Yesterday I read a Facebook post of author, Elizabeth Gilbert. In it she talked about a time she went to a therapist because she didn’t want to have a baby, even though she was 30 and married. Rather than joy, she felt dread, at the thought of a precious bundle. She was afraid that she was feeling “the wrong feeling.” After all, wasn’t she supposed to want a baby? Her therapist explained that her feeling wasn’t the problem, but her inability to accept it as legitimate was.
She detailed beautifully many examples of people who had the “wrong feeling” given the situation- a woman who felt grief on her wedding day, a lively man who responded to his terminal illness with happiness, a woman who was relieved when her sick father passed away, and the mother who was joyful when her children moved off to college.
I thought about how I felt after my second son was born. For days, weeks, and maybe months, I felt detached and underwhelmed. I didn’t have motherly love spewing from me. I didn’t feel that instant connection. I knew what I was “supposed” to feel because I had it with my first-born. With him, I followed the nurse down the hall when she took him for his hearing test. With my second, I easily passed him to the nursery so I could get some rest. I even flat-ironed my hair in the bathroom. The feelings themselves weren’t as difficult as my struggle to accept them. I kept saying to my husband in between sobs, “I’m not supposed to feel this way!” I felt terrible, alone, and ashamed.
When Asher was born, I was worried about how my relationship with my first-born would be affected. I knew it would forever be changed, and although I trusted all would be well, I grieved the loss of our intimate twosome. Undoubtedly, the adjustment to a family of four was hardest on me. I thought about all the women who gushed over their new babies on social media, declaring their divine love, and all I thought was, “What’s wrong with me?”
I scoured the internet looking for women who had similar experiences with their second child, and I didn’t find much. Nobody wants to talk about it, let alone write it on the internet, for shame over feeling like a terrible mother. I desperately wanted to know I wasn’t alone, and that things would get better, but I was too trapped inside myself to even speak my truth to anyone but my husband.
With time things did get better. As the months went on, we adjusted more, my hormones leveled out, and our baby’s generosity with his smiles helped. I never did seek help, but I wish I would have. How I felt wasn’t intense, but dull. I didn’t want to hurt myself or the baby. I took care of him, and nursed him, and showed him affection. I just didn’t feel all that attached. I’m not sure what I needed, but emotional support alone would have been great. I needed to say, “I don’t feel that excited about my new baby” and have someone tell me I wasn’t wrong or crazy or terrible. Luckily, my husband was good at accepting my reality and assuring me that lots of people experience the same feelings and that it will get better, but seeking someone outside our tight bubble would have been wise. I trusted him though, and doing so got me through. (Oh yeah, and those sweet smiles.)
At the time I didn’t think much of postpartum depression, but in hindsight I wonder if I had it. It’s easy to honestly pass the screening questions at postpartum check ups when the experience isn’t extreme, but perhaps PPD comes in many different forms and severities. I struggled with accepting my feelings as they were, and felt shame which prevented me from owning my truth, and doing what I had to do, which was open up and talk about it. When I finally did, I realized so many others felt the same way, and it was so comforting.