I was one of those girls who always dreamed of being a mother. I was the go-to babysitter for my 11 older cousins, five older siblings, and our community. I worked in daycare centers, schools, and specialized in child development, parenting, and marriage and family therapy when I got my Master of Science degree in Human Development and Family Studies. After getting married, I even chose to wait five years before having a child to ensure we worked through major issues, that my partner and I were secure and ready to start a family and have a conscious conception.
During the process of defending my thesis, I discovered I was pregnant. We chose to conceive a bit sooner in our 4th year of marriage because I was greatly sensing that many of my clients, who were parents, weren’t buying my positive and non-punitive approach parenting. They didn’t think I could truly understand and give advice as I was not a parent. I could see where they were coming from yet wanted to prove to them that it was not only possible but ideal, and of course, my partner and I were ready.
You could imagine my shock and dismay when after my son was born, I did not want to hold him. All I wanted was to eat my bagel, drink my smoothie and be left alone. They did bring him to my chest right away as I had asked and I could see the herd of nurses and doctors and my partner taking care of him so I knew he was alive and being attended to. I shocked myself again that when they asked if I wanted him in the nursery or in my room, I was going to actually respond with ‘the nursery’ yet my partner jumped in and said ‘our room’ as he would stay there all night.
I am grateful my partner asserted himself and our agreed upon goal of keeping our son in our hospital room and he did take care of our son all night. I was also blessed that he had three weeks off of work for family-leave to take care of our son and me. For most of my son’s first year of life, I remember many times feeling numb, exhausted and negative. I could look at my son and feel empty. When he was calm and happy, I was too but babies have many more times of crying than not. The most positive feelings I had were more often for my partner as he was so helpful, sensitive, and watching him be a father made me love him more each day.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it was not all a bed of roses in the marriage department either. We told family, who mostly lived out of state, to come after my partner went back to work so we could bond as a family and spread out the support. When my family came to visit, my partner and I had a huge fight about me giving preferential treatment to my family compared to his family. It wasn’t pretty and extremely embarrassing for me as it ended with my partner throwing my breakfast, tea and all, at me in bed…Apparently, he was on his way to bring me breakfast in bed when I made an upsetting comment. Fortunately, my therapist skills kicked in as I worked very hard to empathize with his feelings and needs during a long, private conversation we had in our laundry room while cleaning the feta cheese omelet and tea off our bedding.
During this time, I was also training to be a birth doula and had to submit my birth story as part of the training. My trainers were surprised by how negative my story was. Their response then surprised me because I thought my story was honest and highlighted my gratitude for my partner which was very positive from my point of view. I had also suffered from major depression for at least a decade of my life so compared to my past, I was doing amazing and actually feeling quite decent, calm and very proud of my accomplishments. Sure, I still felt more like a rag than a mother but at least I wanted to live and knew things would only get better. I had come a long way in my healing journey. I felt like I was well connected to my thoughts and feelings like I was objectively witnessing this metamorphosis. I knew this transition would be hard and messy as raising a child is the hardest and least appreciated job out there so I expected and accepted this harsh reality.
I remember when my son was about 11 months old and I was changing his diaper before nap time. That feeling of being a rag, like my sole value was to be spit on, peed on, defecated on, and to be used at one’s disposal 24/7 to clean up everything, was particularly strong that day. Being nap time, my son was extremely fussy and resistant to going to sleep while I was overwhelmed and anxious about all the things I had to get done. Our clash of needs instantly brought rage and hopelessness to my being. I put him in his crib and stormed off to my room. I took some deep breaths, reminded myself that my partner would be home tonight and he would help me as he does so I can handle this. I felt calm enough to go back to my son to gently stroke his arms and face. I looked him in the eyes and could feel calm, joy, and love.
