[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post requires a Tissue Warning. Leslie Froelich writes beautifully about the birth of her twins, the loss of one daughter, and the subsequent battle with postpartum depression. -Jenna]
I can’t believe you are three years old, full of life and energy and—truth be told—a whole lot of piss and vinegar most of the time. But I love you more than ever, even if I didn’t when you were first born.
I mean, obviously I loved you; every mother, since the dawn of time, has loved her child in some mysterious, intrinsic, complex way that can’t be explained. But I wasn’t in love with you.
It wasn’t your fault. You, a tiny, pink hued, sweet little nugget of innocence and joy, did nothing wrong. You couldn’t help that your twin sister, Hannah, passed away at just three weeks of age. If anything, the doctors said you kept her alive longer just by your presence in the womb. [Read: 13 Things You Should Know About Grief After Miscarriage or Baby Loss.]
It wasn’t your fault that you and your sister were the rarest kind of twins possible, sharing one sac and one placenta and being at constant risk of cord entanglement and death.
It wasn’t your fault that my pregnancy with you and Hannah was, to this day, the darkest time of my life, one in which I lived in constant fear that I would lose one or both of you.
It wasn’t your fault that I had to be put on bed rest in the hospital for two months, scared and isolated from your father and our pets and away from anything normal, like my own bed or the food I liked.
It wasn’t your fault that I had to have a painful, horrifying c section at 33.5 weeks gestation and that I didn’t get to see you but for five brief minutes before the doctors whisked you away from me, and I didn’t get to hold you or your sister for hours after the fact.
It wasn’t your fault that you had to stay in the NICU for the first month of your life, hooked up to every tube and wire imaginable and looking just so tiny and pathetic I was convinced I was going to hurt you somehow.
But this is what I really want to tell you, even though the mere words pain me: It’s not your fault that I wanted nothing to do with you after you came home from the hospital.
Everyone kept telling me how much better and easier things would be once you came home, but they were wrong. When Hannah passed away, something inside of me just broke and became damaged and irreparable for a long time.
I’m sorry that I didn’t want to change you, hold you or feed you. I did all these things, of course, because the mom in me stepped up to duty, but I found no joy in any of it. All I felt was constant anxiety, the kind that starts in your stomach and courses through your veins like poison.
I’m sorry that I regretted having you. Now that I am better, I can say with absolute certainty that you are the love of my life and I can’t imagine this journey any other way. But back then, all I did was fantasize about how much better life was before you came along, and I truly believed your father and I had made a monumental mistake. We had a good life before parenthood and we had messed it up, and the thought of taking care of you for the next 18 years literally made me vomit. No, really, ask your grandma. She held my hair back for me.
I’m sorry I was so depressed that I almost couldn’t nurse you because my milk supply was getting so low. I fought like hell to do it, and I did, but I hated every minute of breastfeeding. I would just sit there and cry the whole time because it hurt and I was so miserable.
I’m sorry I cried all the time and had such a hard time getting out of bed. I was so sad about losing your sister and I just didn’t know how to face the day ahead.
I’m sorry that you were robbed of your twin. I know she is your guardian angel and looking after you and protecting you at all times, but not a day goes by that I don’t imagine what life would be like if you had Hannah to play with, to laugh with, and to sing songs with. It’s the ultimate injustice, and I will never get over it.
I’m sorry that for a long time, I was a shell of my former self, devoid of laughter or happiness. Even I didn’t recognize myself at that moment in my life.
I’m sorry that if you look at pictures of when you were first born, those in the know can probably tell how forced my smile was. It was the best I could do.
But what I’m not sorry about, nor will I ever be ashamed to admit or talk about, is the fact that all of this stemmed from postpartum depression.
I’m not sorry that I had to go on medication and drag you with me, carrier in hand, to see a counselor twice a week for the first year of your life. That woman—she knows who she is—brought me back to life and helped me become the mother I am today.
I’m not sorry that I’ve been so open with people about my battle with PPD, because I was fortunate to get the help I so desperately needed and come out on the other side of that long, dark, lonely tunnel. I believe it’s my calling to help as many women as possible by telling my story and working to destigmatize this terrible illness.
I’m not sorry that we decided to have another baby; your beautiful, sweet sister Maggie. She does not replace Hannah; nothing and nobody ever will. But she has brought us a happiness we never thought we would get to experience again after everything that happened with you and your sister.
I’m not sorry that with Maggie, I experienced the kind of normal, uncomplicated pregnancy that every first time mother should get to have, and all the joys that come after: snuggling and bathing and giggles and so many other wonderful firsts.
I’m not sorry because, at the end of the day, this is my journey and I can’t change or edit it. What I can do is learn from the adversity that I have faced and choose to be stronger. I believe I am a better mom because of it.
I love you so, so much, and I hope that you never, ever have to experience even a shred of what I have gone through. But please know that if you do, sweet daughter, I will never judge you. I will hold you and cry with you and love you unconditionally.
Because that’s what mothers do.
Leslie Froelich is a freelance writer and co-facilitator of a postpartum depression support group in the Cleveland, Ohio area, run through the organization POEM (Perinatal Outreach and Encouragement for Moms). She is a stay at home mama to two daughters, Elizabeth and Maggie, two fur babies (in the form of cats) and has been married to her spouse, Nick, since 2007.