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Guest Posts, postpartum depression

What Wraps Itself Around

November 5, 2023

A rare moment of solitude: the baby is napping, the oldest child is at school, the four-year-old is watching cartoons. You turn the water up as hot as you can and step into the shower. Close your eyes and lean your head back. Let the steady stream pummel into the thick layer of your anxiety. A layer so thick it feels like a crust.

You are lathering up when the bathroom door is swung open. In his tinny voice, your son announces that he needs to go potty.

“So go,” you bark, resentful of the intrusion. A few moments later, he whines, “Pull up my pants, Mama, pull up my pants, Ma-MA!”

You breathe in the steam, your mouth stretched tight while you try to ignore his insistent demands, as well as the small voice in your head reminding you that you always pull up his pants whenever he asks.

I don’t care, you say to the voice. He knows how to do it, and is one uninterrupted shower too fucking much to ask for?

His whining increases in volume and urgency.

Just pull up his pants, the voice says. It’ll take all of two seconds and then he’ll go back to watching TV. What’s your problem?

Immediately you bristle. Your problem? What is your problem?

This. Everything. All of it.

Especially that hard something lodged in your chest that is making you feel like you do. Unable to stop the anger as the whining voice of your child whom you love beyond words pierces you, drills into you, leaving a dark hole inside.

“Mamaaaaaa, pull up my paaaaaaaaants!”

The small voice in your head is stunned into silence as out of the hole something ugly erupts, and you thrust the shower curtain aside and stomp out of the tub, swearing, water and soap dripping all over the floor, and with your soaking wet hands you grab your son’s pants and yank them so hard you think you lift him off his feet just a little, and he cries harder but all you can do is yell that now he can go back to watching T.V.

You step back into the shower. You hear sniffling. Footsteps retreating. The drone of the bathroom fan.

In the tub you collapse and curl into yourself, and as the hot water flows over your back, you recall the fear on your son’s tear-stained face and you weep.


Was it after the shower incident that I googled the symptoms of postpartum depression? Perhaps. That spring, the days were mashed into each other like leftover Play-doh, with their endless procession of dirty dishes and laundry, school papers and diapers, the rhythmic whine of the breast pump and never enough sleep. The kids’ needs were unraveling me, pulling at the loose threads of whoever it was that I used to be. I was sucked dry. Stretched completely thin.

I’d been yelling a lot. Each time I did I felt shitty but there was something about it that felt like release, like the sensation of cigarette smoke entering lungs, acrid and burning yet somehow so satisfying. Once, I exploded at my eight-year-old son during breakfast, sounding like something straight out of The Exorcist. Seeing his wide eyes I forced myself to laugh about the whole thing, brush it off. Yes, it’s hilarious, seeing mommy lose control in this way. I should just stab myself in the eye because I don’t deserve these beautiful children. (Intrusive thoughts, as I learned, were a symptom of postpartum depression.)

This was not the mother I was supposed to be. These feelings, the yelling—none of it was anywhere in the blueprints for motherhood I’d had in my heart since childhood.

Yet there I was. Feral. A wild animal cornered.


Call your therapist, the small voice inside of me whispers. I scoff. What can she tell me that I don’t know already? That first I need to take care of myself so then I can do a better job of nurturing everyone else? I know this. I know I should go to bed early, drink more water, eat healthier foods, begin an exercise routine. I even have an elliptical machine down in the basement, bought off of Craigslist after my second pregnancy but used maybe five times, so what’s my excuse? Time? There is never enough of it. Or maybe I’m just terrible at organizing it. In the morning I want to sleep as long as I can so I’m rested at least, but if I don’t get up before the kids then forget having breakfast for at least an hour, never mind being able to take a shit on my own schedule instead of holding it in because that’s when the baby is crying and needs me.

See? Obviously you can’t figure it out. Call your therapist.

