Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Tag: books

My New Book: A Birth Story Guaranteed To Make You Cry

After I gave birth this past February, I thought,

Well. How am I going to write about that?

Because what I felt in labor had been deeply spiritual. In my first labor, I sensed God’s presence, but not in a physical way. What I experienced was beyond my physical senses.

But this time… I had seen things.

I had actually physically felt things that I couldn’t explain.

I knew that a blog post would become buried in this website over time. That’s not the way that I wanted to share this experience with an audience. I wanted something more permanent. Something more discover-able and more available to as many people as possible.

***

So I published a short Kindle book, called Why Your Middle Name is Jacob: A Birth Story.

From August 3-7, I will be giving away free copies, so I encourage you to download your copy today and share with anyone whom you think would be interested in it.

Important: You don’t need a Kindle device to read the book.

As long as you have an Amazon account, you can read this book. Just go to Amazon’s website, log in, find the book, put it in your cart, and checkout (for free). Then choose “Your Account,” and then select “Your Content and Devices.” You will see the book there and you can read it in your web browser.

Included in this e-book are six additional essays that I wrote in the early postpartum period, curated and compiled for a larger audience.

  • The World is Good Because it is Bad: A Letter to My Unborn Child
  • Postpartum Hemorrhage
  • These Holy Hours
  • Week 6: A Great Time to Return to Work
  • Week 7: And Now My Watch Is Ended
  • Is There Room in Motherhood for Feminism?

Kindle Direct Publishing only allows me to give away free copies of a title every 90 days. Please take advantage of this free promotional period while you can. After August 7th, the book will be available for $2.99.

If you download a copy, please review it on Amazon.

As an independent author, I rely on you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on my work.

I greatly appreciate your support!

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Book of Life and Death: A Book Review

I picked up this book at a library book sale a few weeks ago. Two middle-schoolers handed me a grocery sack and said that I could fill it with as many books as I wanted for $5.00. This was one of the books that I grabbed.

Signs of Life

I’m so glad that I did.

***

Signs of Life is a cogent blend of journalistic investigation and memoir that explores hospice, palliative care, and our modern preference for treating the human body as a battle field and death as failure. But it’s so much more than that.

Brookes shares stunning observations and insight about the dying process and the grief that follows it. He does more than gather facts. He narrates his mother’s last six months as she slowly dies from pancreatic cancer. This bittersweet combination of history, science, and human experience provide a multi-layered approach toward understanding this topic.

I was first struck by one of Brookes’ first arguments:

The more we try to avoid death, the more likely we are to end up with exactly the death that we fear the most: helpless, afraid, in pain, alone. (p. 24)

Brookes combines interviews with doctors and hospice nurses along with his own experience with observing the dissection of a human cadaver to show us the absurdity of treating death as failure even though death is absolutely certain.

Who knows whether our panic and hand-wringing in the hospital corridor are at the thought that someone is dying, or that someone is dying the wrong death, in the wrong place? (p. 205)

This observation, I feel, is key to unlocking some of our modern discourse around death. We all know that we’re going to die. But when our moment has come, we’re encouraged to deny that it’s happening. This isn’t my time. This isn’t the way.

***

We typically view the concept of living in physical terms: breathing, heartbeat, and brain activity. But this is limited, as those of us who have watched our loved ones fade away piece by piece can attest. In an especially insightful passage, Brooks defines living in terms of our ability to be creative, even in the most mundane sense. As his mother’s health declines to the point that she struggles to continue her silversmithing, Brookes explains how losing this ability to create is a kind of death.

Any action is an act of knitting the past with the present to create the future, of making things that will exist that will have consequences, that, like earrings, will still be there to be given away or shown off. Inaction, the stricture of a sterile environment, severs the connection through time and thus suspends life, as if death had soaked like a beet stain backwards through time and saturated the fabric of life still left. (p. 168)

Our ability to create, then, becomes the vehicle that connects our past, present, and future selves. As Brookes narrates his mother’s dying, we see her selves slowly detach from one another: first, from her future self, and then from her present self. What remains in her final days is a self that digresses further and further from the present world until she is nearly completely engulfed in her past.

