Last night, I sprung an interview on Jimmy. We’ve been together for seven years, married for four, and parents for almost a year, but I was nervous to interview him. the former journalist. I decided to interview him about his postpartum experience in general, not just my postpartum anxiety, but whatever was important for him to speak about. It turns out my Postpartum Anxiety (PPA) was the most difficult part of this first year of parenthood for him, and I wasn’t surprised, so that’s what we ended up talking about. And while we’ve spoken at length about this experience, he’d never been so honest with me, and I never realized how guilty and scared he felt during that time.
Jimmy went back to work full-time when Mae was six weeks’ old. In the US, this is considered lucky. For me, this wasn’t long enough. When he went back to work, many issues collided and I became super anxious. Every morning, I would beg him to stay home. He’d plead with me to get out of bed and try to make me take a shower, and then he had to leave, waiting until the last absolute minute before he had to head out the door. He explained those days: “It created a lot of guilt for me. I felt really guilty every morning when I left to go to work. I felt like I was leaving both of you in an impossible situation. I didn’t know who I felt worse for, you or Mae. I felt like I was getting to go and escape that world for eight hours a day,” but he couldn’t enjoy that escape because he was worried about Mae and I all day, and he hated to check-in with me because it was never a positive report, yet he kept checking in.
Jimmy and I talked about PPD while I was pregnant. We even had a plan in place. He would help me seek help from our midwives. I asked for him not to tell our families. I would see a therapist. We knew what we would do. But then, we were both in it and sleep deprived and we didn’t recognize what was happening. “I’d been encouraging you to get through the day and trying to give you a break at night. If you just kept moving and kept pushing through the day, eventually Mae was going to get easier and then everything else would get easier,” and we both suffered through this way of thinking for much too long. You just keep thinking “everyone goes through this” and things will get better, soon.
Jimmy said he would measure the weeks by how many times I said “I don’t know how much longer I can do this.” On good weeks, maybe I only said that phrase a few times. On bad weeks, maybe that’s all I could say. “There wasn’t any response to have to that,” and if I couldn’t do it, then he’d have to take care of Mae alone. I can only imagine how scary that most have felt, to have the threat of being left alone with a colicky newborn. “I never believed it would come to that, but I was afraid of that. I didn’t even know what it meant. You leaving or going to a hospital, just you not being able to go on.” I don’t think I knew what I meant either. I just knew that most days I felt like I was going to explode or shut down or just stop being. Every next step felt impossible.
But we made it through. As most of you know, I got on medication, and Jimmy gave me the gift of sleep. He took care of Mae at night for over a month, so I could recover. Still, I couldn’t always sleep due to my anxiety and Mae’s crying. Jimmy told me for the first time that it felt like I couldn’t accept this gesture from him, and he felt resentful. Letting me sleep was one thing that he could do, but I couldn’t do it. It’s true. It felt horrible, closing my eyes and just listening to him work and work with Mae while I stayed awake. Eventually, sleep got easier.
We’ve grown so much as a couple, as people, and as parents through this crisis. We’ve seen each other at our best and worst, and we both stayed. Jimmy saw a new level of patience in me: “Even during the worst of your anxiety, you were always patient with Mae. Your patience might end the second you handed her to me, but you showed a level of patience and emotional control that I’d never seen before.” And I saw the same steadfast patience and loyalty that he’d always had be tested, and tested, and he stayed with us. He put his head down and did the work, and he opened his arms and held us.