Angel in a White Coat

Julia Arnold essays

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Six months after having my first baby, I was sitting in a sterile doctor’s office with my son still in his pajamas, fidgeting in his portable car seat. Snow fell so heavily outside that several wet, solid inches were already packed on the ground. You would’ve had to be crazy to go out in that weather. 

At that point in my life, my days were usually spent alone with my baby in our small apartment. I knew few other mothers who were home with their children full-time. My family lived 10 hours away. My husband often left for work before 7am and didn’t arrive home for 12 hours.

If I made it to the coffee shop with my son by 2pm, or wheeled him around the grocery store for 10 minutes, I felt like I had at least done something that day. 

There was no Facetime yet. No one really Skyped. It was not unusual for an entire day to go by when the only faces I would look at would be my baby son’s, and my own pale reflection in the mirror.

My days started revolving around his naps and feedings. To the minute. During his naps, I would watch the clock, wondering—perhaps fearing—when he’d wake up. What would we do for the rest of the day? Would he be happy? Would he nurse okay? How lonely would I feel?

I remember getting sick a lot. What brought me to the doctor on that freezing, snowy day was my third sinus infection in about as many months. 

When the doctor entered the room, relaxed but professional in her standard white coat, and saw me again, she asked how I was coping. “Do you have any support?” she asked.  Embarrassed, I stared ahead to avoid eye contact. “Family to help?” she pressed. 

Looking back, it’s hard to believe that no one had asked me such a simple question before. Was I supposed to have support?  Was that something that mothers usually had? I could feel the tears welling up in my swollen eyes. My baby started looking hungry. My heart began its familiar thump. I was sure the doctor could hear it. “No,” I answered, astonished not only at the simplicity of her question but also of my answer: “Not really.” 

She gave me a generic checklist to fill out, an anxiety and depression scale. I sighed. I wasn’t depressed, for God’s sake. I didn’t want to take my own life. I didn’t want to hurt my baby. None of the things you see on TV.

However, I dutifully clicked the pen and started reading the questions. I was to circle a 1-5, five being very likely/all the time, 1 being never/almost never. 

I don’t think I exhaled for the two minutes it took me to fill out the form. I stared at my completed worksheet. These can’t be my answers. 

And yet. “Do you feel like your motor is constantly running?” Well, yes. “Do you have trouble sleeping?” I had barely slept for the last few months. “Do you feel like something terrible is going to happen?” Of course. “Do you experience sudden feelings of panic?” Daily.

When the doctor came back in the room to look at the paper, she managed to keep a straight face while she glanced at the many circled 4’s and 5’s. She respectfully broached the subject of medication. My face flushed. I had failed. I couldn’t cope with this one beautiful little boy. I was so lucky to have him. I was so fortunate to be home with him. I knew that. I was ready to put up a fight. 

But something crumpled my resolve. Weakened by physical or emotional stress, I didn’t have any fight left in me. I allowed myself to be talked into getting help. A hopeful voice in the back of my head whispered that perhaps motherhood wasn’t supposed to feel like this. That maybe there was a way I could actually enjoy my baby. That I could enjoy this new chapter in my life as a mother.

I barely remember those first six months with my son, who is now four. I want so badly to do those months over again. I want to have been smart enough to have lined up support before he was born.  I wish I hadn’t watched the clock all day, letting life revolve around his scheduled naps and feedings.  I wish I had joined more groups, met more new parents. Mostly, I want to have fun with his young, pudgy baby self. I want so much to do better for him those first months of his life.

I can’t. But I will always be grateful to my angel in the white coat. She looked past my physical symptoms and helped me truly heal.

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About the Author

Julia Arnold

Julia Arnold is a mom of two young kids living in the Twin Cities who is still coming to terms with the fact that her counters are always sticky, and her floor is never clean. She writes about the less glamorous side of new motherhood on her blog .

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