And I will fix you…
My daughter fell asleep in my arms tonight. This may seem like an insignificant fact to most of you, but I wept as it happened.
When my son was born I never in a million years thought I’d be struck by a postpartum mood disorder (PPMD). It made my life hell. I had a lot of difficulty bonding with him and always struggled with the fact that he often seemed happier with other people than with me. Family would meet him and gush about how in love they were with him and I felt stone cold. It was a horrible feeling that I buried deep inside of me, ashamed and embarrassed. I didn’t know how to connect with him and didn’t know how to instinctively respond to his needs which made me feel like a failure as a mother. I started having anxiety attacks when he was about 4 months old. The smallest thing would trigger it; but there were good days too. After a few nights of good sleep I felt better and more in control, I convinced myself that there was nothing wrong and that I just wasn’t the mother I expected to be. I never sought help.
Needless to say, with all of the anxiety, I was in no way prepared to think about having another child, so I was somewhat taken aback when I found out I was pregnant with my daughter. I went over my charts hundreds of times and couldn’t figure out where I had misinterpreted them, but I placed my worries in God’s hands. A few weeks into my pregnancy I started spotting off and on. Having miscarried before I was really scared I was going to lose this child as well. After some tests the doctors discovered I had a subchorionic hemorrhage, a small pocket of blood trapped under the placenta, but that it wasn’t going to be an issue. Ever the same, every time I spotted again I feared I would lose my baby.
A few weeks after I found out I was pregnant I went to visit my sister who was a nun at the time. I had barely greeted her when she took me aside and asked if I was pregnant. God had put it in her heart from the time I’d conceived that I was expecting another child. Much to my surprise, another Sister approached me later that day and also asked if I was pregnant. She had had a dream a few days before that I had come to the convent with a 4 month old baby girl. When we did the math we realised the next time I would come for a visit, my expected child would be 4 months old. I knew at that moment I was having a girl, and I knew that God would bring her to term and He had a very special plan for her.
As the pregnancy progressed, the PPMD worsened. My sister-in-law had a baby, and I remember her holding him, snuggled up in a ball on her chest and her saying how much she loved him, how it didn’t matter that he kept her up at night, she was just so over the moon to have him. I remember a combination of jealousy and shame go through me. That feeling of love was still was so unfamiliar to me.
The day my daughter was born everything changed. Actually, the exact moment. The instant I pulled her up out of my body and into my arms I felt a love I had yet to experience with my son. As the weeks wore on I understood that look in a new mother’s eyes when she talks about her newborn child. While exhausted, I patiently got up with her, fed her, and comforted her. She was obsessive about sleeping in my arms, it was the only place for awhile I could get her to sleep. And she always had to sleep upright, head on my shoulder or chest. My son has never done this. Not with me anyway. I remember longingly watching him fall asleep in my mom’s or sister’s arms, even a friend’s, curled up in a little ball, head snuggled in just under their chins. Anytime I held him like that he screamed and pushed me away.
As the weeks wore on and the PPMD began to fade, I felt like I was coming out of some deep sleep I’d been in for the past year and a half. I began to find myself again, but as the sun lit up the dark corners in my life it revealed the wreckage that my former self had left behind. I saw how my family walked on eggshells around me, afraid to do the slightest thing lest I lose it on them, I saw how far I had pushed friends away, how much I had isolated myself, how I had put my faith on the backburner, but the most painful loss in all of it was my relationship with my baby boy.
I have no fond memories of his first few months, I remember challenges and fights. My son rarely snuggled with me, rarely came to me for comfort. I don’t know if I’ll ever know how much of his behaviour is his personality and how much of it is a result of my inability to respond to him. I’ve worked really hard on fixing the mistakes I made. He now does come to me when he hurts himself. He asks specifically for me now over others, and while I’m not always thrilled with his sudden attachment to me, I hope he now understands that his mommy loves him.
Which brings me to today. It’s been a rough day today. Isaac is getting over a bad cold and Sofia seems to be picking it up. They’ve both been hanging off me today and there’s been a lot of tears, so I was pretty relieved when they went to bed. Usually Sofia goes to sleep with nary a whimper. However she was crying and crying, so after my husband gave up on trying to soothe her I went in. If this had been my son at 1 year old, I would have gone in, angrily told him to be quiet and shut the door behind me while feeling my heart pounding madly and the oxygen choke out of my lungs, desperate to leave the room before I felt like I wanted to pick him up and throw him into a wall.
My response was different this time. I walked in quietly, rubbed her back and sang to her. When she still kept crying I picked her up, checked her for a fever and gave her the milk she hadn’t finished at dinner. She first refused it, but eventually gave in and drank. She then snuggled herself into my arms and I rocked her until she fell asleep, upright as always, head on my shoulder, in my arms.
I didn’t want to move. I didn’t want to leave the room or put her down. I didn’t want that moment to end. As I held my daughter, tears streamed down my face. I always knew God had a special plan for her. I never imagined it was to heal me.
“‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”
— 1 Corinthians 2:9