Par­ent­ing be­tween love and fear

Maryland Independent - - Classified - Twit­ter: @right­meg

Hold onto your rat­tles, be­cause the baby boom con­tin­ues: I’m an aunt! My sis­ter and brother-in-law wel­comed their daugh­ter, Au­tumn, on May 5. You’d think I’d never seen, held or sniffed a new­born be­fore, friends; I’m ob­sessed with her. She is squishy and blue-eyed and per­fect.

Kate was a trooper — par­tic­u­larly at the end. She called me Wed­nes­day, think­ing she was in la­bor; her due date was the next day, and we’d all been bug­ging her about twinges. I was so ex­cited I could barely sleep.

Lit­tle Au­tumn didn’t ar­rive for an­other two days: fi­nally mak­ing her en­trance at 5:38 p.m. Fri­day. I couldn’t re­lax be­fore then, wait­ing for scraps of in­for­ma­tion from my brother-in-law; I had to keep mov­ing. When pac­ing around the house didn’t help, I started clean­ing — and wound up dig­ging through old boxes gath­er­ing dust since our last move.

That turned out to be a ter­ri­ble idea. These were me­men­tos from child­hood: pho­tos, notes and jour­nals filled with mem­o­ries I’d shared with Kate, my baby sis­ter. Now a woman wel­com­ing her own baby.

When I couldn’t take it any­more, Spencer took over with our kids so I could wait at the hos­pi­tal with Eric’s par­ents and my mom and dad. I’d never been on that side of a ma­ter­nity wing. Wait­ing in a small, hot room for sliv­ers of in­for­ma­tion was mad­den­ing. Eric’s dad and I jumped up when we thought we heard a baby cry, press­ing our ears to a door. My brother-in-law soon ar­rived with the great news, and our world changed again.

I’m so proud of Katie. The re­lief I felt see­ing her and my healthy niece was over­whelm­ing. Au­tumn was 9 pounds, 1 ounce with a slick of dark hair: beau­ti­ful.

Sun­day was Mother’s Day, and we got our three kids to­gether for the first time. When an in­fant cried out, it was im­pos­si­ble to dis­tin­guish be­tween the girls; we all jumped up. It’s crazy to see them side by side, sleepy heads tilted at the same an­gle.

It’s one thing to know a life-chang­ing event is on the hori­zon. Quite an­other to ex­pe­ri­ence it.

Those early days of par­ent­hood can be beau­ti­ful and scary and tough. They were for me. I try to be hon­est about my post­par­tum “jour­ney,” if you will, be­cause it helps no one to act like the tran­si­tion was pain­less. I was ex­hausted and over­whelmed as a new mom, and filled with lit­tle of the joy I’d ex­pected. I was ashamed by my un­ex­plained sad­ness and lone­li­ness, es­pe­cially since I had noth­ing to re­ally feel sad about . . . so I kept it to my­self. The worst thing I could have done.

For the bet­ter part of a year, I had to re­mind my­self that I was “mom” — that Oliver was re­ally ours to soothe and feed and bathe. My hus­band is a very de­voted dad who em­braced those re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, mak­ing it both eas­ier and harder to deal with how I was feel­ing; while Spencer is a nat­u­ral, I was scared to even lift our tiny son. My heart would pound ev­ery time Ol­lie cried. I hated leav­ing the house with him be­cause I wor­ried he would fuss in the car, where I couldn’t soothe him, or be ex­posed to germs. So we stayed in.

My very first Mother’s Day came three days af­ter Oliver was dis­charged from the NICU. The first pic­ture I have of the two of us shows me awk­wardly bal­anc­ing him in my arms with tired, wary eyes. All we’d wanted was to bring him home — but when we left the san­i­tized world of the hos­pi­tal, I was over­whelmed by even his min­i­mal needs. What was wrong with me? Anx­i­ety. It lies to you. I cer­tainly don’t want Oliver to some­day read this and think I was un­happy to be­come his mother. I love him be­yond mea­sure. But in the be­gin­ning, that love felt for­eign — even scary: the joy at be­ing a fam­ily also stained with worry. His care­ful nurs­ing staff had taken such good care of him . . . how could they trust him to me?

In hind­sight, I was in the throes of post­par­tum anx­i­ety and grap­pling with post-trau­matic stress. I tried to ad­just too quickly, putting pres­sure on my­self to em­brace a “new nor­mal” that felt any­thing but com­fort­able. Spencer and I had to get to know Oliver, and he had to get to know us. I had to heal — phys­i­cally and men­tally — from my ex­pe­ri­ence with preeclamp­sia and come to terms with Ol­lie’s early birth.

Most of all, I needed to cut my­self some slack.

That tur­moil boiled over even­tu­ally, as it usu­ally will. I started ac­knowl­edg­ing my strug­gles: first to my hus­band, sis­ter and par­ents, then my doc­tor. Light be­gan to seep be­neath the door of the dark men­tal space I’d oc­cu­pied since April. By the fall, I was ready for help — and by Christ­mas, all the “nor­mal” feel­ings of new-par­ent hap­pi­ness that had eluded me were so strong, I’d ran­domly cry with re­lief. I wasn’t bro­ken af­ter all.

Two years later, the dark­ness is long gone. Oliver is our buddy, hi­lar­i­ous and sweet; he and his sis­ter, baby Hadley, are my world. I’ve stayed on top of my men­tal health and now prac­tice far more self-care than I did in 2015. We want to give ev­ery­thing we have to our chil­dren, so we do — but it’s true that we can’t pour from an empty cup.

This wasn’t easy to write or share. But see­ing my sis­ter be­come a mother — an awe­some, lov­ing, very ca­pa­ble one — re­minded me of how much it would have helped to know I wasn’t crazy or alone when I per­son­ally strug­gled as a new par­ent.

So if that’s you or some­one you love, this is my hand for you to hold. Reach out: to your doc­tor, sig­nif­i­cant other, a friend, your par­ents. (Of course, call 911 if you ex­pe­ri­ence thoughts of harm­ing your­self or your child. The Sui­cide Pre­ven­tion Life­line is 1-800-273-8255.)

You can be both scared and grate­ful, anx­ious and op­ti­mistic. En­am­ored with your child but still miss­ing your “old” life. You have a right to your feel­ings. We’re hu­man.

De­voted sib­ling, lov­ing par­ent, joy­ful aunt or un­cle. Ad­just­ing to one role may take longer than the oth­ers.

Just crack open that door. So much love is wait­ing on the other side.

Au­tumn and me

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