The Heartbreak of Neutrality: Tatiana’s Story
As told by Elizabeth Schulte
When I found out I was expecting a second child, I held a lot of hope in the idea that I would feel the same mother/child connection that I had with my then 2 ½ year old son, Pasha. When things would get rough during the pregnancy, this single piece of hope had a way of reminding me that the hard times and the difficult familial situation I was in would all be worth it once I laid eyes on my child. I had also expected the labor and delivery process to be as smooth as it was with Pasha. However, these two initial expectations of mine could not have been further from the reality I faced with my second child. The labor process was long and arduous, and the delivery was nothing short of grueling. I nearly felt the last of my hopes for this pregnancy shatter beneath me when I was finally given my child and felt nothing but crushingly indifferent to the tiny infant in my arms.
The guilt I endured regarding the disconnect I felt with my second son was building more and more each day, as I felt this mother to baby bond is equally as important for the child to experience as it is for the parent. I just couldn’t help but feel like my child was missing out on one of the most important aspects of early infant life. Yet, everyday tasks and routines such as breastfeeding felt more burdensome than enjoyable. Even the simple act of holding my child seemed like a chore. It’s not that it was painful or difficult, it just wasn’t the satisfactory bonding experience I had hoped to have. I wished this negative feeling would simply disappear after a while, like steam on a mirror after a hot shower—but this was not the case. As time went on, I couldn’t seem to feel anything but neutral towards my baby. This afflictive reality was absolutely baffling to me—why could I not feel the love, compassion or warmth for my child that comes so instinctively to most mothers? Will this feeling pass, or will I feel like this forever? The constant confusion I felt made me quick to anger, which often times would translate to frustration towards my children. On top of it all, I was obviously still required to take care of my ever-growing toddler, while additionally trying to deal with the father of my younger child which required a lot of emotional engagement from myself. When all of these components combined together, it overwhelmed me in such a way that even the simplest of energy-requiring tasks left me feeling angry, defeated, or both. Even getting my sons dressed, out the door, and to the playground around the block felt like nothing short of an odyssey. I would sit blankly while my older son played; feeding, changing, and holding my youngest, but in my heart I knew that I was completely checked out.
At this point in my postpartum experience, I knew that something needed to change if I wanted my parenting life to improve. Since the difference in how I felt with my first pregnancy and the second was so stark and my expectations had been so great, I figured the best way I could help myself was to be honest and open with my midwife about my distressing postpartum experience. This is when she told me about Wellmama, and suggested I contact them. Shortly after, I threw myself into therapy in an effort to put a stop to my PPD. I attended therapy sessions for several months, but was crushed when my insurance lapsed and could no longer afford to go. Luckily, I was able to receive insurance again, but decided to try out a different therapist—one who had been recommended by a friend. I began seeing her around the same time my youngest son turned one, and I couldn’t have been happier with her. The therapy seemed to really be helping, and I felt temporarily better. I even began referring to my PPD in the past tense, as though it was a chapter of my life that had finally been closed. However, even with fantastic therapy I felt myself continually dipping in and out of my old ways. My postpartum struggles were now occasionally more anxiety based rather than depression. For example, I remember being very fixated on the idea that my son had yeast growing in his umbilicus, which took a very long time to heal. As I look back now however, I sometimes wonder if he actually had this condition or if it was simply my anxiety getting the better of me.
While the therapy made me feel somewhat better, everything still took a mountainous amount of effort for me. After a walk or a trip to the grocery store, it seemed as though all I could think of was sleep so that I had an excuse to disengage. When my son disagreed with the idea of a nap (consequently meaning I could not sleep), I would get very angry, yell at him, or storm off into another room. The worst thing about getting so angry was how awful I felt about it afterwards—using anger towards my sons as a way to channel my emotions was not the kind of parenting I wanted to do, nor was it the skill or knowledge base I had. However, I was running on less than empty at the time and thus did not have access to these skills.
After a solid year and a half after my second son was born, I began to realize that therapy was not a permanent fix for my depression. I needed something that would solve the fluctuation pattern of my anxiety and depression. At an annual exam with my nurse practitioner, I was asked about my struggles with PPD/PPA. After sharing the emotions and experiences I was having, she performed a screen exam and then brought up the possibility of medication as a means to alleviate my symptoms. Hm, I thought. Medication had never been something I had opened my mind to, because it was never in my frame of reference throughout my life experiences. However, as I thought about myself slowly trudging through the past year and half of my life like a sloth wading through a river of molasses, I decided to give medication a try.
As it turns out, it was the piece of the puzzle that had been missing from the beginning. From this point on, my wellness and quality of life improved very rapidly, the change being almost immediate. Other aspects of my life began changing as well—with the help of medication, I was able to gather the energy I needed to move away from a very draining home life, which allowed me to start with a fresh slate and finally put this phase of my life behind me. With time, I felt the bond I share with my youngest son dramatically improve, now seeming like our connection was never an issue in the first place.