You see, I wanted you long before I had you. On nights when I couldn’t sleep, I would lie awake in my bed and dream about holding your hand, how it would fit into mine, the softness of your skin. I saw your face in my mind looking back at me, the two of us walking in a field toward the sunset. You were mine. I was yours and nothing else existed. But us.
And then it happened. I met you for the first time. My doctor announced, “It’s a boy!” I reached out my hands, and she placed you in my arms. And there it was, that giant empty space in my soul filled with seven pounds ten ounces of perfection. You cried. I cried, and thus began our journey as mother and son.
The first few hours were filled with oohs and awes and squeals and cries of all of the family coming to meet you. Everyone was excited but not surprised when they found out you were a boy. Constant traffic from friends and family distracted me from a sinking feeling deep inside myself. I held you and nursed you and kissed the soft fuzz on the top of your head, and I tried. I tried so hard to push the feelings away, to quiet the voices in my head, to ignore their screams.
That first night was exhausting. After a sleepless night of labor the night before, my body and my mind needed rest, but you had other plans. You wanted to be held and cuddled and nursed and mom, and you got it.
The sun was up before I realized it had set, and you were officially one day old. You slept most of the day, through more visitors and doctors and nurses, but I didn’t sleep. When I wasn’t entertaining friends and family, I was trying to control the hurricane building within me.
It started as pressure in my chest, that kind of pressure you feel when you’re about to write a really big check or when you’re about to give a speech to a large group of people. Your heart beats erratic, faster, and faster until you feel like it’s pounding so hard it might bounce right out of your chest. I recognized it, that same sinking anxiety you feel before something bad happens.
I took deep breaths. I closed my eyes and pretended to sleep, but when my eyes were shut, the images came. Nothing worked.
I told your dad to go home that night, that I would sleep better without him there. He agreed, and then he was gone, and it was dark, and I was alone in my room.
The nurses convinced me earlier in the evening that it would be best for you to spend some time in the nursery. Looking back, I wonder if they could see it in my eyes, if they were trained to know that I was on the verge of breaking, or if they simply thought I looked tired. Either way, you left to the nursery. Dad left to go home, and I sat there in my hospital bed alone in the dark trying to block out the constant stream of images reeling in my head.
I hear you crying in the other room. I sit on the edge of my bed and bury my face in a pillow. I don’t want to hear you cry. I don’t want to hear you do anything. I want to run and leave you in your crib.
I stand over you in your baby bath. Your shiny chubby legs kick and splash the water. I sing “rubber ducky, you’re the one,” to you while I lift your body out and place you face down in the water.
You’re crawling around in the bar area of our home. The dog barks to go outside. I open the sliding glass door. You start to crawl out, and I slam the door on your head and walk away.
I’m holding you in my arms, cradling you against my chest. I wear a bathrobe, and you are wrapped in the blanket my best friend gave me before you were born. You coo and smile up at me, and I smile back at you wrapping my free hand around the stainless steel butcher knife that I hold. I bring the knife up and….
I immediately hit the call button to the nurse’s station.
“Can I help you,” she said over the speaker.
“I need my baby. I need my baby now.”
“Okay ma’am. Do you need to nurse?”
“No. I need my baby right now.”
“Yes ma’am. We’ll page the nursery.”
I got out of my bed and walked around the room. I prayed over and over. “Please don’t let me hurt my baby. Please don’t let me hurt my baby.” I said to the empty space, “I love him. I love him more than anything. Please don’t let me hurt my baby.”
I shook my head back and forth convincing myself that I was wrong, that I wasn’t seeing what I knew I was seeing. My hands tensed at my side as I paced the cold tile floor barefoot. I could feel the crazed look in my eye without even seeing myself. Finally, a knock on my door.
“Come in,” I barked.
And there you were in your clear bassinet. Swaddled in a white blanket with a pastel striped beanie on your head, your mouth the perfect shape of a heart. The nurse looked at me concerned.
“Are you okay, ma’am?” she asked. I noticed she still had her hand on the bassinet where you lay.
“I’m fine,” I lied. “I just need my baby.”
"I can stay if you like?” she said in a question.
I shook my head and eyed her protective stance over my baby. My baby.
“No. I’d like to be alone with him.”
We stood there, she and I, neither willing to break the staring game.
I reached in and picked you up and pulled you into my chest. I glanced distrustful at the nurse. She nodded toward the bed.
“Why don’t you pull down your gown and put him under it. Let’s take off his shirt and let him be in his diaper. Sometimes it’s good for both mom and baby to have skin to skin contact.”
I swallowed the lump in my throat and carried you toward the bed. I laid you down and unwrapped you from your swaddle and pulled the little white t-shirt over your head. You reached your tiny hand up and wrapped it around my finger. I let you hold my finger as I used my free hand to unsnap my gown and pull you to my chest. You curled into me and started rooting at my collar bone, still holding my finger.
The nurse backed out of the room. When she reached the door, she whispered, “Honey, I am just outside if you need anything.”
Tears spilled down my cheeks. I buckled into a tsunami of emotions, love mixed with fear, mixed with joy, mixed with terror. I pulled the blanket up and tucked it behind my shoulder and held you there for the rest of the night, only breaking to nurse you when you were hungry or to change your diaper.
Each time we got back to our spot, I reached my finger out to let you wrap your hand around it, and we held on to one other, quietly promising each other not to let go, until we made it past that dark and terrifying night.
That was the worst night of my life, and the first night of my secret battle with postpartum depression.
Today for the first time I can admit that ten years ago, in a quiet room in Dallas, Texas, I saw myself in clear HD vision doing horrible things to you. I recognized that night what those images were. I convinced myself that they were in fact a symptom of postpartum depression and that they would pass. I knew enough to know that my rational brain wasn’t functioning right and that the hormones and exhaustion coupled with my current fragile mental health were all working against me, fighting a war with my erratically firing neurotransmitters in my head.
While you slept on my bare chest, I reimagined every bad vision I had, and I mentally replaced the original actions with nurturing actions. I convinced myself that I was seeing those things to prepare me. That if you were crawling in the bar area of our house, I would need to be extra careful to not let the dog out while you were near the door, that all knives were to be kept out of your reach (and mine temporarily) and that I would never give you a bath if I was exhausted or stressed. I reminded myself over and over how much I wanted you and all of the plans I had for us.
I can’t tell you why I was able to rationalize everything I saw or that it was even the right thing to do, but, for me, it helped. I never admitted it to a doctor for fear they would take you away. I confided only in my sister-in-law that I was afraid to be alone with you but never shared the details of what I went through that night. Only a few people even know today what happened that night. I was ashamed to tell anyone. Who thinks those things about her own baby? A baby she wanted so badly?
It took me a while to trust myself with you. To know that I wouldn’t hurt you. To believe that I could be what you deserved me to be as your mom. Even today, I struggle to feel capable of being what you need, but I do it, and I treasure it, and I thank you for holding onto my finger and promising that together, we could conquer that night and the many that would come.
Thank you for giving me the most important role of my life and for continually reminding me that it’s good to be your mom.