Article by Andrea Paterson
The days here in Vancouver are getting noticeably shorter. The air is cooler. The light is the golden hue that appears in fall when the sun rides lower in the sky. As the seasons turn from summer to autumn there is a sense of moving into the darker part of the year. We mourn the passing of bright, hot days and perhaps fear the rainy ones ahead. But fall is also a time of deepening potential. It’s always been one of my favourite seasons. It remains associated with the fresh start of a new school year and also with the coziness of chilly evenings. Putting on a wool sweater is a time-worn comfort. The nights are conducive to tea and reading, knitting and soups. Fall is a season for planting. We think of spring as the time of new growth, but fall is when we plan ahead for spring gardens. The bulbs go in the ground so they will grow after the cold of winter recedes. It’s a season for squirreling away hope that might take root in the darkness and spring forth when the days eventually get longer.
Parenting has its seasons too. And if you are suffering with a difficult adjustment to parenthood you may be in the midst of a very dark season indeed. Postpartum depression and anxiety can feel like Narnia’s eternal winter that never brings the relief and joy of Christmas. It can feel like the white witch throwing an icy blanket over your life, or a terrible spell turning you to stone. Having an infant is not always a burgeoning joy. It is supposed to be the summer of your life, but sometimes it is a deeply frozen Arctic winter instead.
I will be the first to admit that the infancy phase did not bring me great joy. There were moments of bliss of course, but they were fleeting. Mostly my heart was frozen solid under the rule of PPD/A. I was clamoring for warmth. Desperate for a way into the light. My will to live withered and died, leaving me a bare tree–grey twigs with no signs of impending life. I imagined that I would have to exist that way forever, but sap still ran through the heartwood at my core. I was hibernating, but not dead. I wish I could go back and tell my postpartum self that there will come a day when the world seems beautiful again, and life seems worth living. Winter cannot hold forever.
All this is to say that if you find yourself in fall or winter season on your parenting journey–that’s okay. You don’t have to be happy. You don’t have to be smiling. It’s completely okay to cry and rail against the intense difficulties inherent in becoming a parent for the first, the second, the third time. I give you permission to freeze over and withdraw. I give you permission to let ice crystals rip apart your heart and pierce you to your core. And I promise you that it will not be forever.
Let me suggest that you plant something in the autumn of your life. If your world is falling down around you like leaves let me suggest that you fall to the ground with it, and while you’re there let your hands claw the black earth and the mud squish through your fingers. Sink down into the embrace of the soil and plant a seed there. It can be something small, but something that holds promise. It must be something that can bear fruit in the future and give you a tiny fire to navigate by. It must be something that gives you hope and a sign of winter’s inevitable end. Maybe you are tied down by rigorous feeding schedules. Right now you can’t leave your baby for even a second and you are mourning the loss of your freedom. Maybe you loved to ski, and this season you will not be able to go since your baby is very much dependent on you. It hurts to lose a thing you loved and you resent the way your body has been co-opted. In that dark moment you can choose to plant something. Put some money away for next year. Buy a season’s pass to your favourite ski location for the next season and put it in a safe place. It will be there waiting for you. There are ways to plan ahead for self-care when it seems impossible in the moment. Can you imagine a day when you might be able to move more freely? Plant something for that future day and watch yourself grow closer to its realization. It’s something to wrap yourself in during the coldest days of your parenthood.
Over the next two months as we approach winter we’ll be talking about plantings on the Pacific Post Partum Support Society blog. We’ll be discussing the darkest days and how we survived them. Some PPPSS counselors will be sharing their stories of survival and support. We’ll be talking about the things we put into the earth that eventually thrived. We’ll be contemplating what the deepest dark felt like so that others can recognize themselves and feel less alone. Stay tuned for some excellent stories and resources over October and November! We’ll be digging deep. Bring your mittens.