What, so she can diagnose me with postpartum depression and put me on meds? I don’t want to pump my body full of pills. I can deal on my own with whatever this is. Besides, it’s not like I can’t get out of bed. It’s not like the kids are dirty and hungry, neglected. I feed them good meals, for the most part, fruits and veggies at each, and make sure they have a consistent bedtime routine. I hug them each day and tell them I love them; we read books and play games and we laugh, even on the bad days.

And it’s not like I can’t bond with the baby or have thoughts of harming my children. (Unless you count the urge to spank my son when he’s having a tantrum and flailing his body about like he’s doing the Limbo.) Of course our children are safe with me, I assure my husband after telling him what I suspect I may be struggling with. I would never intentionally harm them. (But I do wonder what pushes some women over the edge. I’m secretly terrified that I have an edge, too.) So I’ve been extra irritable lately. So I’ve been yelling. What parent doesn’t? This is nothing, I’m fine. I just miss having fun. I miss laughing—really laughing.

So go see a comedy show. You’ve got an answer for everything, don’t you?

Maybe you should tell one of your best friends.

And I almost do. We’re on the phone, talking about husbands and children and plans to meet up for a much-needed drink, and the words are right there, in my throat—I think I might have postpartum depression—but I know if I speak them out loud I’ll burst into tears, come unglued.


That spring, my husband’s friend, with whom he’d grown up together in the same village in Poland, invited us to Chicago for his fortieth birthday. I’m not sure why it didn’t even occur to me to put my husband on a plane by himself, to tell him to go, have a good time, enjoy the weekend alone. Instead, we packed up the baby, the kids, the breast pump and diapers, the jars of baby food and the playpen; we packed up the whole minivan and from the East Coast we drove to America’s heartland.

I thought a change in routine might help me.

Only now, three years later, do I understand what I was actually doing, going along on such a trip in that precarious state: I was trying to prove, once again, to myself and the world, that I was an excellent mother. See? Look at this heroic thing I am doing, driving halfway across the country while children whine and cry in the back, climbing over the bags to thrust my breast into the baby’s mouth as the armrest digs into my ribs and the mini-van speeds down the highway.

The trip, of course, did not help my depression.


On the third or fourth day of vacation, you and your husband take the children to the Willis Tower in downtown Chicago. The wait for the elevator to the observation floor is over an hour. The four-year-old keeps running around, trying to unhook the velvet ropes keeping everyone corralled in the line. The baby, strapped onto your chest in the carrier, begins stirring, and you begin doing the mom bounce. Knees bending, hips swaying, hand on the baby’s back. Not yet, not yet, please don’t wake up just quite yet.

A thrumming begins in your hollowed out core and spreads through the rest of your body, right underneath your skin, pulsing. Time grinds to a halt. You want to scream. How did you get here? Where’s the picture-perfect family vacation which somewhere, sometime, had been promised? By whom or what you cannot say. All you know is that you feel cheated. Betrayed. The inside of your brain feels like a roiling anthill.

Later, alone in the bathroom, you lock yourself in the stall. But still you can hear them, your family out in the hall, the kids pestering your husband for more coins to put in that machine which presses your penny flat and leaves it with an imprint of the skyscraper, or maybe of the cow that purportedly started the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The arguing and yelling and crying shoots in underneath the closed bathroom door, assaulting you, drilling into you, and you lean against the stall, your shoulders heaving, tears flowing down and wetting your shirt, because you want to be somewhere else, anywhere else, you want to jump out of your very own skin and maybe even be someone else, like the type of mom who would never scream at her kids because she’d know some lame song off the top of her head which would help them behave. What if you walk out of this building and disappear into the crowd? What if you just…go? Steal quickly away?

The thought grips you, wraps itself around you, making you cry even harder.


Deep down I knew I wouldn’t actually leave my children, not then, not ever. But the very fact that I’d even allowed the thought to enter my head gutted me. Because what kind of a mother thinks such horrible thoughts?

Somehow, I pulled myself together and made it through the rest of that day, just as I’d been doing for the past several weeks. Getting through. Barely.

