First, let me say that Brooklyn’s charm is not lost on me — it’s a friggin’ awesome city. I should have loved it, should have adopted America’s first suburb as my new homeland right off the bat, should have spent the next ten years adoring every rooftop garden, every corner bodega, every fresh-faced hipster carrying a baby wearing gender-neutral outerwear. But I didn’t.
The day we arrived at our fourth-floor walk-up in Greenwood Heights (south Park Slope) I cried — and didn’t stop for two days. It was a one-bedroom apartment, except the previous tenants had removed the wall separating the bedroom from the living room. It was tiny, and freezing and it had one door (the bathroom). And though Polly (my partner) slept next to me at night and Patrick (my friend & the father of my child) lived downstairs, I felt completely alone.
Childbirth sucked (I went in on the 6th and he was born on the 12th… enough said). Being a new mom and milk machine was perhaps the most exhausting thing I’d ever experienced. And I was completely removed from my support system, the freaks, geeks and fellow queers who got me through nine months of saltines and diet 7-up.
And so it set in, ever so slowly, until one day I woke up and I wasn’t me anymore. I was living with that wretched creep called postpartum depression — the kind where you worry all day long that you’ll do horrible things to your precious baby, the kind where sleep is your only relief from the intrusive thoughts (and I wasn’t getting more than three hours at a time), the kind where you fantasize about checking into a hotel and never coming back.
It was nine months of hell before I finally summoned up enough courage to tell my doctor what was going down (namely me). He told me I couldn’t take drugs if I wanted to keep nursing (okay, no drugs), suggested I join a gym (um, really?) and told me to be prepared, because “you could have this for two years” (holy shit).
I tried to go to the gym, but 12 minutes into my elliptical adventure I’d inevitably hear a frantic voice over the loudspeaker, “Will Jack’s mom please come to the nursery?” He never quit screaming, so the gym was out.
Sure, I could hustle back over to the gym by the time Polly or Patrick rolled in, but by then I was half-dead, and just wanted to hang with my buddies Ben and Jerry for the half hour Patrick fed him dinner and the 20 minutes Polly gave him a bath. I still had to nurse, try not to think bad thoughts, put him to bed, try not to think bad thoughts, hold his hand ’til he fell asleep, try not to think bad thoughts, wait two hours until I had enough milk and then sit on the toilet at 10:30 p.m. pumping milk (so Patrick could feed him dinner the next day), try not to think bad thoughts, go to bed before he got up at 1:00 to nurse again. And 3:00. And 6:00. And…
So I walked. Every day I walked and every day I said the same mantra, over and over again, sometimes 100 times in an hour: “God, keep him safe.”
I put Jack in the stroller and walked all over Brooklyn. All. Over. Brooklyn. I nursed him under a tree near the koi pond at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens every Tuesday. I pushed him on the swing at the Third Street playground every afternoon. I picked my favorite streets, with the beautiful brownstones set back a bit, and told him we’d live someplace nice someday. But wherever I went, I couldn’t escape the fatigue, the worry or the thoughts.
Sometimes I had to grip the stroller because I was afraid I’d push it into the street. God, keep him safe. Sometimes I walked three, four, five miles just because I was afraid if I stopped to sit I’d get up and walk away from him… forever. God, keep him safe. Sometimes I held his hand and cried really quietly, so none of the nannies could hear me. God, keep him safe.
Right around Jack’s first birthday I walked enough to get real with myself, and started seeing a therapist. Therapy didn’t help me as much. For me, PPD was a freakin’ chemical ride from hell, and there’s no talking your way out of it. Still, it was 45 minutes I had all to myself, once a week, which felt like a vacation.
With Dr. J’s help (and www.postpartumprogress.com) I realized the bad thoughts were a form of OCD, that they came from this place of deep concern for my son, that I was never in danger of hurting him (though some people are, if they don’t get help) and that I would be okay. Not right away. But soon. (Maybe soon.)
Over time I started to feel a wee bit better, then better still, until one day I heard myself laugh and it sounded like the old me. The thoughts virtually disappeared (but I still said my silent prayers). I started to write again, slowly built up my career again, found my voice again, and came back to life.
It was right about the two year mark that we decided to leave Brooklyn for Nyack, our beloved little village on the Hudson. I went for one last walk in the Slope, toddler Jack bundled up in his stroller, to say goodbye to Brooklyn. I thought I’d feel a kinship with the city, like old war buddies feel for each other. But I didn’t. As I walked I saw blocks and blocks and miles and miles of pain, and I knew I would never feel nostalgia for this place.
So Brooklyn and I are not friends.
These days, when I mention the two years I spent in a chemically-imbalanced haze, I say something like, “I had a tough bout with postpartum depression,” and make sure to add, “But I’m totally fine now.” And even though I know it’s perfectly okay to talk about PPD, and that I should talk openly about PPD, sometimes I whisper the words, “Postpartum depression,” like those silver-haired ladies who served coffee in the church basement at St. Boniface Catholic School, lowering their voices every time they said “black” or “cancer” or “divorce.”
Life is so unbelievably awesome now, it’s hard to imagine myself like that, lost in Brooklyn. So last September, when I watched my guy get on the bus for his first day of school, it wasn’t so much his milestone that caused the lump in my throat, but my own. All of the loving, nurturing, cleaning, carrying, rocking, feeding, chasing, nursing, worrying, sacrificing, teaching, cuddling and laughing had brought us to this day. It was worth it. So worth it. Even the darkest days.
And as he waved to me from the window, even though it had been years since Brooklyn, I still said to myself, God keep him safe.