When the fifth home pregnancy test came up positive, I knew for sure I was going to have a third baby. At 41, this wasn’t supposed to happen. Even my OB didn’t believe me when I called her with the news. According to my hormone levels, the possibility of becoming pregnant the old-fashioned way was less than 5%. She was shocked that I’d beat the odds even though we hadn’t really been trying.
Well, we weren’t not trying. For years, my husband wanted a third child and I was on the fence, tilting more to the side of “nope” than “why not?” For him it was a no-brainer. He is one of three boys, and to him, more is more. But having another child terrified me.
Memories of the mother I’d been for so many years while my two girls were little made me cringe. I didn’t want to go back to the daily battles I waged against the sad, anxious me of the past. The constant demands of my children made me irritable. Worrying about whether or not I was making the right decisions exhausted me.
I tried to keep my negative feelings inside or at least away from my adorable girls, but I didn’t always succeed. I lost my temper too much, cried a lot, and I truly believed I was failing at motherhood. When my girls hugged and kissed me, I thought I didn’t deserve it. When my husband smiled and told me I was a wonderful mom, I didn’t believe him.
Looking back, I realize that I suffered from postpartum depression with the birth of my first child and a relapse with my second. I was too embarrassed to tell anyone about the overwhelm I felt. I couldn’t bear to think that my sadness might mean I didn’t love my daughter or was a terrible person who couldn’t find the joy in motherhood. I’d been raised to believe that if I tried hard enough, I could overcome anything. Instead of asking for help, I convinced myself that I could handle my feelings of fear and inadequacy on my own.
When my first daughter was born, I continued my somewhat flexible consulting job, refusing to hire a nanny. I relied on babysitters when I had client meetings or had to work onsite. I worked when the baby napped and in the middle of the night after nursing. I was worn out and testy, but I didn’t want anyone else mothering my child. I’d wanted to be a mom, so I was damn well going to be one — all the time.
When my second daughter arrived two and a half years later, I knew I couldn’t maintain my work schedule, but instead of finding childcare, I quit and stayed home full-time. I thought if I could just focus on mothering, I would be a happier, better mom.
But depression doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t just disappear, even though I pretended it did. I developed tools to help me manage. I took as many time-outs as I gave, breathing deeply three times just as I’d taught the girls to do when they felt out of control. I stopped trying to do all the things and hired a housekeeper to come once a week. I tried not to get strung out over making playdates all the time or signing the girls up for multiple activities. I let my husband do some of the parenting instead of always insisting I be in charge. I worked hard to notice the beautiful and brilliant — my oldest daughter learning to read, my younger one joyously riding her trike. I managed to tamp down my sorrow and irritability most of the time, but that didn’t mean those feelings were gone.
Just as my younger daughter was starting kindergarten and the swirl of confusing feelings I had around mothering young children seemed like it was about to clear out, I found myself unexpectedly pregnant. The thought of going back to those long days and sleepless nights scared me silly. I did not want to mother another child in a way that left me depleted, ashamed, and convinced I was not good enough, or worse, actively screwing up my kid with my negative emotions. If I was going to have a third child, I needed hands-on help. I needed a full-time nanny.
Realizing I needed help for who knew how long was a revelation and not a comfortable one. Owning up to the depression motherhood triggered in me and admitting I couldn’t handle it on my own again drenched me in shame. I was embarrassed to have help knowing that I would again stay at home full-time with this new baby.
Being fortunate enough to afford full-time help felt indulgent and privileged. At the same time, asking for help was an immense relief. This time, with this baby, I would have backup when I felt the tremors of sadness shake my insides. I would be able to hand my little one to another loving adult while I took care of myself, regained my center, and came back to motherhood ready to both give and receive.
I hired our nanny a few weeks before our third daughter arrived. I am not exaggerating when I say having her in the house nearly everyday for four years made me a better mom. Knowing she was there to share her big heart with me and all three of my girls helped chase away some of my anxiety and sadness. Therapy certainly helped too.
Now my little one is in kindergarten, her sisters in middle school and high school, and I’m back to working part-time. It’s hard to know what we need as mothers, let alone ask for it, and if you need help, please tell someone. I know that my choice is certainly not for everyone, but the central message is the same for us all: We don’t have to mother alone.