Feeling things I didn’t think mothers were supposed to feel.
Shh, Don’t Tell! stories are meant to be heard – in the person’s own voice – as well as for the original music. Please click above and listen, if you can! The transcript is also below.
Narrator: What about those feelings of not adoring, not even liking your brand new baby?
Amber: My mom would ask me isn’t this the best thing that has ever happened to you and don’t you give him a thousand kisses a day? And I just was like no I don’t, I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Narrator: Amber got diagnosed. She was going through post partum depression and anxiety – like millions of mothers do.
Amber: Oh, that’s why I didn’t enjoy this, that’s why this was a terrible experience and why I was thinking and feeling things that never – that I didn’t think mothers were supposed to feel.
Narrator: Like anger, jealousy, depression, disappointment, fear. But these are all normal feelings. Amber’s started when her son’s birth did not go as planned.
Amber: He was born, he was crying, and he had a lot of hair. And he was four pounds and four ounces, which I guess is a big preemie – I know that now, but at the time I was like uh, I mean like – no. Babies are like six pounds and higher right? But he was beautiful and I got to hold him for a minute before they took him away.
That’s the hardest part for me.
They had to take him. They didn’t know if he could breathe on his own. So they took him away. And my nurse stayed with me. Mark asked if I wanted him to stay or go with my son and I didn’t want him to be alone so I sent him with our son. I had a nurse who was great but it was just us. So they like stitched me up. You know you have to go to the bathroom, and kind of get settled and then they bring you back to your room. I went back to my room. My nurse set me up to pump for the first time so that I could establish a breast milk supply.
You know, I couldn’t take him home, I couldn’t care for him myself. The one thing you could do was pump. Go to your room, pump, get that going, rest. But, you know, alone. Not with your baby next to you like you think it’s going to be.
I remember waiting for my prescription for my breast pump to be filled before I left the hospital. You know we were like great, we’ll pass some time before this prescription is getting filled, and we’ll go like get a taco or something. And there were all these pregnant women. And I had just delivered my baby. Nine weeks early. And I don’t know what made me think I was ready to just be out with people whose lives were normal and progressing. I just saw all these women with these big bellies that I would never get to experience and I was just like….I don’t know, it was just a thousand things. Like, this isn’t fair. Why isn’t this me. What did I do wrong? I didn’t do anything wrong.
Even now, I see interactions between mothers and children who have had normal experiences and I wonder is there some shortcoming that I still have with Thomas because of that or am I just being illogical? I know that he’s my son, he knows that I’m his mom. He loves me. And I love him. But. I just can’t help but kind of be jealous of the people who kind of had the experience as it was supposed to be. I held a plant on the way home. I didn’t hold a baby.
The first day I brought him home, we were in bed and you know we were just kind of like, just kind of like having a moment of realization. I was just alone with him and I apologized to him. I was like I’m so sorry that you had to go through this. But you’re home now. You’re with us. And you get to stay here and I’m not going to leave you and you don’t have to be away from us anymore.
I just remember kind of like holding him over my shoulder and he was very small and he was breathing on my neck and I was thinking like, this is like what I signed up for, this is exactly what I want, I want to be holding him in my arms, in my room, in my home. But I’m not happy right now. I don’t know, I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t know how long I can keep this up. I don’t know if he needs me in this particular moment, because for the first 27 days of his life I left him someplace else. I left him at the hospital and went home. You know, took care of the bills, ordered stuff off the baby registry for the baby shower I couldn’t attend, fed myself, pumped again, went to bed. And someone else changed him, and took his temperature, and fed him. And he didn’t need me.
I know that we’re kind of our own family with our own groove and comparison is stupid. But I don’t know, there’s just kind of this something that I can’t ever, I can’t ever change it. I can’t ever make it better. And all of the good intentions I had won’t make up for the fact that I failed him somehow. That my body just couldn’t do it. And I don’t know why and I’ll never know why. And I’m his mom. I’m supposed to be the one who does right by him. And I couldn’t even do that. I couldn’t even give him the right kind of start to life the way I would want it to be for him.
I don’t know that there’s one place that it comes from. I think you just see around you that things appear to be so effortless. Like you get pregnant, you have a baby. Then you kind of send this baby off to kindergarten. And then they’re this beautiful adult who has smarts and is kind and does good things and things like that. And I don’t know that people talk about the reality… It’s so cliché, but they don’t always talk about it. So when you’re dealt this hardship you’re just like – uh, nobody told me that this was going to happen. Like I just want to raise my hand and say like, excuse me can I get my money back for this? I don’t know, I don’t know why, I thought it would just go the way I wanted it to go but it didn’t and that made me mad and jealous and angry and depressed and anxious and scared and all those things.
It’s not until you’re in the middle of it and you’re just like, man this is like the fifth time I’ve cried today and there’s nothing I can do do change this and I know I’m not to blame but my brain just doesn’t seem to understand that. Logically I know that but emotionally or hormonally or something I just can’t make my brain understand that. Or I can’t get my whole self on that level of this isn’t your fault, and you’re doing the best you can and your baby is healthy and fine and he’s going to be great.
I still have feelings, I still have strong feelings, less strong than they were. It’s just such basic feelings that are so intense. Angry. Jealous. Mad, whatever. But I feel like in hindsight knowing that mental illness was at play there it was okay, that makes sense now. But I still get kind of worked up about it. Because I don’t know. It was a loss. It was grieving and anger and disappointment and things over something that I just kind of felt like I was owed as a woman, like as a mother, having a healthy baby. Because I took care of myself and did all I could to kind of guarantee a safe entry for him and it just didn’t come out that way.
Special thanks to Baby Blues Connection for help with Shh, Don’t Tell! Stories, to Jenny Conlee of The Decemberists fame for our awesome theme and other music and to cellist Collin Oldham for his terrific compositions and scoring.