Deep Into The Darkness

September 29, 2008

I’ve stopped keeping track of the time at night, even though a clock sits, ticking relentlessly, not three feet from the bed. In the day, I mark the time obsessively – this many minutes before the girl goes to preschool, this many minutes before she comes home, this many minutes until the boy should be ready to try another nap, this many minutes before he’ll probably wake up, the minutes counted like a miser’s pennies, added and subtracted, piling up and disappearing as I settle my accounts with daily chores and this persistent exhaustion. But at night, I avoid the clock, afraid to see the minutes and hours ticking by too quickly or too slowly, afraid to settle my accounts with my body, with the night.

Last night, however, the bill came due, and I was not prepared to settle up.

It was in one of those moments where the boundary between sleep and wakefulness is so blurred that you’re not sure whether you’re awake or dreaming – are you lucid while dreaming, or are you dreaming while awake? – is that a baby that you’re holding, or a kitten, or a bundle of straw? – is that crying you hear, or the wind, or music? – and I was groggy, confused, disoriented as I held my squirming baby in my arms. He fussed, breathing heavily through a stuffy nose, truffling for the breast and then pushing it away. He squirmed and kicked and protested and snuffled and grabbed and pushed and with every kick, every push of his fierce little legs and arms I struggled toward wakefulness, needing to be awake, needing my strength and my composure but wanting oh so badly to just let the darkness overtake me and to slide back into oblivion. But he wouldn’t let me, he was too uncomfortable, poor thing, hungry and snuffly and demanding, he would not let me let me go and he would not let this be easy and in a flash, in one moment, I felt the frustration course through me like a current and there it was, for a split-second – a split-second and an eternity all at once – ANGER – sharp and hot and as I felt the tears prick my eyes and a sob burble in my throat I was overwhelmed by the brief flash of an urge to just drop the baby, just drop him to the mattress and throw myself off the bed and stomp away into the night.

It was over almost as quickly as it had begun; the violence of the emotion woke me, woke me completely, and I froze – there’s no other word for it – with fear and I’m certain that if anyone had been watching at that moment they would have seen my eyes flash open, wide, and I caught myself, mid-breakdown, and stopped. I laid him down and pulled myself into the corner of the bed and took a breath. And was afraid.

It was just one moment, the briefest flash of a moment, but there it was. I had felt anger. I had wanted to shove my baby away from me. How close was I to wanting to shake him? How close? How close was I to becoming a monster, to crossing over from Mama Jekyll to Mother/Monster Hyde? I want to say that I was fine, that I am fine, that it was a completely understandable loss of emotional control that only lasted for a second and that I never, ever, would have actually just dropped him onto the mattress (and even then, such a soft mattress, so innocuous a fall, right? right?) and I hadn’t wanted to actually shake him, I hadn’t been angry at him, I was just tired, too tired, and it could happen to anyone and nothing would have happened and I’m fine.

But the fact is that no matter how brief that flash of uncontrolled emotion, it was uncontrolled; it was sharp and hot and angry and I no more want to risk exposing my baby, my little heart, to that anger than I would want to place his bassinet on a train track. Not even for a second.

So tomorrow we go to the doctor. Tomorrow I get some help. Pills, talk, anything: whatever it takes. I need some help with this, with the sleep, with the emotions running amok. Tomorrow I get some help.

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    Backpacking Dad September 29, 2008 at 4:13 pm

    Love you.

    Booba Juice September 29, 2008 at 4:19 pm

    Thank you!!! You always manage to tell it like it is. We all experience things like this, and yet we are too afraid to talk about it. Most of us would never admit that we are struggling, and diffinately not the way that you did. But we are struggling…we are all going through things. We need to stop being Super MOM, and be the mothers that we are…because we are already great!

    Hang in there, you will make it, and you will be able to help others, as you already are in many ways.

    THANK YOU!!!

    Don Mills Diva September 29, 2008 at 4:24 pm

    I think we have all been there Catherine.


    hydrogeek September 29, 2008 at 4:34 pm

    De-lurking to say that we have all been there, and it is horrible. I’m glad you are getting help from your doctor. Sounds like you need more physical help, too. Is there any support person you could call to help when your husband can’t? If you read AskMoxie she has several posts on how horrible sleep deprivation is for you, and how if you can just get a night or two of rest the amazing things it will do for your emotional state. After the horrible 4-7 month stage with my daughter, I believe it. Rest is paramount. Good luck.