It makes me think of what my mother told me about my father in his last days. Suffering already from Parkinson’s and depression, my father died of complications after he fell and broke his C-2 vertebrae. Several days before he passed away, my mother walked into his room in the nursing home and he asked her if she had “his whites washed.” She asked him what he meant. He said that he needed his whites washed so he could get ready for his shift at the bakery. In his mind, he was living in a moment that had happened thirty years earlier.

***

Brookes also expresses the experience of grief in words that resonated deeply with me. Here are several quotes that need no explanation. They are just pure, simple truth. I underlined them. I starred them. I nodded ferociously.

I had thought that grief was a sign of lack of completeness, a wailing for the piece of the self that is missing, and as such, bereavement is necessary for us to individuate, to be whole. Now I saw that individuation is a machine’s notion of humanity: we pour into each other like inks in water. To be complete is not to be unaffected, or if we are separate, we are also part of something else, something we have in common, that infiltrates us at every cell. (p. 210)

Somehow grief had given me an exquisite awareness of the difference between the things that were suffused with life and those that lacked life energy, or abused it. (p. 211)

I felt as if I were breaking myself into little pieces and feeding them to vultures… The difficulty comes in the crossover between the inner and the outer worlds, having to deal with the pressures of the material world at a time when we have just been somewhere else. (p. 247)

I didn’t have the energy—and perhaps above all I didn’t want to have to be the one to spell it all out: I was wounded, and I wanted someone else to take care of me, someone who understood it already. (p. 248)

***

About a year ago, I opened up about my own experience with connecting birth and death in a blog post called “What Labor and Death Have in Common.” In summary, I feel strongly that experiencing the pain of childbirth pushed me into a space where death came up alongside me—and I allowed it to stay. I didn’t panic. I didn’t fear it, simply because there was no time to fear it. I was consumed by the waves of contractions. And so I entered a space where my body and mind went to mute and all I could sense was… quite frankly, God.

This experience was so profound that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I wished that there were some way to fully convey what I had sensed during these hours, but language couldn’t fully articulate it. I felt that I had grown a new pair of eyes that could see a whole new view of the world, as if I had learned how to bend light to hit objects in a new way.

I wrote about this in my book, Becoming Mother, but I placed it in a separate appendix at the end of the book, not totally sure that all readers would truly understand what I was talking about, or perhaps be turned off by too much “woo-woo.”

So imagine my surprise when I read Brookes’ account of how he felt after had said good-bye to his ailing mother and accepted her impending death. His description of walking alongside the inevitability of death mirrors perfectly my own experience in childbirth and the first few days that followed.

I was of this world, but not affected by it, my mind unencumbered by gravity. Remarkable thoughts kept occurring to me… It was as if I had burrowed through all the rubble of tedious necessity in my life and found myself in a chamber lit by some unknown source, walls covered with pictures and hieroglyphics… I felt immune to trouble or hardship; I couldn’t imagine anything that could defeat my spirit. It was as if I had an umbilicus to God… The euphoria lasted about five days… (but then) I felt like I had lost my soul: I simply couldn’t think myself back to the state of grace I had known… Being so close to death, it seemed, was offering me wisdoms that I wasn’t using. (pp. 193-195)

I could have written these exact words about my own encounter with experiencing and witnessing life’s beginning.

In fact, in my own book, I write these words:

I felt the presence of God for the first time in the darkness of a shower, hours past sleep deprivation, and in the hardest hours of labor. In those sacred moments, punctuated with pain, I was finally truly aware of a portion of the self that is beyond the body and beyond the mind. My spirit soared into the foreground. And there, in the quiet darkness, as water spilled over me, I was connected to the Divine. Its energy flowed into me, took control, and pushed me forward. It stayed with me for days. It caused me to glow. (p. 274)

After such a profound experience, I also went through an opposing wave of emotion, feeling that I had lost my center. I kept trying to get back to those moments of clarity and spiritual connection, but it just wasn’t possible.

