Amidst the coos and adoration bestowed upon my newborn, comments were inevitably addressed to me: Wasn’t it all worth it? A seemingly harmless, rhetorical question that only served to fuel my inner turmoil.
What kind of mother was I that I could not easily and confidently answer yes?
I loved my son more than I knew was possible, but I also went through nine months of torture I never want to repeat.
My husband and I were elated to find out we were pregnant. Soon after, at only 6-weeks pregnant, I was admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with Hyperemesis Gravidarum. This forced us to announce our pregnancy to family out of needed help rather than joy.
The weeks that followed were dark. I took an unpaid leave of absence from work and spent my time vomiting. Our house was adorned with emesis bags—there was always a bag available within arm’s reach. I could hardly keep liquids down and survived by taking Zofran around the clock. I was a shell of my former self, and I hated my life. I clung to a desperate hope that week 12 would bring relief, but when week 12 came and went, I was devastated.
I had no joy, no excitement, no love, and I had no desire to ever be pregnant again.
Halfway through my second trimester, I joined a group for women struggling with perinatal mood disorders. I shared with the group how it frustrated me that people continually fed me platitudes of “it will all be worth it” or “trust me, you’ll change your mind about having more kids.”
Did those offering the platitudes truly understand the severity of my situation? Had they spent months on end unable to move or speak without experiencing debilitating nausea? Is there a societal implication that women should be grateful to sacrifice their health, body, and jobs to bear children? I was livid when one of the therapists looked me straight in the eye, gave me a superior, all-knowing look and told me that I would change my mind about wanting more kids.
The rest of the pregnancy was a blur of pain, nausea, and sadness. I prayed the baby would arrive early as soon as he was strong enough to survive. In my mind, giving birth would bring me my baby but more importantly it would end my torture.
Finally, three days before my due date I went into labor. Almost 24 hours later, our son was born. They plopped him onto my stomach, and I felt nothing. He was grey and quiet, no scream. The next five minutes felt like an eternity.
I had tears streaming down my face as the fear gripped my heart. This child had to be OK, I went through too much for him not to be OK.
I later learned that he was stunned, and though he struggled the first moments of his life, he soon got the hang of it. I was too tired to remember our first snuggle, but pictures remind me it happened. I spent hours lovingly looking at his tiny little face, but I was still waiting for the moment of pure joy and conviction that “it was worth it.”
Giving birth did not bring an end to my health problems. The nausea returned for a few weeks, and I was depressed because I thought the torture of my pregnancy would be over. I sat in the nursery crying, staring out the window. I didn’t want visitors and only made an appearance at the end of visits out of politeness.
Inside, I was empty. Since the worst of the depression only lasted a couple of weeks it was classified as baby blues, not postpartum depression. I hate that phrase “baby blues.” they were the darkest blues I had ever experienced. By week six, I gave up trying to breastfeed and within days I felt more like myself.
I loved my son, and yet there were still fleeting moments where I felt nothing and would fall to my knees, sobbing in despair.
By seven months postpartum, I knew something was off. I was suffering from intrusive thoughts and memories, panic attacks, irritability, and generally did not feel like myself. I found a new therapist and was diagnosed with postpartum PTSD. I felt simultaneously relieved there was an answer and guilty for having it because I survived my pregnancy and had a healthy baby. I felt my situation was not severe enough to trigger PTSD.
Wasn’t it all worth it?
I’m now one year postpartum and continue to work with my therapist. I’m learning to identify what is happening and why. In the early days of motherhood, I couldn’t explain the unease I felt in the question. Now I understand—it diminished my experience. As a friend told me, just because my pregnancy brought me my son, it does not mean all the associated trauma is erased.
The next time you visit a new mom, skip the rhetorical questions and keep it simple: Your baby is perfect. YOU are a rock star.