I became a reluctant mother five years ago this month. I was never someone who wanted children and when my husband and I first got together, neither did he. After living together for four years, about when he turned 35, something shifted for him. He began to want to have children. To really want children. This posed a serious issue for our marriage, by far the most serious we’ve ever faced.

We argued, we fought and I cried many tears. I absolutely could not envision myself as a mother. I am very close to my own mother and I had a very happy childhood so it’s not as if I had a negative view of mothers in general. It just was not something I saw fitting into my already very full life.

Needless to say, I eventually changed my mind. I love my husband very much and I’ve known since the first time I met him that we could build a very happy and fulfilling life together. I could not imagine my life without him and I came to the conclusion that our marriage was not going to withstand a life without children. So, very slowly, I changed my mind.

And of course, I became pregnant almost immediately. I was completely in shock. Even though I was having unprotected sex, I just assumed it would take a long time. My mother had a terrible time getting pregnant with me and I somehow imagined that my hesitance to become a mother would play into my biology. Nope.

Physically, my pregnancy was simple and straightforward. I was never sick. I am a runner and I continued to run until I was about 5 months pregnant, then I hiked and did yoga. I was tired, like every pregnant woman, but all that clean living gave me glowing skin, thick, shiny hair and a radiance that I always thought was a myth about pregnant women. However, I really hated being pregnant. I didn’t really feel like I could say that, not in such strong words, because at 30 I was surrounded by friends trying desperately to get pregnant without success. And since I felt so good physically, it seemed petty to complain about being sad all the time.

Looking back, I think it was much more than just “being sad.” I think I was clinically depressed. I had never heard the term prenatal depression. My midwife, who was wonderful in all ways, kept telling me that it normal to feel blue or listless when pregnant but I was not fully sharing the extent of my misery with her or anyone else. It was a grueling, day in day out, feeling of hopelessness and emptiness. And, it was completely out of character for me. I’ve always been full of energy and life. I’ve always been the one who wants to do more, do it again, do it better. Until I got pregnant.

My husband was very supportive and I know it was a long year for him too. We joked about my overwhelming sadness when we could and he just let me be sad, without trying to cajole me into feeling things I was not feeling. I lived with a weight and a level of fear and paranoia I have never known. I felt unsafe all the time. I felt like someone, usually the strange man I would encounter while hiking, was going to attack me at any moment. The fear and anxiety took away all my pleasures in life, namely being outside alone, and left me feeling like a mere shell of the person I had been just months earlier.

Still, the baby grew and I grew and I just counted the days until I would be longer be pregnant. I knew, even then, that I would be an OK mother if I could just get to the other side of the darkness that engulfed me. And as if the universe just wanted to twist that knife a little more, I went 15 days past my due date before I went into labor.

I had my daughter at home at 12:30pm on January 16, 2009 on the coldest day of that winter. It was -25 when the second midwife showed up around 2am. I labored hard from about 2am until 6am when I started pushing. And, as if a physical manifestation of my reluctance to be a mom, I pushed for six hours. Yep. Six whole hours. I could actually see her head for about 4 of those hours but I could not make any progress. It was beyond maddening and it was exhausting. At the time, I kept refusing to think what I could not help but think…that the birth was slow because I was reluctant. That it was my fault.

Once she was finally born, I learned that the umbilical cord was wrapped many times around her neck and that it was preventing her from coming out. In fact, the cord tore on the inside once she finally did emerge and it was then that I understood why it felt like a part of my insides were being slowly torn apart. They were.

But, this is a postpartum blog and here’s my postpartum story. It all got better. Almost immediately. My spirits lifted and I kid you not, within hours of giving birth, I felt great! Sure, I had the issues that every new mom has. I was tired. I was learning all sorts of new things. I was getting to know my daughter and how she sometimes cried for no reason at all. But, the crushing sadness of pregnancy was completely gone. I was overjoyed to have my life back.

My journey into parenthood has been remarkably easy and smooth ever since. My daughter is strong and healthy and was an “easy” baby, compared to some. My husband and I settled into our new roles as parents and we are probably happier than we’ve ever been. I have seen no glimpses of that darkness and since we don’t plan to have another baby (No, really this time. He got a vasectomy) I hope to never encounter depression like that again.

There’s a lot of pressure to be a happy pregnant woman, especially when everything about the pregnancy seem right. We were happily married. We owned a house. We had good jobs and lots of support from our friends and families. I was healthy and the baby was healthy. But, I now believe that prenatal depression is a very real thing. Had I known, I may have reached out for help. I may have been more honest about the extent of my misery and the depths of my pain. I may have found relief, through medication or therapy or something. But instead, like so many people who battle depression, I just
suffered through it.

My daughter will turn five in just a few weeks and I love being her mother. When she is older, I will talk to her about how depression can come upon you, even when you are not expecting it, and that it’s OK to talk about it and ask for help. Then, I will hug her and think how lucky I am to have had the experience I did and to have emerged on the other side.

                                                                      mabel sledding

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