This past weekend was my daughter’s first birthday. Here’s the moment I lifted her to my chest for the first time. Pretty freaking cool, huh?
But let’s back up a bit to my last few months of pregnancy. (Zoom in to read the text, the captions are important for the rest of this novel blog post.)
And here’s a photo I didn’t plan on sharing, but as I went through her birth images reliving her birth day, this photo of her placenta made me break down in tears. This organ and I tried so hard to keep her safe and healthy and out of the NICU. This incredible, temporary, underappreciated and discarded organ did her best.
Here’s a photo of me snuggling Annie after she was born and noticing she was breathing a little funny and then asking the nurse to check her out.
Here’s a photo of the nurse trying to get her lungs to open up.
Here’s a photo of Annie being assessed by the NICU team. And the nurse already knowing what the doctor is hearing. Lungs full of fluid.
Here’s me holding her, crying, and pleading for God to work a miracle in that moment; to clear her lungs and for them to not have to take her from me.
And here’s a photo of the moment they rolled in the NICU transfer cart.
And here’s my daughter being taken to the NICU.
And there is no photo of this, but this was the moment I was wheeled out of my room alone. With no baby on my chest. Empty handed. A much different experience from my two sons.
As I was sobbing this weekend going through these photos, I asked myself out loud, “Why does this hurt so bad?” She’s ok. She’s gorgeous. She’s perfect. She’s ALIVE. We could have lost her, why am I still so sad? Why am I sad over the outcome we got when I think of what could have happened to her?
I know now I had postpartum depression after my first son. I didn’t know it at the time, but after I experienced a perfectly blissful postpartum time with my second son, I realized how messed up my head was for so long. I was never diagnosed, I was never treated, but I remember the feeling of overwhelm, the brain fog and the despair so well. Some would say those are just normal feelings of a first time mom, but coupled with the state of shock I was in for months on end and the dooming regret of having him at all, I have no doubts I experienced postpartum depression.
Annie’s birth and the weeks that followed will always be a source of bitter sweet. Yes, there was victory, there was gratitude, there was power, there was overwhelming joy at Annie’s birth. But honestly, I knew the moment they wheeled the NICU transport cart into our room that my depression was starting again. It’s written all over my face in the photo. It was like a switch was turned off in my brain and heart, and it has yet to be fully turned back on. Every day in the NICU it got darker. Knowing the magical postpartum that was possible and having 18 days of that blissful version stolen was devastating.
Annie’s birth and the NICU time that followed was hard. There’s no way to argue that time snuggling at home is a heck of a lot better than sleeping on a fold away bed, trying to care for my postpartum body in a place other than the comfort of my own home, being away from my sons for weeks, not having the full support of my husband, and living life with machines beeping all around us and my baby bound to cords was HARD.
But the part that I’ve been trying to figure out is why did it hurt me so badly then, and why does it STILL hurt so bad now? And I think it’s because I knew then what it would lead to…I think it’s because I knew then what I was in for now. I knew then what I’d still be trying to overcome now, still, a year after her birth.
I didn’t want it to be true, I tried to fight the sadness, the despair, the anxiety. I tried to brush it off saying, “maybe this is just life with three kids”. But newsflash, thinking of how nice it would be to get in a car accident just bad enough to land yourself in the hospital so you could escape your brain for a few weeks, and then actually picturing HOW you could make that happen when you’re driving alone without your children in the car is NOT normal. (Yes, that was a real thought of mine. Yes, my therapist knows. No, I don’t still feel that way, praise God.) Postpartum depression and anxiety have robbed my joy, assaulted my brain, and stolen so much peace from me over the last year. Once I came clean to a few close friends and family about what I was really up against, I realized I needed the help of medication and therapy to cope with my trauma and the relentless side effects. I do feel better, but this is not quick thing to fix.
I process best with words. So, this my attempt to move forward through this part and into that good part of celebrating what an amazing, blessed, joyful year it has been with my beautiful girl in our lives. Notice I didn’t say past this part and onto the good part. This part will never be gone. This trauma will always be a part of me and it’s forever changed me and I’ll always be working through it. But, I’m praying that finally writing this out will help me at least put this hurt to rest. I long for the beautiful reset that comes with rest. If you’re in this with me, please know I’m praying for you.
If you’re reading this and don’t know what postpartum depression, anxiety or psychosis looks/sounds like, go here and educate yourself. If you suspect a mother is struggling, offer to help in any way you can. Watch the baby so she can shower. Do the dishes. Do the laundry. Bring her lunch. Text her encouraging words. And if she wants to talk to you, the most powerful thing you can do is to simply LISTEN to her. Do not diminish her feelings or ignore warning words, no matter how small. And if needed, take gentle, loving, empathetic action.
My story could have been much different. This was just a glimpse of what it looked (looks) like for me, and it’s different for every one. I’m grateful for my husband and friends who validated my feelings, prayed for me, encouraged me to seek help, and who continue to check in on me. Friends, take care of the new mothers around you.
Images by Jessica Bonestroo Photography