The Kind of Mother That Leaves (OR How Children Perceive PPD)

She comes to visit sometimes. She brings gifts. Lots of toys. Each time we ask, can we go with you? Will you stay with us? No, she says. I love you but you have to stay here. But I brought you toys. I brought you love in a box. I just don’t know how to give love to you any other way.

One day when I was 6, she brought a trunk load of toys and other gifts for my sister and I. It was the last time I saw her . There were phone calls for a while after that. I ask, will you ever come back for me? No, she says. I can’t. You’re not mine anymore.

I have this life outside of you that you don’t seem to fit into. I don’t know how to be the mother you need. I’m just not that kind of person that makes a mom. I just can’t do this.

Having had Postpartum Depression myself after my second baby’s traumatic entrance into the world, I wonder if she experienced the same. I wonder if my mother’s inability to love and care for my sister and me stemmed from limitations of knowledge in the medical community of the time.

If she was in another part of the country, or in another income bracket, or had more support, maybe she would have been able to find herself and thrive in the role of parent. I only have stories pieced together from conversation over time from this person and that person to give myself an idea of what it must have been like.

  • My mother, from what I gather:
  • Never had a mother herself. She was adopted as a child with 2 other siblings from foster care. (History repeats in families. What we grow up with we are likely to be like, as that is our reality.)
  • Met my father and was swept away. Looking back at pictures, he must have had some kind of charisma. It is possible there might have been domestic violence on some level.
  • Was young and tired of the farm. He proved an outlet.
  • Got pregnant quickly. He proposed quickly. They got married quickly.
  • Was not really welcomed into the patriarchal family.
  • Was a very emotional soul. Later, after my adoption, she was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder.
  • Her family was thankful she found a man willing to marry her.

So, my mother was young, naive, and may not had known what to expect from life as a mother. She did not seem to have much emotional support from anyone.

Her husband might not have expected any difference after a baby, and maybe never saw the importance of supporting his wife. Maybe her sisters or a friend, I really don’t know. Back then, science was just beginning to try to understand what PPD was.

My birth wasn’t really something to be celebrated in the aspect of feminine power, love, and respect for the mother/child dyad. This is typical of many births- oh it’s not that big of a deal, I just popped out 6 pounds of living flesh. It’s done every day and we’re all just fine.

Regardless of this silly notion, birth impacts us as humans: as coming into the world, as the one giving birth, as the ones that have ever been in the presence or even heard of a birth. All I really know of my birth was that my father leaving to go eat, where she couldn’t.

He came in once with overpowering onion on his breath and made her vomit. I was a vaginal birth, I don’t know if she was medicated. I believe she would have been, being a military hospital, looking at photos and such there seemed to be a lot of tubes and equipment near her.

She stayed home with me while my father worked. It was the way to do things. She had the role of keeping house and baby, cooking and pleasing my father. She tried her hardest, probably, to her ability, to fill this expected role. He wanted a wife like his mother was to his own father, back in the 60’s in the US.

If that gives you any clues to how one might fail. I don’t know how her emotional state was during this time, I’m sure she had baby blues and experienced normal first mama ups and downs. Maybe she was depressed.

When I was about 4 months old she got pregnant again. It might have been a hard pregnancy, I don’t know. All I have are pictures, where she looks like she was happy enough to smile for the camera. She always looked tired.

My sister was born. I don’t know details. I know my mother gained a lot of weight and blamed it on us.

Their marriage started to falter. She was lazy. He was an asshole. She wouldn’t clean and would only get out of bed to plant herself on the couch. We were small, had little interaction, little nourishment of any kind. We had each other, my sister and I.

There seemed to be concern for our wellbeing from family members, but no one really said to me, Your mother needed help. She was sick. I was told she was lazy and didn’t care what happened to us. She was blamed. How many of us have been blamed for something beyond our control?

She begged my grandmother to take us while they worked on their marriage. She couldn’t handle us and try to keep her husband. I’m afraid I’m going to hurt them if I keep them right now. Just for a little while she said. Well, that little while turned out to be a lifetime.