But what I didn’t, or couldn’t, admit to myself in that bathroom stall in Chicago was this: The thought of leaving made me cry harder partly because of how alluring it was, yet at the same time, how impossible. How utterly, achingly impossible. Like seeing a sliver of blue sky through the bars on a prison window.


On the way home from Chicago, we stay at an Airbnb on Lake Erie to break up the drive. We’ve been away from home for almost a week and our children, especially our four-year-old, are reaching their limit. Even now, first thing in the morning, as I let the door of the cottage fall closed behind me, their voices arguing over whose turn it is to pick a Netflix show chase me down the deck steps. The baby will probably be up from his nap soon, cranky because he’s teething and most likely sick of having to wake up in a new place every couple of days. I shake off the guilt and half-walk, half-run down the sidewalk. I’m sure my husband will somehow survive.

The sidewalk leads me past a few other cottages, and the bluish-gray water of Lake Erie in the distance beckons me. But as I near the beach, I hear a loud rumbling and grinding, followed by short beeps every few seconds. So much for a peaceful walk, I think, as I step onto the sand and see a Bobcat skid steer backing up and then noisily plowing ahead, its claw picking up large pieces of driftwood in what appears to be an effort to clean up the beach of debris. (Either that, or someone is planning some pretty big bonfires tonight.) I stop in my tracks, and my first thought is that my four-year-old would absolutely love to see this.

My spunky, wild middle child, who is obsessed with construction vehicles. Who sleeps in excavator pajamas and loader bed sheets, and drinks his morning milk from a mug with pictures of dump trucks and skid steers and backhoes. (Yes, I too know all the names now.) Who plays with his collection of tiny yellow machines in the sandbox, the bathtub, the grass, who exclaims and with eyes shining points through the car window whenever he spots any kind of construction vehicle out on the road.

I really should run back to the cottage to get him. This, for him, would be better than Christmas and Halloween and Easter combined.

But then I think back to our attempt to take a family walk on the beach the previous evening: my son digging like a dog and getting sand all over us, throwing rocks every which way, running around and constantly getting too close to the edge of the pier. To be fair, he had just spent eight hours in the car. But knowing that didn’t make it any easier.

I’m sure he’ll have plenty of opportunities to see a Bobcat in action. This is my morning. And god knows how much I need it.

I take two steps forward. Just then, the claw of the Bobcat picks up more wood and starts beeping as it backs up again, heaving its haul onto one of the piles. Without a second thought, I turn on my heel and rush back to the cottage. Screw it.

I burst in the front door, grinning widely.

“Sweetheart, come look! There’s a Bobcat on the beach!”

His whole face lights up and he jumps off the couch, abandoning the Netflix show he’d been dying to watch just five minutes ago.

We walk down to the beach hand in hand. As soon as the Bobcat comes into view, my son freezes, completely in awe. I crouch down next to him and gaze at his small face, his beautiful face, and I take several deep breaths, drinking him in—the way his eyes sparkle and his nose crinkles, his little white teeth peeking through his smile, his sandy brown hair tousled and falling into his eyes, and everything else slips away for a short while—memories of the tantrums and whining, his neediness, my anger. I’m here in this moment with my child. And seeing his pure, unfiltered excitement, his childish delight, does not feel like a compromise. It does not feel like putting my needs last once again. This, for me, feels like a gift.

The two of us spend the whole hour on the beach together, watching the Bobcat at first but then playing, exploring. A twisted piece of driftwood becomes my son’s excavator, of course, and I sit on some concrete steps and watch him playing, smiling at his creativity. We skip stones and find shells, we chase each other by the water’s edge, we discover a fort someone else built with the driftwood.


Not long after we returned from Chicago, I made an appointment to get a prescription for anti-depressants. I ended up not taking them, although in retrospect, I know I probably should have. Back then, though, you see, I was still tethered to the idea of perfection. Deep down, I ached to be the heroic mother, the myth, the legend, the one who could prove that you could indeed do it all. Figuring things out on my own and pulling myself up by the bootstraps was part of the trap of that myth.

