Monday, November 15, 2010

One Mother Desperately in Search of a Village

When I was a brand new mother, I needed compassionate neighbors. Instead I had judgmental ones I had a special needs child, and I had postpartum depression. One or the other would have been enough of a challenge. I was hit by a double whammy. Judgmental neighbors. Friends and family seemingly putting on track shoes and checking their watches. I had my mother to talk to, and thankfully I found a good therapist. But I didn't seek her out until I was months into going it alone with Kid O. Family and friends and one neighbor apologized, admitting they didn't realize how difficult Kid O was. But that was could comfort at the time when I was going through the worst of it.

Kid O was too tiny and I was too top heavy. I couldn't breastfeed her. I needed both hands to lift a breast, and no one who could help me with the mechanics of it. I hurled the book, Womanly Art of Breastfeeding against a wall. Even now when women speak about the endorphins, I feel hostility rise in me. The smug, self-righteous slogan, "breast is best," leaves me wanting to scream, "I tried it, OK? Now get off my back." We still have the rocking chair I was going to nurse her in. I pumped for three months. I felt I owed Kid O that much. Kid O was a preemie and I couldn't keep up with her demand. Nothing made me feel more like a failure as a mother.

Any romantic notions of motherhood I had went out the window. Not only couldn't I provide Kid O with nourishment from my body, I couldn't seemingly do anything right. When she was two months old, she started putting her fist in her mouth. The one mother who would talk to me told me she was teething. I told that to the doctor. He found it hard to believe. But the mother down the street was right. Preemie or no, Kid O was teething. And she was miserable. Possibly it was her disorganized nervous system or possibly it would have been that way, anyway, but meant for a lot of long nights. Kid O would scream bloody murder whenever I would try to put her back in her crib. I felt self-conscious about it. The neighbors were probably awakened by the screaming and that is probably why they called the police. Their sleep was only interrupted for twenty minutes. Mine was interrupted for several hours.

There was a pamphlet about cerebral palsy they had given me as part of a packet they probably give all mothers with preemies. One of those what to look for things. But no pamphlet or pediatrician could explain to me why this baby cried every time she had a bowel movement. When I switched pediatricians, even she couldn't tell me. But knowing it was CP finally caused it to make sense. Kid O had very little in the way of abdominal muscles needed to have a dump without pain. It's really a common sensical explanation, if you think about it. So why didn't the pediatricians? And why didn't anyone recommend a diet that would have been easier for her to process?

No one had answers for me. There was no one who could whisper reassuringly, "it'll get better." Intellectually I am sure I expected as much, but in the throes of it, things felt hopeless. I needed answers. Why me? Had somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something bad? Really, really, really bad? Why her? Kid O was an innocent, was she not? What fine print on what contract? I spoke to God, and was met with a deafening and a seemingly indifferent silence. My therapist said that God was big enough to take my anger. After a while I stopped talking to God. I decided this had to be entirely random because no God would cause such a thing to purposefully happen. As what? A form of punishment? It's then I decided that God had left the building and left no forwarding address. This was just between me and the universe, and the universe simply doesn't care. The universe is random, and events that happen are random, too. Someone could answer that I somehow missed the point about God, but I figure that is as good an answer to why me and why her as I am going to get. When I stopped trying to receive answers, a lot off my pain went away. It just was. Life was unfair, and that was that.

I remember consciously thinking that I had to recover my sense of humor in order to somehow get past this overwhelming grief and depression and frustration. At the very least Kid O deserved a mother who could laugh. What mattered is that, despite me, she was seen as a joyful child. I have no idea how Kid O managed to develop her wicked sense of humor. She was and remains quite an imp. Along the way Kid O taught me to laugh again, and she taught me and continues to teach me to never give up. I have had a lot of low points over the years, and then I look at her continuing to figure out how to do simple things and I remind myself that she is the one with the disability. Not me.

I managed to overcome many emotional and psychological challenges. Other women have not been so fortunate. You read about them every day. They kill themselves. They kill their children. They don't have a support system in place. Or they don't have my emotional strength. There were times when I didn't think I was going to make it. That is why we need a village and not just lip service to the idea of a village. I don't know what the statistics are as to how many suicides are in direct correlation with post partum depression. Does it matter? What matters is that women are suffering, and so are their children. Postpartum depression is very real, and we need more support for those women who suffer from it.

We do not really give people with any level of mental illness permission to express themselves, let alone women with postpartum depression. We don't want to hear about anything negative that will place cracks in any myths we have about motherhood. Motherhood is supposed to be about women cheerfully bustling about baking cookies, taking children to the park, singing songs, and kissing skinned knees. Motherhood is supposed to be Snow White writ large, bluebirds fluttering about while dishes are being done. Motherhood is expected to be effortless. We do not want to hear about primal screams or crying jags or women resorting to drinking or pills. We do not want to hear about women with a brand new baby thinking all is hopeless. We do not want to hear about women being angry or resentful towards this tiny being they chose to bring into the world. We resent these women for showing us the downside of motherhood. How dare they wave their unhappiness in our face? And so women like me quietly suffer, and some of us slip into oblivion. We act out on our darkest fantasies because we don't have anyone who will whisper to us, "Hang in there. It'll get better."

We and our children end up as unfortunate headlines. Or worse. We are castigated by smug, self-righteous people who assume that somehow they would not have slipped into this abyss. They would have done better. I can count on one hand how many times I was asked how I was coping. We judge ourselves for our failings. We do not need to have other people compound those harsh judgments. Too many of us feel inadequate. We do not need to be handed a larger club with which to beat ourselves. We need neighbors, friends, family who will ask us if we are OK. We need kindness and compassion. We need casseroles. We need someone who can lend us an ear or a shoulder. We need people who can help us remember how to nurture ourselves. We need people who can help us laugh again. In short, we desperately need a village. Please help a mother find a village. Before it's too late.


  1. I found your post on Twitter. My son, my 3rd, is 20 months old. My PPD started when I went back to work and had to leave him. I got on meds, got better over time and weaned off eventually. Well, 6 months after that I am relapsing. HARD. Back on meds but the feelings are stronger then ever. I've reached out for help and the reply I'm getting is less then satisfactory. I'm here if you want to get something off your mind. My head is full of my own thoughts, I wouldn't mind shutting them up for a bit to listen to you. I'm blogging about my relapse. The writing helps.

  2. Hang in there, Pamela.

    I found that talk therapy helped me a lot. I also discovered that creative outlets like writing also helped. I also have learned that gardening also helps. So does walking. Or other things that allow me to take time for myself. Anything that stills the hamster wheel is good. When I am busy I will all of a sudden stop and think, huh, I haven't thought about X in a while. And then I feel stronger. I also use meditation and music. Things like yoga also help.

    I don't need to talk, really. I need to be able to reach out and see that women like you receive what you need.

    I have two friends I can call 24/7. My one friend will always ask me if I have had enough water to drink. Oddly enough that helps.

    I would encourage you to find something that helps. Meds help some women, but not everyone. One of the problems is that we do not allow for talk in this society, and that is why I would encourage anyone, men or women, to pursue talk therapy.

    I wish you peace. You are not alone, even if you feel that way.