Why weren’t we important? Why wasn’t I important? Why couldn’t she have been important enough to herself to figure it out?

My second baby came into the world through trauma. She was ripped out of me, after I had been manipulated and forced onto that surgical table. Screaming. I couldn’t nourish her. I was nowhere near. Her first year I was not all there. I couldn’t comprehend when spoken to.

I wanted nothing to do with anyone, let alone my children. I would have driven myself into a brick wall or the river or drank poison or something, but I always had these two babies trying to clutch me. I thought about going to the psychiatric ward, but I was scared to leave my kids.

As much as I cringed every time I heard ‘Mom’, or a cry, and wanted to be anywhere else but home, I was afraid if I left I would never come back.

I didn’t realize at the time I must be feeling the same thing she might have, decades earlier.

I wanted to leave. I didn’t feel worthy to love my babies. I wanted to walk out. However it took. As with her, I had little support.

It took me my entire being to grip myself out of that abyss. I had flashbacks of the knife, of nurses, of doctors, of lights. Blue scrubs everywhere, poking and pulling.

I would scream I’m in pain! Help me! My husband didn’t know what to do. How could he, women weren’t supposed to act like this after baby! They’re supposed to be happy and rosy and whatever all that crap. Reality jolted us out of our dreamlike expectations.

So why didn’t I? Why didn’t I repeat the cycle? Why didn’t I just leave my children one day, or throw myself over a cliff, or drive into the river?

I realized what I had going on inside me was a sickness. I had learned about PPD during my pregnancy, and was fully aware I could experience this. After all, 1 in 10 women will experience PPD. These were my symptoms as per Postpartum Progress. Those in bold I suspect my mother experienced as well:

  • “You don’t feel bonded to your baby”
  • “Irritated or angry…no patience..resentment”
  • “Emptiness and numbness” when I wasn’t irritated at everything around me
  • Little appetite
  • “…can’t concentrate…disconnected”
  • “…thoughts of running away and leaving your family behind”
  • “…afraid to be alone with your baby”
  • “…trouble sleeping”
  • “…sense of dread”
  • Afraid of judgment if I “reach[ed] out”
  • I also did not have a real ability to care for myself. It took so much effort to get out of bed in the morning. I was so tired, though sleep didn’t come easily.  

These were my symptoms of Postpartum Psychosis (again, those in bold my mother might have experienced):

  • “…believe you can’t trust people or have become suspicious of your family and friends”
  • “…cannot remember how to do things you knew how to do in the past”
  • “People…think there is something wrong with you…say that you are…acting strange and/or weird”
  • I never had voices talking to me or a sense of a greater purpose, but I did feel that everyone was looking at me and judging me in every little thing from how I was wearing my baby to my shoe size. This may have stemmed from feeling totally violated during my baby’s labor and birth.

There are so many other symptoms that I did not experience regularly. One does not have to experience every symptom all the time in order to have Postpartum Depression or Psychosis.

Depression and Psychosis are common, and widely misunderstood in society. I finally got myself help. She did too, in a way- she distanced herself from the problem. In fact, she completely removed herself and ‘started’ her life completely over.

She moved on and had a couple marriages, never any more kids. She moved to another country. She moved back. All in all she may have moved on in her own way, having her own life, but she was a mother once. She might not ever get over the fact that she couldn’t really ‘love’ in the sense of staying, but I hope she finds peace over time.

I understand this woman though I don’t understand her. She repels me yet I clutched to her for so long. I just wanted her to love me the way I needed. I will love my mother, though she couldn’t love me.

I will mourn her, and our relationship. She did what was expected of her and failed. She tried to find her own peace. Yesterday I sent her to that place in my mind, where I felt she could find peace. Maybe she felt the ripple, maybe not.

Birth, though women do it every day, shakes us to our core every time we go through it. It unravels our sanity, brings us to the brink of unconsciousness in a way. We are borne a new mother with each new baby. Sometimes we can’t embrace the overwhelming impact, and we falter. We can’t be ashamed of something so human. (Written by  Jane Craig)

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