    Mojavi September 29, 2008 at 4:41 pm

    and this is a good thing. because even your writing lately has had a sad, depressed vibe, with everything going on in your family and sleep deprivation it is no mystery why you feel the way you do….. your husband also needs to come in and hunker down and take over everything but nursing. Easier said than done though.

    you will be ok… will be thinking of you.

    B September 29, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    I felt like this once out of my three girls. It was when the middle one was about Jasper’s age, she was just inconsolable and THE TIRED and WHY WON’T SHE (expletive, expletive) SLEEP. I woke my husband and told him I was having bad thoughts and just couldn’t take her right now. He woke and I curled into a ball and cried. Then next morning reflecting on my episode on a whim I threw out the new birth control pills I was taking. . . I don’t know what you are using if anything but nursing mothers run low on estrogen and the synthetic shit in this particular pill was adding to my sleep deprived crazies in a way I never imagined.

    Good luck at the doc and hopefully together you can sort it out.

    Amy September 29, 2008 at 4:59 pm

    I’m not going to offer any of that “this too shall pass” or “this is what helped me” crap. I understand exactly how you feel. You are beyond listening to advice from people who don’t know every relevant detail of your situation. You are intelligent enough to know where to look for information that fits in with your instincts as a mother.

    But I want to thank you for writing so honestly about motherhood. Most of what new parents believe about parenting is based on exaggerations and lies. THIS is what needs to be in the parenting books. None of that bullshit about babies sleeping through the night at x months of age.

    Heather September 29, 2008 at 5:05 pm

    i’ve been there too, with both my girls. so sorry you are in this place right now. i hope you get the help and support you need. sending warm thoughts and blessings your way…

    lydia September 29, 2008 at 5:21 pm

    Oh my I have so BEEN there and AM there. That sharp spike of anger is what shocks me out of my downward spiral and makes me realize what I am thinking.

    You are completely normal and a GOOD mother for seeing what it is and doing something!

    Karen (miscmum) September 29, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    I had this moment last night – and my ‘baby’ is 2.5 yrs old and has decided he’s an insomniac. I did have an appointment to see someone about it several weeks ago, but chickened out. I think, like you, it’s time though.

    Take Care xx

    (says me, nursing a coffee and wondering how the hell I’m going to get through this week, which is kind of an important one…)

    coopkeeper September 29, 2008 at 6:30 pm

    I have so been there. Once when my daughter had RSV she cried for hours on end. Hubby was out of town. I could feel the anger building…so I threw the bottle she was unable to drink due to the snotty nose against the wall. It broke, milk went everywhere, dent in wall, guilt overwhelming. Ahhhh….good memories :)

    Chrissy September 29, 2008 at 6:38 pm

    Newer reader, delurking here. You have my sympathies. I often tell younger soon to be moms that there is no other exhaustion in the world quite like the one you will experience when you have a newborn, and especially one that is breastfeeding. Mine are 18 and 14 now, but I still remember it well. My sleepless nights now are caused by waiting for the 18 year old to come home! Hang in there!

    Mac and Cheese September 29, 2008 at 7:10 pm

    I hope you get what you need from the doctor. Is there anyway that you could pump a few bottles and have a night off? I know that’s what I’d be looking to do.

    sam {temptingmama} September 29, 2008 at 7:33 pm

    Catherine, I wrote this exact post – though not as eloquent – on Saturday and I would have posted it had I not lost it all. I too felt the urge to shake my baby, to walk away and just leave him cry.

    It’s a hard and scary road, but we’re walking it together. We’ve been down this road before with our older children and we can make it through again!


    J from Ireland September 29, 2008 at 7:36 pm

    You poor thing. You are a great mother. Thoughts and prayers with you.

    TSM September 29, 2008 at 7:41 pm

    I know you’ve had everyone and their sister’s cousin’s best friend posting a reply here, but let me add to the voices.

