It’s been a while since my last blog post. I’ve written most of my posts this summer during Hypnagogia. Which means none of them made it onto this blog. It’s been an emotional summer, and therefore hard to concentrate. But here we go. Hold on, it’s gonna be a long ride, this one.
Today is the last day of summer vacation and I feel like I managed to ruin it for my little girl. She’s fickle, changes her mind a lot, and today, for some reason I couldn’t handle it. So I yelled at her. Not that I haven’t yelled at her before, but this was different. I said things I wish I hadn’t. Things about taking repsonsibility for your choices, about how we’re not made of money, etc… Things a 6-year-old couldn’t possibly understand. As soon as I realised, I went outside to calm down and take a few breaths. Then went back in to apologise, profusely. I have no excuse for being that tough on her. None at all.
It’s just that, sometimes, I can’t seem to handle things the way a normal adult would handle them.
Only a few weeks ago she was away at summer camp for 6 nights. I was pining for her, felt so lonely without her and nothing anyone said could change that feeling. She’s never been away that long with people (teenagers I might add) that I didn’t know. I don’t know where this feeling came from? It was separation anxiety at its worst. Letting go isn’t one of my strong suits. Neither is positive thinking. So I imagined the worst: she was cold, lonely, sad, homesick, all of it. And when we got her back, she did say she cried a lot cos she missed us and that broke my heart. But I realise it’s good for her. To be away on new adventures, to learn to be independent. My head knows all this, but my heart usually refuses to cooperate.
The feeling I had that week was so different from the feeling I had when she was born. It took me 4 years to get pregnant, but when it finally happened I was confused, sad. I wasn’t ready for it. During the whole pregnancy I felt scared, was in pain (pelvic instability at a very early stage), had several panic attacks and just wanted it to be over. No one had told me that it was gonna be this hard.
When she was finally born, I remember not feeling anything. You can see it in my face in the pictures. I knew this baby was mine and instinct said I had to take care of her, but there was no bond. No real overwhelming love people keep talking about. It was very confusing. Luckily her dad took over most of the care for her because I honestly couldn’t deal with it.
I breastfed because it was the right thing to do. But she cried a lot.
And when I say a lot, I mean day and night. And we couldn’t figure out what was wrong. She would always start when we put her down in her crib and then stop when we picked her up. At one point I was so desperate I started shouting at her (just like today). It felt like she was doing it on purpose, for attention. So I gave her to her dad and went outside, in the middle of the night, to sit in the car for some peace and quiet.
The next 5 weeks were hell. She barely slept (her dad would take her out on car rides in her car seat in the middle of the night just to get her to sleep), she wouldn’t eat a lot (breastfeeding wasn’t going well at all) and I still didn’t feel any bond. I felt like my life was over. And to get rid of that feeling I made sure I was away from home as much as I could.
I was never really a party girl, but all of a sudden I couldn’t stand being at home. I was in a play a few weeks after having a baby (on purpose, because theatre usually keeps me sane). But nothing could’ve prepared me for the way I behaved. Usually depression makes me feel less energetic, makes me wanna crawl under a blanket and not go out.
This time, it didn’t feel like a depression, it felt like I was rebelling against motherhood.
After 5 weeks we finally discovered what the reason for her non-stop crying was: silent reflux. Thanks to a friend (whom I’ll always be grateful) whose children had all had reflux, we recognised the signs. And thanks to the internet, we made a diagnosis that the pediatrician had failed to make many weeks before. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as silent reflux. I just thought that reflux meant vomiting and heartburn. From then on things improved, she got medication and thicker milk, but the damage was done. I still couldn’t deal being at home, so when we switched to bottles to make her milk thicker, I was relieved on one hand (no more hassle) and on the other hand really scared. This was the only thing I felt only I could give her. Without that, she wouldn’t need me anymore and there would be nothing to tie us together. Those feelings went on for many months. And even though I’d been in therapy for my BPD for over a year by then, I still didn’t think to call my therapist and explain my behaviour to her.
It was only when, at 6 months, she became seriously ill with a stomach virus and was in hospital for a week, I suddenly I felt I couldn’t live without her. Like, at last, she needed me there.
Finally, after 6 months, there was that bond between a mother and her child that everyone kept talking about.
I just wish I’d realised it sooner. That my behaviour wasn’t normal, it wasn’t ok and I should’ve gotten help. Ever since then I’m a strong advocate for women with post partum depression. Back then (only 6 years ago), I couldn’t really find a lot of people who were in the same boat as me. Social media was still developing here in Belgium. Most of my friends weren’t even on Facebook yet and Facebook communities didn’t exist. Instagram and Twitter were barely known here.
Last year I discovered a Belgian Facebook community called The Gentlemom. If you speak Dutch, check them out or get their book. What they write about is word for word what I experienced. It is so reassuring to read that I’m not alone. That other mothers struggle too and that everyone could use a little awareness about PPD before giving birth. It’s fine to teach women how to breathe during the delivery, but what about after? Society still has a lot to learn about mental health care. Ultimate proof for me was the fact that my insurance covered all pregnancy related expenses, except for my visits to the psychiatrist. Because that’s not related to having a baby apparently.
If you’re up to it, check out this video about strong women who also struggled with PPD. And please, if you’re feeling overwhelmed as a mom (or dad), don’t keep it to yourself. Sharing your story will help you and others.
PS: My daughter and I are now two peas in a pod and I couldn’t imagine my life without her. So it was all worth it in the end.