By CARLEIGH KUDE
I vividly remember walking into our apartment cradling my newborn son, his twin brother in my husband’s arms close behind me. Standing just inside the threshold, I stopped. Where the hell was I supposed to put him down?
Becoming a mother was a whirlwind. It wasn’t that I didn’t read What to Expect books or attend newborn care and breastfeeding classes (I did lots of those things! I swear!). But no one ever told me where to put the babies down once we came home. I thought I had been so clever by stacking our baby shower gifts into a neat pile in the corner of the living room. That “neat pile” now appeared to me as what it truly was: a terrible idea, useless when both parents’ arms are full of newborn and diapers and wipes are buried underneath mobiles and books.
We figured it out, of course (I’m not still holding that baby). Dear Husband held both babies while I extracted two infant rockers from the pile and hurriedly assembled them. We laid the babies down, and breathed. And then I looked up from that immediate problem and saw so much more.
I tell the other mothers that I meet around town that giving birth changed me. That it was as if a layer of skin had been peeled from my eyes. That I saw dirt, and dust, and the possibility of spider bites as I had never seen them before: omnipresent and infinite. I became a woman obsessed with cleanliness and organization. I realized, for the first time in my life, that cleaning is a Sisyphean task, futile and wretched. The more you scrub at a dirty surface, like a bathtub, the more dirt is waiting underneath, or around, or waiting to enter from outside. Dirt is infinite. How do you know when something is clean? When you are finished cleaning? These are the questions that plagued my post partum mind.
Alongside the usual questions, like are my babies still breathing? And will I ever sleep for more than 90 minutes at a time again? I didn’t realize I was suffering from Post-partum Anxiety (PPA) and Post-partum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (PPOCD) until my twins were 8 months old.
On a particularly fussy afternoon, I looked across the room at my vacuum and longed to use it, to plug it into the wall and push it across the carpet while it sweetly sucked up dirt and germs. I realized, at that moment, that this was not normal. It is not normal to yearn to vacuum instead of playing peekaboo with my infants. I made an appointment with my therapist and got to work at calibrating my mental state.
When I look back upon my experience with PPA/OCD, I find it kind of funny. The infiniteness of dirt, how I still have to touch my children an even number of times every day (lucky I had two babies at once), these things are still with me. But my problem now is that I scare the crap out of moms that I meet when, unable to keep my thoughts to myself, I divulge all of these anecdotes and beg for commiseration.
I freely admit that I prefer Ativan to Xanax, that because my boys were born in the late summer, and ant season was at its peak, I sprayed orange oil around the entire perimeter of my apartment building. At 1 AM so my neighbors wouldn’t notice. I ask the other moms at the park what IKEA storage solution system they like best. Of course, I don’t get asked on a lot of second park dates.
Now that my kids are full-blown children, toddlers with expanding vocabulary and very little fear (the bruises and bumps, oh my), I am coping much better with my anxiety and obsessive thoughts. I practice being mindful, go to yoga once a week, and balance my Stay-at-Home-Mom role with part time work when I can get it.
I also volunteer for my local twin club’s new parents program. I reach out to new members, deliver food, and make myself available for whatever help first-time new parents need. I censor my true self in this role more than I do at the park, though. I don’t want to scare the new moms.
And it’s not that I want to scare the moms at the park and play groups. I just want to find someone who understands the incredible transformation that becoming a mother was for me. So when I welcome these women to motherhood with hearty stews and bread, I keep my ears open for hints of synchronicity.
In pace with my Dyson having become my spirit animal and the immeasurable pleasure of preparing all my children’s food from organic scratch, I have changed as a person. I can’t watch horror films anymore because I need to create an exit strategy for every worst-case scenario. First family road trip up the coast: I made my husband spend 20 minutes brainstorming and then finalizing a plan for saving all of our lives should our car careen off a cliff and into the ocean. A specific plan for if this should happen with the windows down, and another should the windows be up.
I also don’t have the same friend group I had before. I don’t go to shows or bars but for special occasions (mostly because I’m too tired to even think about wearing makeup). I miss my once-active social life, and I want to have a daytime social life and connect with other moms. I want to make friends. I have always had great difficulty filtering that which comes out of my mouth, this part of me has remained unchanged. I simply can’t think before I speak.
Instead, I will continue to take my kids to the park every day and make small talk. I have faith that my catastrophizing, fear-mongering fellow-mom soul mate is out there. I guess I’ll just have to continue leading with tales of midnight pinworm checks in my infants’ diapers in order to find her.
Carleigh Kude is a writer who lives in Oakland and has great difficulty keeping her thoughts to herself. Every night she listens to Harry Potter audio books while falling asleep, picking up where she left off the night before. In addition to being a mom, making a mean crockpot, and distrusting cat people, Carleigh tweets@carleighamalin.