I’m 18 weeks pregnant with twins. I wrote a journal to my first kid, so it’s only fitting to do the same for these new babies. I don’t know if my kids will ever know or care that I wrote these, but I think I will be glad to have them.
I have been trying to write a short personal essay on postpartum depression/anxiety/OCD. Last year, I wrote a book-length manuscript on it, which has been compressed as a chapbook coming out this Spring from The Lettered Streets Press. The essay, a piece I’d like to submit for an anthology, must be fewer than 3,000 words long. I am struggling to say anything meaningful or remotely self-contained in that space. I am really trying.
But containment is exactly the problem. I find myself wanting to say everything. For a year, I told the birth story over and over to the point that it became an exhaustive inventory of both big and small details. And whereas most women’s birth stories end when the baby is born, or maybe when they leave the hospital/birth center, mine grew to include the first few days, the first few weeks, the first six months. I could never pin down my experience. I still can’t, though I feel less compelled to try. I can accept the contradictions and ambiguities of it all a little more easily now.
What I want to say about it is that I struggled. What I want to say is that the process of that struggle, though it could have been easier, was central to me becoming a mother. Not in some “everything happens for a reason” way. Not in the sense that I was made better by it. But there was a huge chasm between myself before my son and the complicated identity I took on after, and as I grappled toward sense and reason in an obstructed birth, in colic, in breastfeeding pain, in my extreme emotions and fixations, in my slow physical recovery, I was also parsing out how to be the mother I am now. There was nothing glamorous or beautiful about that, but for a person who needs reasons, answers, certainties, that process was essential to, and probably partly the cause, for my postpartum journey.
How to say all this… I just keep trying, as I have been from the start.
What I Wanted When My Baby Was Small
I was just listening to a podcast on writing, and one of the pieces of advice, which I’ve heard often, was to ask yourself what your character wants in order to help you craft a story (or memoir). I’ve been toying around with an idea for a personal essay on my postpartum experience of anxiety and depression for the last few days, a narrative that, like all my nonfiction, is all over the place. I have a hard time narrowing my focus, leaving things out. Motherhood has this way of making me try to hold everything at once and force it all to fit, to make sense. But I am trying to be clear and succinct, and that means leaving some things out, so I asked myself the question: What did I want in the thick of new motherhood? I figured today was a good day for a little Throwback Thursday reflection, so here’s my list. (The list is all over the place, too.)
To feel calm
To go back to being pregnant
To not have a baby yet
To be heard
To take a break
To slow my heart, my mind
To think and talk straight
To have silence, stillness
For my baby to talk to me
To meet other struggling moms
To have the worst suffering story, so at least I was succeeding at something
To love motherhood
To tear down stereotypes of motherhood
To be alone with my husband
To never be away from my baby
To not have to be with my baby constantly
To be mothered
To find the perfect way to mother my baby
To get my baby to sleep
To be okay with how my motherhood looked different from others’, different from how I expected my motherhood to be
To speed up my physical recovery
To not make my baby’s world small with my anxieties
To stop breastfeeding
To never stop breastfeeding
To eat a warm meal while sitting up without my baby latched to my breast
To be so obviously in need of help that I would have no choice but be looked after by professionals
To not let anyone know I was failing
To be selfish without feeling selfish
To be more patient
To feel lucky and grateful for my baby
To feel baby bliss
To read every book at the intersection of motherhood and feminism
To not buy into the idea that I should sacrifice so much
To be the person I am but also mindful, reflective, and willing to repair the places where my me-ness was too rough
To not write about motherhood
To write about motherhood in the truest way I could
I just signed my chapbook contract. Woo! This is an actual stipulation in it. I love them.