I had a similar experience when my father passed away, though not nearly as profound. And it truly made me a believer that those who draw near those moments of birth and death also enter sacred spaces. Life coming in. Life going out. Life all around.

***

After I finished this book, I flipped to the front matter to check its year of publication and noticed a stamp from the library on the inside cover. Discard, it read.

I laughed. The irony was too much.

Then I flipped back to this passage:

To talk only of death makes death triumphant. The best thing we can do for the dead and for ourselves is to give them back their lives. It’s a kind of resurrection. (p. 232)

I feel that this is what I’ve done for Signs of Life today, as I retell its story, hoping that it finds even more readers 20 years later.

A Response to “Meternity” author, Meghann Foye

Few things incite my anger as quickly as the characterization of maternity leave as “vacation.”

In a recent interview with the New York Post about her new novel, Meternity, author Meghann Foye suggests that maternity leave allows mothers to take a step back from their lives and find their focus. She reports that she felt “envious” that mothers would leave the office to pick their kids up while she stayed behind to “pick up the slack.” Her sentiments led her to believe…

… in the value of a “meternity” leave — which is, to me, a sabbatical-like break that allows women and, to a lesser degree, men to shift their focus to the part of their lives that doesn’t revolve around their jobs.

After reading this interview, I was infused with rage and resentment. I ranted about this interview to some colleagues (because I read it at work–where I actually have a few moments to read something on the Internet).

I am far from the only one. Here’s what Jenn Mann, author of People I Want to Punch in the Throat, posted about MeternityAnd if that’s not enough, take a look at the Amazon reviews for the novel that started this whole mess.

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Understandably, hoards of American mothers have rushed to the social media crime scene of Meternity to put in their own two cents about Foye’s misguided attempt at humor. Many of their comments focus on their frustration about the fact that Foye has completely misrepresented maternity leave. This is true. Foye presents “meternity leave” as a parallel path for women without children to take in order to focus on self-discovery.

But she misses the mark completely.

Her concept of “meternity” isn’t parallel to maternity leave–it’s the exact opposite.

Which is why mothers are so freakin’ pissed.

***

Contrary to what Foye assumes, when I was on maternity leave, I had never before thought so little about what wanted in life. What I wanted–nay, needed!–in life was at the very, very bottom of the priority list.

Time for reflection? When?

Here’s 24 hours with a newborn. Midnight-1:00: nurse, change, soothe. 2:00-3:00: nurse, change, soothe. 4:00-5:00: nurse, change, soothe. Etc. And that’s when everything is going well. Throw in some bouts of baby gas, constipation, colic, the fact that you haven’t showered in three days or that you’ve got four visitors in your home… I think I may be preaching to the choir on this point.

The first time I was able to finally step back and reflect was when I returned to work and my daughter was in daycare. While Foye sees “meternity leave” as a way to reflect on her life, the reality is the privileged American mothers who actually have maternity leave need to end it in order to have the time and space to reflect.

And let’s not forget all the American mothers who don’t get maternity leave, be it paid or unpaid. Then, there’s the mothers who must return to work ASAP because they’ve run out of vacation days and sick leave (two unfortunate misnomers that feed the ignorance about maternity leave). And what about the mothers who stay home and are immersed in care-taking day in and day out? Are their lives full of reflection?

It’s no wonder that so many mothers are absolutely incensed that (once again) care-taking has been written off as a kind of leisure activity.

***

Meghann, let’s level with each other. It is especially hurtful to hear maternity leave compared to a vacation when it comes from another woman. I’m assuming you’ve experienced times when you’ve been the target of presumptive, uninformed judgments from men who don’t have a clue.

