I never wanted to be a mother. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against children. In fact, I chose a career that was devoted to children. Devoted to helping them find their way and give them the tools to create a meaningful life. It was my passion. I just never had the deep seeded desire, natural to so many women, to have a child of my own.
Early in my marriage, I suffered a miscarriage. People told me to “try again” and “it will happen” and “don’t give up”. I’m sure most people would have been comforted by those words…they just didn’t resonate with me. I was not convinced that I WANTED to try again.
My sister-in-law at the time was very persistent, pushing me to get pregnant. I will never forget the day I admitted to her my shameful secret: “I don’t think I want to have kids”. She was appalled. “How could you do that to your husband? Your parents? They want grandchildren! That’s so selfish…You can’t do that to them!”
I felt like the most horrible human being to ever walk the earth. She was right. I was being selfish. I went home and cried for hours.
I did get pregnant again. At the “big” ultrasound, the one when the sex of the bundle of joy was to be revealed, I was convinced the technician would say “It’s a girl!” She didn’t. It was a boy. I. Was. Wrong. And I was mortified.
To me, it was another sign that I should not be a mother. I was convinced that I had no maternal instinct whatsoever. If for three months I KNEW I was carrying a girl, a girl I had already named, was indeed a boy…if I could be so wrong in my intuition…how would I have any clue how to take care of an infant?
Again, I went home and sobbed. I was a terrible person.
My water broke six weeks before I was due. I was transported via ambulance to a metropolitan hospital specializing in premature and high-risk births. I was alone, surrounded by strangers poking and prodding, and tending to my condition. My son was not only in distress, but also in a breach position. I suffered from extreme back labor that was almost unbearable. All I could do was apologize to the medical staff for having to “deal with me”. I remember being wheeled into surgery. In what seemed like seconds, my son was removed from my womb via caesarian section. As quickly as he came into this world, he was wheeled away from me and taken to the NICU. I was told he was healthy and strong, and that he looked “wonderful”. Again, my only thought was “I shouldn’t be a mother. I couldn’t even protect him inside my body for a full nine months. I cannot do this”.
It was a full twelve hours before I could see him and almost another 12 before I could hold him. Here he was, this squirming, little soul. I felt nothing.
It was sometime in the early morning hours the next day when a nurse brought him to me, crying and writhing, telling me it was time for me to feed him. She forced him on my breast. He could not latch. He was too small. She told me “Well, maybe someday he’ll be able to breast feed. I guess we’ll have to use a bottle”. Just like that, she scooped him from my arms and marched my crying child back to the nursery. Back so that nurses who were more adept could feed my child, since I clearly could not. Not mother material. After four days, we were discharged.
The first few months at home were torture. I was often alone with my son and extremely resentful. Everyone told me how perfect he was. How lucky I was that he was so healthy and strong. Telling me that that he was a miracle baby, to have been born so prematurely and still being ready to face the world like a “normal” baby. OK. That’s great. But you’re not the one working full time, not sleeping and putting on an act for you all to see. Pretending I felt as blessed as they all said I was. I didn’t want to be a mother.
There were times I would just stare at him as he cried. I would walk to another room and let him sob. I didn’t care. I was tired and wanted to cry, too. But I could not. Because HE was.
I never asked for help. I never wanted to admit defeat. I couldn’t let anyone know how I was feeling. Whether I was mother material or not, one thing I had never been was a quitter. I’m stubborn to the core. I do not fail. As much as he was ruining my life, no one was to know.
I took tons of pictures. I dressed him in all of the best clothes and showed him off to the world with a smile on my face. I shared stories of milestones and bragged him up. By all appearances, my life was perfect. I was trying to “fake it ‘til I made it”. It did not work.
One evening, after giving him a bath, I noticed his lips were turning blue. Suddenly, my disgust toward this boy turned to overwhelming terror. Off to the ER we went. They began testing him for pneumonia. Exams, blood work, x-rays…the usual drill. I’m not sure what happened to me that night. But something definitely changed.
When they wheeled him back, I embraced him like I never had before. I didn’t want to let him go. He was my son, I was his MOTHER, and I could not stand the thought of him being in pain. I felt something new toward him. I felt love. A love I had never felt before.
I now know that I was suffering from postpartum depression. My fears of being a bad mother, and the pressure I had felt to have children, only exacerbated the onset of this condition. I was told that all of these circumstances created a “perfect storm” which was solidified by the circumstances surrounding the manner of his birth. To an educated woman, it all made sense. I can look back and see every event, feeling and belief that initiated this downward spiral.
Postpartum depression is real. And scary. And dangerous. I was fortunate. I was “snapped back to reality”. And I thank my lucky stars for that every day. Not all women who are afflicted by this disease are so easily “healed”. I’ve made it my mission to speak out about this as honestly, and as often as needed. No mother should have to feel alone in their struggles.
My son is now thirteen years old, and is honestly the love of my life. That night in the hospital changed our lives forever. I may not have wanted to be a mother, but I cannot imagine my life any other way. The people I poo-pooed were right: He is perfect, he is a miracle. And I am the luckiest mother in the world.