(first published Sept 2007)
This time on Postpartum Depression.
I don’t know if I agree with everything the author says (I’m not one to draw conclusions based on one study or another) but this part did resonate with me:
“My first years of mothering were thus: my need to escape Ian’s crushing dependency on me, and the guilt, the anger, and the ever-present gnashing conflict of my two deepest impulses—to attach, and to pull away (not necessarily in that order.) When Ian was about four months old I said to my husband, “I feel like he’s sucking all the me out of me.” But actually he was sucking the real me, terrified and enraged, out of hiding.”
And there it is, right there—a clue, a key, one way into the labyrinth of this sneaky, joy-stealing affliction: I was hiding.
I recently had the honor of speaking at a wonderful conscious pregnancy and childbirth conference in Brazil. This gave me the rare opportunity to hear expressed in a different language—literally—what I understand to be a powerful factor involved in postpartum depression. It has long been known, as famed child psychologist Erik Erikson taught, that when we spend a lot of time with a child of a particular age, our own unresolved feelings from that age tend to surface. When a mother has a baby in her arms, the baby she once was is there too, reawakened in her. Accordingly, Dr. Cláudia Orthof sees a central postpartum focus as “the art of meeting yourself again.” Is the mother prepared for this?
and then this:
The latest science of attachment and brain development reveals that it is in the context of the mother’s gaze that the infant discovers who he is, and he wires up his brain to match. One of the first things we do when depressed is to avoid the gaze of others, including a baby. A baby who cannot find his mother—and thus himself—within her gaze, is drastically handicapped in the complex developmental task of putting together a “self.” As Dr. Eleanor Luzes said it in gorgeous Rio de Janeiro, when a mother is “unprepared to be seen,” the child suffers deeply. And of course, so does the mother.
I have shared in other places my battles with post-partum depression. I had it bad after both my first and second born children – I think I never really got over it the first time and just maintained it through the pregnancy and postpartum of #2.
Maybe it sounds too hokey or “cosmic” but I can totally relate to the fact that I feel like I am not prepared to “meet” myself as I go through each stage with my firstborn and then to a lesser extent my second born. My biggest cry when depressed with them was, “IT’S NOT FAIR” – Why do THEY get to have a loving biological mother? Why do THEY get to breastfeed and be treated like queens? What about me? How do I even begin to mother them? How do I pull up love from NOTHING? And then heaven forbid they act like children! How dare they have that freedom of knowing I won’t just sit them out on the sidewalk with a sign saying, “This isn’t working out, Free Child for Sale!” This was MY fear growing up, no matter how unfounded it was. I think it is common in adopted children. If a biological parent can give up a child, what is to stop a man/woman with no blood tie at all? I HAD to be perfect. Why do my kids get the freedom to be imperfect and still loved??
Boy, I was so angry. It still flares on occasion, those old feelings…
It didn’t help that my firstborn was very difficult (most likely due to multiple food allergies that didn’t get diagnosed) and my second born was just naturally dead-pan and a watcher, but not a smiler. I am trying to be forgiving with myself and realize it’s not all my fault – it is partially their temperaments, partially my upbringing, and most definitely my fault in part – sin is ugly but pervasive!
And it is my biggest regret today that my relationship with my first two is light years different than my next two children. By #3 I realized I had to make a concious effort to smile at this baby…to laugh with her, to look her in they eye often. My 4 and 2yo’s have a joy and a naturalness about them that my oldest just don’t have.
I am hoping in my reading over the next months I can find some resources to help me make up for those first few years and the subsequent lack of trust, love, bonding between my two oldest and me…to “reattatch” as it were.