But let me be fair, Meghann. You have indeed made a spot-on observation about maternity leave:

From the outside, it seemed like those few weeks of (new mothers) shifting their focus to something other than their jobs gave them a whole new lens through which to see their lives.

You are right, Meghann–but it’s not because new mothers simply have time off from work, which is how you envision “meternity leave.”

The reason that mothers emerge with a new focus is because they have been plunged into a nonstop, grueling training program that schooled them in quickly distinguishing what was important and what was simply window dressing. Through pain, blood, and tears, they learned how to put aside hunger, frustration, exhaustion, and self-doubt in order to find the strength to keep mothering.

They learned how to get rid off all the noise and distractions in order to find a place to drop the anchor so they could hold on while the storm waged on.

That’s how mothers redirected their focus. That’s how they “found” themselves. Not by traveling and thinking and reading and ruminating. They did it through boots-on-the-ground training, every hour of every day for weeks. And then for months. They did it through self-denial, arguments with their spouses, and constant reassessments of how and when they could have social lives and personal time.

Becoming a mother is an ongoing lesson in humility, beginning from that obvious (yet still surprising!) realization that your baby cannot thank you for getting up four times at night. Your baby doesn’t thank you for suffering with a torn vagina just so he could emerge into this world. In fact, your baby can’t even really have a conversation with you for another two years.

So those early weeks of new motherhood are training for a lifetime of not being thanked or even acknowledged. And while we continue to feel annoyance and frustration about this, new motherhood does a remarkable job of tempering our emotional reactions.

But everyone has their limits.

So maybe you can understand why we get pissed when one of our own gender joins in the obliviousness of calling maternity leave a vacation. We get frustrated because what we do during our leave is often done in the dark, with no thanks or acknowledgement.

In fact, that is one of the reasons that I wrote my book, Becoming Mother. When I was pregnant, I noticed that there was a true dearth of books that actually took a pregnant woman into what it’s like to become a mother. There were plenty of books about the physical side, but nothing really that dealt with the emotional and mental upheaval, which is truly what makes maternity leave so necessary for coping with new motherhood.

When I was experiencing those first weeks of motherhood, I kept thinking, “Why doesn’t anyone talk about this? This is insane! This is so unbelievably hard that I can’t believe no one talks about this.” And while there were plenty of books on first-time motherhood that took the shape of humorous confessions, no one was really being real with me.

So I wrote a book that would be real with new mothers.

Book-Cover-Becoming-Mother-Kindle

I wrote it to cast light on the hidden side of maternity leave.

I did this so that others could sympathize and perhaps even advocate for new mothers. After all, the United States is one of only two countries in the world that doesn’t have paid maternity leave–and that won’t change as long as this country holds onto the myth–even jokingly–that maternity leave is a vacation.

***

While everyone seems to be having their pound of flesh over the absurdity of Meternity, I’m looking for my compassion for Meghann.

Okay, she doesn’t have children yet. Okay, maybe the closest she has come to someone who has taken maternity leave is her view of the empty desk that she sees at work. But the gravest error that Meghann has made is choosing a subject that she doesn’t know much about. And then going so far as to write a novel about it. And then approaching that subject from an angle that provokes the ire of millions of mothers.

Put simply, her gravest error is a lack of humility.

But I’m venturing to guess that she might be learning that lesson now.

I could have written off this whole concept of “meternity” as very poor taste and a lack of social awareness. I could have just rolled my eyes, stewed at my desk while eating my lunch in fifteen minutes (so I could finish grading final exams–because I don’t have time to grade at home), but this is too important of a moment to let it go.

This is the moment when we need to say something. This is the moment when we say, “Knock it off with the vacation comparisons, already.”

It’s not funny.

It’s not even cute.

At best, it’s feeding a culture of misunderstanding.

At worst, it mocks what mothers of newborns actually experience.