Seven months later, the onset of the pandemic would strip me of whatever notions I may still have possessed that such a thing was feasible, or healthy, or even desirable. And of course, the pandemic would exacerbate the struggles of mothering three little humans, especially since it hit just when I felt like I was finally climbing out of the clutches of that postpartum depression. Fantasies about leaving would flit through my mind every so often—this time no longer so shocking. Because by that point, I knew they were simply a part of the landscape of motherhood.


On that spring morning, as we walked from the beach back to the cottage, my son’s little hand snuggled in mine, I found myself fully present for the first time in weeks. Later that day, challenging moments would come, I knew; I’d get angry again, yell, want to vanish. But right then, my frayed soul felt completely, utterly soothed. The time we’d spent together had been a balm.

And I realized how much I needed those kinds of moments, too. In that space which had become so hard to navigate during that difficult spring, that space of yelling and crying and my own guilt and fear, this was exactly what I needed: a small moment of joy with my child. I knew I needed to laugh more often with my kids, find ways to enjoy being with them, not to prove anything to anyone, but simply for my own sake. For theirs.

And so as we walked back to the cottage, both of us happy, content, I decided I would try to catch these small moments of quiet joy from now on, moments in which I’d learn to forgive myself. I would learn to sink into those moments, wrap them around me like a warm, weighted blanket—even if just for a bit.

Magda Bartkowska was born in Gdańsk, Poland and raised in western Massachusetts. Her writing has been published in Barnstorm Journal and The Tishman Review, among others, and most recently, one of her essays shortlisted in the Sonora Review Rage Essay Contest. Currently, she is working on a coming-of-age novel exploring how identity is pieced together at the intersection of immigration and girlhood, in a world that attempts to tame the wild out of girls. You can find Magda on Twitter @MagdaBart8 and at


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Guest Posts, postpartum depression

Prescriptions and Postpartum: When It’s Easier to Medicate Than Listen

December 22, 2020

By Amanda Aardse

“You still there, hon?”

The walls are the colour of the inside of my skull, bland and jumbled, fuzzy thoughts tied in knots. I hate waiting rooms. My palms are all sorts of wet and I can’t sort myself out. It took two whole days to work myself up to the phone call, and the receptionist was on the other line, sounding bored.

“Yeah, I’m here, um, is there someone else I could see? I just need a referral to a psychologist.”

The words drench me in shame.

I gave birth three months ago. Motherhood. That should at least earn me just an inch of kindness, but so far all I find I get is reproach. You wanted this.

Everyone thinks I wanted this. That I spent my early morning hours for one long year being poked and prodded intimately by nurses who would yawn behind their gloved hands, sip their coffee during the internal ultrasound. That I pumped my body full of hormones it lacked, that I cried over an empty womb month after month for this.

No, I did not want this. I thought motherhood would make me feel fulfilled, beautiful, so in love I couldn’t stand it. This just makes me feel achingly alone from everything and everyone, even my former self, whoever she was.

I’m just Mom now.

“Well you really should see your doctor. She’s on holiday for the next two weeks, did you want to make an appointment for then?”

I picture her in the sun and sand, enjoying her two beautiful children while I have not taken a shower in three days, while my heart jitters with too much anxiety and caffeine. My eyes well with tears.

“Is there anyone else I can talk to?” I whisper and feel the eye roll on the other end of the line.


The nurse calls my name and I scatteredly grab my things. I’ve been staring at the magazine table rehearsing my lines – you need to do this, to advocate for your own health when others won’t.

The desire to be seen as more than just Mom is overwhelming.

She lets me into the doctor’s room. I’m explained this isn’t my regular doctor, he’s just taking her emergency patients. Am I an emergency? I wonder. What did the receptionist say about my teary phone call?

Well, that’s just having a baby, the receptionist informs me. A gatekeeper who mocks me. I use google instead, get confused by conflicting advice, and cry on the floor of his nursery while he joins me in wailing harmonies.

I sit on the chair beside the desk. I refuse to sit on the weird papered examining table like a patient. I came to get a referral. That’s all. A name and I’m out.

