Managing Editor’s Note: Once in a while I read something that strikes me as deeply and personally brave. The fear of judgment from our readers can be especially strong for a parent. In “Writing Through Postpartum,” Rachel Berg Scherer describes her psychological state after her son’s birth–that her depression left her dealing with a “tiny, selfish human who only takes,” that she said “some very mean” things to him, that she wished she could just give him back. It’s mesmerizing in its truth-telling, the kind of stark self-awareness that leads to healing.
Writing Through Postpartum
Rachel Berg Scherer
I adored the process of having my first baby. I was so thankful to be pregnant, I loved labor, and I loved giving birth. It was overwhelmingly empowering and powerful and transformative. I would give birth every day for a month if it meant I didn’t have to live with a newborn again.
My baby was born in the depths of winter, that “bleak midwinter” that inspired already-gloomy 19th century poets. That frigid time of year when evening starts soon after lunch, and day doesn’t really begin until well after breakfast. I sobbed every afternoon as the sun started its downward decent. I mourned for the end of brightness and for the endless bout of darkness that was looming. Every evening, I felt like I was slowly drowning, sinking another inch with each passing minute.
It was a darkness that I faced very much alone. All our family and close friends all lived at least a time zone away. They came to visit, but that only made the darkness more noticeable when they left. Each time someone left me alone with my baby, I became overwhelmingly anxious at the realization that this—this tiny, selfish human who only takes—was now my only companion.
The isolation was made even more painful by the journey we had walked to get to this moment. We endured four pregnancy losses, followed by weeks and months of invasive tests and hormone interventions. Sharing my deep, dark loneliness and extreme helplessness was a betrayal to the struggles we had to bring this little human into our lives.
How do you tell the people closest to you that maybe having a baby was a mistake? How do you share with the people who cried at every pregnancy loss and encouraged you with unyielding support that…I changed my mind! Sorry! I’ll actually take one good night’s sleep and some adult human interaction instead. Sorry, baby. But you’ll have to go back.
The days stretched into weeks as I continued to mourn the way our lives used to be. I loved my baby, but I didn’t love being a mom. I loved the new family my husband and I had created, but I resented the fact that it came at the expense of literally every other aspect of my old life. I had no one to talk to. I was all by myself, all night long. So I started talking to my baby.
But that meant that I said a lot of really not-nice things. In the middle of the night when no one else could hear, I said some very mean, hurtful, destructive things. I said things I wished I could take back, but could only apologize for. And so I started writing to my baby instead. I wrote down the hurtful things, so the universe around my baby wouldn’t absorb them. And so I could more easily destroy them.
I wrote angry, hateful, obscenity-laced letters to my baby. I wrote things I would never have said to his face, and I wrote things I never would have wanted any other adult humans to hear. I told him that I wished he would somehow let me have the life—and the sleep—that I enjoyed before he was born. And once I saw it written down, it was given the space it needed, so I could allow it to leave.
Once they were written in front of me, I thanked the fear and the anxiety and the loneliness and the hopelessness for the ways in which they were trying to help me, and then I gave them permission to leave. By writing to my son, the darkness was on the page and not in me. And it was not in him. It no longer had the same authority over my life that it once did. My relationship with my beautiful new baby boy was no longer controlled by the fear, thanks to the written word.
Writing letters to my baby pulled me out of my darkness. Writing saved me. Writing saved my marriage, and it saved all the other adult relationships in my life. Once I had written through the postpartum darkness, the love and light of motherhood found their way to my page instead.
I still write letters to my son, but now we keep them. We read them together at bedtime as we cuddle in his big bed, sharing our days and gushing about our mutual affection for one another. I welcome the close of the day now. I relish the quiet stillness of the impending darkness with the same intensity as I once feared it. And I thank the universe for sending me a little partner who inspires my writing craft in unexpected ways every single day.
Photo Credits: Davide Galimberti, Eddi van W., and niki georgiev
RACHEL BERG SCHERER is a writer, editor, parent, and teacher, though not always in that order. She lives in Minnesota with her husband and two children. Find more of her writing at www.midwestwriting.com.
Thank you, Rachel. THis is a brave and beautiful piece. WHen I went through a similar phase I’d read nothing of the sort. Now there’s more out there (check out “Dogs and Children” in my book, The Death of Fred Astaire), but there’s still not nearly enough, and I will pass this on to those I know who are suffering in isolation.
This is really wonderful and brave. I wish more mothers (including mine!) could have made a private space to process their ambivalence and pain instead of unconsciously taking it out on their children. I also had a hard crash after my son was born. Thank goodness for writing and for friends who understand.