I spent the early weeks of my daughter’s life on the same spot on the couch. To this day, the cushion serves as a stark reminder of those times: worn out and significantly flattened by its many hours of use. The cycle went: wake, cry, eat, cry, eat, cry, eat, cry, sleep. Repeat. And for the first time in my life, I felt a particular type of anger bubbling up within me more times than I could count: white hot flashes of rage that terrified me, forcing me to place her in her crib while I stepped outside to remind myself to breathe.
I felt like I was having a heart attack.
Until one day, I cautiously cashed in the prescription I’d been written at the pharmacy – feeling simultaneously relieved, ashamed and terrified of what lay ahead. This was the first time I had ever taken any sort of anti-depressant. I decided to stop nursing at that moment: not only were her constant cries to be fed significantly contributing to my anxiety, but because I was crippled with guilt over the lack of research on the effects of anti-depressants on nursing babies. I couldn’t live with any more guilt or fear.
Over the next few weeks, the change was so subtle, it was hard for even me to recognize. I smiled more. I even laughed. I found myself staring at her tiny cheeks in wonder. I kissed her baby toes and smelled her sweet baby smell. And when she cried for the millionth time that day, I comforted her. I rocked and swayed and stepped outside – this time, with her in my arms. Eventually, the white hot rage faded away to nothing.
I will always regret those first few weeks of her life. I regret not seeking help sooner. I regret that I don’t remember anything about her first smiles or coos. That entire phase of parenthood (the most important weeks) is completely blank in my mind. And I may never get that time back with anyone – certainly not her – and maybe never again in general. I overcompensate by kissing her too much, squeezing her too tightly, and telling her I love her more times than a person ever should. I remember the first time I felt excited to see her face in the morning – a feeling that still hasn’t gone away, three years later.
And so, life went on, as I imagine lives do for new mothers who are lucky enough to escape the all-too-common clutches of postpartum anxiety and depression. Each night, I dutifully swallowed a pill, and each day (for the most part) I woke up feeling like me.
One night, as I was brushing my teeth before bed, the neon yellow prescription bottle caught my eye. And just as quickly, the realization (as irrational as it may seem) hit me:
What if this pill is the only reason I love my daughter?
I can’t believe it hadn’t crossed my mind, sooner. I wish it never did, because it shook me to my core. I climbed into bed with my spouse and tried to explain to him just how hard it had hit me – and out of nowhere. He held me as I cried, and I fell into a fitful sleep.
I knew I couldn’t stop taking the medication. It had made life bearable for me, and I was terrified of the thought of returning to that dark place interspersed with bouts of white hot rage.
In those early days, I remembered speaking with my Therapist about my uncertainties around taking medication. She described the medication as a life jacket: I had to put it on before I learned how to “swim”.
Over time, I realized that my life jacket has become less and less necessary. I have developed the muscles and movements required to ensure I can swim swiftly to the shore in my times of need. The life jacket is still there, yes – and it plays an important role – but, even without realizing it, I’ve come to rely on my own swimming techniques to make it through those tougher days. I have hope that someday I won’t need my life jacket anymore, but that day is far into the future, and I’m okay with that. I am constantly learning to swim. Each week, I hope to get a little better, a little more comfortable in these waters I call Motherhood. I’m in the process of strengthening my swimming skills and muscles, but it’s a daily task. I write, I read, I do yoga, I take breaks, I meditate, I spend time with others, I explore my own interests, and I let myself forget that I’m a Mom sometimes.
And most of all, I continue to love and nurture my baby – now a pre-schooler who has lost all of her baby features and is well on her way to becoming a little girl. I’m a Mother with a great life jacket who is working on her swimming skills. I have my trying moments, just as any Mom does – but they are manageable now. The white hot rage is gone, and so are my darkest moments.
I’m not afraid to admit it: my medication makes me a better Mom.