She arrived uninvited. She arrived without warning. I didn’t know her but she took the place of another woman I had known quite well. A woman who had been intelligent, friendly, and competent. In fact, the woman I knew was the kind of person people turned to for advice and could depend on. She was a take charge lady, but she did so with grace and humor. People often told her, “You have it so together.” But when the uninvited stranger arrived, the woman I knew disappeared. The stranger might have at first seemed quiet and pensive, but I quickly realized she was rattled with fears that she couldn’t verbalize. She berated her every action, questioned her every thought. She shuffled through her home in a daze of self-doubt and scathing criticism. She couldn’t make a single decision without agonizing over it. Choosing between cereal or toast for breakfast was an exhausting task, yet such everyday choices were substantially easier than decisions about the baby. She was completely convinced that she was not only a horrible mother, but also the most incompetent woman who had ever lived. She obsessed about the baby’s sleep, the baby’s latch, the baby’s red bottom, the baby’s weight gain and the baby’s future, which she was most certainly ruining with her every action. At night she was awake for hours, her mind torturing her as she choked on hollow cries, wondering what happened to the other woman. Where was that confident woman? Where was the woman who had been able to find peace in the most stressful situations? The woman who had experienced such joy in her daily activities?
Almost as quickly as she had disappeared, the confident woman returned and helped the broken woman gather herself and rebuild. And I know this because I was both the broken woman and the healer. The uninvited stranger and the stronger figure. The journey took time, deep reflection, rest and treatment, but in the end, I emerged stronger and wiser. A better version of me.
A second baby is due in 3 weeks. I have spent the past 3 years repairing and preparing, fortifying self and strategizing to keep the uninvited stranger away. She is still not welcome, but despite all my efforts, she might return. If she does arrive, I will know how to deal with her. I will work with and send her on her way. I will draw from the strength I have always had and the new strength I have found. And it will be okay.
Read more about Ana Clare Rouds’ postpartum journey in Dancing on the Edge of Sanity, and purchase it through https://www.createspace.com/3817492.