“Please Take the Baby”
That’s what I said when I called my mother-in-law. That’s all I said.
“Please take the baby.”
The line went dead after that. She lived thirty minutes away. He could cry until she got there. I didn’t really care.
But honestly, I didn’t really care about anything that day. Or the day before, or the week before. I was going through the motions but with no feelings. I was three months post partum and had begun to feel...nothing.
Somehow during the fog of that time, the feeling of nothing had begun to feel familiar. An ancient memory, almost twenty years before, when I’d felt nothing that deeply. When my Dad left our family, when my Mom said I was going to change schools, when Jim said he didn’t love me. Slowly nothing had arrived. Back then I was going through the motions too. School, home, school, home but with silent tears. I cried all day. I couldn’t stop but I made no noise. I talked to nobody. Just cried and felt empty.
I wasn’t crying with my new baby. Instead I was sitting on a couch while he screamed in my lap and stared out the window. I knew he needed to nurse. I knew he needed a new diaper, but I just couldn’t. I couldn’t care enough to get up. I hadn’t really slept since he was born. I was eating poorly. I wasn’t in the sunshine or exercising. My winter baby had me tied to my house and it clearly wasn’t working.
When I was a teenager twenty years before and felt nothing, I just thought I was sad because Jim didn’t love me. But then that made me think maybe my Dad didn’t love me or my Mom, since she was the one taking me to a new school. Suddenly it seemed like nobody loved me. And that added to the nothingness. I was nothing. I only heard in my head, “I am nothing.”
I heard this when I swallowed the one hundred aspirin pills. I heard this when I crawled in my bed afterwards. I heard this when the ambulance came, when they shoved a tube up my nose and filled it with black charcoal I vomited up and onto the nurses shoes, my pillow, my hair.
“I am nothing.”
But I wasn’t nothing with this baby. I knew enough to know my body was still needed by this small man. It gave me enough energy to make the call to my mother-in-law.
“Please take the baby.”
She showed up a half hour after I made that call. She walked in the back door, as she always did, “hello, hello, are you here?”
I didn’t answer. I couldn’t answer. Me on the couch with leaking nipples, dirty pajamas, greasy hair and a blank stare. She walked into the living room quietly whispering to my son, “hey, hey baby boy.”
She turned to my eyes and said nothing to me. But she knew. I know she did because she patted my shoulder with her firm hands right before she took him out of my lap and walked out of the house with his packed diaper bag and bottle. Like she’d done before.
And still, I felt nothing. No sense of relief. No dread. No euphoria. No sense of freedom. A nothing so deep my bones felt hollow. My chest caved in, my mouth dried, my eyes leaked, my shoulders slouched to my stomach and a haze covered the sun.
I stared out the window at my bright camelia bush while my mind calculated out how many steps it would take to get to my shoes. Twenty. About twenty steps. My sneakers were twenty steps away.
How far to my bicycle? Twenty more steps. Twenty plus twenty equals forty. Twenty plus twenty equals forty. I recited this in my head the whole day while I thought about a bra. Should I get a bra? How many more steps would that take? Twenty plus twenty plus twenty plus twenty.
The house was so blissfully quiet. There was no noise from anywhere or anything. I could hear myself breathing. Twenty plus twenty. I could do it.
And I did. I got up off the couch and walked in cement shoes dragging through mud in a blustery storm to get to those twenty steps where my sneakers sat. I walked outside without a bra, without locking up my house or grabbing my phone and just counted twenty more steps. And there she was. My bike. My friend I had been with since college. My daily commuter that hadn’t chummed around with me all winter. Because of the baby. Because of the rain and because of nothing.
The first mile was nothing. The second too. But the third made me sweat and the fourth made me angry. I yelled up a giant hill, “grrrrrrrrrrrr” then I yelled at a car going by, “slow down!” and I felt the cold on my skin, the wind in my hair, the sun on my face.
I felt something.
Twenty plus twenty.
To find out more about perinatal anxiety and depression you can visit www.panda.org.au