Bullying

So my daughter is in love with the Berenstain Bears right now. And I happen to love that. Each story tackles a challenge that kids face and usually offers sound advice and moral lessons. Don’t eat too much junk food! Do chores around the house! Learn to compromise with friends! Don’t brag about yourself all the time! Take turns! Clean up after yourself!

I mean, really, who doesn’t love these books?

And then I read how the Berenstain Bears tackled the bully issue.

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So in this episode, Sister Bear is the one that gets beaten up by a bully. (Nice twist, huh?) Brother is so pissed off about it that he marches down to the playground to knock this kid’s lights out–only to find out that the bully is a girl. Then, he decides that he can’t punch a girl. Why?

“Because then he’d be a bully, too.”

So, the first lesson is that if boys hit girls, they’re bullies.

… Which begs the question: What are boys if they hit other boys? Just boys? The old “boys will be boys” line?

So Brother stalks away, his masculinity deflated, disappointed and frustrated that he can’t hit a girl.

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I’ll summarize the rest of the story: Brother Bear then goes to the school’s gym teacher, who then gives him boxing gloves (not kidding). Then, Brother Bear goes back home and teaches Sister Bear self-defense in the basement of the Bear Tree House. All of this happens unbeknownst to Mama and Papa Bear, whose advice isn’t much better.

“Just avoid the bully as much as possible,” they say.

However, when Sister Bear is inevitably confronted by the bully on the school playground, she indeed punches the bully right in the face (not kidding).

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Both Bears are sent to the principal’s office. The bully cries as they wait to be disciplined, and Sister has a revelation that this kid is probably hit by her parents.

Resolution: Sister gets off with a warning. The bully gets a week of no recess–and they don’t tell her parents.

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***

Two weeks ago, I heard my husband tell our daughter, “If he pushes you, I want you to say ‘Don’t push me!”

It seemed weird to be having this talk with a 2 1/2 year-old child. But I guess this is when these conversations need to start?

I’m the first to admit that I don’t have clear advice or strategies to share with my daughter about how to deal with bullying. Is it good advice to tell her to push back?

One thing I do know: I cringe at the thought of telling her to just avoid a bully.

So what options remain? Should I tell her to tell the teacher? But then, I also want her to know that she has agency to solve her own problems.

But then, she’s two.

Bargh…

What do/did you tell your two-year-old?

From My Desk to Yours…

To celebrate the first six months of publication, I’m giving away two signed copies of “Becoming Mother” through Goodreads this month. Enter any time between February 8th and February 26th. Feel free to share with friends!

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Goodreads Book Giveaway

Becoming Mother by Sharon Tjaden-Glass

Becoming Mother

by Sharon Tjaden-Glass

Giveaway ends February 26, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

 

Milestone # 1: 100 books sold!

While writing a book is hard, publishing and marketing a book–at least for me–is harder. Writing put me in the driver’s seat. I was calling the shots. I could craft and mold the future success of my book by the decisions that I was making.

But once my book became consumable, something for people to hesitantly pick up and flip through, something for people to silently judge and turn down, all my control was gone. The success of my book is now (mostly) out of my control. While I can present it in the best light possible, it’s ultimately the buyer’s decision.

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I wasn’t expecting to sell 500 books in the first few months of publication. I made my goal more attainable.

100 books.

That was how many I wanted to sell by the end of the year.

In October, I wasn’t so sure it was going to happen. Around mid-September, after the dust had settled from the initial rush of its release, I had sold about 55 books. October was a slow month. I didn’t have any sales events scheduled until the end of November, and I began to wonder how I was going to keep my sales going when I wasn’t pitching the book in person.

So I turned my attention to this blog. I started reading and commenting on other pregnancy and motherhood blogs. I started following other bloggers and liking their posts.

And you know what? My sales started climbing again.

I couldn’t believe it.

It wasn’t costing me anything (besides my time) to engage with other bloggers on-line, and blogging was paying off just about as much as it was for me to pay booth fees, sell in person, and pitch over and over again to complete strangers. So I kept at it. I kept writing throughout November. Good, solid content like “To the Syrian mother of triplets, fleeing from ISIS” and “The things you can’t leave behind.”

