I spent an hour and a half sitting on the basement floor of my local library the other morning. I’d found the general Dewey decimal neighborhood I’d wanted and set about meeting the locals.
One good thing about living in a small town on a frigid morning and rushing the library doors as soon as they open is that you have nearly the whole place to yourself. I was the one who flipped on the banks of fluorescent lights as I descended the stairs. I sipped from my travel mug of tea as I decided which books would aid me in my research journey. I read nearly an entire chapter of one that I eventually set back on the shelf – one I’ll certainly return to, but didn’t match the goals of today’s project.
Today’s project is preventing postpartum depression.
Though I checked out nine books, welcoming jokes from the clerks at the front desk as to what kind of wagon I’d need to transport them to the car, none is about postpartum depression. One is about ‘regular old’ depression. Others have a few pages, maybe a section specifically about postpartum. But not one of the towering stack I selected gave an in-depth discussion of postpartum depression.
In the online catalog of our state’s inter-library system, there were some, but still not that many. And none that looked, on first glance, like they offered the kind of practical information and solace that a woman in the throes of postpartum would want or need. I know. It doesn’t take much to put myself back to that hopeless place I experienced myself.
I ended up checking out mostly childbirth preparation books or ‘how-to’ guides to pregnancy, which made my children, upon seeing Mommy read a book with a woman’s round belly on the front, very suspicious. Two of my girls put in orders for a baby brother. I asked my eldest if she’d want me to be pregnant, to which she said, no, but if you were I’d want a brother. Only now do I see the irony in their thinking I needed to read another book about pregnancy after three times around the mountain.
Been there, done that.
But this time, I was trying to read these pregnancy preparation books with new eyes. Having been through it and having had the experiences I did, what would help me do it differently? Or more importantly, what support systems would have kept me from plunging into the depths of despair? And how can I apply those to helping other women?
I was surprised to enjoy Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth (Ina May Gaskin) as much as I did. I figured that title would be one I skimmed to find anecdotes or info pertaining to postpartum, but I am thoroughly enjoying delving into the personal accounts of unhurried, gradual childbirths. I am rediscovering the empowering parts of my own labors and deliveries – the first two for their strengths and victories, the last for my eventual triumph over seemingly insurmountable odds. With that last one as my capstone, I’d forgotten the positive parts of pregnancy and childbirth. Remembering that gives me something to help women to which to aspire.
The disparity between parts of my own experience and beautiful birth stories brings into sharp focus those areas that can serve as triggers, flashpoints for distress and disorder. And by beautiful, I do not mean perfect or idyllic. As Anne Cushman says in The Mindful Way Through Pregnancy, “labor and delivery are wild and messy and animal and angry and bloody and painful. The transcendent act of giving birth is made up of the earthiest of elements: bodily fluids, a hospital gown stained with blood and excrement, the bruises left on your partner’s arm by the agonized grip of your fingers.” (Piver 16) All this is normal, to be expected. That’s not what we need to worry about. We (women, mothers, humans, physicians, therapists, ob/gyns, midwives) need to help women recognize when there is cause to worry.
So maybe sitting on the floor of my local library and freaking my kids out with pictures of the ocarina found in one of my books will help me figure out how exactly to do that. As with anything, it’s all about dialogue. Whether that dialogue comes through books at the library, blog posts, or conversations with doctors, expectant and newborn mothers need to know there’s more to the story.