He enters the room and introduces himself, not smiling, barely making eye contact. I smile too widely to show I’m a happy, loving mother, that there’s nothing wrong. That is what everyone tells me they need to see. That, if I’m struggling, I must hate motherhood, must just not be good at it. I want so desperately to be good at it.

He begins to open fire. I am reduced to five questions, taken apart piece by piece and examined. Unfitting. Ill equipped. I feel mechanical, unhuman.

How often do you sleep? Well, not often, but I have a newborn, nervous chuckle.

Do you engage in my regular hobbies? If I could find the time or energy, I spiral, scrabble

Are you having regular intercourse with your husband? I –  I pick at the skin of my nail until it bleeds.

“How would you say you feel?” He turns to look at me at last. I heave a sigh of relief and decide for honesty.

“So incredibly tired. Some mornings I don’t want to get out of bed. I vomit before I’m able to accomplish anything. I love him so much, but he won’t stop crying, I just feel like I’m losing bits of myself…” I trail off and begin to dissolve.

He hands me a tissue and turns back to his computer, begins talking about prescriptions. How I’ll feel worse in the beginning, but it’s the right choice. I want to open my mouth, I just want someone to talk to, to ask if I get a choice, but I’ve withered.

Do you want to harm your child?

Amanda Marie Aardse lives in Waterloo, Ontario with her husband, toddler, and pleasantly round cat, where she is the third generation in her family’s custom woodworking business. She has spent her days riddled with nail biting anxiety and has nothing but a beautiful life to show for it.

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Guest Posts, postpartum depression

A Mother’s First Check-Up

October 27, 2020

By Christina Baquero Dudley

In a review of the facts surrounding my entry into motherhood, all of the signs for depression are waving furiously at me. I look at that 25 year old woman and want to hold her tightly, ask her to tweak this here, turn this there. Ask for more time off, give up the breastfeeding on day one, lose the expectations. But she lives inside of me, and has brought me here. So the facts remain.

My first child was not an easy baby. He wasn’t a difficult baby either, and could generally be soothed by my husband or another family member. I had him on a Friday and my husband returned to work the very next Tuesday. He was a very poor sleeper and had terrible gas. His first 4+ hour stretch of sleep occurred around 8 months old. By then I had been back to work for 6 months, a blur of existence that I don’t even recall today.

In the early days my son and I did not bond. I would often look at him, just the two of us at 3 in the morning and resent how he cried. I sometimes wondered what it would be like if I never had a child at all. Late night feedings and the looming end of my maternity leave would create panic. I couldn’t sleep when the baby slept like all the books said. I hated holding him. Every time I finally settled him down to nap I immediately wished he would sleep forever. When he awoke, I hated the sound of his cry. A cold chill would race up my spine and raise the hairs on the back of my neck. I’d become stiff and resentful, counting down the minutes until he would sleep again.

Compounding the issue of my growing resentment for his existence, was the increasing disdain I had for my breasts. I felt completely tethered to this child and never once looked into his eyes while feeding. I never experienced a connection with him while breastfeeding. Dealing with overproduction issues, a condition that a modern woman should never complain about, meant that I was constantly wet, engorged, or filling up. Physical comfort was rarely available. And it was all because of this being I so desperately wanted but unexpectedly despised.

If I sound like a terrible mother, I assure you that I believed I was one too. The moment these “dirty” thoughts entered my mind I immediately snatched them back up and turned them inward. Everyone seemed to love my son, especially my husband. He had no problem soothing him and even made it a point to tell me so. It didn’t take long before I realized there wasn’t something wrong with this baby, but there was certainly something wrong with me.

I was a bad mother. A bad person – no, a horrible person. I was undeserving, unworthy, ungrateful, unloving. At my 6 week check up with my OBGYN, I worked up the courage to explain to him that breastfeeding was not going well, I was not okay mentally, and I would like a permanent form of birth control so that I would never have this experience again. He didn’t say much. He just looked at me as tears rolled down my face, scribbled some words on a prescription pad, and called in the nurse. He said that she could talk to me about what I was going through. In the two minutes it took for her to enter the exam room, I sucked every tear back into my body. When she approached, she put a gentle hand on my shoulder, and rather than asking her for help I asked if I could have the piece of paper he left. She handed it to me, I glanced down, making out the word Zoloft. I shoved it into my diaper bag and darted out of the room, never telling her what I told him.

