My husband filled the screwed tire enough to be functional, and after dropping my older daughter off at preschool I made the trip to Pep Boys. The gentleman at the counter was in his fifties, with partially graying hair, a scruffy beard, and the blackened and cracked fingertips you get after decades of working with your hands. He must have seen I was having a bad day (LBH, a blind man could have seen that), and he teased me for not knowing the model year or mileage of my car. Then he said something I didn’t expect. He looked down at my baby and said, “Man, I miss when my kids were that little. I really, really do.” He proceeded to tell me about his kids who are now grown, and his grandkids that come to visit. He’s got three yorkie-poos now to try to fill to massive five bedroom house that he lives in with his wife.
All parents have heard this, or some version of it, from strangers. There are songs written about it. At a week postpartum I heard “You’re Gonna Miss This” and “It Won’t Be Like This For Long” back to back and cried my fucking eyeballs out for an hour. Sometimes this sentiment annoys me, sometimes I just mumble back, “Yeah, it goes so fast,” and keep it moving. But today, I couldn’t let it go. Maybe it was the warm look in his eyes and the sincerity in his voice. Maybe because I don’t usually hear this from men. Maybe it was the fact that I hadn’t slept more than two straight hours in over a week, still faintly smelled like vomit, and my postpartum depression and anxiety was rearing its ugly head. I definitely wasn’t enjoying motherhood at that moment, I’ll tell you that.
As the day went on, I tried to put a name to what I was feeling. I was snapping at my daughter, I was annoyed with my husband for no apparent reason. I was pissed off at my mom for being sick. Like how dare she, even though it was my virus-ridden family who had shared the love. I was angry. More than that, I was furious. But it wasn’t at any of them.
All those blissful moments these strangers are recalling when they look at my kids and lament about missing the baby years, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have those. But in the background of those beautiful memories, there is an ugliness too. When I looked down at my gorgeous newborn girl as she smiled her first smiles and laughed her first laughs, I felt joy in that moment. I felt that upswelling of maternal love so strong that it fills every cell of your body, and you think it could lift you straight off your feet. But immediately after, the darkness would creep back around the edges. Deep down I was profoundly unhappy during what should have been the “happiest times” of my life. I had joyful moments, sure, but they never lasted. My memories that should be in technicolor are all tinged a shade of gray.
I also have memories many new parents don’t have. I remember having thoughts constantly running through my head like a recording I couldn’t stop. “You’re terrible at this. You’re never going to be good enough. Everyone else can manage, why can’t you? Your kids would be better off with someone else. Look at how much work your husband has to do because you can’t hack it. You’re dragging him down. You should just disappear.”
I remember waking at night and seeing visions of my baby dead and blue in her crib. I was so terrified to check on her that I laid there crying until she made a sound, and then cried some more out of relief. I remember each panic attack. I remember the sound of my baby crying feeling like lightning bolts straight to my brain. The night before I got help, I remember holding my screaming baby, and sobbing, and thinking “I know how women hurt their babies” while I stood paralyzed with fear until my husband took her out of my hands.
I’ve thought so many times how I can’t wait for the fucking baby years to be over. I want to sleep. I want to put the kids to bed and have time to hang out with my husband, or put clothes away, or write, without dreading the inevitable wake-ups to come. I want to feel like myself again. I want to shower, and eat something other than toddler leftovers, and go to yoga. I want to be free of obsessive, intrusive thoughts.
This being said, I’m getting better. With lots of help from family, therapy, a support group, and medication, I am finally climbing out of the darkness. But it’s kind of like surviving a hurricane. Now I’m left to clean up the wreckage. I’m grieving what I lost in my daughter’s infancy. It’s immensely sad to know you missed out on this amazing stage of your kids life, throught no fault of your own, and that nothing you do will get that back. It’s sad and it fucking hurts like hell. If I stop to think about it for too long I end up a teary puddle of mush on the floor.
Today, instead of feeling sadness, I’m mad as hell. I want to scream at the top of my lungs and punch through walls. I’m furious at all the things that have been stolen from me. PPD/A stole my daughter’s babyhood from me. I want to rage at the world…why me?!!! When I stumble across an adorable video of my daughter as a three month old, or some stranger looks at her lovingly and tells me how fast it all goes, it guts me. Because I am acutely aware of how fast it all goes. She’s almost one, it’s almost over. And I missed it. I’ll never have that blissful time that he had with his babies. And even if I have another baby and don’t have PPD/A, I’ll still never get that with her.
I’m still not sure how to come to terms with it all, so I guess I’ll check back in when I have the answers. For now I’ll write. And I’ll make a therapy appointment. And I’ll talk to my fellow warrior moms who can relate to my anger at this Godforsaken bitch of a disease. But please, if you ever see me on the streets, I’m begging you. Don’t point out how fast it all goes. I already know.