PPPSS News & Events

The Dark Mother

Article by Andrea Paterson

I love Halloween. There’s something about the license to be dark and the embrace of all things strange and creepy that calls to me. In the old pagan calendars Samhain marked the turn into the dark half of the year. The harvest is over, the fields lie fallow, the night flows over the world leaving only a brief sliver of daytime or, in the most Northern latitudes, no daytime at all. It’s a time of year when the old ways become accessible again–magic, incantation, superstition, ritual. We don our masks and go out into the world leaving our regular faces and selves behind. We become something else for a moment, maybe something wild or unsavory, and threaten mischief if we are not appeased with treats. The world inverts, the dead seem close, little ghouls yell in the streets and remind us of all the darkly wonderful things that we repress from day to day.

There can be joy in taking on a new persona, until the frightful moment when you realize the mask you’ve put on won’t come off, and that is what postpartum depression and anxiety was like for me. I put on the clothes of the Mother with glee in the early days. I wore my new role as homemaker with a sense of illicit thrill. Here I was, at home with my new baby, baking stuff…it was like playing house. I literally wore aprons as my daily costume. I had all the right accessories–Ergo carrier, unbleached natural cotton toys, cloth diapers, nursing bras. I walked around in a maniacal haze of ecstasy, until the sleep deprivation took its toll, and breastfeeding didn’t work out how I’d hoped, and I realized that my own mother was too far away to mother me, and I was so very very alone. Things began to crumble, the Mother costume was itchy and too tight and I wanted so desperately to throw it off. I wanted to sleep again. I wanted to feel the familiar form of my pre-baby body holding me together. My desperation was so great that I lay in bed at night wishing to die. The darkness in my life became a sinister and menacing thing–living, breathing, consuming. There was no joy in that darkness, only fear and nightmares.

With time and help I emerged from that place, but the darkness lingers. There is a shadow in my Motherhood and it’s one that I am befriending slowly. It’s the Samhain place where ghosts and witches lurk, stirring up potions that intoxicate me. The place is full of all the beautiful dark mothers that we have forgotten. The word “Hag” comes from the Greek “Hagia” meaning “wise” and with Halloween approaching its comforting to remember that out of darkness and fear comes a wisdom that might not otherwise be accessed. Meeting a cast of ancient Dark Mothers helped me to navigate my own motherhood, and to wear the dark, heavy cloak it came with.

So let me tell you the story of Angrboda, a Norse Mother-Goddess. She is sometimes called Mother of Monsters and her children were wild creatures: Fenrir the wolf who cannot be contained, Jormungander the serpent who releases poison into the world and causes it to fragment, and Hel who is keeper of the dead. Despite the monstrous nature of her children, Angrboda remains a devoted mother. She embraces her shadowy offspring.

Lokis_Gezücht

I see this story as containing truths relevant to motherhood today. I read it as a story about aspects of the Mother-Self that are birthed alongside our children. When I gave birth to my son I opened a door into a very dark place, and from it came monsters in the form of depression and crippling anxiety. They whispered lies into my ear and made me wish for rest in death, and I had to hold and nurture those dark children so that they wouldn’t destroy me. Along with my son came an animal wildness, a wolf-like part of myself that felt trapped and angry yet intensely protective of my baby. A serpent rose in  my mind and destroyed it. Depression ripped me apart and my soul felt shattered. I lost my sense of self. I lived under the care of Hel, keeper of souls that are waiting to be reincarnated. I waited for my moment to be reborn as something whole.

In Norse mythology Angrboda’s lineage goes on to destroy the world in an apocalypse. But from the wreckage of the old world, a new one is built. And that is the story of my postpartum depression journey as well. The things that I birthed ripped my world to shreds, but now I have the chance to rebuild, to revise, and to re-imagine the entire foundation of my life. When I put myself back together I found that the Motherhood cloak fit better and didn’t feel so heavy on my shoulders. I still hear ghosts whispering intrusive thoughts into my ear, but their voices are weaker and more easily dismissed. The shadow world isn’t gone, just less insistent, and I move back and forth between the light and the dark with more ease. While the creatures of the night are not always friendly they are often wise. The hag with the poisoned apple may be hiding a true gift as well.

 

References

I found some of my information about Angrboda in this article.

Art by Emil Doepler

Fundraiser: Good Mother Project Photo Sessions

We have some really exciting news here at Pacific Post Partum Support Society. The Good Mother Project is sponsoring its second fundraiser for PPPSS and this one is going to be bigger and more awesome than the last! Moms and their children are invited to have portraits taken in support of mothers everywhere.

Square Promo

The event will take place Saturday November 14 from 2:30-6:30 at the Scotiabank Dance Centre.

All participants will receive a 10 minute portrait session with one of four professional photographers and three edited digital images to keep. Sessions will cost $50 with profits donated to PPPSS.

This is an amazing opportunity to support PPPSS, get involved in the great work being done by the Good Mother Project, and spread a message of love and support to all parents in the midst of the chaos of child-rearing.

