Any mom who has ever gone through postpartum depression knows this: We worry that every little quirk or problem our child suffers from that point forward is our fault, caused by our illness.
I’m reminded of that during my trip here to Houston. My baby boy, who had to live with me through my postpartum OCD experience, is now a six-year-old rising first-grader with terrible separation anxiety. Every day when I’ve called home he has sobbed. He has cried so much I’ve had to tell him that I can’t understand what he is trying to tell me over the phone. All I can make out is “sob-sniff-cry-cry-MOM-sob-sob-BUT-sob-sob-wail-AND THEN-sob-sob-sob-wail-MOM, DID YOU HEAR ME?”
We can hardly have a conversation, he is so heartbroken that I’m gone. So what do I conclude? What any mom who went through postpartum depression might: It’s my fault. He was there when I cried. He was there when I was anxious. He was there when I was incapacitated, soaking it all in. So now that he seems unable to handle a difficult situation like I would expect other children might, it must be because he learned it from me. Some child development person will probably email me and tell me this is not abnormal for his age (Please, please do if that’s the case), but until then I feel as if I have failed him somehow.
I talked about this today with my friend Adrienne. She told me a story about her five-year-old who just graduated from kindergarten. All of his great works were sent home, and she sat reading through a journal he had done, enjoying his pictures and words until she came to an unexpected sentence: I don’t like my mom.
Dagger straight to the heart.
Adrienne said at that moment it felt like her worst nightmare coming true. She was deeply wounded. Horrified. I bet the nasty little postpartum depression monster inside of her said, “See, I told you he’d never love you.” Luckily, she kept her wits about her and went to ask him what he meant. Turns out he thinks she gives him too many hugs and kisses. Whew.
Adrienne and I understand each other. Any other mom might just shrug it off, but we scan the environment looking for some evidence that our postpartum depression has led to depression or anxiety in our children, or behavioral problems, or learning issues, or high sensitivity, or …. I don’t know … a preference for Twix instead of Snickers … could that be a sign of something?! WHAT HAVE I WROUGHT?!?!?!
The truth is every mom does something (what’s the present tense of wrought? wringing?) that could surely be used against her by her children someday in a therapy session. My son may be at a disadvantage in some way because of my illness. I’ll never really know I guess. But I do know that I did my best. I do know that I sought help as soon as possible. I do know that I faked it til I made it. I do know that he’s a great reader, a good swimmer, a nice big brother, a cool Lego builder, very witty and absolutely gorgeous. He knows I love him and I know he loves me, and that we’re both pretty good people. That’s all I’ve got and I need to keep hold of it. Let the chips fall where they may.