“It is possible to find your way through the darkness and emerge stronger.” —Mothering Through the Darkness
As a writer, one of the best feelings in the world is supporting your writing friends. After all, we tend to live vicariously through each one of their writing successes. And feelings are heightened when you finally read someone’s work and see that the finished product is wonderful and inspiring. You want to brag about it all over the place. And so I’m going to do just that.
Having babies should be some of the happiest moments in our lives. Yet is isn’t that way for every new mom. In Mothering Through the Darkness, thirty-some women share honest, sometimes lonely, heartbreaking, accounts of their postpartum experiences. According to the editors Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger, “Approximately 1 in 7 women suffer from postpartum depression after having a baby. Many more may experience depression during pregnancy, postpartum anxiety, OCD, and other mood disorders.”
My friend, Kristi Campbell of Finding Ninee*, didn’t initially plan to contribute to this anthology. In her essay, “His Baby Watermelon Head,” she wrote: A blend of intentions, life mishaps, and other priorities meant I didn’t have my first and only baby until I was forty years old.
Once she learned she was pregnant, Kristi had trouble believing the pregnancy would actually “stick.” But when her son came into this world, she fell completely in love.
“And Tucker was easy to love,” she told me. “I didn’t think my postpartum experience was a terribly bad one. My son napped when I napped,” she said. “He wasn’t a crier. He was a happy baby.” But the more Kristi thought about this project, the more she realized she’d suffered from persistent anxiety during the early years of her little boy’s life. At the time, she chalked it up to hormones, giving up her career, and “being entrusted to this teeny tiny human.”
In Kristi’s story, she wrote:
Nobody told me that I’d picture my perfect little newborn’s head going “splat!,” bright red and broken, like a dropped watermelon on my hardwood floors. That I’d picture his broken head, every single time I carried him.
Like many of the other mothers in this anthology, Kristi questioned her parenting choices, assumed she was doing everything wrong, that she didn’t deserve such a perfect gift. She wanted to protect Tucker from everything and imagined all sorts of horrors that might prematurely whisk her son from her arms.
At the end of Kristi’s essay, she admits that she still doesn’t know if her symptoms were linked to postpartum depression.
But I wish that I’d asked. That I’d reached out. That I’d gotten help. I wished I’d found a way to not wake up breathless with worry about the splat of a tiny watermelon head.
I asked Kristi about her favorite stories in Mothering Through the Darkness. She admitted that it was difficult to single out any one author, but finally shared that Allie Smith’s** essay, “My Longest Winter,” had especially moved her. Allie’s twin boys were born weeks early and although she was released from the hospital, her infants had to stay in NICU. When she was finally able to bring them home, Allie didn’t immediately bond with them.
Kristi shared with me:
I have met Allie in person, and she’s such a bubbly, energetic, sweet woman. Knowing that she experienced such detachment and sorrow when her twins were tiny reinforced the message that depression and anxiety can affect any of us. I was also touched by the fact that she didn’t realize that she was depressed until four years later, when her daughter was born and it was such a different experience.
“I think that’s one of the important messages throughout the book,” Kristi said. “That it can happen to any of us, and that our brains will try to trick us into not realizing what’s going on.”
For me, it has been many years since my children were babies, but I was captivated by these stories. Each one needed to be told. As a community, as human beings, we need to talk about postpartum depression. Thanks to all the woman who were brave enough to share. No mother should feel alone after giving birth. And now we know. You are not alone.
*Kristi Campbell writes a blog about raising a son who is not typical but doesn’t have an official diagnosis. Check her out at Finding Ninee. And if you would like to order this anthology, click on the below link.
**Allie Smith writes a blog about Parenting, Autism, Books, and Travel. Check her out at The Latchkey Mom.