Throughout October and November, I noticed that I started reaching readers in other countries: Canada, Australia, and Great Britain. Although I can’t be sure that these sales came from blogging, I’m fairly certain they did.

So while I thought that direct in-person sales would lead to the most sales, I have been happily disappointed.

But in-person selling hasn’t been a waste of time. And I definitely recommend it for other writers. In-person selling has helped me to make contacts, network with others, increase my book’s visibility, and develop my own confidence and pitching skills. I know how to talk about my book to different audiences in under a minute. I know that many of my buyers are not new mothers. They are the family and friends of the new mother who are looking for a unique gift for the new mother. I have learned that some of my biggest buyers are women in their 50s and 60s whose daughters are expecting their first babies.

I have also been happily surprised in this journey of publishing.

In mid-November, I checked my sales and I did a double-take at the number of total sales. Usually, I sell about one or maybe two copies per week. When I looked over the details, I saw that I had sold six copies in one day. To whom? I have no idea. Since I didn’t sell as many copies in the days before or after that day, I thought it must have been a single buyer. Was it a book club purchase? That would be nice.

But it was someone who was willing to plop down $78 for six printed copies.

I can’t think of a greater compliment.

***

Interested in getting your own copy of Becoming Mother

 

Why should pregnant women buy “Becoming Mother”?

In this video, I share my thoughts on what makes this book a truly unique read for first-time mothers. I also explain how it’s different from reading typical motherhood blogs.

Book Review: “Mothering Through the Darkness”

Mothering

If you’ve never experienced postpartum depression (PPD), it is tempting to write off books on the subject, thinking that they are not good investments of your time. I admit that I paused when considering whether to buy this book. I don’t call what I experienced after my daughter’s birth postpartum depression because it was not long-lasting and as soon as I started getting more than two hours of sleep per day, I vastly improved.

But don’t write off this book.

Because this book isn’t just for mothers who have experienced or who may experience PPD. It’s for husbands and close friends, parents and siblings, doctors and nurses, pastors and counselors. It’s for all of those people who interact closely with women during the postpartum period.

Stephanie Sprenger and Jill Smock, editors of The HerStories Project: Women Explore the Joy, Pain, and Power of Female Friendship (2013) and My Other Ex: Women’s True Stores of Leaving and Losing Friends (2014), have selected and compiled a stunning collection of essays on the postpartum experience that is desperately needed and should be part of the pregnancy literature canon, if there is such a thing.

Mothering through the Darkness is not merely a collection of facts about what women experience during periods of postpartum depression. This is an articulate and engaging collective narrative of thirty-five essays that take the reader through a kaleidoscope of postpartum experiences, ranging from postpartum depression, anxiety, and mood disorders as well as the lesser known post-adoption depression. Some writers sought help while in their darkest hours; others struggled through without help and lived to regret it. But all of these stories succeed in connecting the reader with the foggy inner world of the postpartum period. It is this book’s ability to take the reader inside the mind of the mother that makes it a great read for those who are close to postpartum women.

In the book’s first essay, “Here Comes the Sun,” poet Maggie Smith says, “…we all come into this world unfinished, still stitching ourselves together” (p. 13). The essays that follow uphold this same spirit of honorable incompleteness. The dignity of process and ongoingness. Each essay ends with an understanding that one is never complete, never perfect, never fully finished.

What readers can find in Mothering Through the Darkness are common threads that stitch essays together to create coherence in a chaotic topic. Through Smock and Sprenger’s arrangement of these essays, readers can identify several major themes that emerge throughout the book.


