Every new mother would describe it differently, but it is a tale as old as time, a story, I feel, that when told can never be fully understood until lived. I found myself 1 year postpartum looking in the mirror and finding the reflection unrecognizable. There were glimpses, shapes, and shadows that triggered memories of who I once was, but that girl, the clean lines and a place for everything and everything in its place girl, was nowhere to be seen. And I was ANGRY, so angry that I could let this happen to me, that I could allow my life to be changed for the worse. I stopped caring about the little things that I once held in high regard like a clean house and entertaining and being social and reading books, unfortunately had lost all meaning. I anguished over the thought, “How could I ever string a thesis together if I couldn’t even get through five pages of a book that I had already read?” I was at a low ebb and tired and scared. A girl whose entire life was surrounded by those who got depressed and never let it get to her was now in a pit that could only be described as a thick wasteland of black paste laced with webs of poisonous words whatever, no, never that stung like bees, eyelids heavy and watery, heartbroken, aching, crying, screaming. What have I done? I had just started to like myself, just started to feel safe and real; why would I give all that up? What will become of me?
Motherhood is not for the faint of heart. But I was a strong, independent woman who had battled and overcome much dysfunction in my life. Of course I could beat the depression of early motherhood with a wave of my hand . . . or so I thought. For months before I returned to work I had convinced myself that the self-loathing and lack of self-recognition was simply due to lack of normalcy and routine that going back to work could provide, and I masked my depression, under the cover I had labeled “I will feel better when . . .” It was as if my righteous path of self-discovery that I had so lovingly embraced in the years leading up to motherhood had been temporarily blocked by estrogen and progesterone.
I believe now that I had, like in the past, built an impermeable structure around my authenticity such as it was; no flex, no give, no room for change. I think I felt that I had become authentic and I could check that off my to-do list. Given that, when life, as it does, turned me on my head, I couldn’t fathom what to do next.
I returned to work in August to allow myself a few weeks to acclimatize to being back at work. I jumped in with both feet and found myself sad when it was Friday, for the weekends brought early mornings and days filled with the fearful thoughts that I had become accustomed to around coping with my daughter.
Those first few weeks fueled my thinking . . . I was right. I just needed to get back to work to start feeling like myself again. I selfishly rode the joy brought on by the staff’s cheers for my return, and secretly, I wanted to hear how much my replacement had failed to even remotely fill my shoes. I reveled in staff stories about how they suffered through and couldn’t wait for my return. For those first few weeks before the students returned I was euphoric and worked hard to reestablish the orderly little world that I had created for myself before I left.
September brought with it a new group of students, some new to the school, some simply new to me, and I fell right back into step as the go-to makeshift counselor for staff and students alike, managing each crisis as it arose on cue. But at 4 p.m., it was time to pick up the baby. Forget about the student who wants to commit suicide or the staff member that is having problems at home; forget about the report due, the schedule that you haven’t written yet; remember to stop at the store to get the homo milk . . . Oh fuck, seriously, how could you forget the milk . . . the baby will have to have the skim again. What kind of parent are you really?
On Sunday, baby is at grandma’s for the night, time to pull myself back together, sit down, relax, watch the MASH movie that I have seen a hundred times, have a drink, and breathe. Hawkeye has been committed temporarily to a mental health facility . . . he saw something that he just couldn’t let go of. I have seen this movie a hundred times, I know it is because a mother had to kill her baby to assure silence for the group on the bus so the sniper wouldn’t hear them and kill them all. I know this, and yet still I cry, I bawl, I scream, I retch. I cry, and hurt, and curl up in a ball until I can’t cry any longer. For two hours I am uncontrollable, and I cry for a child, for myself.
Monday morning I make a call to Canadian Mental Health, a call I have made many times on behalf of the struggling students I see every day, but today I ask about support for postpartum depression. That must be why I can’t pull myself together. I am a professional, and I’ll just see what resources are available, maybe make an appointment, and see if I can sort out these few minor issues I have been having. A woman takes my call, asks how I am feeling, if I have thoughts of harming my baby; asks if am I using any substances to cope. Was it what she asked or that she asked that caused me to break down and let it ALL out; I cry uncontrollably. There in my office with students waiting, I do it, finally I take time to let out all the angst that had been piling up for months. She agreed to see me the next day and every week after that.
I have always known that therapy was good for most people but have always put off taking the plunge myself, as I simply thought that if I had staved off depression for this long I must be fine. But if you ask my husband, he would tell you that for years I may not have been doing the great job that I thought I was doing. There have been tears and fits of anger, low points, and poor decisions, all pushed aside as temporary and quickly forgotten. But there in the comfort of the soft, warm lamplight, I let go, I gave in, I held myself up, I heard what I had stifled for years. I listened to myself tell stories about my mom, my husband, my baby, and myself. I heard a woman in pain, fearful of losing herself to this thing called motherhood. But lo and behold, underneath all the tales held down for so long, there I was, set free in the telling and forever changed.