By Karen Bannister
From The Momoir Project Blog
I am a young girl, playing on the sidewalk that forms a white border around the yellow stone house of my childhood. And in the summer breeze, alone except for the whistle of the wind in the trees and the distant cries of other children playing in the hot, bright sun, I step into the grooves and cracks in the pavement, slipping my jelly shoe feet into the parts in between. I try, concentrating all my mental energy and the might of my tiny frame, to step on the darkness that looms in front of me - the jagged outline of a little girl. I want to step on her, if not tell her distinctly to go away, to test the boundaries of science that form the world in which I live - boundaries I know nothing about but instinctively know to challenge. My shadow.
I had a recurring dream as a child that a man with a trailer - an old-fashioned one with rounded edges and a body that resembles a missile - would haunt my neighborhood. He would park his trailor in a visible location - often on my friend’s lawn - and all the children in the neighborhood would know he was there and how bad he was. But we would go along playing nonetheless until the frightful moment when he would emerge from his trailer and chase us around the block. We knew that if he caught us, we were kidnapped and awful things would happen. I tried to run but my limbs were stuck in vats of sticky molasses and I could not move to save myself.
Today, twenty years later, I have a different kind of shadow and dark man in my life. The shadow is a mental illness brought on by the birth of my son and the dark man, a manifestation of this illness that results in virtual hallucinations of dark figures haunting me. They are tamed by little white pills I take before bed each night. It is difficult to admit, as a grown woman, that I have the kind of delusions and nightmares that haunted me as a child.
It has been one year since I first began to suffer from Postpartum Depression, eight months since my diagnosis, six months since my breakdown and hospitalization, and several months since I first began to feel “better.” I continue to have the occasional bad day, leaving me to retreat into the cocoon of my bedroom, but in general I am strong.
So with this strength, I am trying to move forward with my life, but with this moving on, comes an incredible amount of fear. On a sunny day last week, I bundled my son into the car and drove along a road I travel quite often - the path from my house to my doctor’s office. In this visit, I hoped to discuss with my doctor, following a recent miscarriage, my desire and the hope of my husband, to have another child. For any woman, I imagine this is a big decision. But for me, and for those like me, suffering from Postpartum Depression, it is momentous. There is more to consider this time around, and more to prepare myself for. In my conversation with my doctor that day, in all her warmth and assurances, I discovered something I had not allowed myself to consider or really understand. Having another child means releasing the demons from hell. I have a 50/50 chance of suffering from Postpartum Depression again. This is hard to swallow.
And now I am stuck between wanting to expand my family, and mustering up the mental and physical strength to go through what I went through before, even if better and more attentive care may save me from the worst of it. But perhaps the hardest part, and the dark cloud that came over me that day, standing in my doctor’s office and discussing my maternal future, is that I can probably only do this one more time - I will not likely achieve my dream of having three children. There is grief in that. There is anger in that. And of course, there is all the sadness I am used to feeling.
When I was a child, I thought I could step on my shadow and tell her to go away. I tried, anyway. And the dark man who haunted my dreams, well he could not come out from the darkness of night. But today, they have more power. I am not sure my shadow will ever go away, since my memory of it will always remain, and my dark man may retreat but perhaps he too will always stand at the edges of my consciousness. You can’t erase the past and now I have learned, you can’t always control the future.