Is a first time mom ever really prepared? Mom groups, Pinterest, blog articles like this. Read all you want, there are a million things you can’t prepare for as a parent. I’m not saying this to scare you, or maybe you’re already painfully aware, I just want to share my experience with you. When I had my first baby, I was as prepared as I could be. Had all the equipment I needed, read as much as I could to learn about what to expect, I even took classes to prepare me for childbirth. But even after all that, I still suffered from postpartum anxiety and depression for over a year after my baby was born because I was inexperienced as a parent and didn’t understand the signs. I was sleep deprived, suddenly eating anything and everything I could out of convenience, riding the hormone roller coaster, and spread thinner than I ever had been before. I couldn’t believe that being a mother was a miserable thing. I couldn’t believe that something I had wanted and looked forward to most of my life was a mistake.
I spent the first year of my first child’s life hating almost every second of motherhood. Never for a second hating my baby, but I couldn’t keep from wondering if I shouldn’t have tried so hard to become a mother. I looked at my rainbow baby, for whom I had fought through fertility issues, through tears and months of disappointments, and thought “why don’t I enjoy being a mother? What is WRONG with me?” I thought this over and over for months. Never finding an answer. I felt horrible for not desiring to leave my house or take my baby out into public. I didn’t want to join any mom groups because I feared that I was such a horrible mother for the way I felt that other moms would shame me for sure. Sharing this story now is hard enough because I’m sure there are still some moms out there who might be reading this thinking I was a horrible mom for feeling this way. Thankfully, postpartum depression and anxiety are gaining more awareness. More parents are sharing their journey. More parents are understanding the signs and signals. You can read my post about my postpartum mental health struggles HERE, complete with a long list of my personal symptoms.
“I looked at my rainbow baby … and thought ‘why don’t I enjoy being a mother? What is WRONG with me?'”
After a year of struggling as a mom with PPD and PPA (postpartum depression and anxiety), I finally realized that I needed to address my mental health. Being a mom is equal parts mental, physical, and emotional effort, but even after my moods improved, my brain fog lifted, and I started to feel less overwhelmed, I was still left with regrets and guilt. I regretted not being able to dote over my brand new baby, not wanting to do a newborn photoshoot, or even dress my baby up in his cutest onesie and show him off at church. I felt guilty that I didn’t enjoy being a mom, I didn’t wear cute coordinating outfits with my baby, I didn’t want to do playdates. And to complicate feelings even further, my hormones had started to tell me that I wanted another baby. What kind of cruel joke is it that our bodies can give us mixed signals like that?!
And Then Comes Baby…#2
To make a long post short, we became pregnant with our second baby when our first was only 16 months old. It was joyful and daunting at the same time. Exciting and overwhelming. I prepared for the worst and hoped for the best, but I assumed that my hormones would torture me again and drive me back down the postpartum struggle highway. Fast forward nine months through a fairly basic pregnancy (for which I thank God), a week overdue, we decided to have me induced because my gestational diabetes had our baby measuring large to begin with. After an even longer and more difficult labor than my first, I figured it was just the beginning of my second round of struggles as a mom. Call me a pessimist, but suffering through PPD and PPA and feeling guilty about wasting your first year as a mom will have you seeing things in a cautious light. Things didn’t seem any different at first, but it wasn’t until I finally held my baby after the nurses cleaned her up, measured her, checked her health, swaddled her and handed her back to me that I started to be able to hear my own thoughts and notice a change.
For the first time since becoming a mom over two years before, I had a moment of calm. As I looked down at my second baby, I realized that I DID know what to do if she cried. I DID know how to hold her to breastfeed (even if I was a little out of practice), I DID know how and when to change a diaper. I wasn’t instantly overwhelmed or scared, and I didn’t feel alone. I felt confident that my husband knew what to do and that I could actually try to sleep in the hospital before we took her home. Then, I chose to hold my new baby not because I was afraid to put her down but because I wanted to look at her tiny, perfect face and take in everything about it. I was able to focus on tiny details like her eyelashes, soft cheeks, and tiny fingers instead of feeling overwhelmed by the hugeness of the situation and the responsibility of caring for a new life. I didn’t wake up in a panic when she would start crying. Not only was I prepared to be a mother, I was finally enjoying it.
Remember the feeling of starting a new job and being awkward and scared to answer the phones or not have the answers a customer needed? Being a first time parent can feel kind of like that, but instead of disappointing a fellow adult human, you’re suddenly responsible for keeping a tiny human alive. No pressure, right? But once you’ve had that job for a while, you know where to find everything, you’ve learned the answers to almost all of the questions, and you have more confidence when answering the phone. This is closer to what being a second-time parent is like. Now, that’s not to say that parenting a newborn and a toddler at the same time is a piece of cake, but you might be able to approach the situation with a little more confidence than when you were a newbie.
Once we got our precious cargo home, it began to sink in for me that maybe I was on some sort of naive high from the pain medication from the hospital. I thought for sure that I would begin feeling overwhelmed at any moment. Thankfully, as the days progressed, my confidence stayed the same and even in the more frustrating moments, my brain didn’t fail me and gave me the proper mixture of patience and clear thinking that I needed. Late nights were rough but didn’t affect me the way they had before. I didn’t spend my hardest hours alone, struggling to feed my baby and crying in the dark. Instead, I would leave just enough light on so I could watch her sweet, little face looking up at me and shooting hearts out of her eyes at me while she fed. It immediately soothed my soul, calmed me, and restored my confidence as a mother. I hadn’t failed my children, I had just been fighting my body’s abnormal hormonal responses.
My second baby restored my faith as a mother. She helped me understand that the feelings I had with my first were not my fault. Even if my brain was the one speaking the lies, I didn’t have to believe a word of them. My second baby showed me what it felt like to enjoy my opportunity to be a mom. She made me feel that even though I wasn’t (and still am not) perfect, it wasn’t about being perfect. Even though she wasn’t directly responsible for this change in feelings, I thank her for helping me realize that I didn’t fail my first baby. I didn’t realize how much I needed a second baby until I realized that that baby was my redemption as a mother. I didn’t actually hate the newborn stage. I didn’t actually hate getting up every two hours to feed my baby. I didn’t actually hate sacrificing my body and my comfort to feed my baby. I didn’t actually hate having to hold my baby until my arms ached. Those were just all cruel jokes played on me by my postpartum body after my first pregnancy, and I felt a new sense of purpose and pride in doing those things.
Rainbows and Butterflies
This is not to say that everything has been all rainbows and butterflies after this second pregnancy, but it is a stark contrast to my first. I share all of this with you to give you hope. If you are struggling, have struggled, or are afraid you will struggle again with your postpartum mental health, I want you to know that those struggles are NOT your identity. Those struggles don’t define who you are as a mother. And they aren’t written in stone. Your children love you despite those things and may never even know you struggled in the first place. Make your health a priority and seek help with a doctor, counselor, friend, pastor, or anyone who cares about you. You are worth that redemption.