Editor’s Note: We love all of Allison Robicelli’s stories, but we never expected the response generated by her recent screed on the difficulty of getting kids to eat well. After being picked up by The New York Times’ ‘Motherlode’ parenting blog, it freaking blasted off, garning thousands of facebook ‘likes’ and almost a hundred impassioned comments (only one of which was a flat out flame-job on Allison herself.)
After receiving sacks full of emails and letters thanking her for her honesty on the controversial topic, Allison felt compelled to write a follow-up. In Confessions, Part 2, she bares a deeper, darker truth about her experience as a first-time mom in a heartfelt attempt to reassure others who find themselves in similar straits. Seatbelts, people!
Full disclosure: This post is NOT about food. She’s back with the laughs next time!
“Just love your kids as much as you can. It does get better, I promise.”
by Allison Robicelli
After the last piece I wrote for Nona Brooklyn, I received an overwhelming response that I am still trying to take in. I got comments and letters from all over the world: people sharing their personal stories, swapping parenting tips, and thanking me for putting a realistic face on motherhood. I have never envisioned myself as a “mommy blogger”, mostly because I am the farthest thing from an expert on raising children. In fact, I promised myself I wouldn’t write about parenting again for a good, long while. The article I had been writing for this installment of my column was going to be in my forte: marginally adequate attempts at food humor.
Of course, once you promise something, the tides change. I got more letters about a specific line in my last column, a line I sort of threw in as an offhanded joke because it’s something I’ve never felt brave enough to talk about publicly. From what I deduced from these letters, very few people are brave enough to discuss it. Every time I would sit down and try to write something snarky or funny, I would just sit and stare blankly at my computer screen, reciting these letters over and over in my head, and wondering if I was strong enough to tell my story for all the women who are still too scared to. So I’m just going to write, email this to my editor as quickly as possible, and hope for the best.
For all the girls out there who have suffered from post-partum depression, and to all the girls who couldn’t breastfeed, this is for you.
If you are of childbearing age in this country, you have no doubt heard far more than you ever wanted to hear about breastfeeding. The boob people must have the best PR agency in the world, because long before I even met my husband I knew that if you love your kids and don’t want them to eventually become degenerate crack addicts, you breastfeed. It strengthens the baby’s immune system. It stimulates brain and eye development. It prevents cancers and disease when the child gets older, and results in less obese adults. If you listen to the way some people tell it, the reason we’re a nation of fat idiots who are bad at math isn’t because of McDonalds or VH1- it’s because of powdered infant formula.
I wanted to be a great mom. I wanted a child who would be brilliant and good looking and have 20/20 vision. There was never a doubt that I would breastfeed. In fact, I bought into all the hoopla about it so much that I, pre-childbirth, actually looked down on mothers who chose not to do it, thinking that they were irresponsible fools who didn’t care enough about their kid’s health and future. Because, you know, I’m an absolute moron.
My depression began long before I gave birth – I had a few very dark weeks in the first trimester, followed by a decent middle, and then ending with a third trimester that was so bad that Matt had considered hospitalizing me (we decided against seeking treatment, because we were worried the state would try to take the baby from us because of my illness). Though I was rattled with total emotional instability during those nine months, one thing I never wavered on was my complete and utter love for my son. I was certain that once Atticus was born and my hormones returned to normal, everything would be fine.
Childbirth marks one of the many significant times that I feel television has totally let me down in the preparedness department. High school was NOTHING like “Saved by the Bell,” having that alien living in my garage was NOTHING like ALF, and childbirth is not remotely close to what I saw on a single 80s sitcom. There was no waking up with a smile on my face saying “Honey, I think it’s time!”- there was significantly more pain, screaming, and death threats. But that was the disparity I expected and was prepared for- I mean really, there’s no way a 9 lb 9 ounce human being is going to claw his way out of your ladybits without it hurting just a teensy bit, and by that I mean it was the worst thing I have ever physically experienced in my entire life.
The part that I was fully expecting, the part that would change me for the better and heal all the pain inside me I had been living with to bear this child, was the moment that my son was born. You know that scene on TV, don’t you? Where the baby comes out, and everyone has the biggest smiles on their faces, and they hand the child to their beaming mother who looks as if she’s so happy she might explode? Where the bitchiness, discomfort and depression immediately end, and your endorphins thrust you into the ultimate high of total unconditional love?
Yeah, that part didn’t happen. After an extremely rough birth, I laid there in semi-consciousness looking at my son, and didn’t see the love of my life, but rather a complete and utter stranger.
I had spent nine months falling in love with this little guy living in my belly. Nine months humming songs to him, talking to him, feeling him squirm and hiccup and be a part of me. And now, that person inside of me was gone. Yes, I knew I was holding him – that this was that person I loved who grew inside of me. But the boy I held, my little boy – I didn’t know who he was. At some point there was an emotional disconnect, where I began to go into a deep mourning for the child inside me who was no longer there, and was left with a child I felt I didn’t know or recognize. Though logically I understood what had happened, part of me didn’t process it. That was the first step in my spiral into severe post-partum depression.
The two days I spent in the hospital were two of the hardest days I have ever had to live through. I had visitors every hour who I had to entertain and put a happy face on for, even though I was already ripping myself apart for failing at my first official act of motherhood: being able to immediately love my child unconditionally. He ate every hour, so I didn’t sleep at all since I was attempting to breastfeed. We would lie there in bed as the nurses and lactation consultants would walk me through what to do, and I would just stare at him blankly and wonder what the hell was wrong with me. Who are you supposed to tell? Your doctor? Your husband? Tell them that God made a horrible mistake in giving me a child, and that I don’t love him? What sort of monster doesn’t love their own baby?
