Self-absorption grates, in a writer as in a friend. I wish I were capable of writing this without self-pity (and without revenging myself on anyone)… . I continued to think about pain—-not pain in its generality … but my own pain: its demands, its cadences, the near-universal revulsion it effected on those I spoke to about it, and, even with those who were willing to listen (because they were paid to or because they were polite), its incommunicability.
- Lydia Gregor, in “The Dysthenic Revelation,” Agni 68.
Jeff and I watched “America in Primetime” when it aired on PBS a couple months ago. There was this amazing clip from “Desperate Housewives” where Lynette is crying in a soccer field because motherhood and housewifery are so hard and she is just absolutely miserable. She feels out of control and alone. When I saw that clip, I knew I had to start watching “Desperate Housewives.” That is how I feel most days: incompetent at the most elementary of jobs. I should be able to keep a baby alive and the house moderately un-disaster-zone-like. Ha.
A recent study found that women who wait to have kids until after they get their careers in order are more likely to develop post-partum depression. Apparently they get used to being in control of their lives and having a baby really fucks that up. This study strikes me as obvious, in a why-didn’t-we-all-just-know-that-from-the-beginning kind of way.
I’m not depressed, but I am out of control. Like Lynette, I miss my career so very badly. Like Lynette, I miss being competent and in control and amazing. I was an amazing teacher. Things were totally out of control at my school, and my students were crazy people and so very needy that I had to start locking my door during my lunch because I really need that forty-four minutes to just sit and eat my peanut butter sandwich in silence. But I had a lesson plan. And I know English literature and grammar like few high school teachers do. And I could eat fucking peanut butter. For forty-four minutes. With a locked door. And nobody would bother me.
And so the pain, and the self-pity. Because how do you explain to your husband that your whole life is consumed with picking up socks and doing dishes and breastfeeding? Literally every minute of the day is devoted to keeping the baby alive, yourself alive, and the house in some kind of order. Because nothing is under control and how can you not fucking keep the sink empty when you do dishes for an hour every day? It is painful. And it inspires nothing so much as self-pity that he gets to close a door and talk to people about things that are not the baby and housework. No one tells you how rapidly and horribly your life contracts when you have a baby. Especially a baby who refused to nurse for months and certainly wouldn’t do it in public and especially wouldn’t consider taking milk from a bottle or a cup.
Who wants to hear that? No one. You shouldn’t want to hear it. My life is wonderful. My baby is inquisitive and personable and absolutely beautiful. We live in a lovely house, and we have the financial means (just barely) for me to be a stay-at-home mom. But it is not enough. I suspect I am not alone in my pain and self-pity. But moms don’t talk about it. They dress the baby in adorable clothes and throw on some lipstick and gush about the joys of their tiny lives. There is no way to say they want more than this perfect little person they made. That the pain of locking up their talents is too much. That the self-pity makes them sick to their stomachs. That they’re over their tiny lives, too.
“The intersection between lactation and mood is important, and it is extremely understudied,” said Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody, director of the perinatal psychiatry program at the UNC Center for Women’s Mood Disorders. “There are definitely people who report mood symptoms associated with lactation.”
- Catherine Pearson, “Depression and Weaning,” in HuffPo.
I am super ambivalent about breastfeeding right now. I’m still probably some crazy lactivist bitch, but I spend my time breastfeeding reading Kellymom about how to wean on my iPod. Oh, please, let weaning come soon. I’ve got thousands of words right now in a rough (seriously, rough) essay about how breastfeeding is slowly killing me. I’m still planning on breastfeeding the next one, though.
Long story short, Emmett is a shitty nurser. Anything in his baby life goes wrong and his response is to stop nursing. He also no longer takes a bottle. And he doesn’t understand how to use a sippy cup or a straw cup. So, I’m pretty much stranded in the house with a fussy, hungry baby who refuses to nurse. Things get better, then they get worse. And I go from happy mom to basket case in alarmingly regular swings. Add to this the sleep deprivation and the severe elimination diet (no dairy, no gluten, no soy, no eggs, no nuts) and it is no wonder I have bad days.
Jeff and I have spent some time discussing whether I have the depression on, each time concluding that I actually do not have postpartum depression. I’ve been seriously bad off—-clawing-the-floor, crippled-by-tears, waking-the-neighbors-in-the-middle-of-the-night bad—-but I do not feel “depressed.” I have been depressed; this is different.
Wait, you say, I think I know the problem. You say you have regular mood swings? Could they perhaps related to your cycle? Why, yes, I think they are! My hormones are INSANE. And have been for at least six months. But this notion of weaning connected with depression has me wondering if breastfeeding hormones are partly to blame for the mood swings I get around ovulation and my period.
Jeff’s mom has pointed out that perhaps the reason why I haven’t sunk into some pretty good postpartum depression is because I have all the feel-good hormones from breastfeeding. But, see, around ovulation and my period, something changes about my milk—-the taste, the flow, who knows—-and Emmett drops a feeding or two (on really bad days, more than that) in protest. So, I’ve already got these hormonal mood swings going on because of my cycle. And then because we’re not nursing as much, the levels of those feel-good hormones drop considerably. And again, I’m hungry all the time and bone tired: let the mood swings commence! Then the spell passes, the baby nurses extra well in the following days to make up for it, and I feel GREAT. Like, really smiley, good, great.
Would I report “mood symptoms” connected to breastfeeding? Holy cow, yes. And they are distinct from depression. I remember depression being in my head, and my chest. But the despair I get from bad nursing days stems from my body running out of control. My head knows it is not in control—-I watch myself go crazy, but I cannot stop it. My body is animal and off the leash. Powerful stuff, those hormones.
And I have no way to even things out until the boy is off the boob. And he can’t be off the boob for at least another two months. And abrupt weaning is off the table because I don’t believe in it and it would most certainly shove me headlong over the depression cliff anyway. So we are gonna be hanging out here in Moodybitchville for at least another four months. Or more? Oh, please let him figure out how to work a cup.