20th January 2017 is a day that for most people will be remembered as the day Donald J. Trump officially took office. For me, it will always be the day I nearly lost it with my infant son.
That day was a like a perfect storm of darkness. It was as if my baby boy just wouldn’t stop crying. In my mind he’d been crying for weeks and it was as if he was speaking in a language I just didn’t understand; totally exhausted and emotionally drained I had tried literally everything to soothe him. I tried rocking him, kissing his head, rubbing his back, walking with him, putting him down and picking him up. I had changed him, fed him, winded him, sang to him. One afternoon in desperation I’d even driven all the way to Gorey and back to get him to sleep. And on this fateful afternoon it was still hours before my husband came home from work.
As the baby roared, the familiar feel of hot tears streamed down my face. I’d cried every single day since I had given birth. I felt as if I was frantically treading water, but the waves were lapping underneath my nose and at any moment I could slip below the icy depths and never re-emerge. Each day I hoped to feel more of a connection to the baby, but I just didn’t.
Instead, he felt more like a little invader who had changed every facet of my being and indeed my life. The bottom line was I just wasn’t myself anymore.
I don’t know about you, but for me as a first time mum, I’ve always felt that post-natal depression and feelings of being overwhelmed, sadness and fear are the very visceral things many of us feel, but none of us want to talk about. I look back now and I can admit that I felt completely overcome after giving birth to my child, yet I didn’t want to admit I couldn’t cope, for fear of what might happen.
I was in a haze of depression and facing a fear of the unknown every day. To me the baby was this thing that just cried and slept and ate. He didn’t seem to giggle at me or snuggle in to me, or seem to find any comfort in my holding him or talking to him. He was like a new appendage I didn’t really want. I couldn’t even walk the dog or get a carton of milk without bringing him with me.
So when he started up into ‘high-doh’ on this Friday afternoon, I could feel myself slipping under the water. I paced the floor with him but he just kept screaming as if someone was murdering him. I sang to him, I talked to him, I tried so hard to soothe him and then I remember the moment when everything in my mind snapped. I just couldn’t take one more second of his gut-wrenching crying anymore. I took him in my arms and looked at him as I shouted, ‘why won’t you just stop screaming? I’m trying my absolute best, I’m giving you everything I have!’
Staring into his eyes, I could see my crazed self in another life taking the next unthinkable step and shaking my baby to get him to stop. My blood ran cold. I froze for what seemed like ages and I put him down so gently it must have taken a full 5 minutes. I placed him in his cot and the strangest thing happened… he smiled at me for the most fleeting of seconds. I backed away from him and walked out of the room and into the hall where I curled up into a foetal ball and cried until I thought I had no moisture left in my body. What had I almost done? I thought. I stayed there until my poor husband came home to find me a complete wreck.
Fast forward to today and I am a changed person. That appalling afternoon became my ‘rock bottom’ moment and since then everything just became better, day by day. I look back at that panicked, petrified moment of madness and I feel such a mixture of emotions. I feel incredibly sad that I was so lost and alone and that I didn’t reach out for help.
I feel immense shame that I shouted at my infant son and horror at what else could have happened.
Yet I also feel proud that I managed to have the self-control, even in that haze of depression, to put him down in a safe place and walk away. That day has become a touchstone for me in every sense of the word and now when I have a hard day, it is always in the back of my mind that I will never, ever allow myself to feel so frazzled again and somehow it helps me to cope with even the toughest of days.
If you ask my now how I feel about my son, I don’t think, even as a writer I’ve got the full vocabulary to express how much I love him. It’s as if his smile does something to my brain. My heart literally bursts when I look at him and I am completely at his mercy. Now we spend pretty much all day playing, giggling and learning about each other with love, as I try to show him the world. I adore the smell of his head and kissing his chubby cheeks, blowing raspberries on his tummy and making a holy show of myself as I pull funny faces, dance around and talk complete nonsense to him. I find myself eager to wake up and go into his room to be greeted by his gummy smile. I walk around with him in my arms all day and I feel such a deep connection to him now that I would literally walk through fire to keep him safe. Of course I’m not saying we both don’t have our moments, because we do, but when he does cry or fight sleep like a maniac, I am able to cope because I’ve found myself again.
It’s a different me, but it’s a ‘me’ I am trying to embrace and accept one day at a time.