One night a young nurse came in with Atticus who needed to be fed again, and I asked her in a very veiled way about not feeling like I was “bonding” with the baby. She assured me that all I needed was time, and that it’s an essential step that doesn’t happen right away for everyone. I hadn’t heard that discussed in the frank terms I was experiencing it, so again I turned my hatred inward and continued beating myself up. I tried rationalizing my feelings as just being overtired, or maybe it was my hormones going back to normal. I did a lot of praying that God would cure me and my life would magically become “Full House” levels of perfect.
My final morning in the hospital, I finally got to see my actual OB and not her associates, and knowing the difficulties I faced in my pregnancy she brought a psychiatrist with her. Probably a smart move, because after her initial question of “How are you feeling?”, I broke down crying hysterically and couldn’t be subdued for about five minutes. I underwent a thorough psychiatric evaluation, and my doctors in tandem decided that for a few weeks, I needed strong doses of anti-depressants to stabilize myself. The first question I asked was if I would be able to breastfeed, to which they immediately replied “no.”
I had already failed as a mom immediately after he was born by not loving him enough. There was NO WAY that I was going to fail again by not breastfeeding. If you love your kid, and you want what’s best for them, you breastfeed. That’s what society says, and there is absolutely no counter-discussion. I demanded that the hospitals lactation consultant be called. Her response, as well as the response of every OB I had my doctor query, was also “no.” They explained to me that I couldn’t care for my son in the condition I was in, and that they had a responsibility to care for the mother to ensure they could care for the child. That was not good enough for me. They were telling me that I was too weak and damaged to feed my child. This is something mothers are supposed to do – it’s in our biology. Now not only had my heart failed my son, but my mind and body were as well. The decision was being made to help save me from depression, but it felt like it was hammering a nail into my coffin.
I wish I could tell you a detailed account of what happened over the first few weeks of being home with my son. Maybe I don’t remember because I was so sleep deprived, or maybe I’m trying so hard to forget. I have gone through many parts of my life where I have despised myself, but it was never as bad as it was those first few weeks. And if it wasn’t enough to be privately struggling with one of the worst things you’ve ever faced while putting on a big smiling song and dance show for every person you have ever known who, are ALL coming to your house in droves to see the baby, EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE asks you if you are breastfeeding.
Or they look shocked when you pull out a bottle of formula, and then begin to tell you about all of the benefits of breastfeeding and wonder why you would be so irresponsible with your child right off the bat. You don’t really want to say “Because I hate myself and think about jumping in front of the R train about 600 times a day,” because that just makes for awkward conversation. So you make up some story about having an infection that you’re taking pills for, to which they’ll tell you some story about how the same thing happened to their sister/cousin/friend and they were totally able to breastfeed, so you should call your doctor again because you’re really fucking the baby up.
I’m a bad mom. Got it. Thanks for the baby blanket.
This didn’t end with friends and family. This continued as I stopped in a local cafe to make Atticus a bottle, and two mothers having coffee nearby began to have an excessively loud conversation about how they’re such great moms for breastfeeding, and how that’s the responsible choice. An elderly lady in Rite Aid was asking how old my son was as he slept in his baby carrier, only to immediately ask “Are you breastfeeding?” At what point did this become an appropriate thing to ask new mothers? Why not just ask me how my episiotomy stitches were holding up?
I spent months caring for my son while silently fighting my way out of depression, not having anyone to lean on because it’s not something that is safe to openly talk about until many, many years later like I’m doing. The fear is overwhelming. Fear your baby will end up fat and ugly from infant formula. Fear you’ll never get better at being a mom. Fear that if you talk about what you’re going through, ACS will come and take your baby from you. Fear that you are failing the person that you love more than anything in the world, even though you can’t feel the love because the pain is so horrifically bad, it’s the only thing you feel.
Depression is not the cutesy sounding “Baby Blues” or akin to a really bad mood swing. Depression is the most horrible thing I have ever encountered in my entire life. I’ll put it this way: I’ve had cancer. Stage IV, 4-months-to-live-type cancer. And if I got to pick between having cancer or depression again, I’d take cancer in a fucking second.
It does get better. I may not have needed to beat myself up over the breastfeeding if I had just refused to take the medication, but it just would have been something else. The pills don’t make you happy – they just make you functional enough to survive while you heal. I survived, and as the pain began to melt away and I started to find myself again, I found the deep unconditional love for my son that had always been there.
I am in no way anti-breastfeeding. My second pregnancy was a total 180 from my first, and I breastfed Toby for several months before eventually driving my car into the garage door because I was so goddamn overtired from the kid eating every freaking hour. What I am against is the judgement that we impose on other mothers. That judgement nearly killed me.
We don’t worry about hurting women with post-partum depression because we don’t see them. You never will. My doctors were right: to support the child, we have to take care of their mothers. And ALL mothers, not just the struggling ones, need love, support and kindness – not critiquing, judgement or unwanted advice.
Now, I’m getting off my soapbox. I’ll leave the ultra-analysis and stories of child rearing to all the psychoanalyst experts and mommy bloggers. Just love your kids as much as you can. It does get better, I promise.