Instructions For a New Mother

Photo Credit: Andreas Øverland via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Andreas Øverland via Compfight cc

Anyone who’s been reading my blog for a while knows that I battled postpartum depression and anxiety after my daughter was born thirteen years ago. I’ve written about it on this blog, directly or indirectly, a few times:

How A Word-Lover Transformed Into a Math-Fan

4 Signs You Might Be The Best Mother In The World

8 Reasons I Should Never Have Been a Mother

The thing you probably don’t know is that a couple years ago I wrote a long-form creative nonfiction piece (originally around 4,500 words) about that experience. I’ve submitted it a few places; all have been rejected except for the one that I’m currently waiting to hear back on. It’s for an anthology from the HerStories Project called Mothering Through the Darkness. I’ll know by March 15th if they accepted it. I hope so. I really do.

Regardless, those six weeks after my daughter was born, and the week or two leading up to her birthday almost every year until she was nine years old, will stay with me forever. I’ve thought all along that that’s a bad thing—that the constant hitting myself over the head with my failings as a mother is a penance I’ll have to pay for the rest of my life. But now, thirteen years later and four years after my last bout—the one that sent me as far to the edge of grief and guilt as the first—I see the good in it.

I see now…

That when you think you’re the worst mother in the world, that you’ve committed a sin for which there is no forgiveness, it can only get better from there.
That it’s entirely possible to go from a complete lack of feeling for someone, other than feeling she’s the person who destroyed the life you loved and wedged herself into your blissful marriage like a moldy splinter, to a love that expands and crushes your chest at the same time.
That there are as many different types of mothers as their are people who give birth or adopt; that one is no better than the other, and even the “bad” ones can still be good…eventually.

But every now and then, something in me feels compelled to remind myself of what that time was like. Not to punish me—those days are over thanks to a wonderful therapist and supportive husband.

I’m not sure why. All I know is that I made an agreement with myself that if “she” speaks (the mother I once was or thought I was), I’ll listen.

I can’t share the piece I submitted, but this is what “she” said when she tapped me on the shoulder and whispered in my ear during writing group a couple months ago.

Instructions For a New Mother

Step 1.

Cry after your baby is born,

but not for joy.

Cry because in the middle of a visit from your co-workers,

after Tammy grabs your breast with one hand

and your baby’s head with the other

and smashes them together like Matchbox cars,

you realize that you do not want to be a mother and

that you do not want to leave the hospital with your baby.

Look at your co-workers and wonder which of them is most qualified

to take your baby home with her.

Identify Tammy as the likely candidate.


Step 2.

When you arrive home with your baby,

do everything you can to pretend she doesn’t exist.

Tell your husband you’re taking a shower,

and when he asks what he should do with the baby

tell him you don’t care.


Step 3.

When your friend comes to visit the day after you arrive home,

don’t bother trying to talk to her.

You will not understand her.

She will sound like she has an angel food cake in her mouth

and your mind will hang back about two sentences’ worth of time

and will never really catch up.

When she asks you what the birth was like because she’s pregnant and due in a few months,

tell her it hurt

and ask her if she would like some lasagna.


Step 4.

One night when you’re lying in bed with your husband,

ask him if he thinks his parents would consider adopting your daughter.

Mean it.

When he doesn’t respond right away,

mistake his delay for thoughtful contemplation,

then add that you could work out visitation and what your daughter could call you.

When he says no,

assume he means yes.

Start planning the transfer.


Step 5.

When your other friend comes to visit,

the one who had her daughter two months before yours,

remember when you go into the kitchen that you’re getting her a glass of water.

Put the knife back in the butcher block and remind yourself that it is not polite to stab your guests,

even if it most certainly is justifiable homicide, or at least self-defense,

when she pulls her mother-love on you like a hormonal, baby-head-sniffing bazooka.


Step 6.

Calculate the distance between the changing table and the floor,

and wonder how much dumb luck it would take for your baby to roll off

and land head-first on the sliver of exposed wood floor

peeking out from under the braided rug.

Do not place your hand protectively on your baby’s chest.

Instead, with all the detachment you have no trouble mustering,

note how much it would hurt her when her head connected with the floor.

If she fell.

If she landed

on that tiny sliver

of wood floor.


Step 7.

Watch as the World Trade Center is attacked and the towers collapse.

Instead of horror,

find yourself feeling alive for the first time in weeks

because you know you’re not alone in your agony.

Now cry tears of joy.


Step 8.

Watch multiple episodes of “A Baby Story” on TLC

and wait for the end of the show,

the part when the women hold their babies.

Search their eyes and pray to God

they look as dead as yours.

Ready yourself for the disappointment that comes.

Every time.


Step 9.

When your husband comes home and tells you he got laid off, panic because this breastfeeding thing is not working because you can’t eat because your stomach is filled with miles of barbed wire and realize that if you can’t eat, you can’t produce milk and if you can’t produce milk you have to buy baby formula that you can’t afford because your husband just got laid off and for fuck’s sake do not tell anyone that you don’t know how much longer you can keep yourself from bolting from the house and never coming back because they’ll make you go to a doctor that you can’t afford because your husband just got laid off and they’ll put you on medication and send you to a shrink both of which you can’t afford because your husband just got laid off.


Step 10.


5 thoughts on “Instructions For a New Mother

  1. Damn, Kel. I’m so sorry you went through so much. That’s rough. Thanks for sharing. It takes a lot of guts to share YOUR truth, not the prototypical truth of mothers that polite society insists on. You keepin’ it real, and I so respect that.

    I’m not a mother of a human, but I’d hazard a guess that most mothers have felt exactly as you describe in any one of these 10 steps at some point along the way. Maybe not as persistently, but I’m sure you’re not alone. In fact, some may have actually followed through with a step or two. Or ten.

    It’s THE hardest job in the world. And if you ask me, I think I know enough about you now to know you’re damn good at it. Maybe you didn’t always want the position, and you might have tried to quit once or twice, (or more) but I guarantee, there are a lot of women out there, if they’re being honest, feeling the same damn way.

    I really hope your piece is accepted into the anthology. That would totally rock!

    So, what does it say about me that I laughed through quite a bit of this? Step 5…ha! I’ve felt like doing that to certain friends for far less. I kid. Sort of. It is, indeed, not polite to stab your guests. 😉 “Baby-head-sniffing bazooka.” Brilliant!
    Kelly Byrne recently posted…Why You Should Get Back On The Horse Even If He Nearly Broke Your HoohahMy Profile

    1. Thanks Kel! It definitely wasn’t a pleasant time in my life but it helps to know that so many other women go through it. I felt so alone then. Now? Not at all!

      And I’m thrilled that it made you laugh…even in my darkest shit I try and find something funny about it. So I’m really glad some of it hit that mark for you.

      Thanks, as always, for reading and commenting!!

  2. Kelly, that is really an effin’ amazing piece of writing. I never had post-partum depression, but I did have depression, and I recognize that raw anger and deadness and panic, tumbling together like clothes in the dryer. Since this seems to be your most recent post I fear the March 15 decision for the HerStories anthology did not come back as you would have wished, but if so, I hope you keep resubmitting until it does.
    Paula recently posted…Going HomeMy Profile

    1. Thanks Paula! That comment means a lot coming from you—I’m always amazed at your writing.

      And you’re right—March 15th didn’t bring good news for me. 🙁 But that just means another publication will have the honor of publishing my piece. 🙂

      Thanks again for reading and commenting. I really appreciate it.

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