Identity Shift

Not surprisingly, identity shift takes a central role in many of these essays. The struggle of women to redefine themselves as mothers is an extraordinary and monumental transformation. Such transformation is expressed in Denise Emanuel Clemen’s essay, “My Face in the Darkness,” in which she recalls how the birth of her first child created a new reality where “the world was turning upside down” (p. 159). She confuses a rocking chair for a wheelchair. She sleeps at the foot of her bed to watch the baby. This complete upending of her world leads to her profound loss of self.

“I’d lost my old self somehow. The self that persevered. The self that could hold everything in. The self that could ferret out solutions” (p. 162).

This same loss of self emerges in Jennifer Bullis’ “Recovering My Stranger-Self.” After a difficult pregnancy and postpartum period forced her to resign from her tenure-track position at a prestigious university, Bullis sees herself two and a half years later in a mirror and finally feels that she has returned to herself—yet she acknowledges that this new self is, “Not… (her) previous identity, but… someone (she) recognize(s) as capable… as a mother” (p. 119).

Failure

Perhaps the most robust theme among these essays is a sense of failure. In “The Breast of Me,” Suzanne Barston narrates a string of perceived failures before her baby is even born: difficulty getting pregnant, early delivery because of low amniotic fluid, and no euphoric feelings of love for her son once he was born. Soon after that, postpartum depression sets in. In Barston’s words,

“…all I could give him was breast milk. Not love. Not laughter. Not focused attention. My only job was to feed the baby, and if I failed at that, I’d be rendered completely irrelevant. I couldn’t give up” (p. 145).

Katie Sluiter’s essay, “Sometimes There Aren’t Enough Bags of Chips,” shows just how devastating a sense of failure can be when it is coupled with complete physical and mental exhaustion. In her case, her feelings of inadequacy, “turned into a blinding rage directed mostly at (her) husband and (her) mother” (p. 100), culminating with her throwing a bag of chips at her husband while cursing, “FUCK THIS HOUSE AND YOU AND THIS FAMILY” (p. 102).

Emotional Paradox

Women who experience the postpartum period understand the reality of simultaneously feeling multiple, conflicting emotions. Joy, guilt, and terror. Contentment, worry, and gratitude. Sadness, confusion, and wonder. With each emotion vying for its own space to stretch its wings, women can easily fall into the trap of believing that it is not normal for both positive and negative emotions to exist at the same time within the same mind. Not understanding this can drive mothers to feel like liars, impostors, or drama queens.

This is where the essays of Mothering through the Darkness can normalize—perhaps even recreate a new paradigm for—postpartum experiences. Maggie Smith (“Here Comes the Sun”) and Jen Simon (“It Got Better But It Took a Long Time to Get Good”) both refer to the haunting feeling of needing to be away from their babies while simultaneously needing to touch them. Both writers settle on the analogy of a phantom limb to explain how they felt about being away from their babies. Needing and not needing at the same time. The lightness of freedom and the weight of guilt.

Celeste Noelani McLean’s “Life with No Room” not only acknowledges these paradoxes, it shows how identifying these paradoxes helps her move through quandaries that would strike most outside observers as illogical.

“This is the truth. I loved my daughter from the moment I knew that she was inside me. But I also did not love her when she was born. I was tired, ragged, overtaken when she was born. There was no room in my life for me. Knowing this is the truth, that I was not making any of it up, doesn’t fix it. Doesn’t make me love my daughter anymore. But it does make me hate myself a little less” (p. 33).

In fact, McLean’s courage to acknowledge her own suicidal thoughts actually contributes to her ability to overcome them. In simple, powerful words, she explains how.

“I want to be dead, and I admit to this in a way, and it is so embarrassing to admit this. But also, it is a relief. I have spoken these words and I have not died” (p. 33).

Isolation

Perhaps the most poignant essay that addresses isolation and depression is Randon Billings Noble’s “Leaving the Island.” By comparing her journey through the postpartum period to the story of Robinson Crusoe, Noble demonstrates the loss of perspective and disorientation that new mothers can feel when they experience PPD. Although the representation of depression as an island is not new, Nobel’s description of it adds fresh insight.

