I don’t know why I’m writing this now. I've only spoken about this a handful of times. Maybe it has something to do with Vesper hitting a growth spurt and feeling a little nostalgic. I just feel like maybe writing this out will be helpful to someone. Or maybe it won’t. Maybe it will make all of you gasp in horror and think that I’m a terrible, terrible person.
Either way, I’m committed to being honest in this space, so here goes.
Let me start by saying that I have never loved a single person or thing the way that I love my little Birdy. She has absolutely become her Mommy and Daddy’s joy! Her bright eyes and toothy grin paired with chubby little hands reaching upward, wanting to be in my arms… it just makes me melt. I’m smitten! But to be completely honest, it wasn’t always that way.
I wasn’t one of those mothers who fell in love with her child the moment she heard those tiny squawks of life. It didn’t happen the first time I held her in my arms, and it didn’t happen the first time I nursed her. It didn’t happen when I brought her home either… In fact, after the first week or so, I began to worry that I might never feel about this child the way every mother describes: unconditional, sun shine-y, puffy hearts and rainbows love. It wasn’t that I hated, resented, or even disliked the kid. I wasn’t even mildly annoyed by her. Far from it. What I was, was absolutely terrified. I was so anxiety-ridden that I could not possibly feel anything but fear.
The first several weeks of her life are mostly a blur to me. I vaguely remember visits from family and friends, a string of home-cooked meals generously lavished upon us- which I barely ate- pain from recovery and from the newness of nursing a newborn who never seemed quite satisfied, and darkness. I spent a lot of time awake when it was dark.
What I do remember is being stuck inside my own head. I remember that Vesper wasn’t gaining any weight and it seemed like she nursed ALL the time. I remember beating myself up because in my mind I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t even keep the kid fed properly. Millions of women have done this for millions of years, and somehow I couldn’t handle it.
I remember doubt- How can I ever possibly hope to keep her warm enough? I’ll probably never be able breastfeed and everyone will judge me as I make formula bottles for her. I will never be able to sleep again. I will never be attractive to my husband again, and on top of that, he’s going to think I am crazy because I cry all the time at the drop of a hat.
I remember my irrational fear of leaving the house because wherever we went, she is just going to cry and annoy those around us and they’d see that I am terrible at this and we’d have to leave. Or worse, what if I had to nurse in public?! And what if I flashed a crowd of strangers?!
I remember desperately wishing that visitors would leave because I didn’t want them to hang around long enough to see me fail at this whole parenting thing.
I remember not wanting to be alone with Vesper- not because I didn’t like her, but because I was pretty sure I couldn’t take care of her by myself.
I remember worrying that she could tell that I was failing, and that she would hate me because of it.
I remember seriously considering antidepressants.
And I remember trying to explain all of this to my husband, who (bless his heart) just couldn’t understand and was frustrated that he couldn’t help his poor, sniveling wife. I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back now, I can say with quite a bit of certainty that I was most definitely suffering from Post Partum Depression.
This went on for weeks. Sometimes Ryan would come home from work and I would make up an excuse to go out “to the drug store.” I would go buy a Dr. Pepper, park my car in a parking lot, and just cry. I just wanted some time to be by myself and just… cry.
It was a very, very lonely time for me. Here I was with a beautiful, healthy baby girl for whom I had prayed for so long. She was mine. And she was damn near perfect. And I was crying in a parking lot, wishing I could take it all back just so I wouldn’t have to fail her and my husband…
Something you should know about me: I don’t like for people to see me fail. When I was learning to ride a bike, I wouldn’t let anyone help me. My mom would watch me from the kitchen window as I fell over and over and over… but I got back up. And yes, I can ride a bike now.