In fact. it would be 2 years before I told another person about what I was feeling.

This pain.

This hurt.

This postpartum experience.

Christina Baquero Dudley is a writer of poems and narrative essays exploring the American feminist perspective as the daughter of an immigrant. She earned her BA in Psychology from UT Austin and has worked in public mental health organizations serving adults with severe and persistent mental illness. These experiences inform her writing and her heart. Christina is a contributor to A Room of Our Own Foundation and has been published in Matilda Butler’s award winning anthology TALES OF OUR LIVES – Fork in the Road. She is currently working on her first book, a poetry collection exploring her heritage, femininity, and personal awakening.

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Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, postpartum depression

Postpartum: An Inventory

April 27, 2018

By Laura Dorwart

I have taken the postpartum depression inventory a total of five times: one time honestly, the other four times lying to varying degrees. (I had good intentions, I promise).

Louis-Victor Marce is often described as the first clinician to write openly about postpartum depression and other mental health conditions. His 1858 “Treatise on Insanity in Pregnant, Postpartum, and Lactating Women” has been widely cited as the “first” depiction of pregnancy-related mood disorders and anxiety before his monograph went largely untouched for 100 years (except, sometimes, to justify the involuntary confinement of recently pregnant women), prior to the reopening of a dialogue about postpartum depression in the 1950s when the field of psychiatry took hold in the United States. His wasn’t, of course, the actual first documented mention of postpartum mental health issues—a female physician, Trotula of Salerno, wrote in the 11th century that if the womb was too moist, the brain could become filled with water and cause women to cry involuntarily and excessively, perhaps referring to conditions leading to an excess of amniotic fluid—but it was the first extensive one in Western, conventionally documented, male-dominated medical history.

He seems like he was kind of a dick, but that appears to have been a requirement for early psychiatrists and psychoanalysts, especially 19th– and early 20th-century ones (many far worse than the most obvious Sigmund “Literally Everyone Wants to Fuck Me So Badly It Makes Them Neurotic” Freud). Besides, the fact that his writings about fairly inarguable realities—“hey, so, women undergo huge hormonal shifts during and after pregnancy and also quite possibly the most physically painful and exhausting experience possible right before their entire lives change permanently and maybe that can be traumatic?”—were used as excuses to get all Yellow Wallpaper on a host of middle-class women and to institutionalize lower-class ones can’t be blamed solely on him, really.

Regardless, Marce started the clinical dialogue that eventually led to the development of the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, now used as the primary diagnostic tool in determining whether a woman has or is at risk of developing postpartum depression.

The test, which alternately starts with one of two fairly sinister statements (either “as you are pregnant or have recently had a baby, we would like to know how you are feeling” or “postpartum depression is the most common complication of childbearing”), requires you to respond as to whether a series of ten statements apply to you in the past seven days (always bolded) with one of five answers. The answers seem awkward and vague if you analyze them too carefully—“not as much as usual,” “about as much as before,” and such—but the test has been proven to be clinically significant for years. Women considered “at risk” of developing postpartum depression are given the screening regularly throughout pregnancy and usually twice postpartum, once after delivery and again after four weeks, when the risk of developing postpartum depression or psychosis lowers significantly. I am “at risk.”

I have been able to laugh and see the funny side of things.

The day I went into labor, my husband Jason and I were in Whole Foods desperately buying castor oil; one of the midwives at UC San Diego had suggested it to induce labor naturally. She had a voice like a meditation track and disarmingly perfect cheekbones, so I was lulled into a false sense of trust before I saw the warning label on the castor oil—“not to be consumed.” A beleaguered Whole Foods employee told us frankly, “No, it’s safe to eat, you’ll just have the runs really bad.” “Sure you want to do this?” Jason frowned at the bottle. I wasn’t, but I was big as a house. Jason is a quadriplegic; his service dog had started to have to help both of us pick up our underwear because nobody in our household could bend over properly. I was ready.

