I have two children ages five and seven and a half. So, why am I reacting to the sound of a random stranger’s baby crying by gripping my shopping cart with white knuckles?
Because unfortunately, I still get triggered by my postnatal depression, even though my postnatal period is far in my past.
Isn’t depression fun? I mean, just when you think you’re past it, there it is barreling down on you like that scene in North by Northwest with Cary Grant in the field with the planes trying to kill him. Except, I never look as good as Cary Grant does in that scene when I get triggered by my postnatal depression. I’m usually in sweatpants and some stained shirt walking around the supermarket trying not to put all of the pasta things in my cart.
Then, as I’m picking up the whole wheat pasta that everyone in my family hates, I hear it. The small whimper of a baby crying down the next aisle. I try to ignore it and then the sound escalates as all baby cries do and I find I can no longer ignore it. Within moments, my heart rate goes up and I find myself back on an old blue exercise ball with a screaming baby in my arms, tears streaming down my face, knowing this is just the morning and I have the rest of the day until my husband gets home to feel terrified to be left alone. The memories of putting headphones on to drown out the sound of a colicky baby, of me hearing nothing but Phantom of the Opera in my ears flood back. It will be years before I can listen to that album again without feeling like I want to throw up.
The red button has been pushed and I’m back to feeling my postnatal depression.
My children are older now and I can talk with them. It’s amazing and yes, there are moments when I long to be holding a sleeping peaceful baby version of them again, but then I hear that baby cry and I remind myself that the baby years, the really little baby years, were far from the best years of my life.
I still have friends having children, in fact, a few are pregnant right now or have just given birth to a child. I find whenever I see the first announcement on social media, I get this rush of excitement for them and then later on a creeping sinking feeling in my stomach. What will life be like for them? How awful will that first night home be? That first week? Month? I instantly feel like I want to save them from the depression that I feel they will be going through.
I feel so much joy for them but am triggered at the same time.
A few years ago, my friends had their first child. I began to mentally go through my triggering and panicking for them. I began to instantly place every awful feeling I had on them. I began to get terrified for them. I would anxiously look for updates as they got closer and closer to their due date. And then finally, the baby came. Once I learned that physically everyone was fine, my mind jumped to the next crisis, the adjustment. I wanted to hug my friend and tell her that I had been there, that she wasn’t alone. I prepared myself to be her support if she needed it. With all of this buzzing in my head, I went over to their house for my first visit after the arrival of their daughter.
I walked into the house, suit of armor on, getting ready to battle any postnatal depression that I smelled. Then something happened. I rounded the corner and found my friend, smiling, sitting calmly, holding her tiny baby in her arms as if the baby had always been there. There was no crying or look of utter panic on her face. She was relaxed and so was her husband. In fact, the whole house seemed to just melt around them into this picturesque view of parenthood.
A peaceful parenthood.
I talked with my friends and heard that, yes, they were tired, but everything was going well. We talked about their hospital stay and breastfeeding and the entire time, I just kept thinking how calm everything felt and how relaxed it was.
At that moment, a place inside of me healed. Not enough to completely not get triggered in my sweatpants in Hannaford, but enough for me to begin to believe that full healing might be possible for me.
The idea that my story was not everyone’s story was healing. The concept that sometimes, having a baby is hard work and transformative, but not traumatic was new to me. The fact that not everyone needed to be saved from their newborn was incredible. Not every pregnancy announcement would later translate into a cry for help.
Not everyone would walk the same path I did.
I used to feel bad about not fully loving those months my children were newborns. But over the years, I’ve become more comfortable saying I prefer older kids or babies. That’s my story, it’s not everyone’s and it doesn’t have to be. Just like we all raise our children in different ways, our paths to taking on the mental challenges of parenthood aren’t going to be the same either.
Some of us are going to have a super rocky start, tripping, falling, sometimes falling into caverns and not being able to escape until someone throws us a rope… or meds. Some of us will find even footing right off the bat. It’s actually been a relief for me to see those families that have such sure footing as it has been for me to hear that others are finding as many booby traps on their path as I did.
I still have my moments. I still have times when it’s hard for me to hold a newborn or be in a store with one that’s having a bad day.