We mangle ourselves and shatter our bones while bearing down, fighting against every instinct of self-preservation. When the sweet face of our progeny is in sight and our bodies finally rest, it was all worth every excruciating bit of pain.
Another mother might disagree with this sentiment. Some women take a little longer to embrace their new life as “Mommy.”
This mini-person needs you to become a fully functional drink dispenser, a licensed speech therapist with a specialty in infant phoneme recognition, and a professional housekeeper. Immediately. Don’t forget that you must accomplish all of these feats while attending to a battered body and battling sleep deprivation, so if you don’t already have your doctorate in developmental psychology, you are officially screwed.
A unique characteristic of one affliction in particular is the need to recognize it in the midst of this most glorious transition: adjusting to the demands of a brand new, defenseless human being in your life.
“I’m never going to get this right.”
“This baby doesn’t love me.”
“I am a terrible person.”
Whisper it if you need to. I understand…
Postpartum Depression… Shhh. It’s a secret.
When I had my second daughter I recognized the symptoms thanks to an episode of “Oprah” featuring Brooke Shields. Thank God someone had the courage to speak out! I had never even heard the term before, and I can’t help but wonder how many people still haven’t. A mild antidepressant helped me conquer the melancholy giant on my chest and charge forth into motherhood.
But it isn’t always that simple.
After the birth of my gorgeous son, my third and final child, antidepressants could not turn off the barrage of intrusive thoughts. The doctors altered and added to my prescription so frequently that I ended up in a high-pressure narcosis. I was just a living science experiment with a constant migraine. My mind was drowning, sinking deeper every day into a lethargic abyss. If I tried to scream, no sound came out. My limbs grew roots in the mattress. On my best days, I could make it as far as my bedroom mirror to stare at the sagging skin that hung from my abdomen, and the shell of a woman attached to it.
“Who is this hideous person?”
“She is a terrible mother.”
“She doesn’t deserve these children.”
“They would all just be better off without her.”
The pouch of stretched flesh on my torso became the object of my hyper-focused contempt. It wasn’t the fat. In hindsight, I think that the puckered skin represented the deterioration of my lucidity, just the same way that I had deteriorated physically after alternating miscarriages and three children in only three years. I couldn’t stand the sight of myself, but I couldn’t stop staring. There was a mesmerizing mess in that mirror, and she looked a little bit like a girl I used to know.
When I started to envision myself taking a knife to this extraneous epidermis, I had to flip back to the reality station. This show was senseless, but I couldn’t change the channel. If I didn’t turn it off completely, they might need to recast the lead actress.
So I called the cable company…
Two weeks later I crept through the front door like a stranger in my own home, wondering if my walls would still look the same. The sheetrock was still gray, painted an ironic shade of “Anonymous.” My children greeted me with giddy laughter and an innocent embrace, thinking that I had only been on vacation. My husband watched me closely, hesitating over each movement and choosing every word with care. It was like he thought that if he wasn’t careful I would break into a million pieces.
He was right.
I still wish there had been a place between a day spa and a sanitarium for me, but that place doesn’t exist. It was all or nothing, and I won’t take unnecessary chances when it comes to the well-being of my children. If I couldn’t be the mother they deserved, then I had to fix me; even if that meant fourteen sleepless nights in a locked ward listening to late-night conversations between a young girl and the vivid voices in her head.
Homecoming was met with its own set of complications. In the hospital I had exposed myself. I chose to drop the stigma, hash it all out, and end it. At home “reading the room” for the irreverent reciprocity I had come to recognize became a part of most social interactions. Friends and family shied away from an honest conversation until the subject changed.
Nine years later I can assure you that they didn’t fear contagion, they simply feared. I came to find out that I was not the only person I knew that had suffered. I was, however, the only one that went for treatment and wasn’t ashamed to talk about it. Later, I would become the person that many women would feel comfortable coming to when they had brand new infants of their own. When they wanted to talk about what was happening to them, I was the go-to bedlamite. I won’t be ashamed of that. I choose to embrace it. Let my nightmare be the path to someone else’s wake-up call.
Once upon a time, in a doctor’s office far, far away, somebody told me that new mothers experience this phenomenon more often than not. Where are those women? The isolation is deafening in the baby bubble. Giving birth sends a woman’s body on a chemical escapade through hell and back. If mothers everywhere are suffering, why aren’t they talking about it? Through this barbaric biological benediction, we can create babies with our bodies… and it hurts like hell! It isn’t over in the delivery room, and I, for one, am sick of pretending that it is. The more we whisper, the more we dishonor those who need to scream. Speak up if you’re hurting. You’re not the only one.