My father has a saying (he has lots of sayings) that there are three things that you cannot understand unless you experience them firsthand. One is war. The second is sex. And the third is depression. Married just after boot camp before heading to Vietnam, he got his first two experiences early on in life, but it was many years before he felt the pains of depression. It was then he could suddenly understand why others just couldn't "get over it". After our conference in DC last weekend, we stopped by my friend Becca's house to see her and her beautiful new baby girl. Her baby was born in mid-April and she was due to go back to work on July 1. As we chatted on the floor to the sound of baby coos, she lamented her concerns about leaving her little butternut.
And as I sat there looking at her baby, I desperately tried to remember what my life was like when Ian was that small. I have a hard time remembering what it was like when we had to cradle his head as we held him or when he couldn't just wake up and crawl all over us in the bed. There was a time when he weighed less than 20 pounds and still fit in the car seat bucket but that just seems like a lifetime ago.
I remember when we first brought Ian home and I was writing about various issues with nursing or sleeping or diapers or other truisms to newborn parenthood. Several other mothers would suggest things that seemed crazy to me. I now understand that they were just like I am now, trying to offer ideas but losing track of what we'd tried when, mostly because all those first months are a big blur. One thing no one forgot, though, was the feeling of having to leave their baby for the first time.
So I'd like to amend Daddy's saying and add a fourth thing. I'd say that you can't truly understand the storm of emotions that comes with being a mother of a newborn unless you've lived in that body. Even sitting in Becca's living room, I could only imagine the heartache she was feeling in anticipation of going back to work and I'd lived it not six months ago. That period was hard on Rich and I see now how hard it must have been. Because intellectually he knew I was having a hard time but there's no way he could really get how physically painful it was for me. And there's little anyone can do to help. We all just have to weather through the phase and make the best of it.
When I got my prescription for Zoloft, the doctor told me I didn't have postpartum depression. She said I had "situational adjustment with mixed emotions". That diagnosis is the understatement of the year. I think I'll be in a "situational adjustment" for years to come, but at least now I have a better grasp on my emotions.
So I know what you're going through, Becca, and my heart aches for you just like yours does every day at work. Try not to cry too much, but don't worry if you do. Spend every free minute you have holding that beautiful baby girl of yours, smelling her skin and putting your heartbeat next to hers. And soon hopefully those will be the only memories that will stick with you from this transition.