After the birth of my third child, it took nearly a year before I found joy in writing again. I had all of the excuses not to write. New baby. Too busy. Too tired. Watching five kiddos during summer break. Too scared. Anytime I had attempted to write, I felt too sad, too lonely, too frustrated. The words were negative and quite painful to read. I was lost.
Writing, something I had long found freedom in, suddenly began to invade my space –my precious, limited personal space. It creeped into parts of my mind and soul that didn’t want to be discovered –little nooks and crannies that had been collecting grains of dirt and dust without me knowing. I tried to clean it up by sorting through the words on the page before me, but I only felt like I was choking on tiny particles that had been disturbed and kicked up into the air. It was messy, and I didn’t know how to handle the truth of the words that had come from my soul, so I closed my laptop. And for months, I ignored the dust that continued to gather in the tiny nooks and crannies of my mind.
Motherhood does funny things to you. It’s like Halloween in Minnesota. You could be trick-or-treating in a swimsuit or snowsuit. You never know what kind of day, week, month, or year you are going to have until it’s here. You can have all of the expectations you want to have, but until you are in the moment, you simply don’t know what you are going to do, how you are going to feel, what it is going to be like, or how it is going to change you. You don’t know until you get there, and some days (or months at a time), you simply feel lost in all of the stress, unknown, exhaustion, and emotions. And feeling lost is lonely, messy, and a little scary too.
On October 16, 2015, I gave birth to my third child. It was a Friday. My son and nephew didn’t have school so I took them and my daughter to the park to play. Afterward, we stopped at Trader Joe’s and purchased pumpkins to carve at home. We squished pumpkin guts in our hands, and after my nephew left, my kids and I had a dance party in the living room. While watching my kiddos twirl each other around, I began to feel contractions. Thinking it was yet another bout of Braxton Hicks contractions, I decided to clean the floors to take my mind off of the pain. A little while later I called my husband to tell him to get home ASAP. I remember being in so much pain as I fumbled for my insurance card in my purse while checking in at the hospital, and within an hour of our arrival, our beautiful daughter was born.
I snuggled our new baby, fell in love with her, and breathed in her intoxicating scent of new life. I complied with the nurses when they encouraged me to try breastfeeding minutes after giving birth. We tried several positions over the next fifteen minutes or so, and as soon as the nurses left our room, I quickly passed the baby to my husband. I needed space. I needed to breathe. Everything was happening so fast. I needed to clean myself off.
Carefully, I made my way to the bathroom alone and stepped into the shower. A nurse came rushing into the bathroom, surprised that I was in there already without her assistance. She helped me settle in the tub and asked if I needed anything else before giving me some privacy. I told her I was good, and she stepped out of the room and slid the door closed. I laid back in the warm bath, placed my hands over the loose skin on my stomach, and closed my eyes. I took in a deep breath, expecting to feel complete and utter relief that our third child had made it safely into our arms. But that’s when I felt it –that overwhelming lump deep in my throat.
Everything happened so fast that evening, and it never slowed down. The baby had visitors waiting for her before she was even born, and within 40 hours of her delivery, we brought her home to a house already full of love and chaos. Everything happened so fast, and I couldn’t slow it down. It was back to the routine of bringing my oldest to and from school, helping with homework, playing with the big kids while the baby napped, family gatherings, church activities, hockey practice, planning a baptism and birthday party, planning Thanksgiving and Christmas, and planning, and going, and more planning and going. I tried to write, but the lump appeared again. I couldn’t get rid of it. So I ignored it. It was easier to run and gasp for air than to stop and try to breathe with the lump in my throat. I stopped writing, and I kept running.
On the second day of being back at home with the baby I remember crying –for no reason. I cried on and off for the entire day. I had experienced the baby blues, like many moms, shortly after the births of my older children. And I chalked it up to that. I believed I would come out of it in just a few short days like I had twice before. But I didn’t. Honestly, I don’t know when I started to feel normal again.
Looking back, I know it was there –the lingering sadness, the feeling of hopelessness. My heart was full of love, but oh so heavy with pain. It didn’t make sense. Maybe I had stretched myself too thin, maybe I was just really tired, or maybe it was something more. I’m not saying that I had post-partum depression or anxiety, because I don’t know. But maybe I did. It sounds like I did. I just didn’t know at the time. Maybe I should have been honest with my doctor at my six-week post-partum appointment that I just didn’t feel quite right. But who wants to become a statistic? Who wants to admit that something is wrong when there shouldn’t be a reason for feeling like something is wrong? I didn’t want to feel weak. I didn’t want to feel alienated. I didn’t want to be judged. After all, I had dreamt of having this third baby for years.
For months I couldn’t understand why my husband kept asking me why I seemed so sad. It made me angry and defensive. How could I be sad? But slowly this absurd question began to make sense, and I started to acknowledge that it was there —the sadness. It was there all along.
I don’t know when the lump disappeared. All I know is that I feel like I can finally breathe again, and I wish it hadn’t taken this long. I wish I had allowed myself to slow down. I wish I hadn’t put so much pressure on myself. I wish I had been more honest with myself, because maybe I could have embraced all the moments of motherhood in that first year of my third baby’s life that weren’t quite perfect but just right. And while some days bring more tears than joy (because this is motherhood we are talking about), I no longer feel like a prisoner to that lingering sadness.
I’ve collected the dust and grains of dirt. I can breathe so much better now. Please make sure you take a deep breath too, mama. And if you feel the tickle of dust in your throat, know that you are not alone.
We don’t know what motherhood will bring until we are in the moment. We don’t know how we will feel, or how it will change us until it happens. And sometimes we feel really helpless and lost, and we don’t understand why or how. And it’s lonely. And sometimes it’s scary. But we are not alone. We were not meant to go through this alone. Breathe, mama. Let yourself breathe. Let yourself clear the air.
Aimee is a mother, wife, writer, and dreamer. You will often find her posting too many pictures on Instagram of her re-heated cups of morning coffee, as well as her many adventures in the Twin Cities with her three kiddos. When she does sneak in some time to write, you can find her over at Why I Left My Job.