I Know Why They Chose to Sink

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I came across a journal the other day with one of the only poems I’ve written in more than a decade. My college years were spent between literary criticism, philosophy papers, and procrastinating by writing poetry. But after life got increasingly full and more complicated, I let verse fall to the wayside.

That fullness quite literally grew in my belly: my first baby supposed to be birthed with soft lighting and without medical intervention. Instead he came 30 hours later after an emergency c-section. The first days of his life were composed of him screaming and me fretting while my milk wouldn’t come in. We supplemented with formula. I felt every inch a failure. This feeding one’s baby was supposed to be elemental to being a woman and yet, I couldn’t produce enough.

When we finally came home, I’d nurse him every 3 hours around the clock and hand him off to my mom or husband to bottle feed, while I continued to pump milk. Milk became the metaphor for my loss of self—it was all being poured out and it didn’t feel like an offering. It felt like death. And still the crying. It was all supposed to be so much different.

One night, with my baby strapped into one of those vibrating baby seats, I thought I’d take a warm bubble bath. It felt amazing to sink into the water, to have it surround me, like my own water had surrounded my son. I just wanted one bath to erase the muscle tension, to feel like I could be rewarded for all the sacrifice. I just wanted one bath.

And then the crying started and I had a fleeting thought: I could just sink down right here and it’d all be over. My nerves would no longer be shot. Maybe they’d be better off without me.

I knew why they loaded stones into pockets

Walked resolutely into the current

And opened themselves

 

Amidst the incessant crying

Making you feel like that woman in the story

Stuck behind the wallpaper

Creeping, creeping

 

The bath water seems quicker

 

I collect stones and leave them

At the dinner table.

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It was a lie they told me: that motherhood was innate, that it would bring completion, that you just needed to trust your body, that it knew what to do. My body betrayed me and I dreaded the drain of this little helpless life clinging to me for sustenance.  I was just as helpless as he.

All the idolization of motherhood and my own need to do it all “right” felt like stone upon stone weighing me down. But I moved on (because that’s what I do) and I buckled down and resolved to do better—to keep pumping milk, to keep pouring myself out for my baby. Wasn’t that, after all, what a mother was supposed to do? But my self-talk of failure—even amidst the striving and my increased milk supply—was so very weighty.

My thoughts about sinking into the bathtub were so quick, I dismissed them. I wasn’t one of those women with postpartum depression. I got up and went to work. I could get off the couch. My baby stopped crying and put on weight. It was just part of adjusting to motherhood, I reasoned.

Maybe it was. Maybe it was more.

I wish I could go back to that young mother and tell her to be kind to herself. I wish I could say it’s okay to feel at your wit’s end and feel a bit out of your right mind. I wish I could say that there was a grace bigger than that. That slipping into that grace would bring more rest and relief than dissolving into bathwater.

I’m learning after four babies now, that when the stones start to pile up I’ve got to let others help carry them. So I offload them gently, I ask friends and family to help carry the load.

We’ll stack up the stones together—me and a tribe of mothers who feel so ill-fitted for this position—and make them into memorials. Together, we’ll share our real words (not the sanitized versions) at coffee shops, we’ll whisper them at the playground and tell the truth around our own dinner tables. We’ll pocket our stories like stones and turn them over gently. And then we’ll pour them out like word offerings and lay them to rest in the hands of others. They will be our ebenezers, those ancient “stones of help” that point to healing that comes from vulnerability.

So I’ll go with you to the water’s edge and hold the weight of your story and then we’ll skip them across the water’s surface together.

 

Resources:

Postpartum Support International

Postpartum Progress Community

Seleni Institute

Depression During and After Pregnancy

Ashley Hales

Ashley Hales

Writer and Editor at aahales.com
Ashley Hales holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. But she spends most of her time chasing around her four children and helping her husband plant a church. She writes at AAHales.com and loves to make friends on Twitter.
Ashley Hales
  • Gayl Wright

    Ashley, this is beautiful! I love the metaphor of stones. ” We’ll pocket our stories like stones and turn them over gently. And then we’ll pour them out like word offerings and lay them to rest in the hands of others.” I was fortunate to have people around who encouraged me as a first time mother, but even so there were some very difficult times and I would feel so inadequate. So this is what I love to do: “So I’ll go with you to the water’s edge and hold the weight of your story and then we’ll skip them across the water’s surface together.” My passion is to encourage and empower younger women by sharing from my heart.

    • Gayl, thank you for your presence here and thank you for coming alongside younger women. We need you! (If I can still call myself young!) I love your mission. I keep wondering how women survived when it was not okay to let your guard down and tell others you were hurting.

  • My story is so like yours — even in the persevering through four babies after a pretty rough start with #1. Surviving the feeling of “not enough” as a mother is a heavy thing, but, years later, our stories skipping over the surface of the water — yes, this is joy!

    • Yes, there is joy on the other side and to see a bit of the beauty that’s borne from brokenness. I hate that we have this “not enough” mentality that we unduly place on ourselves. I hope to beget something different to women.

  • I can absolutely relate to this. I have no IRL friends to help me with this so I am finding encouragement through blogs and posts like this. I am so grateful for the reach of the internet and those who come beside me to help me skip those stones!

    • Kelly, I’m thrilled that you’ve found some encouragement here. Sometimes mothering is just hard, but sometimes it moves beyond normal hard. And honestly I probably just white-knuckled through a milder version of PPD. If you are at all finding yourself at the end of your rope, there are women to help you. We’re putting up some links at the bottom of the post for reference.

  • This really resonates with me as well–I didn’t realized I had PPD until a good year after I’d emerged from the worst of it. It does not announce itself with subtitles. Love this, Ashley.

    • Yes, I am just now realizing that things weren’t quite right and my baby is now 8. I love what you say about not announcing itself with subtitles. My husband and I had read so much about PPD and I thought we knew all the signs, but I didn’t tell him that one. I felt too ashamed, too crazy. It was fleeting, but really, I could have benefited so much with some trained helpers.

  • Tears. Thank you. Pretty sure I had some form of PPD after my first. Was scared silent. Now, I pester new mamas cuz I don’t want them to be alone in that.

    • Katie, thank you for your comment and for sharing your own story here and with so many others in real life. I love that your own loss is propelling you forward to love others well. I’m sorry about your PPD and most of all that you were scared silent. We are all not alone.