I believe in narrow shadows of darkness, and wide patches of light. I believe in narrow patches of light, in an overwhelming darkness. I believe in shades of grey, in between all of the black and white. I believe in everything good about myself, in a world in which it’s ok to admit – to you, to me – that I have thought, said or done things I never thought I’d think, say or do.
I’m not the type to ask for help when I need it. I’ll either let it fester inside until it’s angry and raging to get out, or I’ll just assume you should know exactly what I need, and how I need it. The hardest three words for me to say aren’t “I love you.”
I’m the girl who got to 8cm in labor without “help” and I barely broke a sweat. I’m the girl who still talked to everyone and when the head nurse came into the room, I smiled sweetly and asked, “Can I have an epidural?” to the surprise of everyone.
By the time they got the epidural in, I was 10cm and it was about to come out before it could even start. They told me I could press a button to make the drugs come when I needed them, but I never did. I liked knowing that help was out there and that I was the one in control of both asking and administering that help. A perfect situation, if you will, and the drugs didn’t come.
My first baby, a surprise but very wanted daughter, rarely cried. She slept. She ate. She smiled. She was healthy. I think I was too. I wept at her baby socks, knowing how fast they would be filled and then outgrown. The fragility of it all stunned me.
When I was pregnant with my son, I just knew he’d be born an anxious and colicky creature. How else could he come to be, with a mess of a mother and a mess of a life situation you couldn’t even call broken, for had it ever been whole?
He was born dreamy and calm, to my surprise, even through misdiagnoses, tests, fears, a run in an ambulance to a NICU, and then a six day stay there. I was strong in the face of all of it, but I crumpled when finally home with two kids.
This book? Is groundbreaking. It should be passed around, and often. I will always say I didn’t have postpartum depression, because I didn’t. I’m not prone to any kind of depression. My beast is situational anxiety, although through it, I can still feel joy. I’ve also learned to ask for help for that, because I know what can happen when I don’t. I step on a landmine that explodes in my face while I learn to pick up the pieces of myself. The foreword of the book says the thought I kept secret:
There’s no magic pill, although if there were I would have taken it. I went to postpartum support meetings. I sobbed and said I was hideously ugly. Someone gasped aloud when I said it, and came up to me after to say, “You know you’re beautiful, right?” No. Cassidy, and other loved ones I’m sure, thought there was something in my brain – a chemical or chemical reaction – feeding me the thoughts. Ugly. Useless. Kids don’t love me. Kids don’t like me. A chemical? I thought. No, it’s fact. I don’t believe now that it was either. I believe it was trauma and grief at both new and ancient things. Babies are born too new.
In her essay “Afterbirth” in the book, Dana Schwartz writes that she thought she was dying. Her daughter was thriving and she was dying. I remember thinking that after Des was born, because my father had died only a few years after becoming a father of two. I thought Des’ birth was the beginning of the end. It took a long time for that to wear off. I was so afraid to have a second child because I was so afraid I’d get an illness, mental or otherwise, that would be an obstacle to my parenting. I was so afraid to be left in charge, if only to fall. If only to be too weak. Yet we all grow together, and apart. Every day.
The challenges still come, and are still overcome. Scarlet woke up yesterday with a climbing fever. I was couch-imprisoned all day – forced to rest and read and love and fret over her. In my perfect world, no one gets sick – least of all children. In my world, no one gets killed – least of all children. And yet each day is a battle of all of my fears. That I’ll get sick and die suddenly. That they’ll get sick and I won’t be able to help, wrung out and strung out in a corner with my hands locked behind my back – motionless. Fearful of the dreaded stomach bug – with a vomit phobia and two kids in school. In a world I can’t control, with viruses I can’t control, and global warming and gunmen and raging fevers and lost innocence.
The book, Mothering Through the Darkness, is such the book to read. If you’re a mother. Or a father. Or if you love a mother or a father. The combination and variety of stories, thoughts and healing will hit you in the heart. I feel and I can’t feel. I’m raw and I’m numb. I’m a mystery to myself, but I love finding the way back home. Solidarity is one road home.
When Scarlet was two-months-old I had an existential crisis. She was crying in a way that two-months-old cry, but Scarlet didn’t cry much. I was conscious and logical in one way and the other way was thinking, “She’s crying because she didn’t ask for this – to be born, only to die. To be stuck. To have to get sick or old or watch others do the same. She didn’t ask for me as a mother.” I found my way out of the darkness, lifting it on a road trip to Logan Airport, into a hotel with a newborn, on a six hour flight to San Francisco – the city I have loved and lost, and during the wedding vows of friends. I found my way out.
The best part of the book is that it focuses on postpartum struggles, and not just postpartum depression. And that is where I found my heart within this book – in the voices and stories of too many who suffered for too long.