As I swiftly turned into an abandoned parking lot and slammed on the brakes of my SUV, I realized I had changed forever. My two kids were screaming in the back seat; I hadn't slept in over four months, and I was losing my grip on rationality.
My thoughts were scaring me, and so was my behaviour. I got out of the car, slammed the door behind me and contemplated leaving. They would be better off without me, I thought. I tried to take deep breaths and even scream a little, anything just to dislodge the crazy that had taken over my body, but nothing was calming me down. I opened the door next to my older son to hear the screaming and quickly shut it again.
Other women do this, why can't I? I'm not good at this. I'm weak. Why am I so out of control? I'm so tired.
I don't know if I was mumbling the words, or just listening to them hammer against my skull as I sat on the front bumper.
I can't do this. I suck.
I had lost my sanity between home and the indoor kids gym where I was headed. I was so overwhelmed with fatigue and hormones that the crying was making me want to drive the car into a wall. After this thought had barreled through my mind, I knew something was wrong.
I called my husband and told him that I wasn't right. Something was just not right. I could picture him swiveling from side to side in his office chair, looking around to his colleagues pecking away at their keyboards, not sure what in the hell he was supposed to do. I wondered then if he thought I should be handling this better.
Our newborn son had been sick with ear infections and up every night, every hour for six weeks (and I mean consistently every hour). He then continued waking for many months after that. Our older son was pissed that our younger son was even there at all. And giving my toddler time-outs because he was hitting my baby was beginning to challenge every sane fiber in my body. I kept wondering why I hadn't heard about this part: the part where I feel dark and helpless, and actually nauseated with fatigue. I saw myself as a complete failure. I was so alone.
As it turned out, I wasn't. The postpartum counselor I visited assured me that my dark thoughts were not only normal, but expected when a person hasn't slept in months. She told me that induced sleeplessness has been used as a torture mechanism throughout history. It is actually torture. She also said, in her quiet meditative voice, that after a woman experiences childbirth, her body is rattled from the incredible drop in hormones. It can take up to a year to recover completely from this.
With my first child, I didn't have the same dip into darkness. I was tired I'm sure, but nothing like this. It took me a long time to get back to "feeling myself" the first time, but the experience with my second had left me wondering what was normal and what wasn't.
It was like these horribly irrational thoughts would just saunter by my consciousness, coaxing me to believe I was a bad mother. And being so tired, my guard was down. I started to believe that I was weak; that I should be able to handle not sleeping, a high maintenance toddler and a new baby, a whole lot better. But was it postpartum depression that was making me feel bad about myself? Or was it that everyone around me seemed to be effortlessly gliding through each of these stages without so much as a bag under their eye?
In some parts of the world today, (and throughout history) women bring up babies together in villages. In other continents, families gather around the baby for months, tending to the mother and any domestic duties.
Over here, most of us are on our own. And a lot of women have to go back to work, and some way too early.
We are expected to "do it all." And to make things worse, it seems that for every woman who is balancing a baby on her hip as she solves the world's problems, there is another one doing it with two. There is an amazing amount of high achieving, multi-tasking mamas out there. They seriously rock, and I commend them. It's just making it difficult for the rest of us to feel adequate.
But are these just the images that we see from afar? These portrayals of "doing it all and looking fabulous while doing it" may be just fictional accounts of somebody's skewed version of their own experience. This may not be the reality. At least I hope not. I mean, of course it's inspiring and wonderful to see women kicking ass on all fronts; I am beyond all for that. I strive for this incredibility. But the image of perfection does not help anyone.
During my time of darkness, one of my friends said to me, "I don't know how you do it. You're amazing." I just sat there quietly shaking my head, as if the truth lingered behind my tongue. "What?" she asked. "I am so NOT amazing. I feel like I'm falling apart," I told her. And just then I realized, we may not raise our babies together in villages or have family members who take our baby for us at 3 a.m., but if we have truth about our experiences and share that, we create a community. The community becomes our sanity.