Mommy Rage: It’s not Postpartum Depression

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This may seem off topic.  But humor me.

You and your friend Joe have to dig a hole.  Some weirdo billionaire is trying to write off his income, so he says if you and Joe can dig a round hole that is 20 feet deep by 30 feet wide in 3 days, he’ll pay you each $1 million.  It doesn’t matter who does the brunt of the work.  If the job gets done, you each get $1 million.  You and Joe discuss the feasibility and the logistics of it, then accept the challenge.

On day 1 of this challenge, Joe has to go to his best friends funeral, so you’re on your own digging.  You think, “A best friends funeral is really important.  I would never ask him to miss that.  I’ll do the work today.  Tomorrow he’ll be back to help”.

You wake up at 4 am on day 2 and ring Joe on his cell to wake up.  He doesn’t answer.  There’s work to do, with or without Joe, so you get digging.   Joe doesn’t show up at the hole until 830 am.  You think, “It’s cool, he needs to decompress.  I bet yesterday was emotional and stressful”….you keep digging, but Joe never picks up his shovel.  He’s perfectly capable of using the shovel.  You trust him to dig next to you.  But he’s just in and out throughout the day making claims that there is some task up top of the hole that takes priority over the actual digging of the hole.  He see’s that you’re making great progress on your own.  You’ve also been super sensitive, not putting too much pressure on him to chip in.  So he’s taking advantage of the opportunity to do everything other than work on the hole with you.  I mean, you haven’t asked for him to help.  You really are super efficient at hole digging!  You think, “He’ll be ready to help tomorrow…we’ll get this done together, and I may even get to take a break!”.  You’re especially looking forward to having some company while you dig…Being in the bottom of a big dark hole for 16 hours a day starts to get lonely, even when you’re busy the entire time.

Day 3 of the challenge starts again at 4 am.  You call Joe to wake him up.  Again, he doesn’t answer.  You text him.  No answer.  You text him again at 6, 730 and 830.  No answer. He doesn’t show up to work until 9 am.  At this point you’re annoyed.  You’re irritable.  You don’t even want to look him in the eye. In fact, you’re pretty miserable to be around, and Joe senses you’re pissed about something.  Since he feels like he’s walking on eggshells he keeps his distance.  He tries to look busy by relocating piles of dirt up top that don’t matter.  All that matters is that the damn hole gets dug by midnight tonight.

So the end of day 3 is coming near.  Joe has kind of gotten the message that he should be helping more, but seems to have done everything but pick up the shovel to dig.  Then right as you’re about to pass out from skipping lunch, Joe decides to take a 57 minute poop break.  You’re clocking how long he’s gone.  Every minute that goes by is like steam building up in a pressure cooker. When he comes back, you call him an asshole, throw a shovel of dirt in his face, climb out of your big hole and march away, leaving him to finish the job alone.

Now, let’s take a quick second to recap what just happened.  You and Joe accepted a challenge to complete TOGETHER.  Joe had an engagement that required you to start the job solo.  You did so graciously, respectful of the importance of said engagement.  You looked forward to working with Joe the next day.  However, even though he was physically present, he wasn’t emotionally present…and he certainly was not helping you to attain the common goal.  You were disappointed, but attributed his unavailability to stress from the previous day.  You continued to be sensitive to his situation.  You continued to do all the work yourself.  You were disappointed again, but assured yourself that Joe would dive in the following day.  When Joe continued with his avoidant behavior on the third day, your bank of disappointment festered all day until you erupted with anger.

If I had to guess, most people can relate to this.  You didn’t lose your patience with the hole.  You lost your patience with Joe.  Your angry outburst at the end of day 3 was pretty damn rational…..and so is “Mommy Rage”.

I define”Mommy Rage” as outbursts of extreme anger caused by the repetitive repression of disappointment related to unmet expectations; followed by feelings of guilt and failure.  I want to talk about this, because I believe that occasional fits of  “Mommy Rage” are often perceived by our society to be a symptom or onset of postpartum depression (PPD).  Since I was once a frequent flyer with M-Rage Airlines, I can tell you, in RATIONAL cases, it’s really not.  I’m 100% not depressed.  But would I occasionally flip my lid at my husband?  #yup

I applaud our society’s new found awareness of PPD.  Identifying and treating it literally saves lives; mom’s and babies alike.   If you think you might be suffering from PPD, you can check your symptoms here .  If anything in that link feels familiar to you, I strongly encourage you to call your OB/GYN or primary care physician ASAP.  I also ask you to stop reading this article.  In no way do I intend to normalize abnormal behavior.  If you know for a fact you are PPD free, then do carry on….

I’m not talking about PPD today.  I’m talking about how a new mom occasionally loses her shit (most often with her spouse), and said outburst results in a completely shell shocked spouse.

I M-raged a handful of times…but here are some of the more noteworthy.

“Mommy Rage” can look different depending on the woman.  For me, it looked like I was losing patience with the baby.

My first rage surfaced on one of my husbands days off.  He had previously been sick with a respiratory illness for two weeks (so understandably avoided caring for the baby), and had just returned from a 7 day conference in sunny California, where he surprisingly picked up a new respiratory illness.  So he was going on near 3 weeks of baby-free duties.   On this day off, he chose to spend his time working in the yard rather than with his wife and 2 month old daughter.

All day my husband was in and out of the house.  All day I had called my husband to help me with little things.  All day, he was never in the house when I needed him.  It was late afternoon when my baby wouldn’t GTFTS.  From the dark nursery (where I had already spent 3+ hours holding her for naps that day), I called my husband to bring us a bottle.  Of course, I got no response.  So I was pissed.  I leave the nursery to go look for him.  I see him out the window, standing in the street shooting the shit with a neighbor.  I make the bottle myself.  Bottle does not appease screaming, overtired baby.  I feel my irritation boiling.  I place screaming baby in her crib and march out of the house, past my husband.

