Baby Blues is a column about raising my daughter in the windstorm of postpartum depression. Though discussing the dark spots of postpartum depression, I also share my successes.
I read the most fallacious comment about motherhood and depression on Facebook a few weeks ago. A friend, a mom of two with a deployed husband, had finally found her happiness again by deciding to return to grad school. The questionable reply came from a traditional relative, who said something like, “don’t do it. Even if you think it will make you happier, your kids are too young to know whether you’re happy or not. They need their mommy at home.”
This comment really struck a nerve. Though I won’t deny that being a SAHM is good for some families, it is simply false to assume children can’t tell if their parents are happy or not. There are few absolutes regarding parenting, but in my short 15 months as a mother, there’s one thing I know for sure: children are astoundingly tuned-in to their parents’ emotions.
While my daughter doesn’t speak yet, she’s already catching on that mama gets really out of sorts sometimes. Her fussiness is often a result of my own, in the same way she’s giddy and giggly when I’m in good spirits. When she gets a little older and I’m having a depressive episode, she will ask why I’m crying. Or she’ll notice the old scars on my wrist. I will explain that I have something called depression, which sometimes makes me cry and makes it hard to get things done and think clearly.
That talk doesn’t worry me. She will be smart enough to understand it. What really worries me is the effect postpartum depression has on our lives right now. I’m making some changes in order to combat my depression, primarily in my choice to start a part-time serving job outside the home. It’s difficult enough suppressing my ingrained phobia of putting baby in daycare (I was raised to believe that a child’s first three years MUST take place at home and have mother present at all times, or else a child will fail to thrive). But now that I’ve gone public with my decision, I’m really feeling the intensity of being torn between doing what’s best for my health and what’s best for my daughter.
It’s mom guilt on steroids, guys.
I’m about to uproot our little home routine and put my daughter in with a group of strangers for hours at a time. I can count the number of playdates she’s had on one hand, so she’s not exactly used to interacting with other little people. I do think the group setting will eventually be good for her, but I realize this isn’t going to happen instantly. She will wonder where I am, where she is. She will probably get upset not being able to nurse every couple of hours like she’s used to. Or worse, she will start to refuse my milk. This would break my heart.
If it weren’t for my postpartum depression, maybe I’d be okay with continuing to work exclusively at home. But that’s not my reality. Having depression and continuing to be home 24/7 is a hopeless path for my life. Getting this job may not be a perfect solution, but I can no longer ignore the fact that depression is (and always will) impact the lives of everyone in my little family, and it’s up to me to minimize the negative effects of it.
Does it make me selfish that I’m going to give up my daughter’s stable home routine so that I can save my sanity? I know that’s what my extended family believes. "Mother" and "martyr" are synonyms where I come from.
But when I’m thinking clearly about it, I think, you know what? No. Selfishness means having no regard for others, and I’m making this choice out of selfless love, because my daughter deserves a happy mother with functioning coping mechanisms. I love my daughter too much to allow her mother to be physically present but emotionally distant.
I refuse to equate my former title of “stay-at-home mom” with “full-time mom,” because even though I’ll no longer be at home, I am still a full-time mom. Motherhood isn’t a job with a requisite number of hours to work. It’s part of my identity, and it’s as irrefutable as my identity as a creative person, a wife, a daughter.
I do need to give my child more credit. She’s adaptable.
The other day I went to a yoga class on a whim and tested out the gym’s daycare to see how she’d do. After an hour I went to pick her up and didn’t see her among the gaggle of kids. I immediately assumed she was screaming her face off in some distant room. Then I realized I hadn’t looked hard enough: there she was, toddling around, holding a baseball and testing it out to see what it looked like on various shelves. Like she’d just moved in to her first apartment.This makes me think she may even start to love daycare and all her peers after the adjustment period.
I keep imagining her as an adult, looking back. I think she would much rather recall a childhood featuring a friendly daycare and a happy mother than an isolated home and a mother who frequently breaks down. Not only that, but one of my loftier goals as a parent is to show my daughter that she is in control of her own happiness. If something about her life just isn’t working for her, all she has to do is change it—and screw what society or tradition have to say about it.
(photo: Sam72 / Shutterstock)