The irrational fear was slightly lessened when I took Vesper in for her 1 month check up –by myself thankyouverymuch (and almost had a nervous breakdown)- and the pediatrician said a phrase that set me free “she’ll be perfectly healthy regardless of what you decide to feed her.” And then my husband echoed that sentiment, “I don’t care either way if you nurse her or not. I don’t know why you’re putting so much pressure on yourself.” After pumping several times to measure volume, I finally admitted that my body just simply wasn’t producing enough milk to feed my baby girl. She wasn’t getting enough to eat and all I wanted was for her to be healthy. If that meant putting her on a diet of formula, then so be it.
But the big turning point came after a conversation with my sister-in law, Nansie. I texted her before-hand and warned her that I was going to call, but that I was doing the ugly-cry. When I called, she answered even though she was at work. She gave me the best advice I could have been given: get out of the house. “Even if you just go through the drive-thru. Put her in her carseat, and go somewhere. She might cry, but who cares? You’re in your car and you can easily go home. When you’re ready to go out to eat, just be prepared to get your food to go.” She also said, “and get her some pacifiers. You might have to train her to like them, but it will save you a lot of headaches in the long run.” And then this: “it’s a dance. You just have to learn to dance together.”
I was skeptical, but I tried. That night, Ryan and I put our sweet baby in the car and went to look at the Christmas lights in town. Then we went to Babies R Us and I got to go into the store all by myself and pick out pacifiers for her. No major incidents.
The next day, I decided to be brave. I put Vesper in her carseat and she didn’t make a peep. Maybe this wasn’t so hard. We went to the pharmacy and as I walked her around in the cart, sure enough, she started to fuss. I could feel my heart racing as I tried to convince her that she liked the pacifier. I fumbled with a bottle and formula and tried to determine if her diaper was wet. I was just about to leave when I turned the corner and saw a sweet old woman standing in the aisle.
“Oh, I just knew it was a brand new one when I heard that cry! I said, ‘Oh Lord bless that baby!’ What is her name?”
I answered, “Vesper. And she’s not too happy with me at the moment.” Feeling I needed to apologize for disrupting her shopping experience.
“And an answered prayer she is!” said the woman. (Side note: Vesper’s name means “evening prayer”- a connection rarely made by anyone!)
And then without even a pause she held her hand over my daughter and prayed for her. A beautiful, simple prayer that asked God to be with Vesper and make her healthy and strong. She asked God to give me strength and rest as her mother and she thanked Him for the beautiful gift that is motherhood.
I had tears in my eyes as I thanked her for praying for us. She just patted my shoulder and walked away.
I’m not going to say that was my ebenezer. My mind didn’t become instantly clear and my heart didn’t have a radical change that allowed me to appreciate all aspects of motherhood right at that very moment. But it was a beginning. I had a renewed sense of hope. I could do this.
I wasn’t ready to take whole days at a time, so I took things hour by hour. I began to feel more comfortable reading Vesper’s signs- hunger, fatigue, wet diaper, repeat. I started to feel things again. We learned our dance together…
And somehow, all of those hours have turned into nearly ten months and Vesper has gone from a scrawny little newborn to a chubby, giggly little almost-walking baby girl-child. And somewhere along the way it happened: I found that silly, forever and ever, puffy hearts love. Or maybe she found it in me… I’m not sure. To be honest, I’m still not quite sure how we’ve kept her alive this long! (Must be the formula!). I just know she's awesome. And I'm her mom. I am the mother of that awesome little thing that is sleeping in the next room.
I don’t think I’m finished learning the dance yet. It seems to change day by day. Pretty soon I’ll be learning a new dance with our second baby, and I already feel the anxiety well up in my throat when I think about it. But this time I know things I didn’t know before. I know that crying does not equal failure. I know a few tricks for getting him to sleep, and a few tricks for keeping my sanity when he won’t because I know that no matter how unlikely it seems, that baby will sleep eventually. And I know that I have the potential to provide nourishment to him whether it’s by breast or bottle. And I know that I have the choice and no one can make me decide based on trends. I know that I will cry and I will worry and I will doubt. But I also know that God is in control, and no matter how many times I fall, He’s going to keep picking me back up.
So I guess we’ll just keep dancing…