    EVERY mother at one time or another has felt this way. I won’t go so far as to say that you don’t need medication, but I would be more likely to refer you to a doctor if you didn’t have those kinds of emotions while sleep-deprived and caring for your infant.

    It gets better. I promise. To medicate or not is YOUR choice. Keep your power and don’t let opinions or insistence of in laws or anyone else sway you one way or another.

    Rachael September 29, 2008 at 8:26 pm

    I’ve been there, definitely. You’re not alone. I’ve had to leave mine crying and step outside or to the other end of the house. It’s hard when you hit that moment where you suddenly feel, just for a moment, that you can understand why people hit their kids. You’re not alone, but better safe than sorry – I think it’s wonderful you’re going to take the step to go to the doctor. Good luck with everything.

    PDX Mama September 29, 2008 at 8:32 pm

    I have nothing profound to add, just another person commiserating. This all takes me back to when my two were babies and the fatigue and the anxiety that they would wake at any moment, walking on pins and needles. Why can’t I forget it? Is it a method of birth control? You are not alone, so please try not to beat yourself up about this. I hope you feel some peace after talking with someone tomorrow. Hugs!

    Lindsay September 29, 2008 at 8:40 pm

    I am where you are. You are not alone, in the middle of the night, with a squirmy baby who won’t be soothed. It helps to know I am not alone either.

    carrie September 29, 2008 at 8:51 pm

    You are doing the right thing.

    I can only imagine how that felt and to share it with all of us, wow – thank you for trusting us Catherine. Everything will be fine.

    Chicky Chicky Baby September 29, 2008 at 8:52 pm

    We call it The Rage. I wanted to write about it but didn’t have enough brain cells to put that many sentences together.

    We go to the doctor on Thurs. Not sure I can last that long.

    kittenpie September 29, 2008 at 9:05 pm

    If you feel that you need help and are willing to go get it, be proud of yourself. That is hard.

    But just because I think it might also need to be said – I think that flashes of Rage are common in parents, especially in the early years, when you are pushed past your limits on very front. How can your basic human needs not assert themselves every now and then when it’s all just too damn much? I think the fact that it shocks us is a good thing, because it means we are not giving into it, and that serves as a warning that we need to figure out a new coping mechanism because what we are doing is not working. Those are the times when I stepped back and reevaluated with Pumpkinpie, and some of my best parenting decisions came out of those moments.

    So yes, do what you think you need. But I can’t assume from this moment that you are really on the edge of danger. Only you can really know that. Hugs to you, lady, and the best of wishes for everything getting easier. Soon.

    Mrs. Schmitty September 29, 2008 at 9:35 pm

    Getting help is being a great momma. Sending hugs your way!

    Maggie, Dammit September 29, 2008 at 9:36 pm

    You are my hero. You walk where the rest of us walk, but you’re the only one with the words to speak it. When you breathe them, you breathe life into the rest of us. You are our voice. You are beautiful and amazing and human and you are, despite your title, her very, very, very good mother. And his.

    Amanda September 29, 2008 at 9:55 pm

    I’ve been there too, feeling so alone, so frustrated, so tired and so angry. I had to walk away from the baby because I was afraid I was going to hurt her. I put her safely away, then screamed, yelled, cried, pounded my fists on the floor, and had a tantrum. “I can’t do this anymore. I WON’T do this anymore!” I screamed at my husband. I was angry.

    So few women talk about this even though most of us have these same feelings. This silence does nothing for those who come after us. Thank you for breaking the silence. You’re not alone.

    I’m proud of you for getting some help.

    feefifoto September 29, 2008 at 10:20 pm

    Good for you, having the self-awareness to recognize when you need help and the self-confidence to go out and get it. Best of luck to you and your precious baby.

    Heather September 29, 2008 at 10:29 pm

    I had a lot of that frustration at night with my middle child because he was born when my oldest had just turned 2. I was exhausted and he was so needy and nursed constantly.

    marymurtz September 29, 2008 at 10:32 pm

    I remember when my sister had her baby, and the absolute chasm of exhaustion and resulting depression that she fell into. Her doctor told her to “buck up.” Fortunately, she told that doctor to “f*** off” and found someone who listened. It made a world of difference. I’m proud of you for deciding to get help. And don’t let anyone tell you to buck up. You can’t buck up when you are so wrecked from exhaustion. You just can’t.

    katesaid September 29, 2008 at 10:54 pm

    Help is good. And you need it, and thus you should go get it.


