Parenthood Juggle: Depression and Poetry

nightlightDepression runs in the family, particularly for the women in my family. My mother succumbed to severe gloom after three babies in three years. (Who wouldn’t?) After therapy, bulimia, and a divorce, she still had many hard years ahead of her. My dad’s mother also wrestled with depression. A stay-at-home mom with four children, I can imagine life was not always blooming lilacs.

As a newlywed, I realized from my family history that staying at home to parent full-time might not be emotionally/mentally healthy for me or my future kids. But I determined to give it my best shot.

When pretty little package #1 arrived, I found myself struggling to cope. I had just finished my masters in English, and the pace change from full-time grad student to full-time mom just about turned my soul to jello. In an oven.

I felt scooped out, drained, bored, goal hungry, and sad, sad, sad.

When we found out pretty little package #2 was on her way, we were in an airport with our (ehem) six-month-old daughter. Surprise! After I finished a good cry, we ate gooey cinnamon rolls to celebrate.

With two littles, I was more grateful than ever to have continued my education. Having a masters in English qualifies me to teach freshman-level composition courses at colleges and universities, and this outlet has saved me. (I don’t use the word “saved” lightly here.) Even teaching a course once a week has been enough to stimulate some of those brain cells in need of dopamine.

My very worst months are those when I don’t have any professional outlet (summer time or between jobs). During those months, I do my best to establish a daily routine that keeps me and my kids upbeat. For example, we attend the local library’s story time as if it were a second religion. Praise be to cheery children’s librarians!

I also try to write. Whether I’m working part-time or not, consistent writing has been like a tropical breeze in the Artic.

I started writing poetry before I had kids and was struggling with infertility. (Yes, you read that correctly, despite the precedent information on my reproductive history). Poetry became increasingly important as I grappled with the strong emotions of being a mother. Writing poetry helped me navigate days when, within minutes, my feelings would swing between euphoric and frighteningly negative.

I still identify as a novice poet. I have so much to learn, but in ways I’m (gulp) grateful for my domestic experience because of the opportunity I have to explore creative writing. 

Here is a poem I wrote about a SAHM and creating space for oneself through writing. A version of this poem was originally published by Flutter Press in my chapbook Mothering:

Stay-At-Home Room

She knows the feel
of cold water and rice grains
against her skin
as her hand sweeps
down-the-drain food.

She knows the sound
of a thousand granules
of spilled yeast
plinking on the countertop,
or she would
if she could hear them
over the dishwasher
and dryer and children,
stay-at-home sounds.

She knows how to tear
a crisp wedge of lettuce
into pieces the size
of her children’s small mouths,
the way one might break
bread, the way she breaks
herself into pieces
small enough to eat,
flesh-and-blood meal.

She knows the monotonous music
of Twinkle, Twinkle,
and the ABCs,
and Baa, Baa, Black Sheep,
Mozart recycled,
same-old-tune songs.

To staunch the dark,
she creates something new,
calls it a poem,
and with words for walls
conceives a room
filled with rich light
illuminating her hands,
her head, her heart,
            good-as-gold life.


-Submitted by Dayna.

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