How All Things Are Managed


They call it a falling into death. Elizabeth Lyons’ poem about mental illness haunts me as someone who may have experienced post-partum depression after having my sons. There have been moments in early motherhood that have made me wonder if I was losing touch with reality, or if I was simply not meant to be a mother. I am not a woman who hungered to be a mother all of my life. I got pregnant with my first son by accident and his birth was a near-catastrophe. In the months after his birth, I knew that I loved him desperately, but I was unhappy and isolated, shut up in a cottage in rural Sweden. I often took my son for walks in the heavy snow, the cedars shock-white, & watched my footprints disappear behind me as I walked. It was the first time that I had the thought that no one would know if I just ceased to be. My writing was obsessed with disappearances. Moving several months later back to the U.S. did not cure this feeling of isolation, instead it was magnified when everyone around me was busy working and I was mired in feedings and sleep schedules.

I still don’t know if what I experienced was post-partum depression or if the isolation of my environment simply infiltrated my mind and cast a dark shadow. I cried every morning in the dark. I spent most hours in bed. I told no one. Despite all of this, I wanted more kids. I wanted my son to have siblings. My body had not recovered from the first birth. I had trouble with migraines, regular cycles, and I’d had a considerable amount of damage the first time. I had a miscarriage on my son’s first birthday. I told no one except my husband. At this point, I wasn’t even writing anymore. I had no energy left to put into anything, nor did I feel deserving of the time and space to write anything. I thought it was my fault. I consulted Google. For the next few months, I used fertility kits and had a few positive tests that didn’t end in viable pregnancies. Statistics show that 10-25% of pregnancies end in miscarriage ( Every pregnant woman I saw made me feel awful. I hid inside myself, inside my house, inside—.

In the seventh month of my pregnancy with my second son, I started bleeding while visiting my family in western Canada. I was at the gym with my husband. I found blood when I went into the bathroom. My heart rate climbed so quickly that all I saw was static. I had worked out (gently) everyday of my pregnancies because I had worked out for years and my doctors encouraged me to continue this routine. At that moment, I cursed myself. I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t want to move or walk or do anything but check into the hospital. My doctors were in Florida. I called. The bleeding slowed when I went to my mom’s house to lie down. The doctors said to fly home immediately. I white-knuckled the whole trip home. I couldn’t hold my older son. I couldn’t breathe. I hadn’t felt the baby move. I have never been so scared or felt so little control over my body. It turned out to be an infection and I delivered a healthy son three weeks later, two weeks early, still holding my breath.

The unhappiness I experienced the first time returned. After several months, I blamed it on being tired. Rather, I think I was tired because I was depressed. I still wanted more kids. We’ve never used birth control since my first son was born. I never sustained another pregnancy. My youngest son is now nine. Last year, I had my last miscarriage. I told no one except my husband. Perhaps staying silent is about not giving power to words. Perhaps, this is poetry. All of this. Perhaps, I’m too old to have another child now. But I am still haunted by the children I’ve lost. The siblings my children might’ve had. The daughter I might’ve had instead of only sons. My writing is obsessed with daughters. There is a strange parallel between my life and the other women in my family who have had late-term miscarriages and stillbirths. No one talks about it. No one talks. Call it a falling into death. Between the hormone fluctuations and the isolation of early motherhood, over and over I felt undeserving of these children. Of anything good staying. It’s possible I still feel this way. I’m not sure this feeling will ever dissipate, no matter how many daughters I dream up in my poems.

*Italicized lines are from Elizabeth Lyons’ poem “How All Things Are Managed” from The Blessings of Dark Water (Alice James Books, 2017).

Chelsea Dingman

Author’s Website @chelsdingman