It was the second time she had emerged. My mom finally came out of her room to go to the bathroom and scurried passed us to avoid contact. She came back and as she headed to her bedroom we all surrounded her, trying to give her a hug. Reluctantly, and while also holding her robe together, she let us embrace her but only from her side. The moment was short but it was bittersweet. Within seconds it was over and the door closed behind her. Alone. We didn’t know when she’d come back out but we did know it would be a while. She would spend most days locked inside of there ever since J was born and we would be left to fend for ourselves. I was 13 or 14 but already felt the weight of the whole world on my heart. As the oldest of 5, the responsibility to take care of everyone fell on my shoulders. I woke up, made breakfast for all of us, cleaned the house (as much as I was allowed to) and then we all stayed busy watching tv or playing video games. The dark red paint that covered the walls was a reflection of our moods. My mother’s depression hung from each corner of that house like a picture. Worth a thousand words. She hid it from us and I never understood why she spent so much time in her room. She was dealing with PPD and didn’t realize it or didn’t want us to know. Even to this day she would probably deny it, but it would be unfair because I know the pain I hold in my heart from all those years would have been for nothing. All of us felt it. It was so heavy.
Everything about that time was secretive and hidden. When my mother became pregnant with my little brother, E she started to distance herself. My sisters and I weren’t allowed in the room during the sonograms and spent what felt like hours anxiously waiting in the lobby. Not knowing if something was wrong with my mom or baby brother. It was torturous and the feeling of exclusion was written all over our faces. Once she gave birth we were never welcomed until the day after. Almost like we were extended family or just friends. She was the same woman that gave birth to me but yet something had changed. As if I was too young to understand birth and didn’t deserve to know. More secrets.
Fast forward a couple years and J was born. In between that time she lost a baby. More secrets. I sat at the park with my grandma and she tried to help me understand why my mom would lock herself in her room all day. “Well, she’s really been struggling ever since she lost the baby last year”. I froze. With a shaky voice I muttered “what?”. Her face fell flat and you can tell she would have given anything to rewind and eat her words so they wouldn’t have come out. “Oh, you didn’t know?”. With pain I responded, “No, I didn’t”. I could barely choke it out. Tears started running down my face and by now I was sobbing. So many things hidden from me, it made it so much harder when each snippet came to life. There was no understanding or slowly figuring things out. It would just shattered around my feet like broken plates. I never remember seeing my moms bare belly while she was pregnant. It was usually hidden beneath shirts or jackets. To this day I cannot remember a single time I was allowed to feel the baby move. I couldn’t comprehend the profound impact this would have on me as I got older, but now that I have a child of my own it hits me like a ton of bricks every time I think about it. J was tongue tied and couldn’t latch so she put him on formula. During that time, she got mastitis and attempted to pump through it.
There were only three bedrooms in our house. One for all of us kids, one for a bare, queen mattress that laid on the floor and one that she shared with my stepdad when they weren’t fighting. The room with the bare mattress is where J and my mom spent the time that she was away from her room. With the door locked and her back turned towards the wall, she would pump. One day I used a bobby pin to unlock the door because I wanted to understand what exactly she was doing. J was laying on the bed behind her. She turned around and yelled at me to close the door. More secrets. I just wanted to understand, what was I doing wrong? I spent many nights sleeping in that bed with J when he was just a few weeks and months old. She didn’t want to. I would fall asleep with him in my arms—formula can and his bottle filled with water siting next to the bed. If he even slightly moved during the night I woke up and squeezed him tight. I never wanted him to feel alone.
Night feeds are difficult when you’re just a kid. I spent most evenings afraid that I would accidentally smother him or that he would choke on his bottle. The anxiety I felt most of those days would have made a grown man go insane–none the less a little girl. I wasn’t the only one who took the motherly role, it was spread amongst us girls. On the first night that J was brought home, S fell asleep holding him on the couch. My mom and stepdad went to their room and didn’t come out for hours. Upon reemergence they realized that J had sunk into the broken armrest on the couch and was moments away from a tragic accident. Trauma and regret haunts my little sister every single day even though it was never her fault. J is perfectly fine, but the “what if’s” and “could haves” plagued all of our minds. The pressure to grow up was real and it was harsh. From what I could tell, having a child meant so much pain but yet, so much love. Regardless, there was an explicable amount of negativity that surrounded this time in her life. I was reminded of this each time her belly grew and my sisters and I would try to give her a hug. My stepdad would shout at us “Are you trying to kill the baby?! Don’t hug your mother!”. He became the enabler of it all. She despised affection and would mercilessly use any excuse to avoid it. I knew there was something off about her but I never could figure out what it was. I was uneducated when it came to anything related to childbearing, breastfeeding and postpartum which made it so we felt like everything was our fault. I couldn’t understand why, behind the closed blinds and the sheets hanging from the windows, it would be a beautiful day but sadness would cover her face. I didn’t understand why we weren’t allowed to go outside and why things of all shapes and sizes consumed our home. Postpartum depression dripped from every room and covered the floors. The sink was full of dirty dishes that smelled of rotting meat and vegetables. It was all over everything, everywhere and at every time. I am at a place now where I have chosen to forgive a lot of what happened in the past. Truthfully, my mom needed to probably be on medication and at the time I didn’t have respect for that. How could I understand at that age? I was so far removed from the situation that consumed me the most. She didn’t believe that she needed help. She needed to allow herself the space to accept what she was dealing with and get the support that was so desperately needed. There is and always will be a lot of pain when I reach back into my mind and dive deeper into what happened during those long years. I will never forget them. I will never get that time back. I should have been playing outside. I should have been at a friends house. We should have been doing things as a family. It was not my job or responsibility to take care of all those kids, but yet it was. If you were to ask her or my stepdad today, they would deny any of it happened. They have always been that way. But I know this pain didn’t just come from nowhere. My sisters felt it. My brothers felt it.
C, S, B, E, and J. We all went through it. We remember. I won’t be silenced. In silence, pain and loathing becomes stronger and worse for the people around you. If I’ve learned anything at all from this it’s that my voice will be heard. If I need help, you will hear my voice. If I need a break, you will hear my voice. In times of injustice, suffering and just raw pain—you. will. hear. my. voice. My vulnerability will be my strength.
Things would have been so much easier without this heavy baggage I carry around on my back, I know it. But I have chosen to use it as my motivation to help other mothers out as much as I can. I look at Paisley and theres just no way on earth I would have ever let her go through something like what I have experienced in my life. That doesn’t mean that I am perfect or that I will ever fully let go of what I have gone through. This does mean that I refuse to repeat history. I will spend every single second of the rest of my life fighting to support other mothers and putting every ounce of energy I possess making sure I am a better mom for my daughter than I was yesterday. Because that is truly all we can do. Show up for ourselves more tomorrow than we did the day before.
My pain is my foundation.
My experiences were my lesson.
And my mothers’ story will always be my drive to never, ever give up.