November 21st, 2013
Any opportunity for people to share their stories and break down the wall of silence around postnatal depression is a wonderful thing. My novel, What Was Left, is about a woman with postnatal depression who leaves her infant and husband. For me the catalyst to write the novel was seeing (and feeling) the unreasonable pressure on mothers to be perfect and immediately possess that “maternal instinct”.
Yesterday a friend passed along a DVD of a program which was originally aired on Channel 4 in the UK, called “Help me love my baby”. I’ve watched one of the two episodes thus far, but it involves a mother who is suffering from postnatal depression and finds herself unable to love or connect with her baby. The documentary follows her as she undergoes therapy with Dr Amanda Jones from the Anna Freud centre in London.
This show, oh, how it broke my heart. I watched a young woman who had been through so much in her life freeze when faced with her crying infant. She would get so stressed about trying to soothe her that she just shut down, and then felt as though her daughter, who was only six months old, rejected her. I was in tears just watching. I remember that sensation so vividly from when my children were babies and they cried, being unable to soothe them. It was so distressing to me, it still is, and I didn’t have the skills to cope. It was wonderful watching this woman learn those skills, and seeing her overcome that enormous sense of guilt that pervades parents suffering from postnatal depression. Guilt that somehow they are to blame for their inability to immediately connect with their child.
At the moment I’m reading a book of letters between the American poet James Wright and the Native American poet and fiction writer Leslie Marmon Silko called The Delicacy and Strength of Lace. I can’t recommend it highly enough, I can’t get through a page without underlining something. Silko tells of how she has lost custody of her children in a messy divorce, and Wright replies to her letter with a story of how one of his sons is estranged from him. Silko thanks him for this response, and says their exchange is like what is done for an individual in her tribe when that person is suffering. The people will all begin telling stories about other times and other people from that area who have encountered similar trouble.
“If something very sad and difficult comes to you, you know that it will take its place with the other stories and that somehow, as a story, it will, from that time on, be remembered and told to others who have suffered losses.”
“I believe more than ever that it is in sharing the stories of our grief that we somehow can make sense out – no not make sense out of these things…But through stories from each other we can feel that we are not alone, that we are not the first and the last to confront losses such as these.”
This is where we find solace: in sharing stories. So that our minds hold a bank of them, and when we feel this isolation, we can remember them and realise that – as difficult as things become – we are not alone.