My tiny human graduated from preschool last Thursday. As my husband and I sat in the front row, waiting for the most adorable procession I will ever see, I started thinking about this moment in time.
Back, when I was at the sickest. Back, when I wanted to leave my family, run away and hide from everyone, die.
Back when I looked at my screaming new born from across the room (because I refused to pick her up) and I could not fathom her getting past this stage in life. To me, in that moment, she would always be a little purple lump of screaming. I was broken and, therefor, had given birth to a broken child.
In the weeks, months, that passed, I carried her around like a ming vase. I wouldn’t let others hold her, I was obsessed with looking at her but was hesitant to interact with her directly. I was fragile and, therefore, so was she.
She wouldn’t sleep. She wouldn’t stop crying. She hated all of us and I held that guilt deep within my heart. What had I done wrong while carrying her? I knew the answer;I had always known the answer. I went into this grand adventure already suffering from debilitating depression which manifested into perinatal depression which manifested into postpartum depression. I had done this to her. If only I had been one of those happy pregnant women. If only I paraded around in adorable maternity clothes and attended birthing classes and took professional maternity pictures.
I did none of those things. I celebrated nothing. This was not the happiest time of my life.
For months, as I said, I thought she was broken.
That is, until one evening when I was changing her after bath time. My husband was standing awkwardly nearby, in case I burst into tears. I poked my daughter on the nose and made a “BOOP!” noise.
My difficult, broken daughter laughed for the first time.
I didn’t even really hear it. I felt it run down the expanse of my spine; down to my toes and then, quick as lightening, back up into my heart. I burst into hysterical tears. I could hardly breathe between sobs.
“She isn’t broken. I didn’t break her. She isn’t broken.”
Parenting a child up through school age after postpartum depression and mental disorder is often like walking on those moving side walks in the airport the wrong way. I feel as if I am trying very hard to get somewhere, to do something, to teach her. Often times, depending on my energy level, my anxiety level, my self-loathing level, I gain no ground and, in fact, find myself further back than when I began.
Sometimes, life gives you chances to sprint forward. They don’t happen often and they certainly don’t announce themselves so you have to always be vigilant; of your emotions, your surroundings, your child’s emotions.
When you get that sign, that shooting star against a dark sky, grab it. Grab your child. Hold them. Read to them. Take them to museums and the beach and to Disney World. Do all of the things that your depression constantly tells you that you do not deserve. Throw up a big middle finger to your mental issues and do the things anyway.
While teetering constantly on these two sides of a swing set, I have created a child who is incredibly empathetic. She is able to feel when others around her are struggling. She knows how to approach her friend, her teachers, her mother, with the utmost patience. She is kind. She shares. She is the most clever little thing I have ever seen.
And so, with sobs caught in my throat, I watched this little thing of a child cross a big stage with her cap and gown on. I saw her shake the director’s hand like she was graduating from college. I saw a little girl, a little baby, a little fetus, who had such a hard start to things show us all that she refuses to be defined by what she has been through and what she has seen. She is five years old and certainly stronger than me.
I watched my daughter graduate preschool and I realized, perhaps once and for all, that she is not broken; I did not break my child.