I’ve been told I have the perfect number of children, one boy, and one girl, of a similar but not too similar age. Their infancy seems like some contrived prequel movie to the life I lead with them now. A period spent arguing over school selections and caretaking arrangements for a barely sentient blob that kind of looks like a person but always spills cereal everywhere.
For most mother’s is usually as simple as your pride winning out over these frustrations but Post-Partum Depression complicates them massively, sometimes to an even fatal degree. After all, most of what we have to offer new mother’s when it comes to giving advice on the subject is a combined history of our own experiences with something that is first incredibly physically complicated and then, when the child is born, things get incredibly emotionally complicated. Post-Partum Depression serves to smash these things together in a formidable fashion, putting a new mother out of the race of different milestones she’s ostensibly supposed to hit – and supposed to enjoy. When my first baby, my daughter, left my arms, I felt a numbness I’d otherwise attributed to the medicine involved in the painful procedure of childbirth. Is that what was happening here: I was a tool for a gruesome procedure that wasn’t even remotely for my benefit? It was useless, I had disconnected pregnancy and motherhood and those around me were powerless to convince me that, having assumed responsibility for the little gift inside me, I could take on the privilege of raising my daughter, too.
Had I been a fly on the wall, what was reported to me years later would have been made perfectly clear: the depression was another piece of psycho-physiological processing on the part of my being, and my daughter’s being with it’s wants and needs were separate. Said needs could wait for a time whilst myself and my support network reassured me that, due to my pre-existing conditions what I was feeling wasn’t very uncommon and was patently treatable. I vaguely recall this being put to me at the time and stand the test of time it did. When it came to having my second child, the depression was disarmed of one of it’s most dangerous weapons – its cyclical nature – and made to stop and accommodate me and my son. So why couldn’t it have been like that the first time?
To a certain degree, though, my reaction to childbirth had actually been neurotypical the first time around too, at least within the constraints of someone with a history of depression. With the help of my children, though, I learned to break the cycle, though I’d be lying if I said the process was an entirely conscious one.
Relegating my Post-Partum Depression to history was based on a fairly unappealing conceit, that I’d have to prioritise myself, at least for a while but I did so to be of better service as a mother / which, as any glossy magazine lifestyle section will quickly remind you, is only one aspect of a woman’s life. It didn’t have to be all-encompassing until I wanted it to be and as selfish as that sounds, that removed the illness’ power. No longer would I have an overbearing, all-encompassing source of anxiety or inferiority. I was still Lamia Islam my daughter was still my daughter, the titles and sentimentalities we earn once a connection is formed would have to be earned and garnered almost as unconsciously as the illness subtly appeared – and that’s okay.
If you find yourself in proximity to depression, self-care isn’t some fad quick fix, nor is it an excuse to not seek intervening treatment – but that sounds very scary, very stressful, very anxiety-inducing, just like you worried it would be and so begins the cycle. If you’re lucky enough to enjoy a certain confidence in your ability to conceive, proper medical care and midwifery and a family that will at the very least offer the expected degree of support, you’re very much in a privileged position compared to a lot of other women. Perhaps I’m simplifying but rather than whipping oneself into neurosis over the parts of that scary period you don’t want to be, remember that your child will be and for a long time too. In the face of these hard-earned certainties, the trivial ways in which we mother’s think of ourselves as unworthy or detached are waiting to be absolved by a child’s love.