Teresa Sweeney is from county Galway and has an MA in Writing from NUIG. She was short listed in Over the Edge New Writer of the Year, 2014. Teresa was a featured emerging writer reading at Over the Edge in November 2014, and read at Cuirt Literary Festival in April 2015. She has been published in Roadside Fiction, Number Eleven Magazine, Wordlegs, Boyne Berries, The Galway Review and was a runner up in WOW! Awards 2011. Teresa’s stories can be read here www.teresasweeney.com.
This is the story of a woman. She is a dangerous woman because she has lost control. She is lonely, but not alone. She is isolated and cannot explain the feelings she has of despair and the inability to cope. This should be a happy time, the happiest of her life. Her baby cries from the other room. She cannot cope.
She has postnatal depression.
Postnatal depression is a battle that many women face. It is a fierce, oppressing illness that is often fought alone. If you, or someone you know, may be battling this illness, it is not a battle to be fought without support.
If you would like to understand more about what postnatal depression is, or if you are worried about yourself or a loved one, you may find the following links useful:
- The Association for Postnatal Illness is a registered charity in the UK offering information and support
- The NHS in the UK and the Mayo Clinic in the US provide information on postnatal depression
- The Guardian has a collection of articles on postnatal depression
There are different kinds of lies. Some lies are for ourselves, made to save us time and bother and explanations. Others are made to protect someone. Lies are as easy to tell as the time of day. And easier to tell than the truth.
I tell lies all the time.
First thing in the morning, before I get out of bed, my lies start. I lie to me.
You can do it, today will be better. I know it is a lie. Today is never better. Usually it is worse.
The next lie will be to my husband.
When he thanks me for making him a cup of tea before he leaves for work at 6:30 in the morning, Monday to Friday.
It’s no problem, I say.
My words are a lie, my smile is a lie, my kiss is a lie. I would rather stay in bed, or drown myself in the bath.
The biggest lies I tell are to our daughter.
I pick her up and rock her, and tell her it’s ok, when she cries. That is a lie.
Some lies I tell are small. People say, how are you? I say, I’m fine. That lie is for their sake. I’m not fine. But they don’t ask me because they want to know, or because they care. Mostly they ask me while looking out the window, at their shoes, or at our daughter’s face.
Me and our daughter are alone together all day. Just me and her in this house moving from room to room. I carry her on my hip as I try to clean the kitchen. I leave her lying down on her soft play mat as I run upstairs to get clothes for washing.
This is our routine, our daughter and me, me and our daughter.
I leave her down, she cries. I pick her up, she cries. Maybe she will stop, maybe not.
Yesterday I didn’t go back downstairs. I stood there at the door of our daughter’s room, a bundle of her soiled and smelly clothes in my arms.
Her screams pierced through my ears into my brain and ripped the wallpaper off my wits. It felt like fine thin strings were being pulled too tightly, already splintering and ready to pop, pop, pop.
I moved slowly, crept into the room I shared with her father, my husband. I closed our bedroom door carefully, silently. I heard the lock click. I watched the light and her screams sneak in from under the door.
Dulled slightly, but she did not stop.
I climbed onto our bed, the same place that my husband, her father, and I used to have sex in.
I curled up, still holding the dirty clothes that she wore. They had her smell: vomit, cream and that smell that people call the baby smell. They say they love it. But it makes me feel like I can’t breathe.
I turned my back on the bundle and covered my ears. Pressed them hard so that my arms ached and my ears felt crushed. Then I screamed with her.
I screamed like she screams.
I screamed louder than her.
That was yesterday.
Today, I had told myself, will be better.
My daughter waits for me to release her from the barred cot put together for her by my husband, her father. I watched him do it, an eight month swell from my middle erupting out in front of me, my feet sore, my legs sore, my back sore, my whole self sore.
He cursed that cot.
Who the fuck is meant to follow these instructions?
He knew nothing but wanted to prove something.
And he did too. He finished making that fucking cot for her, our daughter, weeks too early. Weeks before she would rip me open and force herself out, ignoring my screams of agony, and screaming louder.
