never forget that night, when my son was just a few weeks old. He was in his first growth spurt, and was nursing in three-hour
bouts. All I wanted was a break, a break from sitting on the couch
nursing, a break from the neediness, some time for myself, some
time alone. Whenever I would put him down he would cry. I was completely
exhausted and tapped out.
He had fallen asleep
in the swing, and my husband was going to watch him while I relaxed
in the tub. I mixed lavender bubble-bath in the water and lit some
candles, eased back into the hot water and started to read, when
his cries pierced my carefully constructed silence. I felt my throat
tighten and my stomach turn. I felt anger, frustration -- all I
wanted was to take a quite bath! I was mad at the baby for being
so needy, mad at my husband for not being able to comfort him, and
mad at myself for being angry with a tiny, helpless human (my son,
not my husband). I tried to continue the bath in the hopes that
my husband could get him settled down again, but no luck.
I angrily toweled off
and watched the bubbles slide down the drain. The baby howled with
rage in the other room. I grabbed an empty wine glass off the counter
and flung. Glass shards spayed the bathroom floor, reflecting the
candle light in a shower of prisms. And somehow that made me feel
better. I shoveled the glass out of the way with my book, got dressed
and calmly went back out to the living room, to comfortably nurse
the baby in my ass-groove on the couch.
According to Postpartum
Support International, approximately 15 to 20 percent of women experience
depression during pregnancy. Nearly 80 percent of women experience
"baby blues" that begins during the first week after the
baby's birth. Much of this is attributed to changes in hormones
and fatigue. Between 15 and 20 percent of mothers experience postpartum
depression and/or anxiety, and 10 percent experience panic disorders.
A small percentage develop obsessive-compulsive disorder (between
3 and 5 percent), and a handful experience postpartum psychosis.
Despite this, few mothers
talk candidly about their experience with postpartum depression.
It is a subject that Marrit Ingman tackles head
on in her newly published memoir, Inconsolable: How
I Threw My Mental Health Out with the Diapers.
Some of the reviews of
Ingman's book I've read remark that it was difficult to read about
what the author was going through. She is breaking a taboo, exploding
the myth that having a new baby is all roses and happiness. It is,
but for many of us, there is also darkness and misery. The ambivalence
of having a baby is something we are taught to ignore, but we are
not "bad mothers" for feeling this way.
In the introduction,
Igman states that she wrote this book to reach out to other mothers
who are experiencing postpartum depression. Her son "Baldo"
was born two weeks after I had my son. I think of the two of us
both going through postpartum depression at the same time, and wonder
how many other mothers were out there doing the same. But new motherhood
in America is so isolating, and postpartum depression is something
mothers generally don't talk with each other about, and so we suffer alone.
As a sociologist, I have
to wonder how much of postpartum depression is related to lack of
social support. If we could, as Ingman suggests, have a ritual to
celebrate the birth of the mother, with at least a month of strong
community and support, would the numbers of us with postpartum depression
be reduced? Instead, we don't talk about it. That is, we don't talk
about it until someone cracks. When a mother kills her child. Ingman
of us who battle it and win -- or at least cope -- speak up, parental
depression will enter public discourse only when the unthinkable
happens. When a person loses her mind entirely. When reality slips
away from her and she believes that, as surely as these words
are printed on a page, something evil has possessed her family
and must be banished with extreme measures. When she becomes psychotic.
We need to be able to
reach out to each other. If you are in the middle of PPD, please
talk to someone. If you aren't, when you are talking with a mother,
ask her how she's doing. You never know, that woman who is confidently
nursing her newborn third child may be on the edge -- PPD is not
just for first time moms. The best thing anyone ever said to me
in the midst of my PPD was that I was doing a great job, even though
I felt like a failure.
For many women, becoming
a mother challenges them to re-examine their identity, and in some
cases, to recreate that identity. While a major focus of this book
is PPD, Ingman also explores her sense of self, of identity, as
a mother. The sappy baby commercials tell us that having a baby
changes everything, and in some real sense this is true for many
of us. Having a baby may be exactly how you imagined it. It may
be nothing like you imagined it. Either way, you are changed. You
are a mother. And for some of us, that transition may be rough.
: december 2005