Our third baby came out of nowhere. I know how babies are made, but honestly I'm still not super sure how this one got here. The second one? That was straight up unprotected sex, but a third baby only ten months after? The boots weren't knocking that much, if you know what I mean.
After I took the pregnancy test, I texted a picture of it to a girlfriend and wrote: "On a scale of 1-10, how positive is this?"
She wrote back: "11. You’re 100% pregnant."
I had a series of rolling freak-outs over the course of that week: I didn’t want to be pregnant during the summer. I didn’t want to give up training for the half marathon. I didn’t want to have three children in our small, two-bedroom house. But the biggest freak-out came one night about three days after I took the test. I was lying in bed after everyone was asleep, and I realized that more than anything I did not want to go back to that place, that terrifying post-baby place.
I was scared.
While I knew I would love our new baby, I was worried that I wouldn’t love myself. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to parent three children the way I wanted to. I was worried that whatever happened in my brain after my daughter was born would happen again, but worse.
My first postpartum experience felt like a battle inside my mind: my rational thoughts warring with anxiety-ridden fears. So much of that time was like an out of body experience, as though I was standing above myself watching, knowing that I was being irrational, but I couldn’t make myself stop. The fear of the unknown taunted me, haunted me, and my rational brain couldn’t combat it.
The baby will be fine in a bassinet in the room by herself.
No, she won’t. No, she won’t.
If you close that door she will definitely die.
No, she won’t. No, she won’t.
So the baby slept in the swing in the living room, where I could see her at all times.
Just because your son said his head was itchy, doesn’t mean he has lice.
Yes, it does. Yes, it does.
There aren’t even nits.
It doesn’t matter. We ALL have lice. Even the baby!
No, you don’t. No, you don’t.
YES. Yes, we do! The baby has lice!
So I stayed up late, late into the night Googling natural lice-fighting remedies, nit-checking my husband in his sleep, obsessively picking at my son’s hair.
I scrubbed the walls. I cancelled meals from our Meal Train. I would go outside at two o’clock in the morning and stand on the front porch just trying to breathe, trying to stop the No’s from screaming at the Yes’s.
And no one knew.
No one knew because I didn’t tell. I was so burdened, and so worried, but the thought of burdening and worrying someone else just made me more burdened and more worried. So I smiled. I went to playdates. I said “we’re doing SO great,” because we were, but I wasn’t.
I was fine. I was fine. I was fine.
No. No, I wasn’t.
As you can imagine, my physical body bore the brunt of my internal battle. My milk supply decreased, which only added more stress. I knew I needed to rest, but I couldn’t rest because my list of stresses and worries was too long, too consuming.
When my daughter was about six months old, I felt myself coming out of the fog. I stopped perseverating about death and lice and being a burden. I let my house get messy, and my daughter slept in her crib in her room with the door shut. I could go an entire nap-time without checking on her. I felt quiet in my mind. I could breathe again. This happened slowly. It was as if the volume was lowered just a decibel everyday until there was nothing.
One Saturday morning, when I was still newly pregnant with our third, my husband was making coffee in the kitchen. Our kids were quietly playing in the living room. I sat down at the kitchen counter and said, “I think I wasn’t okay last time, after the baby. I’m worried about what will happen this time.”
I had never said that before.
There were a few times after the birth of my daughter that I wondered if something was wrong, but since I didn’t feel depressed, I figured I was fine. Other moms said transitioning from one to two kids was tough, and I assumed a certain level of anxiety was normal.
What I realized in the confirmation of my next pregnancy was that my anxiety had tipped the scale, and it wasn’t until I said the words “I’m scared. I wasn’t okay,” that I realized how badly I had felt or how freeing it would be to admit it out loud.
One of my struggles is that I believe that if something isn’t cripplingly hard, then it isn’t hard at all. If I can still function, I am fine. Three hours of sleep? I’m tired, but I’m not dead; therefore, I am fine. Twenty-six weeks of morning sickness and daily vomiting? Other people have had it worse; therefore, I am fine. Foster care, two-year adoption process, surprise pregnancies, job changes, grad school? I’m still breathing, so I must be okay.
As it turns out, I’m not doing myself any favors by acting fine. The people who love me actually are not burdened by me in the way that I worry they are. In fact, they want to talk; they want to help. My husband, my family, my friend—they want to know how I’m really doing, and frankly, in order for me to be healthy, I need to know too.
This time around, I know myself better than I did before. I’ve done a lot of things differently, and this postpartum experience has been less scary. I’m learning to scan myself internally, to say “On a scale of 1-10, how am I doing?” I’m learning to share what I find.