Afterbirth

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The song still makes me tremble.

I’ve tried playing it in small doses to get used to it, musical allergy shots, if you will, but the violin pulls my heartstrings out and flays them bloody every time.

It was playing on my iPod when my mind and body, already bruised and fragile, cracked wide open like an egg.

Do you remember
When we thought we were immortal
And the games we played always had a happy end
But in the game of life all the roses wither
And time writes its lines upon your face 
*Vertical Horizon’s Lines Upon Your Face, from the album There and Back Again, 1992.

No part of me was whole as I sat there rocking back and forth in the darkened nursery letting the music pull every dark thing out of the deepest recesses of my head.  The memory of the traumatic birth was fresh, and I was literally being held together by threads.  The experience of birth brought forth thoughts of its twin, death, and the music unleashed images of my father in pain, coming to the hospital to meet his grandbabies the day before he started a clinical trial he hoped would buy him a few more months.  I was paralyzed with fear that his inevitable death would be as painful as my grandfather’s.  The babies were sleeping, and over the music in my earbuds I could hear the whooshing of the hospital grade breast pump as it sucked milk and life and joy itself from my cracked nipples.

It’s three A.M. and he’s been feeling lonely
Work’s been hard and the city’s hard too
He picks up the phone and halfway across the country
A brother listens to his blues he says *

With each verse another of the tiny fissures I’d sensed in my head since late pregnancy burst.  Darkness, terror, panic, dread, and despair flooded from them, covering me.

I didn’t understand.  This was why I started taking Wellbutrin again three weeks before the babies were born.  This wasn’t supposed to happen.  How could I fail motherhood as a novice when I had a safety net in place?

My body poured out more tears than milk, so many that my hands-free pump bra was soaked and I didn’t even bother to reach for a Kleenex.  I sat rocking in a stupor, letting the pump run long after my breasts were emptied.  The mental and physical pain melted together into something so red-hot, heavy, and sharp that it was all I could do to breathe.

Mark came in some time later and that’s how he found me.  In pieces.

He couldn’t put me back together.

I’m not sure you can ever put all the pieces back in the right place after postpartum depression.  Even if you eventually look whole from the outside, you’re forever changed by the damage.

Putting me back together took a psychiatrist using 450 mg of Wellbutrin XL and 300 mg of Zoloft, as well as Valium.  Then, when the panic attacks started, Xanex.  I went to one support group meeting for mothers of multiples with postpartum depression.  We talked about our meds.  Most of them were only on about 50 mg of Zoloft.  When I shared my medication regimen with them, they stared at me in mute horror, as if I would burst into a murderous or suicidal rage any minute.  I was the outcast in a group of broken women who all felt like outcasts.

I never went back again.

That meeting taught me that if any activity was causing me to crack further, it would only make things worse.  It was vital for my family and for me that I put myself back together.

What else did that take?  Weekly visits to my therapist and countless calls he was kind enough to take off duty, plus a husband who had known postpartum depression was a big risk but wanted to have children with me anyway.  A husband who knows I’m broken but loves me anyway.

Sometimes I wish
That we all were immortal
And the game of life always had a happy end
But I know it’s not true oh time keeps passing
But I’m just glad to spend my time
With you. *

*Vertical Horizon’s Lines Upon Your Face, from the album There and Back Again, 1992.

This was written for the online writers’ group Write on Edge.  The prompt: One person’s Humpty Dumpty is another person’s omelet. In 400 words or less, write about a time when something was irrecoverably broken and the ensuing scramble.  I’ve obviously exceeded the word limit, but sometimes your omelet turns out bigger than you planned.

Sharing. It's not just for toddlers.
22 Responses to Afterbirth
  1. Frelle
    March 6, 2012 | 9:20 pm

    I am in awe of what you just published. I understand this place, I understand so much of what you wrote here because it’s part of my own experience. I even understand the inability to listen to some music and the looks of mute horror part. Oh Angie. I love your heart and your willingness to rip this wound open so you could pour these words out, words I know will be heard, and women who will feel validated and understood for the first time. You are so brave. And I want to hug the broken you sitting in the dark, and the stronger, always mindful of that time you now. *HUG*

    • Angie
      March 6, 2012 | 9:33 pm

      I’m sorry that you understand this place; that anyone understands this place, but the worst thing about it is that while you’re there, you feel as if no one else could possibly understand it. It’s only after you heal that you realize you are surrounded by women who have had much the same experiences.

      Thank you for your kind words. It was so damn hard to write this, but once I started I realized it needed to be written. This kind of wound never fully heals, but the more you talk about it, the less it hurts.

