta-stories of sweet newborns in their carseats on the way home from the hospital, asleep and peaceful. Why was my baby screaming like she was dying?
She screamed the entire way home. That drive home was one of the lowest points of my life. I felt beyond helpless. Why was I incapable of soothing her? Why was she crying so hard she couldn’t breathe? Was she in pain? What was wrong? Why was bringing my baby home from the hospital - an occasion meant to be joyous and filled with excitement - feeling like the worst moment of my life? I sat in the back seat on my inflatable pillow, tears rolling down my cheeks, trying desperately to calm her. After fifteen minutes of this I remember I just stared out the window thinking, “There’s no way I can do this.” I wanted to open the door and throw myself into oncoming traffic.
Because I’ve had a long history of depression, I knew to be on the lookout for PPD. I pretty much expected to encounter it at some point post-delivery. What I didn’t expect was the crippling anxiety that would bring my to my knees. I was blindsided by it. Our first week home I couldn’t leave the house for fear I would trip and fall and crush Greta while walking down the stairs. I recall trying to take a nap one day while my father held sleeping Greta and all I could picture was her suffocating in a crevice of the sofa. In the hospital, there’d been a moment when she’d struggled for air (babies are, after all, learning how to breathe). I’d grabbed her and patted her back as my dad paged the nurse. She asked what I needed over the intercom and my dad shouted “The baby is struggling.” She was fine, but that moment played on a continuous loop in my brain for the next few weeks. All I could picture was her choking to death.
Everything left me in tears. Happiness, sadness, anxiety, excitement. It felt like I’d stumbled off a hormonal cliff and was free-falling into oblivion. I felt like I was drowning - couldn’t breathe - for at least the first month and a half. They kept me an extra day in the hospital because I kept failing the depression screening test. My OB asked to see me three days after we got home from the hospital. At my visit, I collapsed in her arms, sobbing. Then I immediately went on antidepressants.
Learning to breastfeed was a beast of a mountain to climb. (PSA: If you are an expectant mother and have any interest in breastfeeding whatsoever, take a class BEFORE the baby comes. I’m still kicking myself at how little I knew and how uneducated I was before I had Greta.) I just thought it was the natural way - so I didn’t really think too much about it beforehand. Her little body, 2 weeks too early, struggled to learn how to feed. Her mouth was so tiny, she had difficulty latching onto my too-short nipples (sorry, TMI).
FOUR DAYS. That’s how long it took my milk to come in. The longest, most excruciating four days of my life. For me, there was nothing worse than feeling like I couldn’t feed my baby. She cried so hard, I thought she must be starving and in pain. We supplemented with formula until my milk came in, but the whole experience put me through the emotional wringer.
I didn’t want to see anyone. I thought I’d want to have friends and family over to meet the baby and instead found myself dreading anyone paying a visit. The mere thought of someone coming over stressed me out to the point of tears. I didn’t respond to texts or calls or emails for a good month or so. (I still haven’t written thank you notes for all the lovely gifts we’ve received.)
I did allow my good friend Laura, who’d had a baby two weeks prior, to pay a visit. Though hazy, I remember I was naked on the couch, holding Greta while she slept. (The amount of time I spent naked while learning to breastfeed must have been record-breaking.) I think she asked me how I was doing - I don’t really remember, it’s all a bit fuzzy - and I began to cry. She held my hand and stroked my arm and just repeated, “I know, I know.” It was a cathartic moment I didn’t even know I needed in order to get through the coming months.
I remember having this intense dichotomy of emotions. On the one hand I thought I was dying and just wanted to get through the newborn phase. On the other, I already felt time slipping by too quickly. I didn’t want to look back at the first months of Greta’s life and see myself wishing it away.
Having a baby is beyond exhausting. Yes, the not sleeping is brutal. But more so the self-doubt. Questioning every single move I make 24/7 is bone-crushingly fatiguing. It feels like I’m grasping at straws. In the dark. With no hands. Every day feels like I’m racing the clock to give Greta what she needs, let alone take a shower. (Quick note on the shower: I’d always heard new moms talk about how hard it was to take a shower with a new baby. My naive, well-rested pre-baby self couldn’t understand - what could be so difficult? You simply set the baby in a bouncy chair for ten minutes while you shower. When I learned that Greta could not be set down without screaming bloody murder, I decided to forgo showering for a while.) Juggling the timing of everything feels near impossible most days. And leaving the house actually stresses me out more, even though I know it’s good for my mental health.
I truly expected that when I became a mom, I’d be this easy-going, relaxed, mellow version of myself. Instead, I find I am a stressed-out, on-edge, anxiety-ridden version of me. I don’t know who this version is, but I know Greta can sense the tension I feel. The stress is palpable. And I want better for her. She deserves better.
It’s hard to not let the bad days feel like a reflection of my ability to be a good mother. Just last week I found myself bawling my eyes out in a Whole Foods while feeding the little nugget because she wouldn’t nap and was overtired. I’ve essentially been reduced to this raw pulp of a self who is riding an emotional roller coaster minute by minute. Yet, each day that goes by gets a little better. She’s learning. I’m learning. And we are growing together. Not every day feels like I am dying anymore, although I still have plenty of sleep-deprived moments (cut to me throwing the dirty diapers in the hamper and the dirty clothes in the garbage - more than once per day. It is so very evident to me why sleep deprivation is a form of torture). But as cliche as it sounds, I look at her and everything else does, in fact, melt away. While it’s been the hardest journey of my life, it’s also been the most fulfilling. Nothing could have prepared me for this kind of love.
So, if you find yourself with a new baby and are struggling, you are not alone. Millions of women have walked this path before us. We just take it one step at a time, together with our babies.