He asked me where the baby was.

Me: “Inside screaming her head off, you better go take care of her”.

Him: “But I’m sick”.

Me: “Well a sick baby is better than a shaken baby”.

I walked down the street with no purse, keys or phone, and didn’t return home for another hour.  On arriving home I broke down in tears.  I was horrifically disappointed in my own behavior.  I’ve always prided myself on my ability to control my emotions.  I also felt like a failure for being so inpatient with my tiny baby, placing her in her crib screaming, closing the door and walking away for my husband to deal with.  I felt guilty that my husband had to deal with a psych case (me) on his only day off.

My husband stepped in, took care of the baby,  reassured me that it was okay to lose my shit sometimes, and that he wasn’t upset with me.  I resumed caring for the baby, and the rest of the evening went on per the usual.

I also lost my shit on a day when my husband made me wait for a family outing to Walmart so he could walk the dogs.  I hadn’t so much as felt the sun on my face in 3 days.  But the dogs hadn’t been walked in 3 days either.  So they got walked first.  By the time he returned, the baby needed to eat and be changed again.  By the time she was fed and changed, she was also ready to go back down.  So he went to Walmart without me.  When he got home, I handed him the baby, got in my car and drove away…..then sat in a nearby commuter lot for 45 minutes staring at facebook on my phone, trying to drown the swell of anxiety filling my chest.

I remember feeling guilt and disappointment.  I remember my husband being understanding and forgiving.  I don’t remember when I made the connection that the problem wasn’t entirely with me, but a lot to do with him.  When I did, I knew I had to address it.  I was doing quite fine being a mom.  I wasn’t losing my patience with the baby.  I was losing my patience with my husband, but since he WAS NOT THERE when the camels back broke, it looked like I was running thin with the baby.  I was angry because I felt like I was parenting alone.

When you plan to have a child with another person, you sort of assume that you will be raising that child TOGETHER.  However, so few of us actually discuss what “together” looks like.  The primary caregiver appreciates that their spouse works so they can be home with the baby.  They don’t want to put too much pressure on the spouse to…ya know…parent.  So they try to be super-mom while continuing to be the supportive and nurturing spouse.  The spouse sees that the primary care giver gets it all done, meets all of baby’s needs and with endless patience to boot.  Until one day they don’t.

And so, “Mommy Rage” seems to come out no where.  The spouse and other people in the home perceive the outburst as Mommy losing her patience with the baby.  They never ask what they, as the other parent or caregiver, could have done to prevent it from ever happening.  It’s assumed that Mommy just lost her shit; she’s sleep deprived, she skipped lunch, she hasn’t been exercising, maybe she has a touch of PPD….

As my baby girl gets older, I’m making friends with more moms in the same chapter of life.  For all the wisdom out there touting how every mother, every marriage and every child is different….I sure do hear a whole lot that makes us the same.  I’m now a year into this mom thing, and many of my friends are just now beginning to talk about the festering anger and frustrations they have been feeling towards their spouses for too long.  From the outside looking in, these women have it all; educations, comfortable incomes, ambitious and successful husbands, healthy children and the opportunity to be home full time with their baby.  They really should have nothing to complain about.  Right?  Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

It’s because these women have what society perceives to be the ideal situation that they’ve put so much pressure on themselves to NOT bother their spouse about co-parenting.  I know this first hand.  In the first few months after my daughter was born, I could delegate baby tasks to my husband and he would do them.  However, as time passed he found ways to keep himself busy that absolved him of helping.  And I felt insecure about putting any such expectation on him.

Sure, my husband would offer to watch the baby so I could go to the gym, or get my nails done once in a while.  At first I thought it was great that we both were getting to do the things for ourselves that we did pre-baby.  But the second I would get home, he’d be out the door.   I began to realize we were parenting in shifts, and I was supposed to be appreciative that he “babysat”.  I missed him.  I would look forward to his next day off.  Then his day off would come, and I’d feel irritated with him for not hanging out with the baby and me TOGETHER.  Since I was irritated and bitchy for reasons unbeknownst to him, he chose to stay out of my way….which just compounded my irritation.  It was like a vicious cycle.  I was bitchy because he wasn’t giving US enough time, and he was distant because I was miserable to be around.

Since we’ve always had pretty traditional roles, I was reluctant to discuss my feelings with him.  I literally deliberated over having this conversation for about 10 days.  It made me sick with anxiety.  What if he told me to suck it up?  This is the kind of festering disappointment that leads to divorce….saying something could turn me into a single mother!   But I did, and I urge anyone who had read this far to do the same with their spouse.  I was afraid he would think everything was exactly as it should be, and that he wouldn’t change.  But he did.  He thought since he frequently watched the baby so I could get out, that he was being a stellar dad and husband.  He thought I was doing a great job, and that I didn’t need help.  He thought I was fine getting everything done alone.

He had no idea that I needed him to spend time with US (baby and me).  I needed him to hang out with me while the baby did tummy time.  I wanted us to see her laugh for the first time, crawl for the first time, make a duck face…. TOGETHER.  I needed him to take walks with us, ask if I needed help, offer to change a diaper without being asked, make dinner while I put her to bed, feed her while I was trying to eat my own meal.  I needed a teammate.

And all he needed, was to be told.  Once he knew how I had been feeling, he did a 180.  Now as my friends complain about their husbands, I get to brag about mine.

Don’t assume your spouse knows what you’re feeling.  Open books get read.

 

 

 

 

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