Facebook memories. You know the ones. “On This Day 1 year ago….” Followed by whatever you posted at that time. Who would have known that simple morning scroll would have wrecked me?
On Thursday, the 19th, these memories consisted of photos from last year in which Olivia received her first bath and “manicure”. Even writing this now, I feel my breath getting short, my heartbeat quickening, tears welling in my eyes, and panic rising a bit. I kind of want to throw up if we are being completely honest, because it just breaks my heart. In these pictures, for the first time, I see this precious little baby, so tiny, vulnerable, and just darn adorable. I hadn’t really seen all of those things before. I just saw a baby. Now I can see how beautiful she was; although I still don’t recognize her as “my” baby. But oh how my heart longs to just jump into those photos and be present in that moment. I mean, I was there…. I am in the photos even. I am smiling and holding her. Drying her off, feeding her, filing her nails as she slumbers away on my legs. And I remember none of it. I have zero memories of that time. Because my mind was unable to forge an emotional connection to what was going on around me, it didn’t store any of these special moments… it didn’t remember them…. I don’t remember them… I have no memories of the joy of Olivia as a little infant. And it is so painful to me. It just broke me Thursday morning. Even now I am wrestling with it, letting the tears fall as I grieve over the time stolen from me by perinatal mood disorders. So many of her firsts were taken… Her first bath, coo, smile, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, laugh, sitting up, Valentine’s Day, Easter, rolling over…. So, so many things that I just feel robbed of. And I know it must sound incredibly bizarre to have somebody that was blessed with the ability to stay home with her child, to have been physically present for almost all of the listed events be saying that there are no memories of them, and to be grieving that loss, but this is what PPD does. Research shows that major episodes of clinical depression, in the postpartum setting or otherwise, impairs cognitive function relating to memory. For myself, I theorize that I was so devoid of emotion when it came to myself and Olivia, that my mind was unable to make a memory worth storing. Because I have noticed if the picture contains Gabe, I can sometimes recall something about that moment because I remember his emotion and how that made me feel. Fascinating, really…. I just wish it hadn’t happened to us. I wish I could have had that instant love and adoration for the tiny human we created. I wish I would have been able to soak in every snuggle and want it to never end. I wish I would have been able to have been locking away every minute of that time, every sensation of who Olivia was; but that just couldn’t be.
So I feel this overwhelming sadness. And I already knew on some level that I was struggling with it, just not truly how greatly it was going to become. Because, whenever I see another newborn/young infant, I just want to gush over them and ask to hold the baby; however, then this voice in my mind berates me: “how could you? You are such a monster! You couldn’t even love and fawn all over your own daughter, yet here you are wanting to give that attention to another child. How do you think that will make Olivia feel one day? What is wrong with you?”. And so I shy away and admire from afar. I’m sure I must give off the strangest energy. Sorry, friends. Don’t mind me, I’m just busy fighting with myself over here.
This all just sucks, let’s be honest. There are going to be lots more memories popping up – she just barely turned one, so I have to start the whole crummy cycle now of all the time that I missed, and I have to work the grief process through it all. I had been dreading this upcoming time because of the darkness I went through, the suicidality, the hospitalization, etc; and I thought that was all going to be so triggering. But this was not even something I had considered. I had obviously overlooked it as a real source of pain and something that I need to deal with head on and process. That being said, I also had therapy on Thursday, and I was not looking forward to going. Lol. I told her that, too! I was a mess the minute I walked in and told her what was going on in my mind. That was one of the most difficult EMDR sessions I have had yet. I couldn’t even finish out. My mind was so, so tired. I had to stop a bit early, and we talked some. And she made some very good points, though I am still struggling to accept them, of course. I call myself a monster a lot for how I acted during that time. But the truth is that I wasn’t acting any sort of way. There was me, and then there was the mood disorders. I never wanted things to go the way they did. In fact, I yearned, pleaded, and desperately prayed for them to be different. But the mood disorders had hijacked my brain and wouldn’t let me have the postpartum journey I hoped for. This is something that happened to me, not that I chose. And that is something I tell Moms all the time when I talk to them. I reaffirm that over and over, and remind that their mind tells them lots of lies when dealing with PMADs, that they would NEVER choose this journey, and that with help it can look different. But for myself, it is hard to give any grace. I still feel like this is my fault, like I should have been able to do better despite it all. But again, my therapist reminded me that I really fought hard against a lot of walls that stood in my way of getting treatment, and if I didn’t want to be better, I wouldn’t have done any of it. She also gave me an exercise that I thought was such a good idea (now to be gentle enough with myself to implement it). Oftentimes when I talk with other Moms, I’ll see their pictures, and though others might be fooled if they aren’t paying attention, you can tell when their smile is fake, then their eyes have lost any shine or connection, when they look like they haven’t slept or eaten in days, like nothing matters anymore. And so I will see these pictures and notice these things, and sometimes even talk with Gabe about it when I am really worried and trying to get a Mom some help. But my therapist actually asked me to do that for myself. She asked me to find a picture of myself from that time and to write the things I noticed as if I were talking to a Mom I was trying to help, because she doubted what I wrote would sound anything like a monster. So I will try to do the exercise, even though I am finding it hard to forgive myself for missing that entire time. And when I do, perhaps I will share it here.
In the meantime, I did have a beautiful realization today that lifted a lot of the heaviness from my spirit. I have been really grieving those lost memories, because they are gone forever, and I won’t ever get them back. Yes, I know I get a lifetime with her to make more. But that precious time when she was just so small is over. However, I was thinking about God’s promises today. And I am just so grateful for what lies beyond the veil. I know that being made whole again after death includes restoration of my mind, which will include all those memories and more. What a joyous thought! Those memories aren’t truly gone forever… For the entirety of my time here on earth, yes. And don’t get me wrong, there will be more tears over that in the coming weeks and months as I look through more photos, but I am so grateful for all Jesus did for us and all the many different ways that impacts our lives.