baby-hand-holding-mothers-hand1-470x260We got off to a rough start. I don’t know why I expected it to be easy after everything we’d already been through.

I had waited for him for 7 1/2 years; after multiple failed rounds of infertility treatments, a drastic lifestyle and health change to bring me to my healthiest, by some miracle I was suddenly pregnant au naturale. After the shock and excitement passed, I can see now that early pregnancy is when it started to creep in. I think the fear fed it, in both my husband and myself. Physically, I was obviously never alone as I was growing this little person. But the fear of not making it to the second trimester, then the third, then to term and so on and so forth led to what I can now, in hindsight, diagnose as loneliness. My spouse withdrew out of similar fears, though from the outside we looked as happy as two people could be after all we’d been through to get there.

Our son arrived a little more than 2 weeks early; still technically full term, so we expected him to perhaps be a bit on the small side but otherwise healthy. After 39 awful hours of labor, he finally made his grand entrance, only to enter the world purplish-blue and quiet. He did not cry. After a lot of rubbing and stimulation, his color gradually turned pink, and he began to make noise. We thought the worst was over. A while after everything had calmed down, his breathing changed. He labored. He grunted. In what seemed like 2 minutes, our room was overflowing with nurses, several doctors, and the NICU assessment team. I had gotten less than 2 hazy hours with him before they whisked him away; he spent the next two weeks in the NICU for a rampant (and originally misdiagnosed) Strep B infection. Most days, we only got to hold him once. He never saw my postpartum room, and I would cry all night from my hospital bed as I heard babies wailing from their mothers’ rooms. I was so very afraid and lonely with my heart struggling to breathe just down the hall.

Once he was healthy and home, I was elated and relieved, and I thought everything would be perfect (aside from the obvious exhaustion). He was finally here to stay; I had my baby at last, and I finally would get to keep him.

But the darkness crept in, even with my beautiful healthy boy safe in my arms.

I struggled to bond with my son at first, out of the irrational fear that something was going to come take him away again. When he would, for any number of reasons, wail at a certain pitch, I would immediately be transported back to NICU: the repeated IV attempts, his screaming as they held him down to yet again try and fail to get something to stick, watching his little body flail under miles of tubing and tape. Remembering how horrific it felt to have to help hold him still during a lumbar puncture when he was only 14 hours old. My entire body would freeze at his cries and I would break into a sweat and panic. I couldn’t let go of the memories of desperation and helplessness I had felt, and the darkness haunted me in a way I couldn’t have imagined. My husband returned to work fairly quickly and I was exclusively breastfeeding, so I was the only one getting up at night for the first 6 months. Even when the baby slept, I could not rest well. The exhaustion coupled with the flashbacks, feelings of inadequacy and guilt as I struggled with feeding issues, and feeling like I couldn’t really talk about any of it with anyone (my spouse included, who was quietly struggling with his own postpartum issues) left me feeling more lonely than I ever have in my entire life, despite being surrounded by people far more often than I ever had been before. I didn’t know how to fix it, or myself. What was wrong with me? I stewed in this darkness for far longer than I should have.

I am still climbing out of that hole. The screams that transport me back into NICU are much fewer and far between as my son’s cries have grown from baby wailing to little-boy crocodile cries, but it still happens. I finally began to reach out to others and get help. Some days are still lonely and difficult, but I know I’m not alone and I know I’m just one of millions who have experienced postpartum depression, anxiety, and/or PTSD. I hope that by sharing, another new mom or dad knows that they can reach out.

You are never alone.

Did you struggle with unexpected feelings once you brought home your baby? We would love to hear your story.

-Stephanie Ansley