Admittedly, four months and one week and a few days can still be considered early, but I’m referring to those raw and blistering first few weeks. You know, the ones where your old life has been picked up, stomped on, rolled about and thrown out the window and replaced by the dictation of a brand new teeny tiny overlord. Everyone told me it would go terribly quickly and that I’d barely remember the first three months. This was impossible to believe at the time, caught in the thick of it, but it’s true. My memories have already started to soften and fade into a haze of summer; the summer our girl came to join us. I want to record them while I still have a close perspective, to capture that time with the awe it deserves but also without the rose glasses of retrospect.
We had hoped for a baby for a long time. It was an abstract hope in many ways. My images of what parenthood would be like were not dissimilar to the old Gillette commercials – happy family on a picnic, at the beach, laughing and playing games, throwing gorgeous child into air, and somehow my partner and I had lost about ten kilos each without having to cut back on delicious wine. I focused a lot on actually falling pregnant, and once we were there the pregnancy itself was difficult (our bub was diagnosed with a bunch of potential health issues) which made focusing on the future even more challenging. I’m not suggesting that anything at all can prepare you for the onslaught of parenthood; just noting that I hadn’t really considered the reality of it.
So when she arrived, after a hard and fast labour that made me rue ever laying eyes on my partner, I was hit for six. The crazy birth hormones weren’t what I expected. I was euphoric, yes, but not happy or overwhelmed with love as you hear you will be. I was attached to our girl, but it was an academic, biological attachment. I knew that I would do absolutely anything I could for her, be there for her always, keenly feel anything that may affect her wellbeing…but I didn’t love her, as such. It pains me a little to say it, but the primary feeling I had over the first few weeks was overwhelmed regret.
The best way to describe it is that I just couldn’t see what would happen next. Not the next minute, the next hour or the next decade. I dreaded everything. The baby waking up, feeding her, leaving the house. I managed to do all these things but I lived with constant anxiety around whatever the next requirement might be; I could barely sleep due to overtiredness and concern about starting the whole haphazard mess again when I woke. The tiniest thing seemed monumental, insurmountable. I was completely overwhelmed with not knowing what to do – the only thing I was sure of was that our lives would never be the same again and I felt so guilty for wishing them back the way they were. I started mourning friendships that still existed because I assumed they could not continue in this new world – I barely knew how I would continue, let alone hold together relationships. It seemed she would never grow, never smile, never change and that I would never be me again. I kept a diary of this time at the insistence of my concerned partner. I can’t quite read it yet.
There were positive moments. I tried to savour the small things, like a few grams of weight gain (hers; I remain quite capable of gaining weight aplenty myself), a coffee run that didn’t end in tears (mine), getting the laundry done, a walk home on a late summer’s afternoon with my partner cuddling our girl as I moseyed slowly behind. But generally I felt lost, out of control and ungrateful.
It’s no surprise at all that I was diagnosed with post natal depression fairly early on; what was surprising and extraordinarily fortunate was that it lifted of its own accord when she was about ten weeks old. I’m not sure whether this was the alleviation of post-pregnancy hormones, us growing into each other, the fact that I could see her changing and developing, or a combination of these. I cannot imagine the impact of such feelings for a longer period; I could barely stand the time I had. That many mothers can carry this for months and years and be wonderful parents while doing so is testimony to the strength that normal, everyday people have and the obstacles they can overcome.
Around the three month mark, the end of the alleged fourth trimester, things became easier for us. Not easy, by any stretch of imagination, but the love I have for her is no longer theoretical, obligatory. Our future is not shadowy and frightening (although it is laced with lots of tears and under-eye-bags, given the current sleep woes we’re having). Put simply, she delights me. And that’s a feeling that in those early terrifying days, I never thought I’d have.