It was when my son, our first, was around 18 months old that in a casual conversation with a friend, who also happened to be a licensed marriage and family therapist, there was the mention that it sounded like I had had postpartum depression when my son was a baby. It was a lightbulb moment. That would explain the emptiness. That would explain the wanting to scream out when people asked me how much I love my new job as a mommy. That would explain my lack of response to him when he cried.
If you know a little about postpartum there is a little known statistic. Women who suffer from it have a 20-60% chance of having it again. I had heard very little about postpartum, but this friend of mine made me aware of the possibility when I was pregnant with my daughter Cora, my second. I was aware, but not concerned. We wanted both of these pregnancies. We were excited to be having a daughter. We were prepared for all of this. (Unlike the next two pregnancies. But that is another story. Kinda.) It wasn't really on my radar.
Cora was born on September 15, 2011 and her birth was fast and furious to say the least. I went in wanting an epidural because they are the best thing this side of heaven. However, I was too far progressed and only an hour and twenty mins from arriving at the hospital she was born. All natural. I felt all the things. And then I didn't anymore and I ate a chick-fil-a sandwich. It was great. We were so in love with her. Until she was crazy hard to nurse and comfort that night. It was so much harder than my son. But, we had done this once and I had a great helper (my hubby) and a wonderful night nurse. She might as well as set up a cot in my room because we needed her all night long.
The next day I had a not very nice day nurse. A situation happened when Cora got too hot and she scolded me big time. Feelings and emotions flood me even still remembering the shame she poured out on me when she was fanning my naked baby in her bassinet. It was that moment I was lost. The part of me in my soul that felt confident in my ability to take care of my child. The part of me who knew it was all going to work out. The part of me who wanted to do this because I loved my baby. Lost. A wave of anxiety crashed on to me that moment and I was lost in the sea of depression and anxiety.
The evenings were the hardest. The darkness almost proclaimed my weakness. I was afraid. I was afraid of being with her. I was struggling to even have a nurturing thought. My real prayer dear friends, was that she would die of SIDS so I would never have to take care of her and we could go back to being where I felt safe. My mind was a dark, deep pit of anguish. I was lost in a labyrinth of anger, hurt, fear, and overwhelming feelings. I remember trying so hard to rock her but would find myself angry just at her sweet cry. I would pray so hard that the Lord take my anger from my hands.
At the one week mark my loving and supportive husband had a very serious talk with me. Get help, or I will take the kids. It jolted me. I talked to my friend again and we did some different things to help level my hormones out and get me calm. I started meeting with my mentor and I stopped trying to do it all. I let my husband help me with feedings and the two of them bonded the way she and I should have. Which is still so present to this day. He was the one comforting her, not me. He was the one soothing her and singing to her, calming her and loving her. Because, I couldn't. She grew and I grew little by little in my ability to cope and take care of her and our son.
I wish with all my heart I could say that was the end of our journey, she and I. I had just started to like her in December of 2011, when I found I was pregnant with her sister. I was devastated. How in the world would I survive this again? I was just thrust back into the depression and heartbreak. I was now thrust into crazy. Just pure crazy. People would ask if I was excited, saying how great of sisters they will be. I would just say no. I wasn't kidding either. I didn't want this. I was again, lost.
The thing about my postpartum and anxiety is that it didn't allow me to bond with my daughter at the most crucial moments. For the next three years I struggled hard with my anger towards her. Just her. If all the kids were acting out, she bore the burden. If I was brushing her hair, I had this bizarre subconscious desire to pull her hair and hurt her. My anger flew when she was around. I snapped, I was harsh, I was not loving. I was everything I did not want to be to her. I will lament those years and moments and actions for the rest of my life. She did not deserve the mother that I was. She did nothing to deserve the anger that rained down on her. Especially when I had her youngest sister, Anne in 2014 and wrestled my demons yet again. This disease was like an old familiar friend. Three out of my four pregnancies I struggled. Deep. Deep struggle.
It's been four years since she was born. I would like to tell you I am cured. Our youngest is just now 18 months old. The truth is I still struggle some days. But, some days I don't. Those days are nice.
However, I have noticed in just the short few months leading up to her turning four that there has been a beautiful softening of my heart towards her. Maybe it's the fact that she's coming out of being a raging threenager. Her reign of terror is done and she has so effectively passed the torch to her younger sister. She is so sweet all the sudden. I find I have these feelings of motherly love towards her. Feelings that make me want to hug her for hours. I want to bond with her again. I haven't pushed her away when she wants to snuggle me for the first time in four years. I actually like her. Genuinely like her for the first time in her life. Let the weight of that sit on your soul. I actually like my daughter for the first time in her four years on this earth and in our home.
I know that I can not fix what I have done while my world was dark. I do not want to ever forget the sting of those years. It has shaped and defined who I am and where my passion lies as an adult. However, I can move forward in today. I can see the grace of love working to shine glimmers of light into the dark places. Peace being given to me by myself and those in my world, helping to break down the walls. Allowing myself to own the darkness, and speak of it. To grieve who I was, but realize it is not who I am. I am not defined by this. This is just where I am at. Where I was at. Where I am walking away from.
We will forever have a bumpy start to our story, she and I. I am excited to see where it leads. She is the daughter from my darkness. And ours is a fierce story to tell.
Amy Kneisler | Valencia, CA | Mama to Laine (6), Cora (4), Hazel (3), Anne (18 mo) | Connect with Amy here on her personal blog.