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Swallowing my Guilt: Confessions on NICU Motherhood, Milestones and Me

NOTE: I wrote this post shortly after having my daughter. It has sat in my "drafts" for quite some time. I thought I would share it today, on Mother's Day. Why? Because I know there is a mom out there who needs to know she isn't alone she needs to know her feelings are normal, valid and that it is OK to get help. AND you will come out of this, whole and healthy if at all possible. If not, take the steps to get there.  If you are like me, and have lost your mother and yet are raising a baby, you could probably relate...


June 19, 2016

I am pretty sure that after the birth of my daughter, I was suffering from postpartum depression and PTSD. No... I KNOW I was am suffering.

I had my daughter 10 weeks early via c-section on Jay 26. It was traumatic and while I felt relieved, I mostly felt like a failure. I couldn't hold on to her inside for just a little while longer. She needed to get bigger. She needed to get stronger. She needed to know I was strong and sacrificing so much for her. I know logically it wasn't my fault but I felt that pain inside.

I spent most of my time just pumping, going back and forth to the NICU, and trying not to burst my c-section stitches. I got two out of three done. Eventually, I did burst my stitches open a bit... and pumping wasn't really going anywhere. I felt like a failure... and when she got home.. she wouldn't nurse from me. Insert my broken heart....insert more failure.

I abruptly ended my extended maternity leave (where I had to eat up all my sick and vacation in order to stay afloat), to go right back to work. If I could only have one more month. One month to get into a routine....but this isn't how the American maternity leave system works. It's arbitrary. But that's what I kept telling myself.  My coworkers were excited and wanted to see pictures of the little one.  Students didn't say congratulations or anything. Or even hello. Just continued the cycle of coming into my office, barking their demands and me having to acquiesce to their own needs above my own. I couldn't even take a break to pee sometimes. Like my childbirth inconvenienced them. Out of habit, I picked up the phone and dialed my mom's cell phone. And slammed it down. Angry. And I cried.

I cried because I missed her. Her and mom.  The fancy new digital picture frame which rotated pics of my already hundreds of pics of her didn't help.  My MIL is a blessing who sends pictures and video daily but I was missing things and the guilt was becoming too much. I missed her finally trying to grab things. I missed her first laugh and smiles and coos.  And while my MIL means well, it's all too much with all the "bond with her!" "Talk to her!"  "Sing to her! "Her barking of orders in her thick Caribbean accent to "mother"...As if I'm not doing enough. As if I'm not doing my job as a mom.  I know that's not what she means and she means well and her yelling is really just a cultural loudness, but my brain post-partum can't process that. It can't process that in her way she is caring and loving. And loves us.  I've learned to try and pick up in baby's queues and somewhere it becomes "I don't think she's hungry" or "she probably doesn't need changing" from her and my husband. And instantly, I feel like I don't know how to mother all over again. Which makes me miss my own mother. I need my mother to mother me through the mothering. 

Most of all, I felt a disconnect from this new life. I loved my baby. I loved my husband. But I felt like I couldn't love them together and equally. Although I realize they are both a different kind of love. One is romantic and the other is maternal. I often felt like she wasn't mine. Like I had her FOR my husband and not with her. The way people dotted on her I felt was borderline unhealthy while my husband wanted to assure me it was simply just excitement of her newness. They commented that she looked like some random person in their family. Or my husband. But never me. Never my own. She wasn't of my flesh or had my blood. She was HUSBAND's baby. THEIR baby.  The demand for pictures and video almost daily.  I would get annoyed and just ignore them because I just wanted to capture some moments to myself. And often when I came home from work, holding her in my arms, she would look at me puzzled as if I was a stranger. I would quietly go about doing my motherly things, insisting that the least I can do is fix her bottles every night before bed. Because I wanted to be responsible for something for her every day, even when I wasn't here. I'd wash and steam and sterilize until my hands went raw. And still the next day, she looked at me puzzled. And then came the barking of orders on how to mother. And then I was feeling defeated all over again. 

Staring at her sleeping, I  started to have these thoughts. "Maybe they would be better without me". Not in a suicidal way. But in an "I'm simply no good here. I'm not good at this. They got this. Besides, she doesn't know me and wouldn't realize if I was gone"-kind of way. I seriously was contemplating divorce, letting him have everything, and just being alone.  It wasn't because I didn't love him. I love him passionately. But I was letting Husband and his mom handle it. They seemed so much better at it. After all, she was THEIR baby, not mine.

And then I began to feel guilt over my daughter. Guilt that my body failed and didn't allow her to develop. Guilty I had some abnormal placenta that didn't feed her enough. It seemed I was surrounded by pregnant friends. More than 5 or 6 of them. I'd hear my pregnant friends complain endlessly about things I hadn't experienced (or had) and under my breath, I wanted to just call them"ungrateful."  You're normal. Your baby is fine. Mine is not.  My baby is behind. My body failed. Your pregnancies are going rather smoothly. Mine did not. You won't spend a day in the NICU (God willing) and I  have lost count of the sleep and hours I missed from either pumping around the clock or going to see the baby in the early morning.

She's slow at things. Not growing as fast as others. So tiny that I lie about her age when strangers ask or remark that "she's so tiny".  Babies born around her same time, even some premature, have eclipsed her developmentally. Some next to her in photos look like tiny sumo wrestlers. She's not hitting milestones, not even for her corrected age. I keep asking myself what I'm doing wrong although she's a healthy, laughing baby otherwise.  I must be failing somewhere... People are pressuring me already to plan a big, grand 1-year-old party only 7 months away. But I can't bring myself to think of it. I wouldn't want her to have a party she can't enjoy if she can't sit up.. if she can't walk.. if she can't smash cake in her face.

Finally, it all came to a head when she began not wanting to eat sometimes, sporadic feedings and taking forever to eat one bottle. Sometimes 30 minutes. Up to an hour. I'd try and feed her and she wouldn't take my bottle. I'd just weep inside. But 10 minutes later, my husband could successfully get to eat and once again there was that word(s): Defeated. Done. Broken.  She wouldn't even take the bottles I painstakingly made every night before bed from me.  I collapsed in my kitchen in a pool of tears, soapy bottle in one hand and sponge in the other. 

That's when I knew my brokenness was becoming unhealthy. I went to find a therapist. After the first session we talked and I explained some of what I felt, she got down to the root of it. 

"You haven't had time to process anything. You went from marriage to losing your mom, to finishing your comps, to having a premature baby in less than 2 years. What happened to you? Have you taken time for you? You're still grieving and trying to love someone new at the same time"

I didn't have an answer. And I still don't. I'm trying to process it. Digest it. Swirl the words around my tongue and form a sentence. But I can't. They stick in my throat.

So I just swallow it. I swallow the words. I swallow what feels like guilt, and sadness, and despair, and confusion. It feels like nails in my throat that won't move. Which makes me not move.

I love her so much. I just want to do a good job. I love him so much. I don't want him to feel abandoned.

One day I'll get out of this..

But I still need my mother... to mother me.. through the mothering of my child.

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