    You’ve forgotten – and are to be forgiven for forgetting, given the sleep-deprivation and misery – how normal this is. I had moments like this, myself. Not many, and never more than moments, but moments when I really thought I was about to cause someone harm. And the hell of it was, I didn’t have any idea who might get harmed.

    Get help, and stay safe, and be well. Just remember that you’re not as alone and unusual as you might think, in the middle of the night.

    Stefanie September 29, 2008 at 11:01 pm

    Been there, bought the T-shirt. But for me it happened many nights with the twins. Elby was a good sleeper but the twins were relentless for months and months and I thought I would throw one through a window. Or more realistically my fantasy was to just drive away and not come back. I’d have to put one twin in a crib in their room and the other in my bed so that they would rile each other up even more then I’d cry awhile and then read my daughter stories while the babies screamed and then start again. It will get better but you do need sleep.

    Anonymous September 29, 2008 at 11:04 pm

    Please, please get your thyroid tested and not just your T3 and T4 but also TPO and TgA antibodies. You could have hyper or hypothyroid if your T3 and T4 are off and if you have antibodies you have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and believe me it will get worse, much worse, before it gets better (with thyroid repacement).

    starrlife September 29, 2008 at 11:23 pm

    Don’t be too hard on yourself. Even if the H can’t do nights then you have to go to bed the minute he gets home. DO whatever you have to do! We’re with you.

    sara September 29, 2008 at 11:25 pm

    Me thinks you should give the lad a bottle. I know breast is best, but we all know plenty of healthy formula babies. How many healthy mom’s do you know that DON”T SLEEP?

    Sometimes it’s a compromise to take the best care of the ones we love. The best care is a healthy mom…no matter what he drinks from.

    Mr Lady September 30, 2008 at 12:17 am

    One: Good on ya. You’ll be glad.

    Two: As I am sure ever single other commenter said, I have so been there. Like, once a week at least. Okay, daily, I’ll admit it. Raising kids is WORK. It sucks sometimes. As long as you remember that and don’t beat yourself up too much, you’ll be fine little mama.

    Kelly September 30, 2008 at 12:30 am

    How brave you are and generous. Your honesty is a gift and an example for every mother. The one thing we wish with all our hearts to perfect, our parenting, is the one thing that tests us completely, rigorously, relentlessly. Until we recognize the impossibility of perfection( a wish we never give up)and decide that our best is what we have to offer, we suffer. Thank you for being such a fine person, for not letting fear or shame keep you suffering in silence. I admire you.

    for a different kind of girl September 30, 2008 at 1:44 am

    I can add nothing profound or different than what has already been said by so many before me, but I’ll say that I know these feelings and how terrifying they can feel as you sense them flitting across your mind. I wish you peace.

    rantsalamode September 30, 2008 at 7:14 am

    What an honest, courageous, vivid and amazing post. I’m definitely linking to it at the broadspot. It’s the type of honest reflection on post-partum depression and angst every woman should have the opportunity to read.

    Atlanta Mommy September 30, 2008 at 7:18 am

    You know, I remember feeling so sad during those long hours by myself with my baby. So incredibly lonely. I could see my neighbor’s kitchen window from mine. They were night owls, but the moment they turned their kitchen light off it was like the loneliness enveloped me. I had to face all those long nighttime hours by myself. I know how you feel, Catherine. There were brief, fleeting moments where I was so angry that my little Sunshine wouldn’t fall asleep. That I couldn’t fall asleep. That my husband wasn’t awake doing this. I wish I had had the courage to get help. Hugs!

    Sarah, Goon Squad Sarah September 30, 2008 at 8:30 am

    I have been there myself. Help is the right answer.


    Liz September 30, 2008 at 9:00 am

    i am with you on this.

    for me, it was hard to ask for help. but i’m glad you did.

    clearly, by the comments you’ve received here, you/we are not alone.

