As the sun rose hours after the baby’s birth, I was fading fast. I had slept maybe two hours of the past 24 and didn’t have the strength to eat my breakfast. The nurse suggested the baby go to the nursery, I drink a pitcher of water, eat, and sleep. I did and woke up a short while later feeling a bit more human. When my husband went to retrieve the baby and came back empty-handed, the feeling was short-lived. “Where’s the baby?” I asked, panic creeping into my voice.
“Oh, her bracelets fell off, they’re just putting on some new ones,” he answered, easy-going as ever, which could’ve been an indication of my overreaction but went unheeded. I went through every possible combination of events I could think of: were the bracelets in the bassinet, did the nurses take her out of the bassinet, were there any other babies in the nursery? What I was really getting at was: how will we know this is our baby? My husband, thinking with a rational mind, told me it was fine; they were giving her new bracelets to match ours and were checking the serial number on her Baby Lo-Jack, the nickname for the security device affixed to all babies in the hospital. Still, I balked.
I worried for months, a year after. I had moments of clarity: an expression on her face as she gazed up at me, identical to her oldest sister when she was an infant; her tiny hands patting me on the back as she wrapped me in a hug; shadows of family members in baby photos. But always, when I allowed it to seep through, that dark thought,
‘Did I bring home the right baby?’
I was afraid that if I loved her too much someone would come to take her away from me. The licensed social worker I had started seeing suggested I felt that way because things – the pregnancy, labor, delivery, and recovery – hadn’t gone according to my plans.
It wasn’t until we sped down the highway one day months later that the truth caught up with me. As I saw the family resemblance written all over my baby’s face, I realized that I hadn’t thought she was mine because I still hadn’t accepted the fact that I was having a third child. I hadn’t sanctioned it. It hadn’t gone according to plan. I was still grasping for some sort of control that I hadn’t felt since being plunged into the chaos of three children awash with my own anxiety. Did I not see the resemblance because I didn’t want to see it?
Yes and no. Or yes, but not totally. It wasn’t my wounded psyche that was totally to blame. As my therapist pointed out, irrational fears are another symptom of postpartum depression. I more than filled that box on the survey. It was a strange split, though. Rationally, I knew she was mine and accepted her with the unconditional love of a mother. In the stark predawn hours of loneliness or moments of love bordering on too intense, my irrational self would pull back, fraught with worry and dread.
My husband irresolutely assured me she was ours. “What do I need to do to prove it to you?” he asked. “Do you want to get blood tests done?” “She’s ours, Jen, I know it.” “I was right there beside you when she was born.” To which I responded, sometimes verbally – and later as the argument wore out, silently – “But that was before she went to the nursery and lost her bracelets.”
I couldn’t shut off the stream of irrational thought and worry – even though I knew there were holes all over my argument. I felt silly voicing my concerns, but wanted other people to tell me how much she looked like her sisters or me or my husband. I needed validation that the ‘voices’ in my head were wrong. I couldn’t defeat them myself.
And I didn’t. With love and support from my husband, my fabulous social worker, lifestyle changes, the passage of time, and eventually medication, the irrational worry stopped. It became definable, ‘boxable’, and I shut it away. I don’t think it’ll come back, but I think I’ll always remember how real and frightening it was.