Monday, December 6, 2010

True story

During the first few weeks after I gave birth to my first son, it seemed that any time I listened to the radio I would hear "Can't Help Falling in Love". Mostly, it was UB40 but a couple of times it was Elvis. I know that the song is mainly associated with romantic love - what you would feel for a boyfriend/girlfriend kind of thing. However, to me, this song is very much about how I came to love my first born child. That statement would probably raise some eyebrows, I guess. Didn't I love my son immediately? Didn't I adore him from the moment I first saw him? From the moment I first knew I was pregnant? Honestly and still a little shamefully, my answer is no.

I daydreamed about the baby that I would soon hold in my arms. I was petrified of any possibility of losing him. Any twinge I felt, any little pain, had me frantically dialing my OBGYN for advice and reassurance. I impatiently counted the days until my due date and often couldn't sleep due to the anticipation of it all. My husband seemed to be amazed by how quickly it was all happening while I was losing patience. I wanted my baby! I wanted my baby right now, damnit!

My memories of the immediate aftermath of Benjamin's birth are a blur. I remember seeing him for the first time and the sensation of having every word I could speak and emotion that I could feel ripped from my mind. I was overwhelmed and overawed. Suddenly, I was holding this little person in my arms and I was struck with the realization that I was responsible for him. After the months of waiting, all of the discomfort, the indescribable feeling of having a tiny being inside of me, here he was. He was crying and utterly confounded and hungry. And, actually, so was I.

It wasn't until we were all home and away from nurses and blood tests and distractions that I felt the ton of bricks hit me. Ben didn't sleep for longer than an hour and a half before waking and shrieking. We would exhaust all of the reasons - is he wet? dirty? gassy? hungry? cold? too warm? - and then sit dazedly with him in shifts through the very long nights. Making things worse was the fact that my husband didn't get much paternity leave. Before I knew it, it was just me and Ben left with nothing to do but figure each other out. It wasn't easy and it certainly wasn't immediate.

During the day, I was just able to keep it together. I dressed Ben up in the seemingly endless amount of adorable outfits that came flooding in from friends and relatives. I took an insane amount of pictures and nursed Ben while I uploaded them onto my computer and sent them out in emails. Everyone told me that I needed to nap while he napped but I began to believe that my new baby did not want me to sleep. Ever. He would seem peaceful and completely asleep and I would try to lay down and make up for the lost sleep during the night. The moment my head touched a pillow, however, the screaming would start. This also happened whenever I tried to eat anything. I would either gulp my food down quickly enough to guarantee heartburn or just go without.

The nights, however, were the worst. As the sun went down, I felt a separate darkness start to enfold me. It was a darkness full of fear and desperation and loneliness. It was claustrophobic and unrelenting. I would huddle on the couch, panicky and sobbing, while Ben would cry from the other room. I had heard of people "snapping" or "losing their minds" but I had never understood it or felt so close to it than during those horrific night-time hours. Later, during a conversation with a new OBGYN in Vancouver, I would learn that I had been going through postpartum depression. At the time, I was too ashamed and horrified to really let anyone know what I was going through. I was supposed to be in bliss, after all.

Through it all, I kept hearing "Can't Help Falling in Love". At first, I felt like I was being mocked or admonished in some way. I resented it while at the same time forcing myself to listen to it to really try to feel the way the song told me to feel. I wanted so badly to fall in love with this small, helpless stranger that had completely taken over my life. I wanted the contented sighs and feelings of wholeness that I had read so much about. However, wanting it only reminded me that I didn't have it. Wanting it reminded me that the stupid creeping darkness was on its way in a matter of hours. I hated myself and I hated Hallmark and I hated Gerber and I hated Kodak and I hated every freaking thing in my life that took hold of me and shook me and told me that I was an awful mother, an awful human being. I thought I would drown in all of it.

But during all that madness and all that self-hate and frustration and terror, there were moments that couldn't have been more perfect. There were little pockets of peace when Ben was in my arms and nothing had ever felt better. Moments when I would look at him and he'd look at me and it was the profoundest discovery that could be made. And little by little, those small moments began to happen more frequently. Being a mother started to feel less like an obligation and more like a privilege. I didn't want to go to work because it hurt to be separated from Ben. I'd think of him and smile without trying. Eventually, one day, I realized that the darkness wasn't there anymore. At least, not in the gigantic way that it had been before. I had fallen in love with my child.

I didn't go through all of that the second time around. My OBGYN at that point was apprised of what I had gone through and was determined to keep me from going through it again, as was I. Everything was a little easier. I don't attribute it all to the difference in temperament between my boys or the fact that I was proactive. I think that knowing what I had gone through, all the pain and terror and exhaustion, made me realize that the pay off - the deepest and most complete love I've ever felt - was worth it all and I could face it if I had to. So this is my cheesy blog about my first born and how he made me helplessly fall in love with him and how that opened me up to let myself fall in love with his little brother.

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