It’s been over two months since Valentine’s Day, and the daffodils are out and the cherry trees are in bloom, and my vegetable garden lures me with light-filled evenings and the promise of compost and earthworms.
But I’m still thinking about Valentine’s Day.
In early February we had an ice storm, which had followed on the heels of more snow than my neighbors had seen in 40 years.
That suburban blizzard was preceded by two other snowstorms. In the first, I’d been on my way home with the baby, and I had to stop to put the chains on the car. Later, a friend and I chained up her van and drove down to the school to pick up as many of our kids and neighbors that we could fit in the car. Buses didn’t get some kids home until 8 p.m. that night.
Through the course of the winter our family got the flu, sinus infections, strep throat, and never-ending colds. During my last visit to the pediatrician with an achy, lethargic sidekick, I’d laughed it off with wry humor—one of the only coping mechanisms I had left. “Well I feel bad for you,” our pediatrician said.
The storms and sicknesses had upended our routine the way a toddler explodes the contents of cabinets.
The things that kept me sane—acupuncture, meditation class, childcare, hiking, horseback riding, therapy, and work—were all canceled at the hands of weather and illnesses.
Sometime in there, just as we approached Valentine’s Day, my brain broke. It was around the time we had a meeting with a parent coach to discuss a plan for K-Pants’ explosive, anxiety-filled behavior at home. My husband and I had raced to the appointment after picking up the prescription for Boy Woww’s strep.
I had weathered eight weeks of snow days and holidays and illnesses. I’d done sledding play dates and worked at night. I became a pretty solid snow driver. But eight weeks without self-care left me dead inside, struggling to get out of bed, or communicate, or connect emotions to rational thinking.
Family is my priority. But family had eaten all the other priorities.
I heard some research recently that having a baby changes your brain for two years. The Fairy Pig is 22 months. I’ve had friends ask, sincerely, as if probing an alien for understanding, “So when does postpartum depression go away?”
I don’t know that two years is the magic line. In fact, I don’t know that there’s a magic line for anything. A friend who suffered from some dark days while parenting young children said to me recently that once that dark chasm opens up, you always know it.
I will always know it. But that doesn’t mean it will always own me.
Heading into the winter, I had been doing well, feeling like I had some great strategies. And the baby was becoming a toddler.
But then winter took it all away. The dark, cold days don’t always do that to me. But this winter in the Pacific Northwest seemed to spare no one.
As I sat at Valentine’s dinner eating chicken pho, I told my husband that I didn’t want to go back to the dark mental place winter brought on. For me, when all of the things that support me go away, the world starts to not make sense, and I realize I’m capable of crazy things. “We have to listen to all my signals and make sure that I don’t get there again,” I told my husband.
We decided that I couldn’t be the only parent to flex to absorb the changes in family routine that weather and illness bring. We strategized about how to protect my critical appointments.
When the camellias came out in January and February I tried to destroy them with my laser eyes. “You’ll die from the ice and snow,” I told them.
The tulips are overtaking the daffodils now. I’m beginning to believe that spring is here. But it’s May. And I’m still weak and exhausted from the winter, wondering if the summer will be long enough to sear through the ice that had frozen me solid.
I know that the older the baby gets and the more we are tested by new situations, the stronger I will get. But I have to write about the worst times, so that that thing doesn’t happen—the thing where ideas and dogma slowly turn personal experiences into moralistic nostalgia. I need to have somewhere to come to remember how deep and raw the wound of postpartum depression felt, so that it can hopefully, maybe, allow me to approach others with deep compassion even when the memories fade.