I remember the day I realized something was wrong. My daughter was an infant…so young that I was still in my eight weeks of maternity leave…and my boys, ages 2 and 4 at the time, had done something.
I don’t even remember what it was, but the haze that covers those early months will part just enough for me to remember that my middle son responded to the loss of his baby status with pretty epic tantrums, and both boys discovered their powers of household destruction at very much the same time. If I had to guess, the something they did involved a mess.
Whatever it was that they did – or didn’t do – I lost my ever-loving mind. I screamed til my throat tasted like blood. I waved my arms. I’m quite certain my Scottish genes turned my face the color of a beet, and the veins popped out in my neck the same way my dad’s did when he taught me how to drive. I might have slammed the metal baby-gate against the wrought-iron railing. It’s very possible that smoke came out of my ears.
And then my eyes came back into focus, and I saw my boys. Two and four. Wearing nothing but underoos because they were (and still are) opposed to clothes, apparently for moral reasons. Sitting together on the right side of the couch, thighs and elbows pressed together, hands over their ears. Eyes wide open, heads hunkered down. United, for once, in their terror.
They were terrified of me.
I have similar memories from my own childhood, except that, as an only child, I had only the dog to slink in beside me. I had become the parent I said I would never be. And I had no idea why.
I didn’t struggle with rage until after my third child was born. She came out sweet as pie, bless her heart. It wasn’t her fault. But something changed in me, and suddenly the things that I could objectively say were simply part of parenting were enough to send me off my rocker: the sound of an entire box of Legos being dumped out on the family room floor, walking into the room I just cleaned to discover the chairs rearranged into a fort, locating a crouching child in the laundry basket with a ring of formerly clean clothes around it. Even as my rage erupted, I could hear another voice in the back of my mind, calmly asking, “What the heck is wrong with you, Laura?”
And instead of getting better as the weeks went on and we settled in to our new baby routine, it got worse. The day before I was supposed to return to my teaching job, the day my daughter turned eight weeks old, I put the boys in separate rooms for “quiet time” and sank into the couch for a few minutes, attempting to wrap my mind around going back to work when I was neither physically, nor emotionally, ready, and my childcare situation was dicey to say the least.
Did I mention that both boys quit napping when their sister was born? Well, of course they did. Quiet time was my solution, but it was always a little worrisome what my two-year-old would do in his room without adult supervision. On this particular day, he found a jumbo-sized bottle of baby powder. Since I can count on one hand the number of times I actually used it, the bottle was virtually full. After 45 minutes with my son, it was virtually empty.
I looked up when he emerged from the room, ghostly white from head to toe, and the rage started before I saw the actual mess. (Which was, incidentally, just as bad as you’d imagine. I’m usually very good at looking back on things and laughing, but the laughter still eludes me on this one. I was too distraught to even take a picture.) The fury continued for the next two hours while I swept, dusted, stripped bedding and sheets, and tried to remove the powder from every surface imaginable. It spilled over in screams, in tears. It was more than just the mess…it was the loss of my last day of maternity leave, it was fear, it was anger that I had to return to work before I was ready. It was the ever-present exhaustion. It was the physical pain from a c-section that required two blood transfusions.
The baby slept, and the boys hunkered down in the basement with their dad.
Again, I was the person to be feared.
At some point, a friend mentioned postpartum depression, and I dismissed her as crazy. I wasn’t depressed. I was pissed. And stressed. And trying hard to breathe in a box like the school counselor suggested I do when it felt like the world was sitting on my chest.
It turns out that both postpartum depression and anxiety can manifest in the form of severe rage. Who knew? When people talked about PPD, I envisioned new moms crying uncontrollably over spilled breastmilk. And no one ever talked about postpartum anxiety.
And despite my family and personal history of both depression and anxiety, I was convinced this was simply what new moms feel. Every new mom worries about everything, right? And the rage was the normal response to being overwhelmed, stressed, and exhausted.
Except that it wasn’t. I had two previous babies, and as I look back on the months after they were born, I didn’t lose my you-know-what on a daily basis. I cried a lot with my first because he had the colic thing down and I just wanted a nap. But after that, we found our groove. It was easier with my second. I truly, genuinely enjoyed being a mom. This new, terrifying, out-of-control person was not me.
Once I finally accepted that I had some form of postpartum depression or anxiety, I was still convinced that it would go away on its own. Eventually. Like the mom in Marley and Me, one day I would wake up and the old Laura would be back.
I’d like to say that happened after twelve weeks. Or six months. Or even a year. The reality is that I’ve made strides, but I’m still not back to normal nearly three years later. I’ve taken baby steps to self-care. I ran two half-marathons, after almost a decade of not exercising at all. I cleaned up my eating. I started reading again. But it is a journey, and I’m still trying to figure out the best path to healing. I think, in part, that’s because I waited so long to address it.
All that to say, if your motherhood is marked by rage, get help before I did. Don’t lie to yourself and pretend it’s normal if it isn’t. Don’t hope it will go away. Because it might not, and our time with our babies is too short to waste it screaming over spilled baby powder. Or breastmilk. Or wine. Or whatever gets spilled, because it’s always something with kids.
Go to your doctor. If your doctor, like mine, looks at your three young children and says, “Of course you’re tired, honey,” find another doctor. Tell your friends. Rally your tribe. Ask for help. Do not let shame convince you to be silent. This is real, mamas. It is stealing our motherhood and our lives. It has taken me a long time to accept and confront this. You don’t have to make the same mistake.
About the author
This story by Laura Simon originally appeared on Triad Moms on Main.