  2. Elizabeth Flora Ross
    March 6, 2012 | 9:23 pm

    Oh, so beautifully written. It makes me sad to know you went through this, but also so proud of you. Thank you for laying yourself bare and sharing this with us.

    • Angie
      March 6, 2012 | 9:38 pm

      Thank you, Elizabeth. It needed to be written.

  3. erin margolin
    March 6, 2012 | 10:18 pm

    angie,

    i now have a large lump in my throat.
    thank you for writing this and sharing it.
    i’m still in the throes of it myself, but reading this cuts like a knife.

    I am 4 1/2 months out now, and just starting to feel quasi-human again…some days.

    I hope everyone reads this. People need to try and understand PPD. I don’t think my own husband even ever got it.

  4. Brittany
    March 6, 2012 | 10:36 pm

    Angie I am just so glad to know that we are close enough that when I meet you I can give you a real life hug. I don’t know PPD personally but I know a depression directly related to babies, as you know. It is so hard to move forward and for other people to understand. Keep talking, as long as you need to. We are here.

    Much Love.

  5. Natalie @MamaTrack
    March 6, 2012 | 10:44 pm

    You aren’t broken. It’s not your fault. This is beyond your control. Was beyond your control.

    But thank you, thank you for sharing with us. You bared our soul in this post.

  6. angela
    March 7, 2012 | 12:01 am

    Thank you for letting us see this, and for sharing what happened in those moments. But I don’t know that I agree you were broken. Cracked and hurt and needing help? Perhaps. But deep inside, your spirit was still there, waiting to be healed, even with the scars that remain. Beautifully written, particularly the contrasts and connections between birth and death.

  7. Jessica
    March 7, 2012 | 10:31 am

    This is so powerful and I’m so proud of you for having the strength to share it. I hope it helped you heal just a little bit. I have many memories of crying to the sound of my pump as well. If only we had known each other then.

  8. Mrs. Weber
    March 7, 2012 | 8:52 pm

    This is such an incredible piece of writing – I feel your soul pouring through the words and was glad to hear the happy ending.

    I love old Vertical Horizon and never heard that song. So beautiful, and so symbolic to what you were going through. Your strength is inspirational!

  9. [...] Go read Angie’s post. Show her some love for sharing such a powerful experience with the world. It takes courage to fight your way out of the dark but it takes even more courage to share it as Angie has done at her blog. Share this:Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in motherhood, postpartum depression, Postpartum Voice of the Week, survivor, woman and tagged courage, mental health, music, postpartum depression, Postpartum Voice of the Week, stigma by Lauren Hale. Bookmark the permalink. [...]

  10. Lindsay
    March 8, 2012 | 11:28 am

    I’m not in the right place today to say what I’d like in response to this, but I was so moved I needed to comment anyway.

    Thank you for being so brave. I’ve been in those pieces.

  11. Whit
    March 8, 2012 | 12:01 pm

    This is tremendous – brave and heart wrenching and horrifyingly, beautifully written.

  12. danielle
    March 8, 2012 | 10:14 pm

    I wish there were more stories like yours out there when I was struggling with ppd/ppa the first time so it didn’t have to feel so isolated. I deeply appreciate your bravery; thank you for sharing your story.

  13. Cameron
    March 13, 2012 | 10:32 am

    My god, Angie. I can’t even imagine, and I’m frankly grateful. To have gone through that at such an already difficult time… that you write about it with such grace is stunning.

  14. Bruises | Angie Kinghorn
    March 14, 2012 | 12:03 pm

    [...] incredibly honored and humbled to tell you that last week’s piece, Afterbirth, was chosen to be featured as the Postpartum Voice of the week at My Postpartum Voice.  Please [...]

  15. [...] The post featured today on BlogHer is Afterbirth. [...]

  16. Jenn@Fox in the City
    March 21, 2012 | 3:20 pm

    Wow, thank you so much for being so open, so honest. So much more I want to say but now the words are lost.

    • Angie
      March 21, 2012 | 3:42 pm

      I understand. It’s a hard subject to talk about. If you need it, there’s a vlog about putting a face to PPD on the homepage, along with some links to PPD/PPA resources.

  17. After Afterbirth | Angie Kinghorn
    May 31, 2012 | 11:56 pm

    [...] and publishing Afterbirth was one of the hardest and most rewarding things I’ve done as a writer. Creating the follow [...]

  18. Jana (@jana0926)
    June 2, 2012 | 1:26 pm

    Wow. What a beautifully moving and heart-wrenching post. Congratulations on your VOTY honor!

  19. thedoseofreality
    July 10, 2012 | 11:31 pm

    Just stunning. In every way. Am awe of this piece. Of your honesty. Of the woman you are. Of the strength to tell this, to share it, to allow us in. Thank you.

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