My third book of the new year is ...
"Hillbilly Gothic" by Adrienne Martini
Let me preface my review of Martini's memoir of her battle with postpartum depression with my own tale. In February 2002, I was nine months pregnant and anxiously awaiting the arrival of my first child (now known as Jacob). I had many delusions about parenting that are common to those who actually have no idea what it means to be a parent. I had dreams about blissful days filled with leisurely walks and a cooing, content little baby.
What I got was a screaming, red-faced (albeit adorable) little guy and my own personal descent into Hell. If Jacob was awake, he was crying or otherwise making his miserableness known to anyone within a one mile radius. (Seriously ... my neighbors later told me they considered not having kids after hearing the sounds coming from our house.) I was a sleepless wreck. Add to it a decent case of postpartum depression where thankfully instead of turning on my son I decided two things were wrong in my life: breastfeeding and the help from my husband (or lack thereof). I stopped nursing and for all intensive purposes my husband "checked out".
I imagine living with a wife who could turn from placid (not happy, just there) to raging maniac was not an ideal situation for him. I also know he was overwhelmed by the fact that our life was upended. (Truth be told, my husband enjoys being the center of my attention -- a place that for good or bad was replaced by a needy, crying newborn.) It took a good year for my family to get itself righted again (it certainly helped that around ten months Jacob decided to sleep for more than two hour stretches AND we figured out he had reflux.)
So all this background is to say I could understand Martini's experience one hundred percent. Even down to coming from a family where both mental illness and the associated evils run rampant. (My father is a bipolar alcoholic with a penchant for gambling away ... oh mortgage and federal tax payments. He comes from a long line of alcoholics with mental illness. Lucky me, I won the genetic lottery!)
Martini's account of her Appalachian background and family's mental illness is not pretty. Her own descent into "madness" actually made me physically hurt for her. That's not to say she sets herself up to be pitied. Far from it. She recognizes that her story is a common one and because there is still a stigma associated with all mental illness, especially postpartum depression and its darker sister postpartum psychosis, it is a necessary story.
I can't say that I recommend this book to everyone - its a tough story to read. But if you do choose to read it I don't think you will be disappointed (and you might even be a little more understanding for having read it).
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