I don’t remember the first time I wanted to run through the sliding glass door. Perhaps I stared at the rectangular pane so long I thought I could simply will it away. I just wanted to get out. In some fashion, I knew the crash would hurt. But my imagination whispered that I could run hard enough to crack it. Run hard enough to break through. I sat on the couch with the baby sleeping across my lap. Button physically anchored me in a way that sometimes felt comforting. But that moment, I felt like I was drowning. Postpartum stay-at-home-motherhood was really rough on me.
I haven’t yet seen Jordan Peele’s Get Out, but the description of the Sunken Place really captivated me. It struck me as an apt term for my postpartum experience. I felt far from myself, if that makes any sense. Of course my life wasn’t as awful as I felt, but I couldn’t reach above to pull myself out of this darkness. Almost like I was observing from a distance. Miserably numb. A sense of failure blanketed everything I tried to do.
That sliding glass door separated me from the outside world and I could not change that. Sometimes, while everyone in the house slept, I would step outside the apartment into the hallway. Another locked glass door stood in my way there, too. A simple push could change that, but I didn’t actually want to be cold, just free. I imagined myself leaning on the door into the frigid night air anyway. Once or twice, I actually did it. How many steps could I run before pain stabbed at my chest, my C-section incision? I wondered how far I would have to flee before I could feel like me again.
My fascination with escaping whatever-it-was usually escalated at night. I wanted to write but felt paralyzed by both fatigue and listlessness. That inability to communicate in my most cherished format hurt; I wasn’t talking to anyone off paper, either. What could I tell them? That I had this beautifully juicy baby and felt inexplicably deadened?
Thank God for my husband.
My husband stood in the trenches of sleep deprivation with me, waking up at 5 AM every morning to go to work. What would I look like explaining this Sunken Place to him? I was a SAHM. The least I could do was take care of the baby while he slept, right? It felt like a sacrifice I needed to make. He had to have time to do the dishes, to prepare for work at night after Bean hit the hay. When he went to bed around 11:30, I’d bundle up with a fussy Button on the couch. But that routine, which he never asked for, meant that I had maybe an hour or two daily when I wasn’t attached to the baby. I desperately wanted not to be touched by anyone. That was not possible.
I swung from high to low. On Monday I’d be chipper, but by Wednesday the Sunken Place would claim me again. One particularly hard day, the morose glass door staring started early. My husband came home from work and I think I looked at him like he was something I needed to crash through. He asked me, gently, haltingly, if I ever thought about hurting myself. I couldn’t give him an answer. Another blue Thursday, I practically ran out of the house the moment he got home. Just hopped in the car and drove nowhere north for an hour.
My husband started watching me closely, almost the way one checks behind a newly independent child. I didn’t bristle. He was right to do so. Stay-at-home-motherhood, combined with my postpartum struggles, meant that I had a hard time balancing mommy duties with taking care of myself.
Yeah…I didn’t take care of myself. If Button did not sleep late enough for me to sneak a shower in the morning, bathing was out of the question. I let one day slip without showering and the police did not knock on the door. Another day passed with no water touching me. And then another. My hair was dry and falling out–postpartum shedding. I stopped doing anything to it because my edges were already moonwalking away. Finally, he up and asked me one day if I had taken a shower. I can’t remember if I lied or not. But his asking felt like a lifebuoy.
A postpartum turning point.
Sometime around the beginning of this year, I decided a change had to come. Soon. And I needed help to do it. I reached through my self-imposed silence to have a difficult talk with my husband. I couldn’t allow myself to slip any further. That meant committing to a routine that gave me a little more space to tend to my mental health. It occurred to me that because I stay home and freelance from home, I rarely have any time away from the house or the kids. Motherhood is a 24/7 gig. I don’t get to clock out. I don’t have to commute anywhere. Surprisingly, I missed the cabin silence of my Atlanta commute, which allowed me to decompress a bit.
As a result, my husband and I worked out what we call “commute days.” After 6PM on days I don’t cook (leftover days), I physically leave the house for an hour or so. Maybe I go to a parking lot and have a phone conversation without Bean asking if I’m talking to her Nana. Some days I hit the library or a coffee shop. I might take the laptop and write (although I’m learning an hour doesn’t give me much time).
We’re still fine-tuning our communication on commute days, but it’s getting better. They’re like medicine. When I blithely think I’m doing well enough to skip a commute day, I notice I feel growly mid-week.
Another thing we worked out was a showering schedule for me. I cannot quite express how embarrassing it feels to me to have to pencil in bathing. But that’s where I am. It’s where I was. The outcome is that my husband holds me accountable and helps me take care of myself. Whatever we are both doing, 9:30 PM means it’s time to stop so I can have enough time to shower without feeling rushed. I’ll be honest–sometimes my postpartum mind still whispers that it’s dumb to run this water when I haven’t gone anywhere. I do it anyway.
I won’t lie, this go-round postpartum been hard. I’m struggling with the winter blues, postpartum issues, my anxiety about hiring childcare, and my ambitionz az a
ridah writer. Some days the pajamas do not come off. The hair (which I cut to facilitate laziness) goes uncombed. Self-care is not just a buzzword…it’s a battle for my mental health.
If you’re wondering why I haven’t mentioned the “D” word (postpartum depression), it’s because I haven’t been diagnosed. And I know there are a few things like medication and therapy essential to recovery. I’m just not there yet. Still, in realizing I needed my husband’s assistance, in his willingness to be there for me, I see less and less of that Sunken Place. Partner support is crucial for getting through postpartum depression. I can answer his unanswerable question now, no pregnant silences or hesitations. I have no doubt he helped saved my life.
If you are struggling postpartum, if you can, please reach out to someone for help. Here are some resources I’ve been using postpartum: