Our early years weren’t how I pictured it. I once was a loving, fun, forgiving person. I wanted to be the mom who went above and beyond, happily. When I got pregnant, that woman slowly seemed to disappear.
I was struggling with a twelve-year battle with bulimia that I swore would go away when I needed to nourish a growing life inside me. I went to treatment, but with changing hormones and the fading of eating disorder behaviors, I became filled with unrecognizable anger.
Believe it or not, I remember the first few months of his life being the easiest.
It wasn’t truly easy, but compared to the months and years that followed, that seemed to be a breeze. I was at a high risk for postpartum depression. I vigilantly watched and waited for it the first couple months. I was zombie-tired like any new mom, but I remember the love and ability to give all myself to him came more naturally then. We were new at parenting and let’s face it, new at being around an infant at all. But somehow, the ‘eat, sleep, poop’ routine was the easy part.
I breezed through my six-week appointment, but over the months, things changed. My insomnia flared. My irritability grew. I didn’t think I was depressed. It wasn’t like before. I wasn’t that sad. I didn’t spend all day crying. I could get out of bed and go to work with a smile. Sure it was a fake smile, but I could care for myself and for my son. Now I know I should have had medical tests done to make sure there wasn’t an underlying health issue, but no one never suggested it. I felt helpless and I realized something was definitely wrong.
I searched for anything I could find on the words ‘postpartum’ and ‘rage.’ I found out postpartum depression can happen anytime in the first year of his life. It took me months to truly recognize that the symptoms I was experiencing were still postpartum depression. Even as a new birth doula, I was afraid to talk about it or reach out for support.
I kept researching from the safety of my computer screen because I wanted to feel less crazy and alone.
In a blink of an eye I could go from a caring mom to the most intense anger I’ve ever felt. I directed it at my husband and infant, less than a year old at the time. I said things to my husband that made him afraid for my son. I watched a show on Andrea Yates, and it scared me how much I understood her and the pity I felt. I walked into my counselor’s office every week prefacing with, “I’m not going to hurt my baby but…”
I didn’t know what to do besides just keep going. In hindsight, I needed a counselor with specific training, but that’s hard to find when you’re overwhelmed with life and not sure where to go. I was afraid to take medication. Family told me to just give up breastfeeding, because it was too hard on me physically. I tried to tell them it was my only time of real connection to him. Most of the time I felt distant, like maybe we didn’t have any mother-son bond.
Months kept going by with me trying, just trying not to be me. I hated the woman I had become, angry at the world and regretting ever having had a child. I resented him and questioned myself. Why did I choose this? Was this recovery? Was this me finally feeling emotions? I just knew all the pieces of the puzzle were making me the world’s worst parent.
I didn’t know how to escape being a fake mommy in the real world and an angry mess at home.
I didn’t know how to curb the anger and not damage my son. I was raised in a strict household with yelling. Was this my childhood bubbling to the surface? I had no patience. I expected immediacy and obedience. My husband would remind me, “He’s just a baby,” or “He’s not manipulating you,” but that’s impossible to see in those rages. I was teaching him I was a scary, untrustworthy person in his life. I was teaching him I was comforting at one moment and hostile the next. That’s where my mommy guilt hits the hardest. I want to be his safe place, but putting it into practice is another thing.
I regularly wonder if I’ve forever ruined our relationship since our early bonding was so tumultuous. Does he not cling to me because he’s well adjusted or because he doesn’t want to be with me? Does he not voluntarily say ‘I love you’ very often because he doesn’t really love me or because he’s a toddler too busy playing with toys? Are his sudden, monstrous outbursts typical or my fault for teaching him that’s how we handle our emotions? I know I’m not the only mom asking these questions. I hope we are somewhere on the spectrum of normal, despite the rage.
It took me until he was at least three years old to start to feel like myself, my new self. My irritability is less intense, though little things can easily cause my anxiety to soar and test my patience. I read up on positive parenting so I have some tools to work with in these trying toddler years. I wrote lists of mantras and managed to hang a few around the house on the hard days. I joined a yell-free challenge, which offered me a wonderful online community when I needed it. He’s over four years old now and I feel like I can manage life better.
I’m learning more every day. I’ve learned to listen to my son, guide him, and treat him with respect just like any person. I’m learning to teach by example and always say a genuine ‘I’m sorry’ when I’ve overreacted, because I am far from perfect. I’m learning how to bond with him. I’m trying to let go of the guilt of how we spent the first few years of his life. That weighs heavily on me. I am trying to trust that we will grow from here and our relationship will become more solid as time goes on. I am trying not to fear having another child for all these reasons.
Now I openly discuss postpartum depression because the shame and stigma must stop. We need to talk about it, especially the rage that makes us so afraid. We’re not just afraid of being bad mommies (though that’s enough to keep you up at night). We’re afraid of someone saying we’re unfit mommies, that our children are better off with someone else. Someday I’ll write him a letter telling him he is my super hero and he saved me. I’m just not there yet. So for now, I look back at adorable photos and wonder how could I have such negative emotions toward my beautiful boy? The truth is, we’re all doing the very best we can, and we need to forgive ourselves.
To the other moms struggling with postpartum mood concerns (depression, rage, anxiety, no label)… you are not alone. You are not a bad mommy. Yes, your child does love you. Yes, it can and will get better. You deserve help as a human being, and you deserve support as someone struggling to flourish in the role of mom. You deserve medical care and experienced mental health services. You deserve to feel better for you, and for your family. You are worth it.
You don’t have to walk this path alone!