“‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’
This is probably the most common question asked of children, and many of them have far-fetched answers: an NBA star, a youtube star, a Pop artist, in the NFL.
My answers, however, were always down to earth and constant. What did I want to be when I grew up? A teacher, a mom, and a wife. I never wavered from those three responses. I had my imaginary school set up in my family dining room that consisted of my dolls and my younger brother as my students. I had my ‘children’ in my dolls and I would always dress them and do their hair for the day. I would see myself in the families I saw on TV and I longed for the day to come when I was able to become what I wanted to be when I ‘grew up.’
After I graduated from college with a degree in Elementary and Special Education, I was dating the man who would one day become my husband. I also graduated without any job prospects. Talk about an anxiety-ridden summer! I was constantly scrolling the school district webpages searching for openings I could apply for, yet nothing was posted. Until one day, about 2 weeks before teacher orientation would start in Delaware school districts, I was called to interview for and was then offered a position as a sixth grade Special Education teacher. At first, I was elated! What I had always grown up wanting to be was here!
Then, the first day of orientation arrived and I pulled up to a pale brick building and walked the cold cinder-block hallways in search of my room, 717. I later found it, with the help of a veteran teacher. Room 717 was buried in the time capsule of a library, isolated from the rest of the sixth-grade classrooms. Upon opening the door, I broke down into tears. The room was not the bright white and cheery room lined with desks and a welcoming teacher’s area I had always dreamt up in my head. Instead, I walked into a windowless room still full of boxes of discarded materials the prior teacher had left behind.
I distinctly remember the conversation I had with my boyfriend, now husband, in that moment. He answered the phone, and I cried, ‘I don’t want to do this!’ His responses what one of shock, ‘What? What do you mean you don’t want to do this? You just got there, how can you already know that.’
But I knew. 8 years later, when I finally resigned from teaching to be home with my children, I knew with complete certainty one of the things I always wanted to be when I grew up was no longer true. Deep inside, I was devasted.
In January 2017, we learned we were expecting our first child. In all honesty, we were not totally ready to be expecting, but we started trying in the event it would take us awhile to get pregnant. But no such thing happened, our first baby was created after our first real ‘try.’ My husband and I, and family and friends, outside of my teaching job, were so excited. Yet, the desire to keep my pregnancy secret from the gossiping teachers at my school filled me with anxiety and stole some of the joy the pregnancy should have brought. I just felt like I wanted to keep this little baby to myself for a while longer. I didn’t want to questions that would be constantly directed at me that come when a woman shares she is pregnant.
Then, in April 2017, after my 20-week ultrasound, the joy I felt for my pregnancy came to a crashing halt and was replaced by fear and worry.
Right after my husband had left for work on that April morning, my midwife called and said that after reviewing our anatomy scans, it was revealed our baby had a ‘significant limb discrepancy on his left shin and foot.’ I was shocked. Like, ‘What? How? What did that mean for this baby?’ So many unanswered questions, and even after rushing to a last-minute specialist appointment, we were left with even more questions and a possible diagnosis of club foot.
After that news, I withdrew. I didn’t talk about the baby. I kept the nursery room door closed. I wanted to hide my pregnancy even more. As I think about it now, I understand I was still blessed to be having a healthy pregnancy and still and overall healthy baby. But it felt different now. The joy that was once at the center was replaced by anxiety and shame. These were NOT the feelings I imagined when I was growing up wanting to become a mother.
We made an appointment to see a world-renowned pediatric orthopedic specialist. But that appointment was not until July. Yet, here we were. In April! I called bi-weekly to see if there were any cancelations with the specialist to see if we could move our appointment up, but no such luck.
