Katie Grace was my most lovely, most peaceful, most gentle birth out of all four of my children.
Unfortunately, that was pretty much where the quiet ended with her, at least for the first four months. She cried practically non-stop for that first bit of her life. She was the prickliest little baby I had ever met. She didn’t want to be held in the sling, at least not by me. She didn’t want to co-sleep. She didn’t want to comfort nurse. She didn’t want to put down and she didn’t want to be picked up and she didn’t want to be entertained and she didn’t want to be left alone. And while her sour disposition was displayed much of the time, it really kicked into high gear between the hours of 4 PM and 11 PM.
This, coupled with a grumpy firstborn who might have understood on an intellectual level that new baby was coming but was decidedly unhappy once said baby actually arrived, and a husband who was on internship in a fairly large parish and wasn’t available to comfort baby or mama, along with an overwhelming sense of survivor’s guilt because a friend who was due at the same time lost her baby, quickly spiraled me into a huge spell of postpartum depression. These were not happy times in our little apartment.
When we moved back to Seminary in August to an even tinier apartment we referred to as “The Shoebox,” it was as if someone flipped a switch. Our previously crabby baby turned into Little Miss Sunshine. As her godmother said with an air of surprise, “I’ve never seen a baby so young with such a sense of humor before!” And she truly did.
Quick to laugh, Katie Grace smiled her way through our last year in Gettysburg. On 9/11, she smiled at the seminarians, lifting them out of their grief. When we moved to my husband’s first pastoral call, she charmed the congregation, smiling as she peeked out from the sling or toddled in the narthex. When my step-father committed suicide, Katie Grace was too young to leave behind and accompanied us to the funeral, where she again made friends with everyone she met. And still, a fog of sadness lingered over me and I never felt close to her.
When she was 18 months old, she had what we thought was a touch of tummy flu. Day after day she vomited everything she was given until, finally, the doctor directed us to the emergency room. The diagnosis– rotavirus. She was dangerously dehydrated and her potassium levels were extremely low. We were told that her heart could stop, and she and I were admitted. She weighed only 16 1/2 pounds.
That night on the pediatric floor, I kept vigil. Much of the night was spent in a wooden rocking chair borrowed from the maternity ward, where I rocked and nursed and sang and prayed. When I could no longer keep my eyes open, I climbed into the little pediatric bed with crib sides up, shirt off so Katie Grace could nurse in her sleep. And in that long, endless night, something happened—I finally fell in love with my daughter.
The next morning they took out the IV and weighed my little girl. Between the IV fluids and the nursing, she had put on 5 pounds in one night! When the nurse placed her down in the hospital corridor, she virtually skipped down the hall, chanting, “I walk! I walk! Mama, I walk!” Like the Grinch, my heart felt like it “had grown three sizes” that night.
Postpartum depression isn’t something talked about in civilized society. Like miscarriage and stillbirth, it’s swept under the rug, something you experience and get over as quickly as possible and move on, never speaking of it again. When I told my husband of my experience in the hospital, tears falling down my cheeks, he said “I don’t know whether to be happy that you finally feel connected to Katie Grace, or sad that I didn’t realize how unconnected you felt before.”
Eight years down the road, I am reminded each day what a privilege and a blessing it is to be Katie Grace’s mother. She still has the same mischievous sense of humor and the same raucous laugh, and yes, she still can be a grouchy, grumpy git when she sets her mind to it. But in my house full of boys, she fills my heart with delight. I can’t make up for those 18 months I felt separated from her—indeed, I don’t feel the need to—but I can love her completely, without reservation and without fear. We learn from one another, she and I, and if I find redemption and grace in her, so, too, I hope she learns about redemption and grace, mercy and love, through me.
Looking for more information on postpartum depression? Try these resources.