The first three months of Mira’s life are a blur of love-crazed, sleep-deprived madness. It was a constant emotional roller coaster; one minute I’d be staring adoringly at my sweet baby, completely love-drunk for this tiny, perfect little human I’d created, feeling elated and over the moon….and then the next minute I’d dissolve into exhausted tears, mourning the loss of sleep and loss of brain cells and loss of personal space and freedom, and wondering how on earth I could keep functioning on no more than two consecutive hours of sleep.
For years, I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety, and one of my biggest triggers is lack of sleep. I had known that the newborn stage would be hard. I’d expected the sleep deprivation, had tried to prepare myself mentally. My husband and I were both worried about the possibility of PPD, and one of the main reasons we waited so long to have a baby was that it was crucial that my depression be under control before getting pregnant. For me, this entails medication. Cue the mom guilt.
When we originally decided that we were ready to try to conceive, I talked to my doctor about the risks associated with anti-depressants and pregnancy, and although she assured me that the medication I was on was one of the safest available, I didn’t want to take any risks and tried to wean off of the medication. I told myself that I would “supplement” the lack of meds with yoga, exercise, long walks outside, by making extra time to paint and do the things that keep me mentally healthy. It wasn’t enough. Despite all of my efforts, I ended up in that scary, dark, hopeless place.
When I am depressed, I am the worst version of myself. I lose the things that I like most about myself: my patience, my humor, my empathy, my energy, my optimism, my creativity, my ability to find joy in the mundane, my desire to be around other people. It takes all of my energy to simply function, and there isn’t much of me left over for the people I love. It’s a terrible place to be, and certainly not conducive for caring for a baby.
After months of trying unsuccessfully to pull myself out of it, I made the decision to go back on a low dose of medication because the benefits outweighed the risks. I’ve accepted the fact that in all likelihood, I will remain on medication for a very long time, and you know what? That’s ok. It doesn’t mean I am weak, or that I chose myself over my baby. What is best for my baby – and for my husband, my family, my friends, my own sanity – is for me to be me, not the shell of myself that I am when I’m in the midst of depression.
Despite the medication and all of the mental preparation, those first three months of Mira’s life were the most challenging of mine. Ironically, they were also the happiest. I learned that it is possible to be exhausted, drained – physically, mentally, emotionally depleted – and still be ecstatically, wildly, exuberantly happy. Motherhood – parenthood – is crazy that way. It tests your limits, shows you how strong you really are.
It was a time of chaos, night and day blurred together, never knowing what to expect from one moment to the next. Was she going to be awake all day? Awake all night? When was she going to fall asleep? When was she going to wake up? I am a creature of habit. I like schedules, routines, predictability. There is absolutely nothing predictable about a newborn, and I really grappled with learning to relinquish control during that time.
In the midst of the madness, Justin and I found ways to ease the burden. I was breastfeeding and Mira was a voracious eater, often eating every 1-2 hours all day and all night. Determined to do everything “by the book”, we’d decided to wait the 4-6 weeks to give her a bottle to avoid nipple confusion. This meant I was on duty 24/7.
After a few weeks of not getting more than 2 hours of sleep at a time, my sweet husband made the executive decision to give Mira a bottle while I took a nap to give me more time to sleep. I woke up four hours later feeling like freaking Superwoman (4 hours!? The luxury! It was glorious! Did I really used to have this many brain cells?!), and wandered downstairs to discover Justin on the couch giving Mira a bottle. I panicked. “She’s never going to breastfeed again!” I told Justin. With all of his signature calm, he told me that it would be fine. “She’s a champ,” he said, “and you really, really needed the sleep.” He was right on both counts, and I am still grateful that he trusted his daddy instinct and made a decision that I would have toiled over and ultimately nixed. Sometimes you have to go by your gut, not by the book.
The first three months are about survival. They are about bonding as a family and relearning how your family dynamics work. They are about discovering who this new little person is, and how to make your lives work around theirs’. It is daunting….and man, is it amazing. It is a time of firsts. The first time your baby looks into your eyes – really looks into your eyes – my God. It’s breathtaking. The first smile. The first giggle. Oh, the first giggle. I swear, the first time Mira giggled, the heavens themselves cracked open and all of the light and joy and happiness just poured out, right through her little lips and straight into my soul.
I learned a lot about myself during those three months, about my capacity for love and my endurance and that I am so much stronger than I ever knew. I also learned that I need to ask for help sometimes, that it is ok to call my Mom and say, “I am drowning today.” I learned that misery – and joy – loves company, and found that going to a new parents support group gave me the commiseration I needed to keep going when I thought I was at my limit. Talking to people who were in the same boat – exhausted, elated, frustrated, ecstatic – made me feel normal, and encouraged me to just keep going. I found The New Parents Network at Columbia St. Mary’s in Milwaukee, and made some Mama friends. You NEED Mama friends. You need them. They will console you when you’re overwhelmed, encourage you when you feel like you’re failing, celebrate the little victories with you, convince you that you do not need to take the baby to the ER because her poop is florescent green, bring you back to sanity. I went to La Leche League meetings, which I’d strongly recommend if you are breastfeeding because guuuuuuuurl, breastfeeding is HARD, and the ladies there are a wealth of knowledge. Use the resources available to you. Most hospitals have new parent support groups, and you do not necessarily need to have delivered at that hospital to attend the group. The support is invaluable.
If you suspect you or a loved one may have PPD, don’t wait to take action. Reach out. You are not alone. You are not failing. You deserve to be the best version of yourself. If you don’t know where to start, follow the links below: