Baby Blues is a column about raising my daughter in the windstorm of postpartum depression. Though discussing the dark spots of postpartum depression, I also share my successes.
I’m having a hard time letting go of what happened that day at the mall, when I hesitantly told my parents that I have PPD.
I explained how depression was hindering my ability to really enjoy my daughter. I didn’t ever get a break from her (at this point, I was a SAHM most of the time, and my husband worked 60 hours a week). No one else, including my parents, was willing or available to watch baby regularly so I could get some alone time. It was killing me.
After a few words of sympathy from my dad, my mom’s response was simply, “Just remember, I stayed at home with you girls for your whole childhood, and we didn’t have help from any friends or family. I did it all on my own.”
Conversation shut down.
Even if I’d wanted to, there’s no way I could have opened up further. Fine, you win, you did it all by yourself. Maybe you suffered more than I did, and I just don’t realize how great I have it. Maybe I’m being a pansy for letting all of this get to me. Or maybe being a SAHM came naturally to you, and you’re wondering why I didn’t inherit the gene. I’m a woman, right? Am I not supposed to just ooze maternal aptitude?
Postpartum depression is foreign to my parents, especially my mom, who had always longed for a baby and finally succeeded in getting pregnant with me after eight years of infertility issues. I’m sure she can’t even fathom why having a baby—such an incredible bundle of joy— would trigger a mood disorder. But if I could somehow remove the stigma of depression from society (right, let’s just take care of that real quick) and get my mom to do some real soul-searching, I think she might admit that she actually suffered from depression, herself.
I remember her mentioning that while my sister and I were at school and my dad at work, she’d sometimes just cry for no reason. She used cooking, baking, and eating for comfort and became so intense about her cleaning routine that she developed some level of OCD about it. She had all sorts of little hobbies and side projects to keep herself busy, and because we moved frequently, she never really established a regular circle of friends.
It seems to me that this kind of isolated life would be unsettling to even the most stable of individuals. And I do believe that in many ways, she’s worlds more stable than I am. But come on. She wouldn’t be so defensive about her decision to be a SAHM if it truly was so fulfilling.
It makes me angry that she obtained a Bachelor’s degree in English and had ambitions to teach or be a professional actress—yet because of the way she was raised, gave all that up when she got married.
She quit her job to become a housewife several years before having me. What did she do all day? I know her too well to assume she was happy just cleaning and cross-stitching. I know how smart and witty and creative she was. It actually makes me mad to think of her traditional parents and my traditional dad expecting her and pushing her to lead a quiet life when her personality was all energy and splendor.
Would she have done things differently if she hadn’t had roles imposed on her?
I know it’s not my place to rewrite her life or to assume she would have been better off if she’d done things differently. But like many women, I sometimes see my mirror image when I look at my mother. All of these facets of me, my depression, the pressure I put on myself, my drive to have a public life and an income must come from somewhere. I am not an exact replica of my mother, but I can’t help but feel like she has answers and if we could just communicate better I could unlock them. I don’t need her to “fess up” that she had depression, but seriously, why can’t she drop the façade and the martyr face for a second and tell me what it was REALLY like, raising us all alone?
Why can’t she tell me what she would’ve done differently? What she longed for, who she envied? Why can’t she tell me about disagreements she had with her own parents—am I really to believe she agreed with all of their views? She agrees with them now, but I think that’s really just some kind of senior citizen solidarity. I have a really hard time believing she’s always been the compliant little daughter.
But if she has, I want to know about that, too, and I want to understand that.
Because only when she comes clean about these things will I be able to fully express the scope of what I’m going through. Right now, it does me no good to vent to them. Right now, I’m way too guarded and self-conscious to be honest. So my interactions with my parents become false, because I’d rather avoid confrontation. I’d rather not drag our differences out into the daylight—it’s much easier to pretend we agree and carry on with the fluff. If I express any sort of doubt about, say, my decision to put baby in daycare so I can work again and save my sanity, I’m offering them a platform to spout their disapproval of working mothers.
So I draw back, I keep this all inside.
When I became a parent, I was ready to open my heart to a new connection with my own parents. I expected my relationship with them to deepen now that we had something new and precious in common. And my heart was especially warmed toward my mother.
“So this is how momma feels about me,” I kept thinking as I looked at my newborn daughter. But though love is universal, it is obvious that no two mothers have the same experiences. So as much as it hurts, I’m realizing that my new role as mother can be just as divisive as it is connective.
(photo: Inger Anne Hulbækdal / Shutterstock)