2016 almost perfectly encompassed a year of babyhood. I started the year pregnant and exhausted, just two weeks out from giving birth. I wasn't expecting Nadia to come early; from the beginning I felt like I couldn't catch up, she was growing so quickly. I wanted to appreciate these last baby moments, to not wish away my time with a toddler and kindergartener. I chose “moment” as my word for the year because I didn't want to rush through; I wanted to stop and notice the little moments.
I knew this year would be challenging, but somehow I hoped I would make this three child transition with grace and ease. I pictured myself calmly juggling their needs, taking it all in stride. I had already done two kids, surely one more shouldn't be that much more difficult.
Except that it was. I wasn't the mother that made life look easy, more the one that makes me people think, “Parenting sounds kinda miserable.” I've always been a fan of painting an honest picture, and I appreciate others who have been honest with me. Like all the ones who said three kids was stressful. I probably should have taken them seriously.
My journal this past year reads something like this, on repeat: “This is really hard. I am so tired. I am overwhelmed. Why can't I enjoy this? I am just so tired.”
After nearly a full year of “why is this so hard?” I finally recognized the other piece of the puzzle: postpartum depression. It seems obvious looking back. It's not my first experience with depression; you'd think I would recognize its familiar patterns. I guess it was a relief to realize it's not just that I'm really bad at this, that there was something more going on.
“Moment” seems like an ironic word choice for the year because looking back I don't remember a lot of moments. The year seems draped in a fog. Mostly I remember the feelings: weary, stressed, overwhelmed, irritated, discouraged.
I remember a lot of screaming – a crying baby, a tantruming toddler, a kindergartener always on full volume. I remember feeling like my head would explode. I remember losing my temper and feeling like a bad parent. I remember the effort of just trying to get everyone through the day. I remember lying in bed exhausted, knowing I would be awakened again in a couple of hours, night after night all year long.
That's not what I want to remember from this first year of my last baby. But as Nadia approaches her first birthday, I feel less sad at the passing of time and more relieved. Maybe she will be healthier. Maybe she will be more content. Maybe she will sleep. I don't want to wish away the time, but I'm also glad this year is over.
I know the screaming is not the full story. If I think hard, I can remember chubby baby cheeks and baby giggles. I remember Nadia crying and crying until she got me back. Then she cuddled her head against my shoulder, quietly breathing me in. She didn't care if I was being a success; she just wanted me.
I remember Juliana's pride at reading her first story. Even with all the interruptions and distractions, without a lot of fabulously inspired activities, she is learning. I think of her unflagging enthusiasm for life, which my lack of energy has never managed to destroy.
While I do remember a lot of screaming from our three year old, I also remember her sweet smile and bright, mischievous eyes. I remember the funny thing she said. I think of her crawling around on the floor and lavishing Nadia with somewhat aggressive love.
I remember Kevin taking the girls outside to play, putting in a load of laundry, or trying again to get the baby to sleep. It's not always easy being married to someone who is exhausted and depressed and easily irritated, but he has tried to be helpful and patient.
With time the fog will lift and I will look back on this year with more benevolence. I'd like to write this in retrospect, looking back on the good things I learned through difficulty, summing it up with a pretty picture. But right now I'm still in the middle of it. Most of life takes place in the messy space before tidy conclusions.
I know depression still has a bit of a stigma, and that's why I choose to be open about it. I have appreciated others who have been honest about their own struggles. There is always the risk of people discounting your story or giving advice to “just pray more.” We don't want to look as weak as we feel. We so much want to have it all together, but we all need to know it is okay to struggle. We all need to be reminded that we are not alone.