Still gazing and warmly engaging with my son, my train of thought then drifted to my mother who did not have a husband who would come home and help her. Yes, he worked and provided money, shelter, and food yet never changed a diaper for six kids. My mother did it all. If she could do it, then I could definitely do it. There was also a current news story about a mother who killed her two children in a town near my hometown. The news started to rehash the story about Andrea Yates who drowned her five kids in a bathtub and how could mothers do this to their own children…
It was at that moment and for the first time in my life, I had complete empathy for those mothers. Here I was so full of resources and support yet just a moment ago, I had so much rage in me because my baby is crying at me and I could not stop him. The negative thoughts that flooded my body like “What is wrong with me that I can’t comfort my child?!” Even though my logical, wise and conscious mind knows he’s only a baby and this isn’t a personal attack on my abilities, all I could feel was inadequacy, desperate, alone, and rage. Had I not had so much recovery time, resilience, support, and positive coping skills, I could have easily hurt him at some point. I can only imagine what these women and their mothers and grandmothers had lived through… What their relationships were like with their partners and family? … What unprocessed trauma was tormenting their psyche and connection to body, heart and wise mind?
As a person who is passionate about cultivating healthy relationships, maximizing human potential, healing trans-generational trauma as well as prioritizes taking responsibility, self-inquiry, and reflection, I have been able to pinpoint the trauma and adverse childhood experiences that resulted in depression, anxiety as well as many negative core beliefs and reactions. I could also connect how all these experiences and negativity were negatively affecting my attachment and relationship with my son. As well-educated and empowered I was for my son’s birth, I was sadly triggered in the hospital environment and was easily persuaded to accept interventions I did not want. This set off a cascade of medical interventions that lead to 53-hour excruciating labor and delivery, two and half weeks earlier than expected.
Yes, I know, many mothers have it worse and I should be glad my son was healthy and alive as I have had subsequent miscarriages and a stillbirth so that is painful on so many other levels. Regardless, our bodies react to pain in the same way and all we need is to perceive a threat to our well-being to trigger fear and stress responses. Based on my past, I got triggered which shut down the connection to my heart and wise mind when my son was born. Food and rest were all I wanted because I had not eaten in days and endured the most physical pain and exertion in my life. I was in survival mode.
After having a supportive, positive homebirth with my daughter where I did not feel fear, I noticed how alive, connected and joyful I was within my own being and with my daughter. This stark contrast made me realize that I had postnatal depression and anxiety with my son. I still had bouts of anxiety and panic attacks after my daughter’s birth as she had different needs and temperament but I could see them more clearly and respond with love for her and myself more quickly. I also had more safe places to process my pain and have forgiven myself as well as applied my positive trust-based and attachment parenting to my relationship with my son. Every past relationship pattern can be healed in safe, nurturing, and responsive relationships today. He will be 15 is a few weeks and he is the most compassionate, responsible, and honest teenager I have ever known. Our relationship is a constant source of light, transformation, and joy in my life.
So for all those parents who didn’t seem to believe me that you don’t need to punish children and that you can be kind and respectful to get them to cooperate, I am happy to report that my kids are my living proof. I admit, what I did learn and did not truly understand before having children was utterly how demanding, exhausting, and challenging parenting is 24/7 thus I gained a ton more empathy for parents, especially mothers. You certainly cannot do it alone and you need as much non-judgmental and compassionate support as possible as well as prioritize your well-being. Keep doing things daily that nurture yourself and bring you comfort or joy no matter how small they may seem. There is also no one way to parent. It is best to connect and trust your heart and listen to your wise mind.
Here is a video on creating secure infant attachment
If you are worried that you or someone you know may be experiencing signs of postnatal depression check out the following links:
8 Little-Known Signs of Postpartum Depression
7 Reasons Why Mothers Don’t Disclose Their Scary Thoughts
And Dads can get it too: https://www.parents.com/parenting/dads/sad-dads/
If you are experiencing a mental health emergency, please call 911 or visit your local emergency room
Call 1-800-273-8255 https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
Text 741741 from anywhere in the USA https://www.crisistextline.org/
Take Wonderful Care,
Positive Reframe shares resources with the intent of the positive progression of informed decision making related to issues associated with emotional, relational, physical and spiritual wellness. While I share personal and professional perspectives, my writings reflect my personal opinion and not intended to substitute professional advice, diagnosis, and treatment. This online medium does not lend itself to the level of detail and rapport building required for thorough assessment and therapeutic intervention thus the content shared on this page is for informational purposes only. To make well-informed decisions that best meet your family’s unique needs, I highly recommend exploring and researching available options, consulting primary health care providers and seek referrals from a trusted source for professional counseling. I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy in the state of Illinois, USA