My daughter was born in 2014 by planned C-section. That was the only thing that went according to plan, and even that didn’t go very smoothly. Very few things in life go the way we anticipate. I know this now. Being human is a wild and messy ride, and it gets even messier when you become a parent.
That first year of my daughter’s life was one of the most difficult time periods I’ve experienced. Almost every minute of every hour of every day was a struggle, trying to fight my way through the thick fog of new motherhood while caring for this small human who was pulled from my insides into the outside world—my world—in a mere matter of seconds. It was a trauma that I never saw coming. Why didn’t I know that it could feel like this? Or rather, not feel. I just went numb.
I later came to learn the numbness was, in part, due to postpartum depression that went undiagnosed. My depression was not so severe that I couldn’t get out of bed or do what needed to be done to care for myself and my child, but I couldn’t feel excitement or joy or any of the warm squishy emotions I was expecting to have. I wasn’t in love with my new baby. I barely knew who she was, and to be honest, I wasn’t even sure I liked the little I did know. Her big brown eyes and tiny toes made me smile every now and then. But the non-stop wailing and refusal to sleep snuffed out any feelings of affection quite quickly.
If I felt anything at all during that incredibly dark first year of motherhood, it was anger, frustration and sadness that weighed on my soul like a bag of muddy bricks. Somehow, it was a weight that I managed to carry and hide well enough so that most people in my life did not know how much I was truly suffering. I was ashamed to admit, even to myself, that I didn’t love my child and I hated being a mother. I needed help but I didn’t know how to ask for it.
Out of the Murkiness
In 2015, after what can only be described as an excruciating maternity leave, I went back to work and slowly started to find my way out of the murkiness. Yet, even as I found happiness in my life again, I still struggled mightily with motherhood. It was clearly not my calling. But I knew I had to figure it out—and I wanted to—for my family and for myself.
Finally, in 2019, after many more years riding a rickety roller coaster of emotions, I was ready for help. I decided to try therapy. It was always something I was curious about and suspected I might benefit from—even long before my daughter was born. I’ve battled with some scary thoughts and emotions ever since I was a kid, often worrying there was something wrong with me. But I never talked about it much with anyone, although I often desperately wanted to. And when I was 23, my father died by suicide after his own life-long battle with depression and alcohol abuse. Is the same thing going to happen to me, I wondered?
But instead of facing my demons—and properly grieving my dad’s death—I drank too much and partied way too late too many times a week, got involved in an unhealthy relationship, and ran away to another country for a couple of years. It’s not that uncommon of a tale, I know. Running away from the truth is easy. Facing it is the hard part. The birth of my daughter was the beginning of my journey to facing—and accepting—the truth. It is now 2022 and I’m still learning about myself, my trauma, and my truth, wading through the mess of it all. And yes, I’m still making mistakes along the way. But I am more used to the muck, and I like to think that I’m less stuck in it.
How did I get to a better place? I have the pandemic, in part, to thank.
In 2020, when the world shut down due to COVID-19, I found myself at home alone with my child. And I did not want to be there. It was maternity leave all over again, except my daughter was not a newborn and I was technically not a new mother. But here we were, more than five years later after her birth, forced to spend every minute of every hour of every day together again. Immediately, I felt trapped. The walls closed in, and all the old anger, frustration and sadness swelled up inside of me and around me until I couldn’t see the light anymore. Swallowed up by the darkest kind of dark, I fell into a depression that I could not run away from or fake my way out of. There was nowhere to go but inward. I was finally going to have to face myself.
Connecting during Covid
Thankfully, I had a therapist who I trusted to help me through the darkness this time. She urged me to call my doctor and try medication for depression and anxiety. I was scared and fiercely stubborn, but my therapist is also stubborn. And supportive. As is my husband and many of my wonderful friends who I reached out to. They listened to me and helped me find my way back to the light. I am forever grateful for their love and support.
The best part? I got a second chance at maternity leave, and more importantly, the opportunity to repair my relationship with my daughter. The time we have spent together over the last two years during the various lockdowns and school closures has been far from ideal, believe me. Please don’t ask how many times I’ve walked out of the room to scream into a pillow or shut myself behind a door to sob on the floor. I still find myself in these stormy places sometimes, and I probably always will, being the tempestuous creature that I am. But overall, the lockdowns gave us the time to heal and build a bond. Through tears and giggles, we finally started to figure out who we are and how we fit.
It started slowly with morning yoga sessions at the park across the street from our house and daily walks around our neighbourhood, searching for bugs and birds, or maybe even a dragon (I like to add fantastical elements to our scavenger hunts). Being outside together in nature was where the healing began. And on grey days when we were stuck inside, we would do simple science experiments in the kitchen or sit together with a big pile of books, pouring over the pages about prehistoric life and outer space.
At the time of the first lockdown in March 2020, my daughter was five years old, in her second half of junior kindergarten, and just beginning to read. Watching her world grow with each new word she learned was magical, and a time of true connection for us. Books have always been a balm for my soul. Reading is what gets me through. And so, reading together with my daughter became one of the things that got us through the toughest of days. As I watched the seeds of curiosity and creativity sprout from within her, like fresh green buds on a tree branch in spring, something sparked within me. It was love.
And suddenly, I knew where I was going to shine as a parent. I was discovering what kind of mother I was. Helping this little person learn how to walk, eat with a fork, and put on socks? No, thank you. But helping her learn how to read, ask questions, and explore the world around her with an open mind and heart? Yes, please. The more questions she asked about our universe, the more I fell in love with her. And I could feel the love from her, too. Our fiercely wild souls were connected. And one day, when she looked up at me (with those big brown eyes) and asked, “What was before everything? Before the dust and the blackness?”, I burst out laughing and hugged her tight. Yup, I thought. This is my kid.
Some mothers are lucky to have this experience of bonding and falling in love with their child during their first year or so on maternity leave. I was not one of them. But I know I am lucky to have been given this second chance during these last two years. It’s not something I take lightly, especially given how devastating this pandemic has been for so many people. My hope is that with time and acceptance, we can all heal and move forward to a better, more honest place.
It’s taken over seven years of being a parent, including two years of intensive psychotherapy and a worldwide pandemic, but I can now say with confidence that I am a better mother. I am not a perfect one, or even a great one. But I am a good enough mother for my daughter, which is all that matters.
Kendra Brown is a writer and editor with over 15 years of experience in the media and publishing industry. She is the author of the non-fiction picture book, Small but Mighty: Why Earth’s Tiny Creatures Matter, published this past fall. Kendra lives in Toronto with her family, a very cute cat named Pumpkin, and hundreds of books about dinosaurs, nature and outer space. You can find her on Twitter @theonlykendra.