Tonight, the fam & I headed over to Chipotle for some yummy, trendy, Mexican food. While we were there, I watched as a new mom & her partner attempted to tend to a newborn little boy. I felt bad, because I know I judged her. Then I felt really bad, because I’m pretty sure she was struggling with post-partum depression. There were three couples dining together, & as I observed the group (I’m sure not as covertly as I tell myself I did), I saw how everyone else stepped in to take care of the baby. My heart broke for that woman & for that little boy.
I actually do have some very mild experience with PPD. A brush with it really, but it makes me more empathetic than I once was. When NBG was born this year, it took me no less than three weeks before I actually FELT like I loved her. I spent the first weeks of her life breastfeeding her, staring at her, changing her diapers, & not feeling a shred of emotion toward her. I would look at her, & I knew in my head that I loved her, but I couldn’t feel it. I forced myself to treat her like I felt something. I made myself care. Basically, I faked it ’til I made it. It wasn’t until afterward that I realized I had a brush with PPD. I couldn’t even admit it to my husband until recently, & he was shocked when I told him about those first few weeks. He’d had no idea.
I remember thinking that if anything happened to her, I’m sure I would be sad, but, well, maybe not. I felt resentment toward her for furthering my body’s ruin. I couldn’t figure out how I could love my eldest child so immediately & intensely and yet feel nothing when looking at this new little girl. I remember thinking, “I didn’t ask for her.” I wasn’t depressed or sad. It wasn’t baby blues. Other than mild resentment, I really felt nothing, & I didn’t care. (See? Nothing.)
But my head insisted that I would eventually care, so I forced myself to keep going. After three or four weeks, the feelings gradually began to take root, beginning with the moment my littlest daughter truly saw me for the first time. Or maybe it was the first time I really saw her. It was the first time I didn’t feel like an appendage to a boob. The first time I felt like something more than just a means to an end. It was the moment when I realized that, to this little innocent, I am the world. It was the instant I felt the connection.
The connection. It matters so much. Without it, I don’t know how a mother perseveres. It’s why my heart broke for that mother tonight. Once I realized why she was being so cold. Once it hit me that I hadn’t seen her even look at her baby, let alone touch him, in the hour that I sat in a restaurant with her, despite the fact that he wept for her. While my first reaction had been mild anger that the dad gave the baby a bottle by propping it up with a blanket instead of holding his son & properly feeding him, after continued observation, I realized that this was a new family barely hanging on. I wanted to cry.
At one point, the dad took the mom outside. She was on the verge of tears, & he was literally supporting her out the door. I’m pretty sure it’s all Dad can do to help her keep it together, but then I expect him to consider the need his son has for emotional bonding while feeding? Unlikely. I can empathize with the mom. My mind start filling in the story. Maybe she tried to breastfeed but failed for lack of support. It almost happened to me with my first. Maybe the baby was unplanned, & now she feels trapped with the father. Maybe she simply feels woefully inadequate, & my judgmental presence just exacerbated the situation.
I can imagine, though, if what I experienced had extended to twice as long as it did. I’m pretty sure I would’ve begun to wonder what was wrong with me & to feel, if nothing else, at least frustration with myself. I’m a world-class self-beater-upper. Pretty sure I would’ve been beating myself up regularly, too.
I briefly spoke to one of the ladies from the group while waiting for my steak salad. She was holding the newborn, & I asked how old he was. 8 weeks, or so she thought. She was his aunt, she told me. He’s adorable, was all I said, but I smiled at him. A part of me just wanted her to know, & to maybe pass it along to the mother, that I thought her baby was beautiful. That, although I’m pretty sure they saw me watching, I had nothing negative to say to or about anyone.
More than anything, I wish I could’ve told that mother that it’s ok. That I know she loves her baby. That eventually she will feel it. That it’s ok for her to seek out help. I wish I could have encouraged her, & mostly what I feel is disappointment in myself for possibly being the direct opposite of that.
I’m praying now that the family she was with tonight has recognized the signs & is looking out for this new mom & her baby. I’m praying they all come through it with few scars & are stronger for it.
If you’re struggling with PPD & it’s been more than a few weeks, please tell someone. Talk to one of your friends who’s struggled with it. Talk to your spouse or partner. Talk to your mom. Talk to your doctor. Just talk to someone with whom you feel safe, please.
I just want you to know that you’re not a bad mom. You’re not a failure. There’s nothing wrong with you, at least nothing that a little time & support won’t fix. I know you love your baby, & I’m not judging you. My heart’s aching for you & your baby.
Although I connected with my little girl after a few weeks, it was still a bit unnerving that it wasn’t immediate. It made me doubt myself. I understand, at least a little bit. I was fortunate. Please don’t try to do it alone. You don’t have to, & there’s no reason you should. You don’t have to be tough or embarrassed or “strong.” PPD is not a weakness.
It’s legit. It’s real. It needs to be acknowledged.
And if that new mom I saw at Chipotle tonight with her 8 week old son is reading this, I’m so sorry I judged you, especially before I understood. Before I realized. It’s too easy to judge, & you didn’t deserve it. I’m praying for you tonight. Please keep hanging in there. You’re not alone. I’m sorry.