One of the phrases I hear a lot from parents who struggle with mental health issues after the birth of a child is that they didn’t feel an instant bond with their child. Or that they did but it was to the nth degree and they obsessed over every little thing that happened to their child, to the point of it interfering with day to day living. Instead of being the parent society leads us to believe every parent should be, they were either detached or over-attached. It’s the Goldilocks syndrome with none of us feeling that “just-right” level of attachment.
One of the most difficult aspects of experiencing a mental health issue after the birth of a child is that in addition to healing ourselves, we must develop a bond with a new person we hardly know and cannot communicate with in the normal manner because they are not yet capable of deep thought and expressive language.
Imagine that you’ve just met an amazing person. You want to get to know them, to give them all you have inside you, but you can’t. You don’t have the energy. So you worry about the effect this will have on the relationship -if they’ll end up hating you because you can’t quite reach out the way they need you too. You wonder how much emphasis they’ll put on the lack of affection from your end. Somehow, though, you manage to muddle through and they miraculously stay. They love you simply because you’re you, something you struggle to comprehend. Then you feel guilty because you haven’t put as much into it as they have (or perceive that you haven’t) and so you overcompensate, which fills you with intense guilt as the days go by. So you read books about what you should be doing. After awhile, it becomes habit but somewhere, deep inside, you always wonder if you’ve done enough. Or if they’ll bring it back up some day when you falter the least bit.
Or you remain detached, thinking that it’s just not worth the work, the stress, the anxiety. Things are the way they are for a reason, right? Why bother? They’ll either stay or go. The choice is theirs in the end.
Parenting can be hell.
It’s the toughest job on the planet, and no matter how much preparation we put into it while expecting a new little one, we’re all thrust into it, suddenly. It’s on-the-job training. When you add a mental health issue, it’s like on-the-job training at the Hoover Dam on a day when it’s sprung a leak. SO much is flung at you.
Every little thing means more than it should.
Bed seems really lovely.
Giving up seems like a fantastic idea.
Walking away – sheer brilliance.
In the past, I envied parents who seem to know exactly what they’re doing or really enjoy their kids. As a survivor of multiple PMAD episodes and issues and a relative introvert, it’s extremely difficult for me to relate to others who want to spend every waking minute with their children. It’s not that I don’t love my kids, I absolutely do. But for me, parenting is traumatic. My start was more of a train wreck with a hurricane thrown in for good measure. I fight for every second of what appears to be “normal” parenting.
What I forget in my battle to be “normal” is that no one is normal. We are all fighting our own battles, they are just a bit different from the battles of those around us. As I have moved toward healing, parenting has become more like breathing for me. Sometimes I still have to fight for breath but most of the time due to the necessity of mindfulness in my own survival, parenting has become easier as the years have gone by. The wounds have healed enough to not feel as if they are torn off with every single negative instance.
To those who are still in the trenches and still fighting for breath as they fight to parent their children and remain sane, (with or without a PMAD), my hat tips to you. To those fighting through a PMAD specifically as you parent your new one (and possibly even older children), I know how it feels to be where you are and I want to tell you that it won’t always be this way.
One day, things will just work. There will always be potholes and bumps as you navigate the road, but if you take the time to just breathe, ask yourself if what you’re about to explode over is really worth it, and then address the issue at hand (or not, depending on the answer to the second step), things will improve. Take time for yourself. See your child as just that – a child – take the time to see the world through their eyes, marvel at the little things right along with them, and let the world hold you close instead of crawling away into a cave. Baby steps.
You may remember all your faults but your baby will not. All your baby needs is you. They are not mini-adults, judging you for not knowing what to do. They aren’t the ones behind the myriad of research which blames parents for all that is wrong with adults. Let it go. We are our own worst critics. If we take the time to just be as humans instead of critiquing every single choice life flows so much better.
Just be. Drink in life, drink in your child. Drink in the sunshine and the joy when you can. Store it up for the days short on both.
You can do this. Even Goldilocks found the right one eventually, didn’t she?
Your just right is out there, I promise. It’s just a bitch to find in the fog.
You are not alone, you will be okay, and your baby will be okay too.
In the interest of all honesty, recovery is not as easy as sitting out in the sunshine and drinking in life. For many, it takes a multitude of visits to a therapist, maybe a few medication changes, and a hell of an effort to reach the point where you CAN sit in the sun and drink in life. It certainly took all of that for me, and more. But the fight is worth it in the end and that fight will make the sunshine even brighter once you’ve evicted the fog.
If you find yourself struggling with a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder, you can find hope and help through Postpartum Support International or over at Postpartum Progress. If you are feeling down and struggling with suicidal thoughts, reach out to Lifeline, the National Suicide Hotline here in the United States.