05 August 2010

Where I've Been

They put her on my belly and I waited. I waited for the rush of love and peace and joy and the willingness to throw myself in front of a bus for her that they'd said would come. I watched her, held her, examined the place on her skull where she beat her head against my pelvic bone for an hour, and waited.

It didn't come.

I passed her around that night and the next day, watched family, friends holding her and treasuring her. I held her when she cried and did my best to feed her and help her sleep.

It didn't come.

I took her home, bundled in the precious fuzzy suit with bear ears we'd reserved for the day. I saw her, so small, in her car seat, and adjusted the straps so maybe it would hold her in if we hit something. I watched her sleep, changed her diapers, tried to convince her to eat like the doctors said she should. I bounced and rocked and sung, and felt nothing.

That's not entirely true. I felt more than enough anxiety. She was so small, so needful, so helpless, and I realized in waves of quiet panic that I didn't know what was best for her. I read and talked and tried but books couldn't tell me and neither could anyone else.

Afraid I'd make the wrong choice, I didn't want to be left alone with her. I was afraid I'd miss her cries, that she wouldn't eat, that something awful would happen and she'd get hurt and it'd be all my fault.

I sat with her in the hospital through her kidney infection, watched her learn to smile and laugh and coo, taught her to bat her toys and introduced her to books. I wrote her letters and kept her baby book and dreaded going back to work because I was afraid of what it would do to her, not because I couldn't get enough of her.

I couldn't talk about it, couldn't even find a voice for the waves inside. I kept waking up, walking, going, made it through the days and the weeks. I reached out, reached in, reached up, but the best I could do was tread water. I don't think I knew how hard it was until I'd started to come out. Until I remembered normal, I couldn't see how not-normal I'd been living.

The worst part: I knew I loved her. I could locate love in my soul, I just couldn't feel it. All I could feel was anxiety and dread and fear, and they loomed like an ocean between me and my mama-love.

And then.

And then.

Then it broke. I don't know how or why, just that. Maybe hormones stabilized, maybe I found perspective, maybe I learned she wouldn't break as easy as all that. But I prefer to think that He stepped in, that he intervened and held the waters back so I could cross over and find my love, like Israel crossed the Jordan.

**Find more Imperfect Prose here, on Emily's beautiful blog.**


heather said...

Oh, Sarah. Thank you so much for sharing this. I think it's hard to admit these things, when we don't feel as we think we ought. Thank you for being brave. I know so many mothers struggle with this, but not enough talk about it.

And you talk about it with such beauty. I love your posts.

emily wierenga said...

this is incredible. i felt it with you, friend. you wrote with power and passion and honesty, and it's so perfectly imperfect. thank you. what a beautiful link.

re: the button, i'm afraid i'm not very technologically savvy, so haven't figured out how to do the button code yet... do you have any advice, friend?

love to you and your little one. xo

Izabelle said...


Your post was heartrending and is a powerful reminder that no matter how difficult life can be, we are never alone.

Thank you.


kirsten michelle said...

I agree with Heather: so, so brave to share these things. I'm sure it's not popular to admit -- that the raw protective mother instinct is or was latent for awhile: not absent, but sleeping, waiting to be woken up.

I'm glad it's awake now. That it was given to you in all its power and glory.

Sarah said...

Heather - So true. I can't tell you how many times I've realized that I'm disappointed/frustrated/angry/sad that I'm not having the emotional experience I think I should be having about something. And then I entirely MISS the experience I am having.

Emily - Thank you so much! As for the link, I'm not sure but I believe there are places online that will give you the link if you have a button.

Izabelle - Thank you for stopping by. And you're right - we're never alone. How beautiful is that!

Kirsten - You should know about that instinct, Mama Bear! And I'm so glad it kicked in . . . because I do love her so very much!

Leslie said...

Hello, Sarah! I have a friend who had a very similar post-partum experience. You wrote very powerfully and honestly about it, and I'm glad. And I'm glad God helped you.

Also, I've never read the poem by e.e. cummings that you've posted here. I really loved it. Thanks for that, too.

Good to meet with you here in your lovely blog home!

joanny said...

Expectations can drive us crazy, be patience with your self, the bonding happens hour by hour, day by day and you will not even remember ever having thought or felt that way.

from Emilys

emmalynn said...

This is so honest and from the heart, a beautiful writer is one that can tell the deep scary stuff, much love to you and your daughter

Sarah said...

Leslie - I'm glad you liked the poem. It's one of my favorite favorites. And I'm glad God helped me, too . . . so glad!

Joanny - Thank you for your sweet words. I'm not sure I'll ever forget it, but I'm so glad things get better!

Emmalynn - Thank you. Love to you, too.

Claudia said...

this is beautiful - and i know that feeling so well... i was 22 when we had our first child and i was just afraid to do something wrong..was afraid of bathing her because i was just overwhelmed with this feeling of being responsible and make some mistakes...
and like you - one day it changed and i fell in love with my baby daughter.
now she is 19 years old and will soon leave for a year abroad - and i'm thankful for every single day we had together...

Sarah said...

Thanks, Claudia. I love how you not only came to love your daughter, but you gave her wings!

christianne said...

Hi, my friend. I read this post a few days ago and was struck dumb without words. It's such a beautiful, raw, honest telling. I'm glad you shared it because I am sure there are so many mothers who've experienced something similar and need to know they're not alone, need to have someone put to words what they're going through. But also, I'm glad you shared it because the voicing of our deepest truths is so freeing and good.

I'm not sure if what you're describing here is post-partum depression (is it?), but I read an article just before reading your post here that was a woman's story of her struggle with it. Actually, it was written by the actress Bryce Dallas Howard (recently was in Eclipse) ... might be healing to read. The link is here.

Sarah said...

Thanks, Christianne . . . I love how you see my heart on this page.

I don't know if what I experienced was PPD. I hesitate to claim that "name" for it for several reasons . . . it wasn't nearly as bad as what I know others have experienced (like Bryce Dallas Howard in that article, which I just read last week), I didn't get a professional diagnosis, and . . . well, I'm just not sure. I feel like there were so many factors that went into what I experienced that I'm not entirely comfortable "blaming" PPD. The lack of sleep played a huge part - I know I did a lot better on days when I'd had a decent night's rest. And we have so much change going on this year, it's hard to tell where the effects of that begin and end. In the end, my best guess is that it was caused, in part, by hormones and chemicals not being in balance, but that if that was all that had been going on it wouldn't have been as bad for me.

joven said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
bluemountainmama said...

sarah... this is such a common struggle for mothers, but not one that is talked about as much as it should be. those early months, after baby, are some of the most grueling, isolating, exhausting days one can go through. thank you for sharing your heart on this one. it is a brave thing to do. i wrote about my experience here: http://bluemountainmama.blogspot.com/2007/03/let-there-be-light.html

i feel you....

Sarah said...

Thank you, blue! I read your post about your experience and it made me tighten up inside - I KNOW the feelings you described there. A baby brings so much change and so many pressures and expectations that you didn't even know were there, on top of the crazy hormones and physical chaos . . . it doesn't surprise me that people have trouble adjusting. I suppose it doesn't surprise me that we don't talk about it more, either, but I wish we did. Thanks for you honesty!