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The First Year of Motherhood Is the Most Challenging — Why Birthdays Are a Celebration for Mom and Baby

"While my son spent his first year learning how to smile, coo, talk, crawl, clap, walk, and more, I spent his first year trying to find the will to get out of bed."

As I was thinking about what I wanted to write this month, it dawned on me that my son will turn seven next month. When did that happen? I really don’t know how it’s possible that I have an almost-seven-year-old. But, every March, as he turns another year older, it’s not just him that celebrates a birthday. I celebrate one too. Let me explain. 

His birth was officially when I learned that labor, delivery, and motherhood were nothing like they appear to be in the movies. There was no pushing my baby out with one sneeze like Brooklyn Decker’s character from What To Expect When You’re Expecting

In fact, nothing was like I expected. I did go into labor on my due date, but my water didn’t break while I was crossing the street or in the middle of some deep conversation with a friend, or even in the privacy of my home. It didn’t break at all. I actually went into labor at the dinner table in front of 30 of my closest Jewish family members who had all come south to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Passover and excitedly away the birth of my child. Not that it’s in your control, but I don’t recommend sharing your due date with an important religious holiday. 

That was the beginning of the unexpected. I still remember all thirty of them standing outside on my father-in-law’s porch cheering and waving us off as we got in the car and headed to the hospital. I also don’t recommend having 30 people around when you could possibly go into labor. And It really did just go downhill from there—24-hour labor, two hours of pushing, and a C-section that left me feeling depleted and completely out of it. 

When I brought my son from the hospital, there was no moment of magical connection or bliss. There was no moment of, “this is so amazing” or “I have never felt so much love before.” There was no fairy-tale—well maybe more like a fractured fairy tale or even a horror story. I didn’t remember the chapter in What To Expect When You’re Expecting (or the part in the movie) when a new mom decided she had made a terrible mistake becoming a mother. When she had repetitive scary thoughts about getting hurt so she could go back to the hospital and not have to take care of her baby. When her new therapist diagnosed her with postpartum depression and anxiety and her new psychiatrist put her on antidepressants for the first time in her life. 

The birth of my son was also the birth of the hardest time I have ever went through in my life—a time I had to fight the hardest I have ever fought for anything in my life. While my son spent his first year learning how to smile, coo, talk, crawl, clap, walk, and more, I spent his first year trying to find the will to get out of bed, to have the courage to leave the house, to want to be his mother, and to find light which had shut off when I brought him home from the hospital. 

I finally found my light again when my son turned one. It was at his first birthday, surrounded by my family and friends who stood by me during my battle with postpartum depression and anxiety, that I finally believed I had won. I finally felt like my son’s mother—that I loved him and that I could do this. So every year, as he turns one year older, I think about that moment when he turned one and I really became a mother (I know I was one all along, but it didn’t feel like I was when others had to take care of my baby because I couldn’t and also because the illness convinced my brain that  I didn’t want to even be a mother).

It’s almost been seven years, since my baby (who isn’t really a baby anymore) came into this world and six years since I won the battle to be the mother who gets to raise him, which I am beyond grateful for. I wish I could say his birthday is filled with only joy for me, but it’s always bittersweet. I can’t think about winning my battle with postpartum depression and anxiety without remembering “that Jen” from almost seven years ago.

The Jen who physically couldn’t get out of bed for almost six months, unless she was forced too. It always makes me so sad to think about her, lying there in bed, pinned down by anxiety and not having the will to get up, get dressed, go see the adorable baby boy in the next room. The guilt she feels because her own mom and husband and sister, and in-laws are all taking care of her baby while she just lays there binge-watching all six seasons of The Good Wife because she can’t do anything else and it takes her mind off the anxiety. 

I wish I could go back in time and give her the biggest hug and let her know it will be okay. That she will get through this and become the amazing mother she is fighting to be. I wish I could let her know that even though it feels like she will be there, in that bed, sad and anxious forever, she won’t be. It will get so much better. 

I would also be lying if I said I didn’t still feel some of that guilt now. Guilt with a side of anger because of how much I missed during that first year of my son’s life. So many milestones in his infancy that I wasn’t present for and I can never get that time back. And I’m not having any more children, so I won’t ever get to be present during that time. 

But, that’s also why every year, on his birthday, when I celebrate the incredible, kind, compassionate, funny, chatty human that he is, I also celebrate the strong-willed woman he got as his mother. The woman who gave everything and fought with everything I had to be his mom. And the woman who went on to do that for all the moms who came after her. 

For more from Jen, visit her platform Motherhood Understood

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