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After Postpartum Depression, Parenting Gets Easier

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The summer after my son was born, my mom and I walked through the cemetery near my house. Max was nestled into the carrier on my chest, his chubby cheeks jiggling as we walked. "What was the hardest time of parenting for you?" I asked my mom. My eyes took in the lush trees and cracked headstones as I waited for her to answer.

"Well, I remember the tween years seemed really hard," she said.

Crap, I thought.

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I wanted her to say that this, the infant months, were the hardest. The months of sleep-punctured nights. The constant nursing. The anxiety of all the firsts — first tooth, first solid food, first fever. The long days spent waiting for my husband to get home from work. The loneliness and boredom.

But if what my mom said was true for me as well, if I somehow managed to slush through the next decade, things would get even worse.

Postpartum depression hit me hard and fast after Max's birth. The baby blues quickly ballooned into anxiety and an inability to sleep even during the brief windows when Max slept. The sight of morning sunlight stretching across the living room floor leaked hopelessness into my chest — those golden streaks of sun meant it would be hours until my husband would be home from work. Hours until I went to bed at 7 p.m. with my son, which was the only way I could string together enough sleep to be able to function the next day.

Max's fussiness compounded matters. In those early months, I felt like he'd always be unhappy, and I'd always be wrung out, exhausted, unable to even take a simple shower without him shrieking. Time was compressed and coiled, and Max's infancy felt like an endless loop of days that would never get easier.

I felt like I was slowly rising up from a deep ocean, until finally, I glimpsed light and air.

Antidepressants lifted me from the darkest part of postpartum depression, but for many, many months, everything still felt so hard. I missed the rhythms of my days before parenthood. My work-from-home job had allowed me breaks to go for long walks or to meet a friend for coffee. I had come and went as I pleased, without having to think about when I'd need to breastfeed again or if I had enough diapers with me. I missed my husband and my freedom.

Each Wednesday Max and I went to a postpartum adjustment group to meet with other moms who were struggling. One day, the facilitator, a woman named Meg in her 50s said, "I always say that parenting doesn't get any easier." Her son was grown now and lived in another state. Seriously? I thought. I sometimes fantasized about the day when Max would start Kindergarten, and I'd reclaim a slice of freedom. I remembered the conversation with my mom about the tween years being rough, and I felt a rumble of dread.

"But with postpartum depression, it does," she added, raising her eyebrows and nodding. "With postpartum depression, parenting gets easier."

I exhaled. I didn't fully believe her, but I wanted to.

The hard days with Max passed, as months morphed into years. I began going back to yoga and my writing group, gathering up some of the pieces of myself that I'd lost. I felt like I was slowly rising up from a deep ocean, until finally, I glimpsed light and air.

How did we emerge from that compressed, miserable time to now, where life is still challenging but also fun and full?

And at some fuzzy, unidentifiable point, I noticed that parenting had stopped feeling so relentlessly hard. Time stopped feeling so achingly slow.

I still have tough days with the kids, days when I wish I could escape to my bed and watch Netflix for an entire day by myself. But I don't usually feel the desperation or dread of the early months. The morning light doesn't make my heart sink. Instead, I have moments — more and more of them — where I look at my kids and think how lucky am I?

My son is 5 now. Some days I stare at him, trying to understand how he got so big. How he morphed from the crumple-faced, sleepless, unhappy baby to the energetic, beat-boxing, light sabre-wielding, big boy Kindergartner he is now. How did we get from there to here? How did we emerge from that compressed, miserable time, where both of us were so needy, to now, where life is still challenging but also fun and full? Where time is uncoiled, unleashed, and the days slip by like water through my palms?

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I know that as a mom, I have many years of challenges ahead; as I've heard so many say, bigger kids, bigger problems. But without the caul of depression distorting and dampening everything, I'm not so scared. Meg was right. After postpartum depression, parenting gets easier.

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