I've tried to make a habit of writing letters to Margot, though as it goes, I was really diligent about it at first, and now I think I pump one out once every four or five months. I wrote her one letter, though, when I was in the throes of postpartum depression - I was plunged headfirst into it, but didn't quite realize it yet. I knew I was feeling depressed, but didn't understand at the same time exactly what it was that I was going through. (Is this normal? I have no idea.)
I've kept the tone of all her letters light, and worked on mentioning milestones she'd hit, little words she was working on, or how she was sleeping. They're letters that I hope she'll love reading someday when she's older... maybe even when she has babies of her own.
There was one that I wrote, though, that I've kept separate from the rest. I needed to get off my chest all the things I'd been feeling. I wrote it about a month into my madness. Here it is.
My dear daughter Margot,
Today you are five months and twelve days old. I love you more today than I did yesterday, the day before, or the day before that. Every morning that we wake up together I tumble deeper and deeper in love with you.
Today, I wept.
I am so tired. So overwhelmed. So maxed out. And this morning, it all welled up in me, and overflowed. I cried for how tired I am, for how helpless I feel, and for how the stress I’m feeling is taking a physical toll on my body.
It’s hard for me to think of anything more soul-stirringly beautiful or terrifying than the concept of turning into a mother. World overturns. Floors crack and fall beneath feet. Preconceived ideas shatter. Motherhood is not for the faint of heart, and it appears to be a beautiful concoction of mortar and brick, holding the power to transform the weak or the shy into the strong and sure, while simultaneously able to turn the most self-assured woman into the most uncertain of them all.
I didn’t know what else to do but cry. Not that I made the choice, really – and not that I could’ve stopped it …the tears flowed heavy down my cheeks, and I let myself be swept away in a sea of sadness. What did I cry about? Oh, everything: the never-ending sleepless nights, in which I’m up with you – count them – five, six, seven times; the long road to physical recovery after childbirth and two related surgeries; my return to work, far sooner than I’m comfortable with, and the delicate balance of work and parenting as I tote you on my hip as I go (oh, will you ever say yes to a bottle?); and the desperate feeling that I’m all alone throughout my struggles.
I know I’m not alone; I have your sweet dad, who bends over backward to take care of me. But it’s not that. Depression has a way of deceiving a person into thinking nobody understands; nobody has been here before; nobody can help because nobody quite knows.
It’s hard to know what to make of my feelings. Most days I feel fine – or, wait… I spent the first four months of your life feeling fine, but I don’t think I’ve felt that way in quite some time. I think I feel mostly like a volcano – a strong and secure outer rock shell, with a sea of boiling, bubbling lava at my very base – generally unobtrusive, but always threatening to spring up and overflow. I can go days or weeks feeling joyful and at peace, and yet I just can’t quite ignore this feeling like nothing is quite okay at all.
I lost my dad seven years ago. Not to death, but to another family – another life, another wife, another set of grown children. This is totally unrelated. But when it rains, it pours – and so, you know, I had a baby, I became a mother, I experienced extreme sleep deprivation, I endured prenatal and postnatal hormones gone haywire, which led to an overwhelming feeling of panic and anxiety, which led to feelings of depression, which led to a remembrance that I am missing a very key part of my being – my father. I won’t ever get him back, and this hurts me over and over every day. And so it goes.
Maggie girl, this isn’t a letter that I ever want you to read – just because I don’t ever want you to know that I felt adverse feelings to becoming a mother, or feelings of hopelessness surrounding raising a tiny, wiggly little you. Except that I think I’m tired of making things seem okay when really they aren’t. I wrote you a letter once, in which I said that I’m excited to stand with you while you grow; that I hope to show you everything. I wrote that I wish for you to see and experience it all – great love, deep joy, and the kind of laughter that makes your face hurt; I want you to know the gamut of soul-stirring emotions. And in those moments where you feel the depths of pain and sorrow, as I have, I hope you stay strong, know that it too shall pass, and that you are loved beyond words. I so desperately want to show you what great capacity we all have for love – what exists in deep human connection, in compassion for others, in the magic and discovery of seeing, learning and finding new things every day in all sorts of corners of the world.
And so in all this, it’s only fair that you know that I’m human, too. I am as weak as I am strong. And should there ever come a day where you become a mum and have a baby of your own, I hope you read this and maybe even find something to relate to in the long, dark hours of the night, or the long, light hours of the day.