She was all he talked about as my belly grew and grew. Something like a monster swelling up in there, waiting to attack. I thought maybe he will remember me after she comes out and this body is no longer savaged by her.
But he didn’t.
He got worse.
I saw how his face lit up at the sight of her drool and her vomit and her shit. He loves her more than he loves me. She is worth more to him. I don’t need to ask him. I know the lies he would tell. It is a different kind of love, he would say.
Me and her, her and me, we fight for his love and affection every day. I fight by fucking him, making him tea, cleaning his house and his clothes and his daughter. She fights by wailing and shitting and pissing.
And she wins every time.
Maybe it is her helplessness, her innocence, her unending and relentless neediness that makes him love her more.
Or maybe it is because she has his eyes.
Yesterday, when my screams went dry and my head throbbed to its own vicious beat, I went down to her.
She was cruel. Unnerving and cruel.
I picked her up. Gave her a long drink of Calpol and gave me four of the strongest painkillers I could find in the press. They would help us both sleep.
And we did. Her in my arms as we lay on the bed her father and I fucked in. Her in my arms smelling just like the bundle of clothes I had held earlier. As dirty and intoxicating as a load of filthy washing.
We only woke when her father, my husband, came home.
How peaceful and beautiful she looks, he said and stroked her head when he finally found us there. He only glanced at me with a smile. I knew that later he would want stroking too.
When we first moved in there we had barricaded ourselves in that house. We locked windows and doors and stayed on the couch. We laughed at nothing and didn’t bother to get dressed. We drank vodka on Saturday mornings and spent those whole days in a mad drunken kind of love. We turned off our phones and turned up MTV.
Now she has barricaded us in with her screams and her needs and her wailings. She locks doors and windows with her eternal demands.
She was quiet last night. And when her father, my husband, came home she smiled with that same little pink mouth that had tormented and tortured me all day.
Was she good for you today? He asked me.
Some lies are said to protect ourselves from others’ judgements. So I said, yes.
He is worried, my husband, her father, that I can’t manage. He has said he has concerns.
I’m concerned. Concerned that this is too much for you.
That is a lie, from him to me.
He is concerned, my husband, her father, that I will not make a good mother for our daughter. He is concerned that I will not feed her my milk or clean up her shit. He is concerned that he has picked the wrong woman to fuck, to marry, to have his child.
But he does not see her, our daughter, when she looks up at me and screams rage. He does not see her when she closes her pink mouth tight against my breast.
He sees smiles and a little hand curl up over his finger.
The same hands that grab chunks of my hair and pull and pull until I scream her screams.
He will be home soon, her father, my husband. He will be home soon and then I can give him his angel, this bundle of red raw screams with shit in her nappy. I can give him her and I can go into the shower and let steaming, scalding water burn and wash away the smell of her.
Maybe somewhere inside me is that mother us women are all meant to be. At the flick of a switch, with a virus in our bellies. Off goes sexuality, on goes earthly mothering.
I lay her down on the changing mat. Silent at last, a break from the razors she slices inside my head. I open a nappy, clean and fresh, and wonder how long this time until she pisses again.
This is the insult that was once my own body’s produce.
I smile at her and tickled her chin, pick her up and kiss her cheek. She giggles that laugh that her father, my husband, loves so much.
I hold her close.
But my tenderness is a lie.
I feel her tiny heart beat against my shoulder. Her little face hidden, talking to me in a language I will never understand. Her whole little self weighs too heavy in my arms.
We go to the front door, waiting.
He is due home now, her father, my husband. Any minute now that door will open. I think of how he will light up at the sight of us, of her. Our daughter in my arms, quiet. Me loving her as I am supposed to.
His face will light up and he will go to her first. He loves her more.
It is me he loves, I whisper in her tiny ear.
She speaks back in her language, laughing. Mocking me.
We wait there.
He is never late.
But tonight he is late.
Our daughter starts to wiggle in my arms, cry boredom, hunger, and tears for her father. I hold her tighter.
I want him to see the lie of us together. I want him to see the lie of me, being the mother us women are supposed to be.