Nora was crying inconsolably after having a fight with Owen. He had just started walking at the time and was officially learning how to be a royal pain in the ass. She was a conflicted jumble of emotions. Loving her brother fiercely, desparately irritated with him, hurt to have to share our attention, pained to watch him usurp her baby status.
I laid down on her bed. (The mattresses that were now on the floor because Owen kept falling out, and off, her bed.) I tried to wrap my body around her huddled body as tightly as possible to show her how intently I love her, forgive her, understand her, and empathize. This baby annoys the shit out of me too, kid.
“Mama, you’re eyes are watering!”
“Yes, mama is crying. I’m sad.”
“Your eyes are making tears (in a hushed tone)…I’ll get you a tissue!” She seemed panicked and I felt guilty.
“Thank you, honey, I’m ok…I’m sad, that’s all. It’s not you…Mama is just sad.” She watched me and eventually smiled, stroked my cheek, and said, “Ok,… I like unicorns.”
Her response didn’t surprise me any more than her enthusiastic hugs and daily reassurances of her love, the sympathetic pats from Owen simultaneously on my limbs, and her retrieving tissues for me as I cry unexpectedly. This is what it looks like when you’re a mother with depression. This is what it feels like when you’re trying to hold yourself together and feel guilty that your kids feel compelled to console you.
You do the best you can, you’re honest without scaring them, provide for them to help them be better than you in every possible way, model for them the care of yourself that you hope they never need and know that you don’t want to do.
I don’t want to talk about why I’m feeling this way, I don’t want to fear going to sleep, I just want to feel comfortable for once in my life. But I get up out of bed, I care for them, I research activities and lessons, I cycle out old toys for new, I soothe the hurts, repair the ills, and I try to think of new adventures for us to show them the magic of the world and how much I love them.
When I can’t face leaving the house, I’m simply in survival mode, and I’m just making it through the day trying to wear them out so they’ll nap. I feel guilty for not enjoying them more, for not doing more structured activities or lessons, for not being the mother I hoped to be. Illness, sleep deprivation, house maintenance, schedules, loneliness, self doubt, ; all of the obstacles in a day that trip me up from being a better parent yet all of it comes down to my perception really.
The depression tilts the view of my reality and any obstacle becomes more visible and I give up on trying beyond providing meals, cleaning, and trying to pretend to be interested in the game at hand. Trying to maintain a calm exterior while inside I feel at turmoil and futile at anything I attempt.
Us moms, the ones that are part of the exclusive club that meets in the dark, dank alley of the mythical happy motherhood are lost. Those of us with postpartum depression, anxiety or psychosis, those with mental illness, we would huddle together but we’re busy huddling inside ourselves.
Everyone has heard about it when another study comes out, a mother harms her child, or a celebrity admits to being human. (See, “Everyone Poops“) And they drag out yet another guest segment white male doctor to pander to us with regurgitated myths and half-truths on the so-called news.
The truth is motherhood is hard. Healthy or ill, it’s always a struggle to be patient when you feel anything but. Here’s to all the parents that keep trying. Here’s to all of us for trying to be the best we can for our babies.