Welcome to the first episode! Today our letter writer advises her past self about birth trauma and postpartum depression, but also love and hope.
It’s only been a year since I was you, but this year is big. Huge. Ginormous. You’re nervous, and that’s fair, so let me start with this.
Everything is going to be fine. Your husband’s birthday wish came true. Healthy Leslie. Healthy baby.
Let me walk you through this. You’re going to wake up at 12:13 am. Not unusual. You’ve been having trouble sleeping because, well, you’re pregnant, and that’s what happens when you’re pregnant. The baby is snuggled comfortably on top of your bladder and you, quite literally, have to pee at least once an hour. You’ll stand and you will be instantly soaked from the waist down. Here’s what you will think:
My water just broke.
Did my water just break?
I peed myself.
No I didn’t pee myself!
I’d know if I peed myself!
Would I know if my water just broke?
Yes. My water just broke.
What do I do if my water breaks?
What you will do is pee, because you still need to pee, then you will check that your suitcase is packed. It is. It has been for weeks. You know how you are.
To your relief, you won’t have to wake up your husband. He will be awake, poking around the kitchen for a snack. He will turn to you and say, in mock anger, “What do you want?” His face will remain completely calm when you tell him. Moments like this, big, scary moments, are what he’s best at. This is why, before you knew you loved him and your breaks gave out on a hill, you called him first. Not because he knew anything about cars. God, no, but because you felt better when he was with you, and you needed to feel better.
He will remind you to call the doctor.
There’s a lot of things to consider when you’re pregnant. You didn’t realize how many things there were to worry about, and I know you can’t stop thinking about the long history, the thousands and thousands of years, of women dying in childbirth. You think of the women hiding themselves in dark, airless rooms, hoping that the restriction will somehow make their babies healthier. You think of blood and heat and fear and prayers. You will think of motherhood, the destroyer, the last act of so many women, and how it is, inescapably, coming for you.
You will think about the conversation you had with Jay, sitting on his porch swing, watching his four year old summersault around the yard as he told you that he didn’t love his boy right away, how his cousin and best friend didn’t either, warned him that it might not happen. Jay told you that you just have to endure. You just have to keep going until the feelings come.
There were so many things to fear.
You had to proceed with the expectation that it would be okay. And it was. You lay, numbed and shaking slightly as they cut the baby out of you. And then he will cry and then…
Was this the happiest day of your life? Almost certainly not. It wasn’t your wedding either, that whirlwind of stress and drunk relatives. Your happiest day passed completely unnoticed and unremembered. You probably had nothing to do and did nothing. You almost certainly laid in bed late with your husband. You let a piece of chocolate melt on your tongue. He brought you coffee. Maybe you walked in the woods. You probably spent the evening reading by a fire.
No, the day your son is born is not the best day of your life. But the moment you heard him cry, the instant that vibration touched your brain, was absolutely and certainly the most intense sensation you have ever felt, will ever feel. You burst into tears before you could even register what you were feeling, before you had even thought “that is him,” because the fact of him hadn’t yet become fully realized in your brain. The sound of his voice hit your soul before it hit your mind and you LOVED him.
It was as if, walking down the aisle, every moment of history and struggle and joy with your husband hit you for the first time in an instant.
And then you touch him and he, the strongest creature in the universe, tries to raise his head.
So many fears will disappear in that instant. But there will be new ones.
He’s so small. Is he eating enough? Is he growing? Is he growing too fast? You will ride in the back seat, next to his car seat with your hand pressed against his side in the dark so you can feel – so you are sure – he is still breathing. You will sneak into his room and lean over his crib because he’s so small and he hasn’t been alive very long and what if he forgets how?
But those fears will be different than the big one, the one that comes in a wave of terror as you’re sitting at your desk and he’s far away from you. The overwhelming terror was like looking down and finding a red dot on your chest, knowing a sniper was holding a gun on top of the building across the parking lot. It was like getting a call that your best friend had died. Except no one else knew your friend and so thought your horror and grief was odd, displaced, something they could not empathize with.
Here is my advice to you. Go to your doctor on that day. Do not wait to see if it gets better. Do not tell yourself you are too busy. Do not waste a night curled around the child you love so deeply it hurts, crying quietly into his stuffed animal.
It’s a strange thing, maybe the strangest thing, to be so sad and so happy at the same time. Your baby is wonderful and you begin to be the bane of the watercooler, forcing your phone into everyone’s hands and giving them updates on inane things like how much eye contact he’s making and the miraculous discovery of his feet. And then, when your coworkers have wandered away and you have nothing to do but go back to your office you’ll feel the tears prick at the edges of your eyes and scroll through photos of your baby for 15 minutes before you can make yourself answer emails.
And you will feel like the world is ending. You will feel like it has already ended. You will feel that it is going to end soon and you are a monster for bringing a child into this world, this terrible, eternally ending world.
Someone will tell you, when you mention this, that the world has always been ending, which won’t help. Someone else will say “Wait until he’s a teenager,” which REALLY won’t help.
Here’s what will help, therapy and medication. Talk to your friends. Talk to your husband.
There are so many things people won’t tell you about pregnancy. First of all, try to wear all your winter boots now, because I have very bad news about your shoe size. Yeah. You might as well pack them up. I know. I know. Stop crying.
Also, night sweats. Yeah that’s a thing! You’ll wake in the middle of the night soaked and shivering when the baby cries. You’ll rotate the blanket to find a dry patch that might warm you. You crumple another pair of soaked pajamas and throw them as hard as you can into the laundry bin. I don’t even have advice for you. They just suck.
But one thing no one mentioned was how connected you’d feel. Your friends have always felt like family, but now you feel their presence in your life like a solid object in the room. You will begin thinking of yourself not just as something who gives love, but receives it, and damn, girl. You are so loved.
It’s only been a year, Leslie, so I can’t say for sure, but I’m fairly certain the best day of your life is yet to come, for both of us.
Thank you to Les Hayden for the use of their song Ophelia. If you’d like to write a letter, we’d love to read it. You can submit letters to Letters To Yes, that’s Y E S at gmail. The letter should be between 1000 and 2000 words and can be on any topic. What did you need to hear a year ago? Ten years ago? You can also join on us facebook and twitter at letterstoyes. Letters to Yesterday is Produced by Leslie J. Anderson. Stay safe out there.