Our first child was just about four days old, and we had left him home with the grands to get out of the house for a few hours. We got lunch and stopped by a craft store. I wandered aimlessly because what kind of craft project could I possibly work on after creating life just 100 hours prior. No paper, wood, or paint appealed to me. While wandering, we saw the mother of a friend.
She asked how we were doing, post-birth, and I said, “Oh, the baby’s great”, with all the feeling I could muster, which wasn’t much. My trembling hands gripped the empty, pointless shopping cart, and I endured the typical questions about the birth and our exuberance. Jean, her name was, gave me a meaningful mom-ish look as I excused myself to the restroom. I wobbled into the gray, overly perfumed lavatory and barely made it to the sink before the tears came. I gripped onto the cool white porcelain basin and begged not to go home. I couldn’t handle this new life. I couldn’t handle being a mom.
I don’t honestly know how long I stayed in the bathroom; it wasn’t long enough for my husband to come looking for me. But it was long enough for the well-meaning mother to go on about her business. Her business…it angered me. Why didn’t she mind her own business? She had daughters and grandkids…she knew that the first few days and weeks are sleep deprived. She should’ve just smiled and waved and left us alone. I didn’t want to talk about the baby. And now, he was on my mind and I had to go home to him. Geez. How could she be so inconsiderate.
My uncertain emotional state (and the need to feed) led us back home instead of further out for the afternoon. I held the baby and fed him. I made the appropriate gestures of affection. I met his needs. But my heart ached for him to be back in my belly and for my life to be mine again. Why wasn’t this like babysitting? Why wasn’t this like teaching? I’d done both of those for years. Where was that feeling of joy and success? I’d never felt so overwhelmed and depressed.
Later that afternoon, Jean’s daughter Shelley called. ‘Oh good grief!’ I thought. ‘Couldn’t she just leave well enough alone?! I don’t want to talk to anyone. I don’t have anything to say. He’s a cute baby. We’re great. Yay life change.’ *Sigh*
‘Mom said she saw you today.’
‘Yes. It was nice to see her.’
‘She said she was worried about you… She wanted me to see if you’re doing all right.’
Seriously. Did this woman know when to stop?? How much more invasive could she be?
And then the tears started. And they couldn’t stop. I couldn’t even talk, so Shelley did. She had gone through postpartum depression and anxiety with both of her children. She knew what I was experiencing. She knew what it was like to put on the marginally happy face and give all the right answers to the questions. She knew how it felt to hold your own flesh and blood and NOT feel that warm fuzzy feeling that everyone was expecting you to feel. She wanted to take a break from it before it even began too. The numbness, the fear, the emptiness, the panic attacks…she’d been through it all…twice.
And that’s why her mom wanted her to call me. Because her mom recognized it in my eyes when she saw me. When I gave my vague answer ‘Oh, the baby’s great’… Jean knew the baby was fine, but I wasn’t.
What I considered an inconsiderate invasion was actually an inexplicable intervention. I needed more than an afternoon out. I needed a friend who knew my pain, knew a doctor, knew a medication, and knew it was all going to be all right. And that’s what Jean gave me. In telling Shelley to call me, she answered my prayers before I even prayed them. She opened a door of communication that I had been leaning against to keep everyone out. She gave me the chance to enjoy my precious son while I was still sane enough to hold him.
In the following days and weeks, Shelley came over, held my hand, wiped my tears, called her doctor and got me an appointment. I got on medication and by the time my son was six weeks old, I knew I was going to be the best mom that he could ever dream of having. And I knew that if I ever got the opportunity to reach out to help someone who was hurting like I had been, I would be the Jean to them.