When the world got to be too much, including my little corner of it, I used to retreat to the bathroom. It was usually just as supper was about to start, food laid out on the table, cups of milk poured, husband home from work – Mom sitting on the toilet sobbing soundlessly with an unnamed sadness and inability to cope.
My husband would give me a few minutes, then call softly through the door to see if I was all right.
You would think that would be the easiest part of the day, having made it through ten or more hours of sole care giving, dressing, feeding, getting out the door-ing. A time to sit with my family and enjoy the shared responsibility of parenting with my spouse. But just like a toddler who does not do well with a change in caregivers, so I was not transitioning well. We were all getting hungry and tired and my head couldn’t take one more shrill scream or pop of sound.
At first, a friend didn’t recognize this scenario as one resulting from my postpartum depression. She got angry, she said, irritable, wanting to lash out when she couldn’t abide the situation at hand. She wanted to fight vs. my flight. Both natural responses to elevated levels of stress; to the wooly mammoth of parenting postpartum.
The word retreat itself is an interesting choice. It has wartime connotations, as in run away from the enemy, give up the fight, fall back to a place of safety, behind that line that should not have been crossed.
When the bathroom won’t do anymore; when they’ve figured out your hiding spot; when you can’t while away your tortured existence on a germ-infested throne anymore – what then?
At first, I turned to my midwife, then a licensed social worker, then lifestyle and diet changes, then medication. I don’t want to lock myself in the bathroom as much any more, but I still need a respite to get my wits about me.
As a teenager, it was a requirement to attend a retreat as preparation for Confirmation. In college, I attended many enriching weekend retreats as part of peer ministry. In preparation for marriage, my husband and I went on an “Engaged Encounter”.
Where are the programs for mothers who love their children but want to retreat? Who have lost themselves and their faith amidst the everyday beat-down of the job? Who know what a blessing their children are but just can’t feel it for the pressure pushing down on them? Who found their depression only now because they must function, they have no choice to go sit in a corner and listen to The Cure until life seems better.
Children bring us out of ourselves. As they say, it’s the only way you can feel your heart beat outside yourself. They teach us selflessness and caring for others. They give us a view of the future, of possibility. But in giving our all to them, it sometimes feels as if it’s the end of our possibility. It doesn’t seem like there’s room for anything else. A feeling that often makes me want to retreat.