This article first appeared on Role Reboot and has been republished with permission.
The birth of my daughter, Ivy, was traumatic. I hoped for a more granola experience, as promised by the Business of Being Born DVD. Unfortunately, the bullet points on my birth plan contracted alongside my uterus. I still wonder how I would have weathered the storm of new life under better circumstances: a good night’s sleep beforehand, a baby in the proper position. Instead, Ivy had to be cut out of my body after 48+ hours of labor. Lamaze classes and prenatal yoga be damned! My body failed to progress, and my psyche rested on egg shells.
I had heard about the baby blues, but I teetered on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
During the entire hospital stay, sleep remained elusive. Bright lights streamed from the charting computer and call light system, shining brightly in the direction of my bed. Through the walls, I heard the muffled sounds of crying babies and heartbeat monitors. A constant parade of staff filed through my room to check vitals, draw blood, and administer grueling uterine massages. Finding a comfortable position was impossible while tethered to multiple devices. I had an IV in my arm, an oxygen monitor clipped to my toe, compression pants which made me sweat, and a catheter. I slept approximately three hours over the four days I was hospitalized, growing more insane by the minute.
Initially, discussing the details of the birth tore my chest open. When Ivy cried, I sobbed uncontrollably, feeling helpless. Three days after she was born, we discovered she was starving. I hadn’t been making enough colostrum to meet her needs, so we had to supplement with donor breast milk and formula.
This made me feel like a failure as a woman.
I couldn’t birth my own baby or meet her needs. I realized I was being hard on myself, but the hysteria created by my hormones and insomnia prevailed. I tried reassuring myself by focusing on the promised comforts of home.
While taking my first shower upon arriving home, Ivy’s cry looped in my brain. How would I sustain another human while failing to keep myself afloat? I took an hour-long nap and awoke with an overwhelming sense of dread. I worried I might never feel “normal” ever again. I fretted over the possibility of further hospitalization due to potential postpartum complications. My nerves burned raw, and my appetite was nonexistent. Not having any food in my system made the uneasiness even worse, my blood sugar a nightmare. My mother-in-law dropped off a sausage white bean soup, and it was one of the only things I could stand. While eating, I found it necessary to immerse myself in sorting papers, to distract my attention from the unrelenting nausea.
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When Ivy was two weeks old, I stayed home with her while my husband, Derek, went to a Henry Rollins talk. Alone with my baby for the first time, I aimed to ignore how terrified and incompetent I felt. I fended off a full-blown panic attack by watching reruns of a silly TV show, Parks and Recreation, and talking to my cousin Becca on the phone. I distinctly remember our conversation including my newfound sage advice: “Don’t have kids.”
Ivy is now a toddler, but I’m still struggling to shed my worries. I have the luxury of staying home with her during the week, and she has only been babysat by her grandparents for short periods of time. Nobody has ever put Ivy to bed other than her father and/or me. Derek insists we need more time away from her. He wants to catch an evening movie and plan weekend getaways. I insist our baby will only be a baby for a short time, and I’m not ready.
To relinquish my illusion of control over her well-being makes me unbearably fearful. I want Ivy to be able to verbalize her own feelings before handing the reigns over. I can’t stand the idea of her being hurt or scared, her needs misunderstood. I craved an excessive amount of reassurance as a child. Therefore, I cannot stomach the idea of Ivy crying herself to sleep, yearning for me, her preferred safety blanket.
The shock of Ivy’s birth and my subsequent reactions to parenting have scarred me for life.
I have decided not to have any more children, partially because there is no guarantee my sanity would survive another round. I love my husband and daughter, and I’m not willing to take that chance. Since Ivy’s birth, this cord of hypervigilance connecting me to my daughter has lost some of its strength. With Ivy’s budding independence, the threads have started to relax. I just can’t seem to sever them entirely.
Justine Cadwell is a former blogger at TheHungryGuineaPig.wordpress.