In the late 50’s, my grandmother was “sent away” after having her last child. Generations later, we understand she was being treated for what we now know as postpartum depression & anxiety. At that time, the complexities of motherhood were not only not discussed, they were flat-out rejected. Becoming a wife & a mother were, after all, the ultimate brass ring for a woman of her day. My grandmother carried the heavy burden of being the poster girl for the perfect American family, to fill these shoes in the ways women before her couldn’t. Always smartly dressed & sweetly spoken, she was at the center of society in her small North Carolina town. While some are quick to revere her manner as the epitome of a Southern Lady, it was really a response to a darkly direct cultural & familial order to be less. She could’ve been – and was – so much more.
In late 2020, I was diagnosed with the same condition. The same pressures of perfection that plagued my grandmother cast a shadow on me decades later. The reassuring difference is our healing stories. I’ve wondered – if she had access to the same safe resources I do, or if she’d known she was among the 30% of new mothers in her position, would her life have turned out differently? Or would she, at the very least, have given more of her love to herself?
I hope that, over time, she was able to find the strength to question her own cultural conditioning & step into the beautiful multidimensionality of her identity. I’d like to think the quick-witted, incredibly silly & often irreverent gal I knew just before she died was doing just that.
Our truest selves don’t care about cultural context or familial demands. They will always come for us. Like little footsteps down the hallway, they will crawl out of a slumber, longing to be near us. It takes hope, & a great deal of strength, to let them in. For those who couldn’t, I will.