The Hardest Part Of Being Postpartum? Learning To Forgive Myself
Words: Michelle Lugalia-Hollon
Visuals: Eric Allix Rogers
Postpartum depression threatened to sap the joy out of this new mom’s life until she found her own way out of the darkness.
My pregnancy was very normal.
Aside from some bloating in my first trimester, I didn’t have morning sickness and hardly any cravings. I gained a minimum amount of weight and experienced an appropriate amount of hormonal mood swings; I only remember two irrational moments in particular. The first one was when I decided to chop off my three-year old, shoulder length locs, which at the time didn’t look clean or attractive enough for me. The second one involved me lying on my back in bed one hot summer night, staring at the revolving ceiling fan, convinced that it was going to fly off its anchor and kill me and my husband in our sleep. I remember falling asleep extremely pissed off at him—I could not understand how he could sleep so soundly at a time like this. “What type of father are you going to be!” I remember thinking, as he snored soundly besides me.
All to say my pregnancy was uneventful.
So when I woke up from an anesthesia-induced sleep and realized that I had walked into a birthing center prepared for a natural birth only to end undergoing an unexpected, completely terrifying c-section, I was pissed. I was also extremely disappointed that I had become the unwarranted c-section statistic that I had researched and aimed to avoid by all means necessary.
Days after I came home with my healthy, beautiful, and perfect baby girl, in the midst of adjusting to a new phase of my life highlighted by sleepless nights; swollen, leaky boobs; and exponentially increased responsibilities, I was still pissed, disappointed, and increasingly pensive. Olivia’s birth played over and over in my head. I was obsessively troubleshooting the birth: Did I go to the hospital too soon? Should I have said no to the c-section? How could this have happened to me? I’m educated! I have a degree in public health! I watched The Business of Being Born!
I asked my husband to hold me as tight as possible because I felt like my self was in pieces
I would constantly ask my husband if I made the right decision. I apologized to my baby for not pushing her out of my vagina. I apologized for birthing her into a room full of strangers and sleeping through her first hour of life.
I was a hot mess. I oscillated between the birth tape in my head and mourning my past life. I felt so fragile all the time. Motherhood was boring. Everything was hard.
One night I asked my husband to hold me as tight as possible because I felt like my self was in pieces and floating apart. I would ask my husband whether he felt changed, whether he felt an unconditional love for our baby, because I would take care of her all day, but with a definite absence of feeling and attachment for my child. Where were those overwhelming feelings of love and attachment? I felt like a robot.
It took me a long time to realize that I wasn’t well. That while my C-section was a disappointment the heaviness in my head and heart was not that disappointment. I was depressed; I had postpartum depression. My relatively laid-back demeanor and a life free of any mental-illness did not prepare me to anticipate or recognize this moment.
For three months I struggled through the fog of postpartum depression as best as I could. I hated being a mother. Guests made me anxious. I told my girlfriends not to have children. I had dark, dark thoughts about my child. I was in a never-ending tunnel.
But every now and then, at my most manic or anxious moments, a quiet thought would break through the fog. A quiet ray of sun telling me to relax. To surrender. To let go of my expectations.
I distinctly remember holding my baby on her first flight when this epiphany really hit home. I was terrified that she would scream through the flight. My stomach was in knots and I was nearly in tears. I turned to my husband and said, “I think if I just stay calm, if I stay relaxed, if I just hold her, she’ll be calm too.”
And it worked. I haven’t looked back since. I had to learn how to let scary thoughts move through my mind and out of my body. To breathe through anxiety. Motherhood is certainly the most difficult phase of my life, but learning how to forgive myself for those early months is a close second.
Michelle Lugalia-Hollon is a Chicago-based African. She is married to Ryan Lugalia-Hollon and birthed one feisty daughter, Olivia, who keeps the best dog in their world, Diesel, on his toes. Lugalia-Hollon has worked for and with several non-profits focusing on sexual and youth violence prevention, trauma, youth development, education, public health, and philanthropy.