“It is a place where logic fails…[and] where the laws of gravity are more powerful than any other force. It is a place almost impossible to revisit or describe once you’ve left” (p. 107).

Alexa Bigwarfe shows how feelings of isolation can further intensify PPD in her essay, “Breathe.” With two children, a new baby with a feeding tube, a husband who works all day, and a regimented pumping schedule to keep up her milk supply, Bigwarfe compares her days to house arrest. What saved her was medication and blogging.

“Through the comfort of strangers, I realized I was not alone and I was not a bad person” (p. 228).

Inability to recognize postpartum depression

This last theme is especially heartbreaking in Dawn S. Davies “Fear of Falling,” in which she describes the rift in her marriage that deepens as her husband’s lack of concern and compassion drives her deeper and deeper into depression. Davies recalls her attempt to exit a plane with her baby just before take-off because of her certainty that the plane would crash. When her husband growls at her to sit down because she is embarrassing him, Davies realizes that she must keep her irrational thoughts inside unless she is ready to accept the shame of sharing them.

It is this same tendency of women to soldier through tough times as a testament to their strength that Dana Schwartz takes issue with in her essay, “Afterbirth.” Schwartz opens with the story of her first birth and the large amount of blood that she lost from it. She says,

“I felt a strange sense of pride recounting the story, as if bleeding signified strength, as if almost dying but not was something to be proud of” (p. 39).

But this strength wanes when her baby develops severe colic that keeps her and her husband awake for months. Moving from powerful to powerless upsets her entire world and drives her to a key realization.

“Endurance is not strength; hardships are not badges to be earned. Blood loss is just blood loss, and too much of it will kill you” (p. 42).

 The Final Word

Mothering through the Darkness does not leave its readers with feelings of powerlessness. It is full of hope, but not the Hope as seen on Etsy, carved attractively into a wooden frame and then displayed above the mantle like a greeting card that never got sent.

In her essay, “We Come Looking for Hope,” Alexandra Rosas gives hope a more authentic definition. When a nurse recognizes the symptoms of postpartum depression descending on Rosas, she intervenes. The nurse assures her that she will get better because she has seen other patients get better after they got help. Rosas explains that through her postpartum fog, she had to make a decision—between believing that she could get better or being swallowed by depression. She credits this nurse with saving her life. As a result of this dire situation, Rosas creates a new definition of hope, one that rings desperately true.

“Hope is not a continuum—it’s not measured on a spectrum by degrees. It is a complete giving in to a desperate belief in something when you have nothing else left” (p. 171).

There is such truth in the absoluteness of this statement, the way it throws the reader out into the darkness, arms flailing, hoping and praying that there will be something there to grab on to. It’s this kind of candid truth that resonates most deeply with readers.


Although I haven’t mentioned every essay in this review, nearly every essay in this book caught and carried my full attention. They explored themes like the conflict between expectations and reality, healthy and unhealthy coping strategies, antenatal depression, and the darkest thoughts of self-harm and harming others. Their courage to write and share their stories will not only help you to recognize depression, but also to rethink how you can help a new mother who is experiencing PPD.

The writers of these essays do not look away. They look directly at you. They make you see who they are.

They make you see the face of the postpartum experience.

And for that, I thank them.

Buying Information

  • Mothering Through the Darkness: Women Open Up About the Postpartum Experience.
  • Edited by Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger
  • She Writes Press: Berkeley, CA. 2015
  • Available on Amazon in print and soon on Kindle.

Goodreads Giveaway: “Becoming Mother: A Journey of Identity”

Want a free copy of “Becoming Mother?” I’m giving away 15 printed copies via Goodreads this month. Enter by September 1st and you might be one of them! (Pssst… This is a great baby shower gift for a first-time mom!)

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Becoming Mother by Sharon Tjaden-Glass

Becoming Mother

by Sharon Tjaden-Glass

Giveaway ends September 01, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

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