While giving my two-year old son a bath the other night, I decided to tell him that I wrote a book. I’m not sure why I decided to tell this to him, but it seemed like interesting conversation to make with a two-year old.
“Did I tell you that I wrote a book?” I asked as I handed him a wash cloth.
“No,” he replied. “You not write a book.”
“Yes,” I continued. “I did write a book. A real book with lots of words, but no pictures.”
“With ABCs?” my son asked.
“Yes,” I said. “A real book with lots of ABCs. And guess what? It’s all about you,” I continued, even though I’d lost my son’s attention to a blue octopus that squirted water. Sitting back and watching my son enjoy his bath, I stopped talking, but I kept thinking. Because I have written a memoir about my experience and continue to work as an advocate to improve maternal mental health, it is inevitable that my son will learn about my experience. I knew a day would eventually arrive when I would tell my son more about the book and the postpartum depression and anxiety I experienced after his birth. I thought about the confusing message this discussion could convey and I could hear myself explaining my love for him despite the sadness and anxiety that had engulfed me when he was merely three days old.
Even though I was in a dark cloudy fog for a bit, I still loved holding you in my arms. Even though having postpartum anxiety and feeling so misunderstood was the worst experience in my life, I wouldn’t trade you in just to avoid the experience.
Some people worry that postpartum depression and other related illnesses can disrupt the crucial mother-baby bonding that occurs during this formative stage. But fortunately, PPD and PPA did not interfere with the special relationship I have and cherish with my son. And despite all the initial sadness and fear I felt due to my illness, my son’s presence fills me with joy, amusement and love on a daily basis.
I feel this bond’s strength when we exchange whispered I love you‘s at bedtime. When we read books and you finish some of the sentences for me. When we build block castles and you congratulate me, saying, “Mommy, you did a good job!” When we run outside, arms stretched out in airplane position. When we bop our heads from side to side while listening to music on the radio. When we dance together, you imitating my every move when you’re not spinning in circles. When we nuzzle nose to nose and I can feel your soft skin pressed against mine. When our eyes lock for a moment and a secret smile washes across your face. When we sing our favorite songs and you correct me if I sing the wrong words, sighing “Silly mommy, that’s not the right way.” When we share a snack and you clumsily yet forcefully attempt to stick my share in my mouth. When we cuddle, tickle and take turns giving each other raspberries. When we’re laughing and your little boy giggle erupts into a resonating and gurgling belly laugh. When we walk hand in hand, knowing the bond between the little boy hand and the big mommy hand is stronger than mountains.
As I sat on my bathroom floor, helping my son with his bath, I recalled something a friend had recently said to me in reference to my postpartum depression and anxiety. She had said, “It’s so great to hear how you talk about your son. You enjoy him so much despite everything that happened in the beginning.” When my friend made that comment, I felt the need to defend myself, explain that my postpartum depression and anxiety symptoms didn’t involve a lack of interest in my baby or a desire to be away from him. But as I thought about the comment a second time, I realized I could look at my friend’s comment in another way. She wasn’t implying that I had done anything wrong to my son by having postpartum depression and anxiety; she was simply pointing out how well I had bonded with my son, how strong our relationship was and how evident it was that our household cultivated love.
There are so many misconceptions about postpartum depression and anxiety. One of the many misconceptions is that women suffering from these illnesses don’t love their babies. For me, this certainly wasn’t the case and isn’t the case. And in an odd and interesting way, the bond I have with my son is quite strong because of my postpartum depression and anxiety. Our relationship began during a turbulent time, yet we made it through the darkness and into the light.