I first read Dr. Seuss’s My Many Colored Days last year when my then 4-year-old son brought it home from preschool and requested I read it to him. My Many Colored Days is children’s book to help children understand the wide range of emotions all of us experience. We settled into our favorite reading spot, the “blue couch,” which is really just an ancient over-sized chair in a pale blue flower print (and the first piece of furniture I ever bought for myself).
As I began reading this deceptively simple picture book to my son, I realized this book was helping me as much as it was helping him. Mainly because it was the first time I acknowledged to myself that I had suffered from postpartum depression (PPD) after my son was born 11 weeks prematurely.
I was never diagnosed with PPD, but looking back at that first year or so of my son’s life, I now see what a mess I was. While we all experience both the bright and dark colored days Seuss describes, I don’t remember any bright “red”, “blue” or “orange” days during that time. What was supposed to one of the happiest times of my life was actually one of the darkest.
There were so many days I could barely get out of bed. And some days I just didn’t. If it weren’t for my husband being able to take unpaid leave from work to help, I don’t think I would’ve made it. There was just so many specialist appointments, procedures and surgeries that I felt so overwhelmed all of the time. Yet, I just assumed my depression, mood swings and difficultly bonding with my son was a normal response to having a baby with special needs, so I never thought to ask anyone other than my husband for help. It wasn’t until I read this article very recently that I discovered just how many of us preemie moms with PPD go undiagnosed. Or how much more likely we are to suffer from it because of how hard life in, and after, the NICU is.
Thankfully, my bright colored days out number the dark ones now. It wasn’t until I went back to work when my son was 17 months old that I began to feel less depressed. Returning to work brought a sense of normalcy back into our lives that had been missing. Day by day, it has been easier to get out of bed in the morning, especially when you have an adorable little boy who is so happy to see you when he wakes up.
“Mama, happy?” is a question I often get asked by my now 5-year-old son. It’s his way of asking me if I’m sad or mad. He is so in tune to my every mood that the moment I start to feel any darkness creeping in, changing my sometimes gray or purple day to brown or black, he anxiously asks, “Mama, happy?” I don’t know if it’s because of his autism spectrum disorder, but he is a super sensitive little boy. While he may not always respond appropriately to someone laughing or crying, which is why his therapists had him reading My Many Colored Days, he definitely cares what others are feeling. If anything, I think it may be that he cares too much. Especially when it comes to me.
For my birthday this past year, he wrote on my card, “Mama is happy!” No longer a question now, but a proclamation. And I will try. Because all any of us can do is to take this life one many colored day at a time.