Finally, on July 29, 2017, we met with Dr. Nichols. Prior to that appointment, one of my close friends, Shannon, suggested I bring my mom with me to have a third party present during the conversation. Since my husband and I would probably not be in the most concentrated state to take notes and ask the right questions. As my mom, my husband, and I entered Dr. Nichols’ office, she immediately overwhelmed me. Her tight spiral bouncy curls. Her fast way of talking. Her racing thoughts seemed to jump from one thing to the next to the next. As she was talking, she brought up things like ‘limb lengthening surgery,’ ‘fitted for a brace,’ ‘corrective therapy.’
But not once did she mention the words ‘club foot.’ Come to learn she never mentioned club foot, because our baby did not have club foot. He had fibular hemimelia. Had my mom not been there to ask her to back up and clarify, I don’t think Dr. Nichols would have actually named what he had. She knew immediately from his scans that’s what it was, yet she didn’t realize we did not know.
That meeting ended with Dr. Nichols sharing over and over, ‘It’ll be great! It’s no problem, we will make it all perfect.’ If only we were able to share her optimism. I left the meeting overwhelmed and in tears. But I also left with some peace knowing that this was fixable.
2 days, later, on July 31. I woke up to my water breaking. At only 34 weeks, I was shocked, to say the least. And to everyone who told me, ‘Your water doesn’t just gush and break like it does in the movies….’ I beg to differ.
Since our baby was breach, I had a c-section and the gender of our baby was revealed. A boy, we named Jacob Daniel. He was tiny at 5 pounds, 5 ounces and after my husband cut the cord, he was hooked up to breathing tubes. I only briefly saw him through the incubator and I didn’t get to touch him until over 6 hours later. Again, not what I imagined when I was growing up wanting to be a mom.
For 15 days after Jacob’s birth, I was a NICU mom. I was hooked up to a breast pump to produce milk for him. I constantly felt watched by the nurses and never really felt like Jacob was mine because I was always having to ask permission to do things like touch or hold him. It was surreal. What was also surreal was the postpartum depression that enveloped my body. One night after coming home from the NICU, I broke down. I was inconsolable. I couldn’t produce words. I just knew I was having a hard time and this pregnancy and motherhood journey was so far not anything close to what I had imagined.
On August 15, 2017, Jacob came home. We left the NICU life of monitors, cords, and beeping behind and replaced that with sleepless nights and a depression that grew worse by the day. By my birthday, August 24, I finally revealed my feelings to my mom. I told her how stressed I was and how detached from Jacob I felt. I knew deep down I loved him, but I was unable to verbally express that, and that scared me.
I never had the PPD where I had suicidal or harmful thoughts. But I had the PPD that left me detached and withdrawn from my baby and the world around me. Top it off with sleep deprivation and I felt trapped, suffocated in my own home, by own body, my own thoughts.
Jacob is now 3.5 years old. He is thriving and if you didn’t know his story, you’d never guess he was a NICU preemie. He wears a brace and a shoe lift to support and even out his legs and hips when he walks. But he is unstoppable. A force to be reckoned with.
Me, on the other hand, I’m not in the dark stages of depression I was in when he was first born. But I’m also not back to my old self. I think my old self is actually gone and my new self that accepts this new role of motherhood has still yet to truly be revealed. I know the depression is still lingering and has been brought to the forefront again as a result of this pandemic. However, I now tell Jacob every day I love him. Even on the days when it’s hard.
I feel like I haven’t truly gotten to be what I imagined growing up to be. I am a mom, a wife, and a teacher. Yet the versions are different. They’re my versions and I’m coming to terms with that.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Elizabeth Obold from Delaware. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more stories about postpartum depression here:
‘This is easy, just wait until they’re older.’ I cried into her bib. I struggled to say ‘I love you’ to my baby. I shut down completely.’: Mom suffers postpartum depression, fights for help, ‘Every day is a battle, but I know I can win’
‘It’s NOT postpartum depression. You aren’t suicidal.’ She said to buy essential oils. I feared the worst.:’ Mom’s postpartum depression dismissed for years, ‘I finally have the right people behind me’
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