To book your session and get more information on the event please visit the Good Mother Project Website.

Hope to see lots of you there!

Dusk: Finding Comfort

This week we have beautiful and soothing words from a Pacific Post Partum Support Society Counselor. Take a short coffee break on this cloudy morning and drink this story in!

Article by Anna Chambers

Long after dusk, thirteen and a half years ago, my baby girl moved in waves and emerged from a cocoon of velvet darkness into the green of spring.

An angry week later, my former self fled the cramped apartment, leaving behind a mother’s shell, cowered in the corner and consumed with failure. Failure with breastfeeding, nappy changing, bathing, rocking, soothing and most of all: sleeping. Her sleep became my sleep and our lack of sleep became a dank, dull lack of existence.

Black tears mourned my pre-immigrant and pre-mother life. Rage ended up as broken dishes and charcoal marks on walls.

Slowly, I reached into pockets of light within the community and began to voice my pain. I found comfort in the anger and confusion of other mothers in a support group, knowing that I was not alone. Together we told our stories of disappointment, anxiety, and dreams of escape. Together we shared our journeys of rediscovering the women we now were. Our group facilitator with the sandy light hair supported us in shaping tools to take care of our emerging selves.

Empathy soothed and lit our way.

During more frequent moments, my nose remembered pleasure in my baby’s fluffy black hair, and my ears noticed the joy in her laughter and others’.

When my son was born at home in October, darkness prevailed for much of the labor but was eventually broken by the sun smiling momentarily as he tore through me into the bedroom. Second time around, I faced the challenge of parenting as a lone immigrant, harassed by an ever consuming child custody court case. Days were spent in a bitter greyness, and again I lost sight of the woman I am, and became a watchful critic of my actions. It was only when a court ordered psychologist spent time with me and my children that understanding was born.

The psychologist watched and listened.

Now, later, I listen to the stories, the dreams, anxieties, confusion and mourning of mothers. Mothers, who are suffocating in the tunnels of their days. Mothers, who are grappling with playing their new roles. Mothers, whose foreign thoughts are shared with no others. Mothers who listen to others share their stories of darkness touch mothers with the cloak of empathy.

Empathy soothes and lights our way, rippling into the community.

October: Herald of Dark Nights

Happy Thanksgiving from Pacific Post Partum Support Society! Today a PPPSS staff member shares her love for Autumn and the healing promised by longer nights. Georgie articulates the deep meaning she finds in the literal and metaphorical turning of the seasons. She tells a story of the seasons that exist in parenthood, and in our constantly shifting lives in general. As we move deeper into Fall, Georgie looks at what it means to exist, with ease and without resistance, in the darkness.

Article by Georgie Hutchinson

I heard on the radio recently that Autumn is a favourite season for many people.   I wholeheartedly join in with the sentiment!  I celebrate Thanksgiving, my birthday, and Halloween all in the one month of October.  It’s impossible not to love those golden, shimmering moments that seem to quiver, suspended in time, before they fly, making way for the wetter, colder, darker days ahead.

We move through the Fall towards Winter–and the circle of the seasons offers unique gifts each time around.

There was a period in my life, as I became a mother to my three children,  when the celebration of Autumn was tinged more with fear  than with  an eager anticipation of the darkness to come.  At that time I was resisting the natural order of things.  Those days with my babies brought out the best and the worst in me.  The deep love and connection I felt for my children went hand in hand with a debilitating “not good enough” attitude.  Instead of discovering the gifts that can be found in the quiet of the dark season I mined a store of  unhelpful thinking  that kept me in a place of resistance instead of  acceptance and gratitude.  Those unhelpful thoughts locked me into a cycle of shame and guilt that prevented me from fully embracing my life.

When did the shift happen where I could accept that the ambiguity of motherhood was a gift in itself?  When did I  recognize the  gift of motherhood made up of light and dark- two sides making a whole?  I wish I could say it happened as an epiphany , as a sudden realization and POOF! I got it.  But it was a gradual process and a circular one- just like the shift of the seasons.  Learning and exploring the duality of myself, of my being made up  of light and dark, led me to the nourishing opportunity to  discover an ease and joy in my life that light up even the darkest nights.

When it comes to my learning style it takes more than  one lesson to leave  an imprint .  I may be a slow learner but I do learn.  The funny thing is that I also forget again.  That is why I now recognize that  the circular motion of the seasons, both literal and figurative,  is good for me.  I will constantly have the opportunity to learn again.

My shifts in anticipating the deep dark rich moments of the Winter to come happened when I allowed myself (with compassion) to fall on my knees; to turn to my family and friends for reassurance; to soften with rest and good food and to walk the steps that move me whether in the light or the dark.

Now I can embrace the thought of the darkness as with it will come the treasures that can happen when we slow down and just spend time with ourselves.

So – here is to October, the time that heralds the gifts of the darker quieter winter to come and the reminder that the light returns.

Plantings: Growing into Parenthood

Copyright 2015 www.andreapaterson.com

Copyright 2015 www.andreapaterson.com

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.