It was three o’clock in the morning when my wife woke me up.
“It’s time to go to the birthing center.”
“What? Like, right now?” (In my defense, it was a week before my wife’s due date.)
“Yes, now. Things are getting serious.”
She wasn’t wrong. Our second daughter, Arwyn, was born just a couple hours later. The rest of the morning was a blur of trying to be present with my wife as she recovered (she was remarkable, by the way), coordinating with family members that were coming to visit, spelling my daughter’s unusual name for the nurse filling out the birth certificate, and finding someone to fetch the car seat we accidently left in the other vehicle back at home.
At the end of it all, my wife and I found ourselves in a familiar place: sitting at home alone with a new baby thinking, “Ok, let’s try not to mess this up!”
Seriously though, we were going to be fine. After all, we had already been through this once before. And honestly, for being first-time parents, that experience had gone pretty smoothly. We were obviously naturals at this whole parenting thing, and other parents who talked about how difficult it was to care for an infant were blowing things out of proportion.
We were humbled quickly.
To say Arwyn was an insomniac would be putting it lightly. It felt like she woke up almost every single hour of every single night for months on end. We’d just be drifting off to sleep when the screaming would start up again. The screaming on its own was bloodcurdling, but the worst part was not knowing why. It felt like while our primary job as parents was to provide comfort and care to our child, there was literally nothing we could do that fulfilled that purpose.
We read books and blogs and social media posts and tried just about every method we could find in hopes of discovering some sort of reprieve, but nothing seemed to work. Sleep deprivation turned to frustration, frustration turned into despair, and despair turned into depression.
When people asked me how I liked being a dad, I had to think about how to respond. I’d usually just go with, “It’s good,” but obviously that was far from the truth. “Actually, I don’t really like being a dad right now,” just didn’t seem like an appropriate answer, even if it was the honest one. I felt ashamed that things that brought me such joy with our first child (like holding my precious baby girl in my arms) felt like a chore I’d quickly trade for the opportunity to eat a snack using both hands. After a while, my thoughts shifted from, “What is wrong with her?” to “What is wrong with me?”
Over time, I’ve learned that I’m pretty good about opening up and being honest about a difficult experience I’ve gone through once it’s already in the rear-view mirror. I think that’s the case for most of us. “I was depressed,” is much easier to say than, “I am depressed.” We translate the first phrase to, “I conquered that thing I was struggling with,” whereas the second means, “Well, this is embarrassing, but I still can’t seem to get a handle on this.”
But when we do disclose the fact that we’re in the midst of struggle, two things happen. First, the shame and guilt that we feel becomes far less isolating. When we don’t have to pretend like we’re something we’re not, it really does feel like a great burden being lifted off of our shoulders. Second, those who would identify with our struggle get to hear that they too are not alone.
It took some time, but my wife and I were slowly able to admit to each other, our family, and our friends that things weren’t very rosy. In finally doing so, we realized we weren’t alone.
Struggling with frustration or depression while parenting a young infant is normal. That means it’s ok to feel sad, angry, or guilty. Nothing was wrong with us or our daughter except that we’re all in desperate need of God’s abounding grace and love.
And there’s definitely no shame in that.