By Kristin Shaw
It hit me like a two-by-four to the side of my head: stunningly shocking and painfully acute. My hands shook so much I couldn’t read a page of magazine text; I would lie in bed for hours staring at the ceiling, my brain unwilling to shut off. By the time I got to the doctor, I was sleeping two hours a night and I was Googling things like “postpartum anxiety inpatient programs” and “sleep aids safe for nursing”. I was frantic because I worried that Tylenol PM would dry up my milk supply and Ambien would give me horrific side effects; that made me even more anxious and nervous than I was.
My son was one month old.
Lying in bed awake for hours, I considered what it would mean to check into a hospital just to get some sleep. The desperation was overtaking my mind and I was locked in limbo, frozen.
My husband, Will, took over the 4 a.m. feeding so I could stay asleep once I fell asleep. My husband didn’t understand what I was going through, and recommended I walk it off, or take a run. All he knew was that I was always crying when our son was asleep and not sleeping when I was supposed to. I knew I needed help, and he slept on the couch for a few weeks with our son in the swing nearby as I fought the demons, which were licking my heels as I tried to run. The only thing that kept me from actually following through with checking myself into the hospital was the irrational, one-track thought that no one else could feed my baby. I needed to be with him to nurse, and I needed to hang on.
When the Zoloft finally got my sleep back on track, weeks later, and the tears finally dried up, I stopped treading water. I stopped shaking. And I started fully enjoying more of the moments with my son. I had been trying so hard to put on a good show, and I truly loved being with my baby and took video after video and photo after photo of him, spending my days staring at his beautiful face. I tried not to let him see that I was struggling to maintain control, and I let down my guard only when he closed his eyes.
Those long weeks were hard on me, my husband, and our marriage. In the aftermath, we made a decision: we weren’t going go through this again.
We stuck to this major life decision for the last four years, with me asking the occasional “Are you sure?” every once in a blue moon.
I was 100% sure, until a few months ago.
I started to wonder if I was doing the right thing. I started letting baby fever get to me. I started believing those who told me that I was doing my son a disservice by not giving him a sister or brother. Many of my friends with children my son’s age had asked for a sibling; perhaps my son wanted one too and hadn’t said so yet.
One day, I asked him, “Would you like to have a sister or brother?”
He quickly and definitively said, “NO. I want a dog. He will be my brother.”
So that settled that question.
I have always loved babies. I’m the person who welcomes the mother and baby next to her on the plane, because I want to help. Now that I am a mother I feel like crying and my arms itch to reach out when I hear a baby cry.
I am plagued by the what-ifs and the worries of regret. Someone said to me, “You will never regret having another child.” But she isn’t 43. She had an easy pregnancy. She didn’t have postpartum anxiety.
My whole life, I wanted two children. My sister and I are close, and I thought that two kids was the magic number. Then I had my son and we decided to stop there. Perhaps part of this journey is facing down that part of myself that always dreamed about two children, and letting it fade away.
When I have a pregnancy scare, it’s exactly that—a scare—and it is terrifying. I have flashbacks of severe morning sickness and anxiety, and I hope, deep in my heart, that I am not pregnant. That should be sign enough.
Shhh, you might say. You’d be just fine. You are mom enough to handle two or more children.
And maybe that’s what I’m worried about. I wonder if I am mom enough because I have not wanted to have more than one child.
Maybe I’m meant for the occasion to help friends when their spouses are on extended business trips and they need help with their children.
Maybe I’m meant to bring meals to new moms to make their day a little easier.
Maybe I’m meant to volunteer somewhere, helping children.
Maybe I’m meant to give all of myself to one little boy and raise him, with his father, to be the kind of person I will admire when he’s an adult.
I am mom enough.
I am mom enough for this one sweet, special, awesome boy. And that’s all that matters. Postpartum anxiety robbed me of time I cannot recover; but it can’t take away my passion for motherhood, in this form, with this one child. I am fulfilled and I am happy, and so is my son.
That is enough.
Kristin Shaw is a freelance writer and blogger; in 2013, her blog Two Cannoli was named a Babble Top 100 site, and she was recognized as Type-A We Still Blog awards finalist. She is a co-producer of the Listen To Your Mother show in Austin, was recently named a BlogHer Voice of the Year reader for 2014, and writes for the Huffington Post.