    Michelle September 30, 2008 at 9:39 am

    I agree with everyone else. Every mother feels like this even if only for a split second. You are not alone. I also agree that if you need someone to take the baby, after you feed him during the day or during the night, for a few uniterrupted hours of sleep. I hope you feel better soon.

    Amanda September 30, 2008 at 10:38 am

    Last night, tomorrow, this morning.

    You, friend, are always a hero. Don’t forget it.

    LAVANDULA September 30, 2008 at 11:08 am

    catherine i am so proud of how brave and honest you are.and like all of the other mums have said i’ve been there too. am so glad you are getting there no one who can come over during the day and help you out? so you could get some well deserved rest.

    Mommer September 30, 2008 at 11:26 am

    Yep. I remember. My son was so exasperating as an infant, never seeming to know what he needed and then not wanting it when he got it.

    I remember thinking, “I would never abuse my baby, but I understand now how women can do it.”

    Then, a month or two later after another one of those surges of rage you describe so well, I remember thinking, “I would never abuse my baby, but now I understand how women FEEL when they do it.” I never did. But it makes a lot more sense now, what could happen when the filters that usually keep anger from erupting are clogged by what feels like near-terminal sleep deprivation.

    You are doing the right thing, dear Good Mommy.

    Nina September 30, 2008 at 11:30 am

    Been there. And you’re a braver woman than I.

    Hugs, Catherine.

    mamatulip September 30, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    I’m with whoever said you should change the name of this blog to Her Good Mother.



    Anonymous September 30, 2008 at 12:32 pm

    Thank goodness for that. I am glad that you are going to talk to someone, get some help. I am thinking of you today, and hoping you get some relief (and sleep!) soon!

    Mimi September 30, 2008 at 12:44 pm

    Oh, C … I’m so sorry you feel so terrible. I have to tell you, though, how impressed I’ve been by your strength, your emotional generosity. You are a wonderful mom.

    I have to say that I had that feeling every single day of my mat leave, from about 5 weeks postpartum forward. Every day. Rage, despair, helplessness. Exhaustion and the fog of clumsineess and stupidity that comes with it.

    I have to say, too, gingerly: maybe you’re not sick. Maybe the problem is not your emotions and your reactions. Maybe the problem is that you need someone to help you with the kids, not talk therapy or pill therapy to modulate your quite sensible and reasonable responses to a grim situation–too much work and not enough hands.

    Maybe you need a night nanny, not a shrink.

    I know you’ve a history of PPD and I don’t want to sound like I’m trying to pooh-pooh away your fears. I’m not. I’m suggesting rather that your emotional response is real and it is true: it’s not pathological. Your fears are entirely justfied. But maybe the problem is not with you.

    If I lived closer, I’d come take over for a day. You should have a break.

    Shutter Bitch September 30, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    I hope the help you need finds you and quickly. I’ve had those moments myself, and I needed help. I was never frustrated/angry/tired/desperate enough to follow through, but for me, just like for you, that briefest of flashes of raw emotion was more risk than I was willing to take.

    I hope you take comfort in knowing you’re not alone, and you’re not a monster. I take comfort in knowing that you’re a good mother and you’ve still felt as I have at one time, and that I’m not the only one either. And the help, it is glorious.

    Anonymous September 30, 2008 at 4:46 pm

    I'm 51, so I'm old and un-with it. But I had three kids 4 years apart (they are now 23, 25, & 27)one would not sleep during the night and rarely napped (she's 25 now & still loves to stay up all night) and one was a premie who had to be fed every two hours and it would take an hour to feed her because feeding would exhaust her. By the time I would finish nursing her and get her back to bed I would be lucky to 60 minutes before we had to start all over again. Guess what? You can only maintain that schedule for so long before sheer exhaustion takes hold. The wisdom here is You CANNOT do it alone. Get help. Pump. Have a friend, hubby, relative come and spend the night for a few nights and take that middle of the night feeding so you can get some uninterrupted sleep. After you get some sleep in you, take a nap when the kiddies nap. Get a sitter so you can nap. The answer here is call in the reinforcements. And yeah, those flashes of anger, all part of the territory. It will happen and then happen again, whether they are babies, children, or teen-agers/young adults. Get caught up on your sleep & your perspective will be much better. I promise.

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