Luckily, we didn’t need it. We went home and I promptly started contractions that sped up to every four minutes. Jason read children’s books aloud to me, part of his job description as my personal anxiety coach. My water broke, a pop and a hiss, right around midnight, while he was reading to me about Rosalie the fairy helping Jack Frost get a makeover that seemed at the time to be gesturing at gender-affirming surgery. He wanted long hair and he needed fairies to give it to him, but they wouldn’t, presumably because of fairy codes that I think represented health insurance issues.

Jason stuffed towels under me in the front seat and a heavy overnight pad into my underwear. I started shaking and I didn’t stop for the next 30 hours.

In triage, they announced I’d need an IV. I was GBS-positive, which meant I could pass infection-causing bacteria along to my baby (a girl, presumably eight pounds according to the latest ultrasounds) if I didn’t get several doses of antibiotics. The first nurse was impossibly blonde-pretty, like a contestant on The Bachelor. I didn’t trust her; she lacked grit. I like my nurses slightly mean. She jammed around inside my veins for a while while making soft little “hmm” sounds for a while, usually right around my contractions. I tried to have polite contractions, smiling shakily at her whenever she made one of those high-pitched “hmms.” I have heard those before. that meant “I am never, ever getting this IV into you and I will have to call someone else.”

She did. And that one had to call another. “Your veins are tiny,” they said, one after another, always scoldingly as if I’d made them myself. When my arms failed, they tried one of my hands. “Is this what junkies go through?” I joked weakly (and problematically) through a contraction. No one laughed.

All told, I was not getting an IV put in for nearly four hours; near the end, during one particularly painful (and still unsuccessful) poke, I finally let out a scream that brought all the midwives on call in to look at me pityingly. When the three nurses finally left, muttering about calling anesthesiology, Jason (who had been squeezing my non-abused hand the whole time) decided to entertain me with an ironic sexist joke about how if the anesthesiologist was male, he could finally get something done around here. I laughed wryly and told him I hated him.

The anesthesiologist showed up four hours into my labor. He was, indeed, male. “You have great veins,” he said, sliding the needle in with aplomb, the slight slice tingly-pleasant like acupuncture. Jason and I looked at each other and grinned sideways. A punchline.

I have felt sad or miserable.

“This is Laura Dorwart, 28. She is six days postpartum and had a vaginal full term delivery of her first baby. She has a medical history of depression and chronic PTSD,” the nurse read, monotone, to her replacement, as my parents watched. My mother’s eyes flew open and her lips pursed in disapproval, I thought—or maybe it was all in my head. The nurse didn’t notice. I laid back in my gown and closed my eyes, feigning exhaustion.

Three days after our daughter was born, with Jason asleep on the table, I tried to make myself hate her, or to become so obsessed with her that she could transform into an object of sadism, masochism, something. I hadn’t felt any guilt when others picked her up or any resentment when she was handed back to me. I didn’t feel like a worthless mother. I looked into her eyes and snuggled her baby-skin. I weighed the burden of her. It was baby-sized. Not the weight of the world.

I began to realize on the fourth day postpartum that I was perhaps hoping for a crisis. Catastrophes wipe things away, don’t they? They start things new, they erase what was. They break and then you’re forced to rebuild.

Plus, I figured with my prior reactions to the mundane, a real catastrophe could do me some good. Some guy breaking up with me when I was 17 caused me to seriously consider dropping out of school. I seriously considered leaving town rather than going into work late once. I had five lemon vodka shots and threw up in a cab after a frat party in college and slept on the tile floor of my dorm room in despair. I still obsess over my breakup five years ago from a girl I knew for a total of eight months; in my mind, it’s sometimes reached Tristan and Isolde levels of tragedy.

