[Editor’s Note: This post is today’s featured entry in the Journey to Motherhood with Ricki Lake story contest. Find out how to submit your story and see the video message from Ricki here -- you could win a wonderful prize package! -- Jenna]
Today (February 6) is my birthday. This morning my 2 ½ year-old son, Henry, handed a bouquet of flowers to me and said, “Happy Birthday Mama!” He proceeded to perform his trademark jig while singing a toddlerized version of “Happy Birthday.” This was topped only by the enormous hug he gave me afterwards. Today, I am definitely a Mother. And a happy one, at that.
But for the first half of his life, I wasn’t really his mother. Sure, his little 5-pound body exited my womb the day he was born. He did nurse on my breast for a few weeks. And he looked almost exactly like me. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that he was my son and I was his mother. But I wasn’t.
For over a year I was merely a shell of a mother, the life having been sucked out of me by severe postpartum depression. I could barely care for myself and functioned as only a basic caregiver to him, only ensuring that he was fed, cleaned, and put back in a safe place. And honestly, that was usually done by someone else (e.g., my husband, mother, or mother-in-law). Sometimes I would try to be a mother to my son and slowly rock him in our glider chair -- but my sobbing seemed to upset him too much.
My memories of the first three months are a blur of sadness -- inexplicable sadness that drained me of tears and confined me to bed most of the time. On the other hand, at least I had feelings; the rest of the time I was dead inside, feeling nothing more than ambivalence towards my son. Unlike some mothers suffering from postpartum depression, I never wanted to hurt my son (fortunately I was spared that terrible symptom of postpartum depression)… but I had no interest in him or anything else. I just wanted to disappear forever.
What I really wanted, though, more than anything in the world, was to get better. To be cured of the strange illness that gripped me tightly and cut me off from everything. The next several months involved trials of different medications, lots of therapy with psychiatrists and counselors, and weekly visits to a PPD support group. It even included a terrifying stint in the psychiatric ward, when I hit a dangerous low point and made plans to end my life in the back of my vehicle.
I spent the first half of my son’s life clawing my way back to my own life, to him, and to my husband. I was a warrior fighting the most difficult battle of my life, but not a mother. I was a patient with an illness, but not a mother. I was an employee struggling to maintain a job while combating side-effects of medication, but not a mother. I was a wife and a daughter with lots of loving support, but not a mother.
The road back from postpartum depression is… vague. It doubles back on itself with frustrating relapses, and never affords you any shortcuts. For many women, there are no direct paths to recovery. You just have to keep walking, one step at a time. And one day, you will look up and see yourself again.
Today I saw myself -- quite literally -- in the reflective blue iris of my son’s eyes, somewhere between when he handed me flowers and before he started my birthday dance. When was the last time I looked, and felt, this ecstatically happy?
I’m not sure exactly how and when it happened, but I know with certainty that I have become his mother. It wasn’t an easy journey, but I’m here now.
Photo Credit: toasty.
More from parenting