The first two months of Ella’s life, I barely left the house. Nursing was difficult, neither one of us knowing exactly what was expected and what we were simply supposed to know. Ella cried a lot and I couldn’t seem to soothe her. I alternated between bouts of acute joy and entire days of sadness and anger. I remember sitting on the ivory rug of our bedroom in the middle of the night, back again the wall pumping my swollen boobs, crying silently, aching, bewildered while Josh and Ella slept. Was this how it was supposed to be?
For weeks I begged off whenever my mom’s group planned a get-together: I’m too tired, my sister is in town, I have a work project to finish up. When I did finally venture out of the house to meet them at a café, I was scared and nervous about everything: driving, nursing in public, spilling coffee on the baby, changing a diaper on the plastic pull out platform in the restroom.
It was better being with my friends, seeing how we all managed with our new babies. We talked about being exhausted, how many times a night the baby woke up. We talked about nursing, how many minutes on each side. We talked about how we weren’t having sex and marveled when the first of us ventured back down that road with both horror and admiration. We talked about tummy time and first smiles. We talked about the color of baby poop and what each shade of brown, green or yellow meant.
What we didn’t really talk about, though, was how we felt. Once in a while there was a whispered “She’s having a really tough time,” but details rarely followed. How tough? Did she imagine, in broad daylight, the house catching fire and not being able to get to the baby in time, like I did? After convincing herself that everything would be okay, did she pack up the diaper bag, snap the baby car seat in the stroller and set off for the market only to turn around a block later, heart pounding, because her daughter started to whimper?
Whether it’s because we’re afraid, ashamed, confused, isolated or all of these things, there is so much we don’t talk about as new mothers – not to our spouses, not to our doctors and not even to each other. Even though the veil around postpartum depression (PPD) has lifted in recent years, women still struggle with the overwhelming emotions around becoming a mother and knowing that it’s okay to ask for help.
Mothering Through the Darkness: Women Open Up About the Postpartum Experience is a collection of real-life, heart-felt, no-holds-barred essays by women who’ve experienced some degree of PPD. Edited by Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger of the wonderful HerStories Project, these essays bring to life the very real challenges of mothering a new child, whether for the first time or the fourth, whether a biological newborn or an adopted toddler. The stories are raw and tender, honest and brutal, beautiful and wrenching, but most of all they reveal another layer of truth in the motherhood experience. If you suffer or have suffered from PPD, you will find yourself in these pages. Through these words, you’ll feel the connection across all the sleepless days and nights, the sadness and anger and ultimately the courage and care that is recovery. Reading this book 13 years and three babies later, my heart thumped with recognition and empathy, but also hope. Knowing that sharing our experiences can help others is an enormous gift.
I am grateful to call many of the authors featured in Mothering Through the Darkness my friends and I’m excited to have discovered several new and powerful voices. I am so proud of every one of these women for sharing their stories and making it a little easier for mothers to believe we are not alone.