I sat on my in-laws couch the morning after being discharged from the hospital, where I was critically ill for most of my one-month old son’s life, and I look at his tiny face.
Who is this child?
What is he like?
What does he like?
What doesn’t he like?
My parents knew. My in-laws knew. I had no idea. He was a stranger to me. I was supposed to love this itty bitty baby but my heart was filled with grief. Disbelief. Confusion.
I had kept it together fairly well in the hospital, considering. I was highly medicated most of the time, so I basically didn’t have the ability to sort out any feelings in my mind. I missed my son terribly. He’d visit me a few hours a day but someone else was there to take care of him. I looked at him. He slept in my arms occasionally. (I know this because there are photos). I slept much of the time. I was afraid to bottle feed him because I didn’t want him to have nipple confusion when I got home. All I wanted to do was get home so that I could be his Mom.
Once I was home, I didn’t feel like his Mom. I kept track of the next time I could take over-the-counter pain medication and when he needed a bottle (that is it’s own bag of worms – I had my heart set on exclusively breastfeeding and not being able to continue after his first three days was devastating to me). I changed his diapers and got peed on a lot. I got spit up on. He cried and cried. And cried and cried. I cried and cried. And slept. I was in pain constantly. I was extremely weak. My shoulder was frozen from straining it during childbirth (yes, this is possible) and continually re-injuring it unknowingly while I was highly medicated in the hospital. I could barely shower, dress, or do my hair on my own, much less take care of my son, which is why I spent the first 10 days after my hospital discharge at my in-laws house. My son, this tiny stranger, and I cried together.
Don’t get me wrong. I was extremely grateful for their help, and when I got home, the help of my community and my parents when they came to visit. But I was a new mom. I had dreamt of this special time with my little baby. Learning together how to breastfeed, what his cries meant, and bonding over 3am diaper changes and feedings. Those first few special days were taken from me. Even in the first three days I was home, I was very unwell. My heart sunk when I realized I couldn’t feed my son and that he needed to eat. Part of myself was ripped away when I handed him over to be bottle fed.
More than one person kindly tried to comfort me, “But one month of his whole life is such a small little part. You have so much time to look forward to.” It didn’t help. I needed to grieve what had been lost and soak up the present before I could look forward.
My broken heart, my broken body, my broken spirit were all too much to take on with an infant. I became very anxious and began having nightmares and flashbacks to my time in the hospital; waking up in a panic because there were tubes in my throat and my husband holding me down saying, “You don’t want to do that, Beth. You don’t want to do that!” until a nurse came and I slipped back into the black non-existence. Or, laying in my bed at home and panicking because I couldn’t hear my son in the baby monitor. What if he had stopped breathing?
Amidst all of my doctor follow up visits and physical therapy, I sought out counseling. I was diagnosed with mild Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Clinical Depression (something I’ve been battling my whole life). I went back on antidepressants. After all the work I had done to get off the meds and be free of counseling, I was disheartened but I wanted to be better so badly, that it didn’t matter.
Friends’ and family’s positive spirits gave me hope. My counselor is a wonderful woman of God. Medication is a blessing that helps me get through the hard days so I can be a good friend, wife, and mother. I’m not ashamed of either. I was sick and I needed healing of mind, body, and spirit.
I still need healing, and I continue to heal. Aside from a few setbacks, I can handle daily tasks on my own. I’m contributing to our family income. I’m managing our household, my son’s needs and schedule, my needs and schedule, and my role as a wife. It’s all still extremely overwhelming but I have surrounded myself with people who remind me on a daily basis that it is not by my own strength that I get through the day, but in leaning on God.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. -Psalm 73:26