The morning of September 14th I remember thinking that I needed to take her picture. I needed to place my tiny, delicate, feisty month-old Claire on that chair as I had planned for months. Minutes turned to hours and I couldn't do it. I simply could not pull myself together to walk into her bedroom and take a picture. On the morning of September 14th I was in the midst of the second week of my relatively brief yet pointed struggle with postpartum depression. I imagine I spent much of the day on the couch crying alongside my daughter who seemed to cry more than most babies and certainly more than I had anticipated. I imagine I spent much of the day wondering what I was going to do, not knowing how I was going to make it through the next hour let alone the next 18 years of life with this little person that I had brought into the world. I felt so guilty- guilty that I felt this way, guilty that I wasn't "loving every second" of my time with my new baby, that this wasn't the best time of my life that, quite the contrary, I had never been so miserable.
My month-by-month documentation of Claire's first year is incomplete because I could not bring myself to take a picture. I did write her a letter that month. It's here. But the letter doesn't have a photo. I read that letter now and I cry because I remember that low feeling. The helplessness that I hope to never experience again.
Those first eight weeks- the ones that everyone tells you to cherish- were the lowest 8 weeks of my life. In retrospect I can see logical reasons for a lot of what was happening. My little Claire is not a laid back person. My little Claire has a great big soul, a soul that is brimming with emotion and energy and intensity. During those first 8 weeks my little Claire cried a lot. She was inconsolable. I was convinced that she was in pain, that she was miserable, that I was a failure because I couldn't fix it. I had a hard time accepting help because I didn't want people to know how big of a failure I was because I couldn't even console my own baby. My husband traveled during the week so I was often without him for up to 72 hours straight, hours that I am sure were hard on him but harder on me. My little Claire didn't sleep for more than a 20 minute stretch unless she was being held. So I didn't sleep for those first 8 weeks. We later learned that I wasn't eating enough or drinking enough water so I wasn't producing enough milk. My little baby was hungry. And my little Claire, with her great big soul, did not take being hungry lightly. When we figured that out life settled down a bit, I was able to focus on myself.
I am and will always be grateful for the friends and family that helped us in those first 8 weeks. For my sister-in-law who came over every time I called even when our house was so, so sad. For my mom who came spent weeks with me, patiently holding a sleeping or crying baby and encouraging me to take care of myself. For my girlfriends who made sure I never spent an evening alone. Who left their own babies and families to spend evenings with me, taking a turn and giving me relief when I was about to break. For my friend who had the courage to tell me that while newborns are hard, what I was experiencing was maybe a bit outside of normal. For my doctor who got me in immediately when I called for help and talked to me for a full 60 minutes- clearly staying far later than normal- about what I was experiencing, assuring me that it was normal, giving me options, and making sure that my Claire and I were going to be ok.
I'm grateful that I was able to take a two month picture, that my experience with postpartum depression only lasted with such intensity for eight weeks. I know that other people's experiences are much harder and stretch for much longer. I think about what I might do differently next time- the knowledge that a first time mom surely cannot be expected to have and how I can use that to create a different experience for myself. I think about how I can support other new moms, make their experience a bit easier, help them to know that its hard and its normal and that they're doing a great job.
In two weeks we will celebrate my Claire's first birthday and the close of our first year as parents. My monthly photo-collage will have 11 photos and I will have a happy, healthy, vibrant one-year old baby. For that I am grateful.