Then there are the real crises: The day after I was raped by my then-girlfriend, I went in to work on time and copy edited a fifty-page curriculum booklet. I went to lunch and a meeting. I had chicken wings. I did not cry.

The night that my best friend died, I played a game on the computer that required me to digitally bob for apples. I felt like a sociopath for experiencing satisfaction at hearing the crisp sound bytes of capturing the pixelated apples one by one. Crisis, I remembered, does nothing for me.

Still, I tried to create one. I stared at my baby and attempted to muster some kind of resentment, some kind of foreboding warning sign of synapses misfiring in my brain and causing me to detach. No dice; sometimes I felt an overwhelming love, sometimes the lighter affection I feel for all babies, and on the negative end, nothing but mild annoyance in my most sleep deprived states.

I had wondered, alternatively, if I would feel grief and loss. Some women describe feeling empty after their babies are born, their wombs like voids aching for the return of togetherness, their tiny soulmates now skin-separate. Not me. I felt intact. I was intact. Heavy as I always ways, just thirty pounds lighter. Filled to the brim with the same longing as before, no different. It’s been four weeks. There was no crisis, no catastrophe. I did not break.

I can’t say I’m not disappointed.

The thought of harming myself has occurred to me.

Never check yes on this one.

Never let them see you sweat.

I have been so unhappy that I have had trouble sleeping.

I checked my medical records after all was said and done. For me, nothing I didn’t already know: For Ruth, her medical conditions: a CPAM—congenital pulmonary airway malformation—that we’d known about since the beginning. A benign cyst hiding in her lung. Meconium. And: “Child of depressed mother.” Born of a sad woman: A preexisting condition. A diagnosis in and of itself.

It stuns me, hits me hard in the chest, a clenched fist like a heart attack—just a slower squeeze. I show Jason, and he doesn’t get it, not really. “What are they afraid of?” he asks, though he knows. Postpartum depression makes everybody angry, even Tom Cruise, who took up quality potential Scientology-pushing time to rant about Brooke Shields’ baby blues.

Some people baptize their babies. I’m an atheist on my best days (on my worst, I assume God is a menace), but it turns out, even nonbelievers want to cleanse their offspring of original sin: Our new pediatrician asks us to forward our hospital medical records, and I opt out. She’s going to be nothing like me, no stains on her record, no sorrow-as-birthright. She’s going to be free.

Laura Dorwart is a Ph.D. candidate at UCSD with an MFA in creative nonfiction from Antioch University. Her work has appeared in Catapult, McSweeney’s, The New York Times, VICE, BuzzFeed Reader, Lady/Liberty/Lit, The Eunoia Review, Blanket Sea Magazine, and others. 

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Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, postpartum depression

Mary’s Monologue

January 27, 2017

By Bev Wilson

I know you fight back tears every time you hear the happy Christmas carols: Hark the Herald Angels Sing; Joy to the World; O Come Emmanuel.  And I know you are stabbed with shame as your eyes sting, because it’s Christmas, for God’s sake.  Everyone’s supposed to be happy, with lights and presents and cookies and candies and eggnog, and eager children with shining eyes, and everyone is a kid this time of year, aren’t they, flitting from gifts they want to get, to gifts they want to give, and rush and bustle, and you: are just tired.  You’re so tired, and you can’t tell anyone because you don’t want to bring them down, not this time of year of all times.  So you let them read what they want to read into the glisten in your own eyes.  Well, hide the tears if you want to, but please, please don’t feel ashamed.  You are no more tired than I was, and I cried every day.

The trip took forever.  Even with our one blanket as padding, the donkey’s spine pressed against my own tailbone, each hoofstep ricocheting the two bones off one another until I had to ask Joseph to stop and let me walk, but of course walking was agony after ten minutes, with my pelvis splayed in anticipation of delivery, and back I’d go on the donkey.  I stopped trying to hold in my urine after the first day, because it didn’t do any good; besides, it wasn’t like anyone was around to smell me, except Joseph, and we were both rank with sweat, anyway. Continue Reading…