“The time of danger, what needs to be survived, comes at different times for mothers. For me, it came early — during my [child]’s infancy.”
After posting my “playing my music” essay containing an exploration of my postpartum feelings after the birth of my first son, I went back and forth about continuing to explore the subject. I’ve written about it a lot, but the feelings are scattered throughout a variety of locations—including partially written articles and also blog posts from my first, no-longer-updated blog. I actually wrote this post last year, immediately after my part 1 post, and then ended up not sharing it, but moving straight on to Postpartum Feelings, Part 3 instead.
Anyway, I wanted to briefly address the weird/intrusive thoughts that I experienced postpartum with both of my boys. I think one of the reasons I have trouble broaching this topic on this blog is that to look back at my thoughts and feelings is to begin to acknowledge to myself that I very likely experienced a postpartum mood disorder, even though I—perhaps purposefully—did not identify it as such at the time. With my first, I had a recurrent image of the bookshelf in my computer room at the time falling over and squashing me. I also had the sense that the baby was trying to “squash” me—as in stamp out my life spark (actually, who am I kidding, life with kids still makes me feel like this is their goal sometimes! ;-D) and the best way I could come up with to describe my feelings at the end of a long day was that I had been chewed up and had my bones spit out. This is a pretty intense description that some people might feel is ridiculous or over-the-top, but is the way I would have described it.
When my second son was a baby, I planned much better for postpartum and experienced a fairly pleasant babymoon at home with him. I felt like in general, mothering him was easier than mothering my first and as he grew, I frequently would say (and feel) that having a second child was the best thing I’d ever done. Despite those feelings, I had a recurrent image that would pop into my mind unbidden of falling backwards through a grate, my body dissolving into water as I fell and dripping through the grate and the skin of my face remaining a “mask” on the grate, eventually also dissolving/dripping through. I also had a weird, recurrent sensation that my shin bones were fragile somehow and I would imagine them snapping.
So, after typing this out I officially felt mentally ill, and that is why it hasn’t been posted until now.
With my second son, I described my mood to my husband in this way: There is a current that underlies all of my emotions. I feel like I can “dip” into this current and test out how it feels, beneath the mood that I present outwardly or how I feel on the surface. My current lately is always sad—even when I am happy and feeling/acting happy, if I take the time to “dip” beneath, what I feel is sad. I used to actually chart the feelings on my calendar, with a little notation for the surface feeling and a different notation for the current. I tried to explain to him that I did not feel like I had a neutral point and that I would like to feel “even.” However, I also acknowledged that if to feel “even” or neutral as my “current” would mean trading in all peaks of emotion, rather exuberant or despondent, I’d rather have the ups and downs. During this time I looked up various mood disorders, thinking that I might possible qualify as having cyclothymia.
Then, one day, when my second son was perhaps a year or so old, I had an interesting experience at Wal-Mart with a very friendly and cheerful checker. She chatted along with us and was just very nice and pleasant to be around. That night I had a vivid dream that this checker was actually an angel and that she had come to “heal” my feelings. When I woke up that morning, I had very dramatic sensation and announcement of sorts in my head, “you are not depressed anymore” and indeed, when I dipped into the current it had become a wellspring of joy, rather than sadness. Since this time, my “current” has never again shifted back to sad. While I definitely have sad or “down” moods or get distressed about things, I now feel like it is only that surface emotion that is being buffeted, but that what waits underneath is always doing all right. Perhaps you have to know me in real life to understand how strange of an experience this is for me to describe. I have never had another “angel” experience and do not connect with angel imagery. The word “angel” is not one that I use to describe anything, really, and I feel extraordinarily skeptical and uncomfortable when other people say things about having guardian angels. I suppose if I did have PPD, it could be looked upon as a “hallucination” almost. However, I do not have a way to describe what happened to me without using the word. Indeed, I feel so oddly about it, that I have never actually told anyone else about this—I told my husband about the current shifting, but left out the “Wal-Mart angel” piece of the story.
Why tell it now?
As I noted, I’ve been waffling about posting this. It is close on the heels of another post that may seem woo-tastic. It makes me feel vulnerable and embarrassed. Why? Why bother sharing things that bring up these sorts of feelings? My answer was almost, just don’t, and then I read a fabulously amusing essay in the winter issue of Brain, Child magazine about a woman’s experience teaching “sexuality and the new mother” workshops at Babeland in New York City. In her postscript closing the essay, Meredith Fein Lichtenberg writes the following:
“…writing this now, years after it happened, I still felt that sharing something personal cast stark light on the Inner Vat of Chaotic Shit I Haven’t Figured Out Yet. The desire to hide that is amazingly strong; I see it in my students, and I see it in myself. But I also see that when we bend our lives’ stories into words to be shared, everything changes. Sharing stories reminds us we’re not alone with our icky mess of doubts and questions. In the light of day, frightening concerns and general weirdness become more understandable, forgivable, human.”
Reading this, I knew I wanted to share after all. And, it reminded me of another quote, this one by Carol Christ, a thealogy scholar that I love:
“When one woman puts her experiences into words, another woman who has kept silent, afraid of what others will think, can find validation. And when the second woman says aloud, ‘yes, that was my experience too,’ the first woman loses some of her fear.” –Carol Christ