Last Fall, I tried to hang out, as I usually do, at a music conference in town. Usually I’m playing shows, networking, schilling my music and myself around like a well-oiled independent machine, self-branded, dressed very carefully to say a certain thing about who I am and what music I make but also, very importantly, to look like I just threw whatever was nearest on and barely brushed my hair. I mean, don’t we all? Even the women who I admire and respect the most, the ones who look like they don’t give a shit, I know for a fact they give a shit and they think about how to portray their notgiveashitness in clothing/shoes/hair/jewelry. It’s part of the job. It’s part of the game. And sometimes, most times, I have thought that it was a really fun game.
But last Fall I was a new mother and a stay at home (ish) one at that (as I had taken a long hiatus from touring), so the kid came with me everywhere I went. So last Fall, during that conference, I got out of my sweatpants, got dressed, put on some makeup, threw Huck in a wrap and went to a few industry parties. To network. To see and be seen. To remind myself, and others, that I’m still here, making music, making art, while I’ve taken some time off making a human.
I carried Huck in a sling wrap, which I loved so much. It was a swath of soft yellow linen-silk in a bronze ring that lay on my shoulder where Huck was nestled inside, against my chest, a womb-like bright accessory that I thought was lovely and made me feel a bit, well, tribal. I carried Huck into an afternoon party, with music, with drinking, with schmoozing. I couldn’t stay too long, for him, for my own soul, but I stayed long enough to hear some beautiful music and to say hello to a few friends and people I want to or am already working with. And, to be honest, part of me wanted to show off my baby and that I had a baby. I felt large, beautiful, spiritual. I felt like a goddess.
One man said to me, “Oh are you still here?” He didn’t really say that. I don’t even remember what he said. But he said something that felt like that. I think what he meant was “It’s good to see you/you had a baby/I know that’s a huge change/are you working on another record or are you going to take time off?” He didn’t mean it as condescendingly as I took it. But what he didn’t know is that there’s a very very loud voice in my head, and I suspect in all new mothers’ heads, that screams “Can I?” So when someone seemed surprised that I’m still in the game, as if there’s a choice for me, I mean, really? I’m going to do something else at this point? I’ve been making things forever. Plays, poems, essays, songs, whatever. I don’t know how to sit at a desk and clock in and clock out. And his question, innocent though he may have meant it, felt to me like a banishment.
Are you still here?
Today I took Huck to an indoor playground because, well, to be honest, I was bored with watching him play with the same blocks and toys in our home and I was tired of chasing him down off the stereo off the gate, off the couch, watching every single move so he won’t trip, fall, break something. I needed more padding. And I needed to see if maybe there may be other mothers around.
I have Post-Partum Depression. Have I not talked about this yet? At first I thought it was just my normal self-pitying whiny depression that creeps up before I get my period. Having not had a period for over a year, when mine came back a few months ago, it came with a painful, weepy vengeance. Then the depression turned from ennui to despair to fleeting thoughts that there was no point, that the world would be better off if I just flung myself from the interstate overpass. And luckily, I know that this is not normal. Been there. Done that. Don’t want to go there again. So I called my doctor. I called a few friends. I told my doctor that I was, well, slightly suicidal (really, only slightly, because I would say that the only thing keeping me tethered was the love for my son and that I would not do that to him) and maybe a bit off my hinge. I felt like a firecracker. I threw more than a hissy fit over the kind of milk my husband bought. This was a problem.
I asked my doctor. I told her how I felt and she laughed a bit and said “The struggle is real” and then told me she’d suffered PPD with all three of her kids. I also found out that the depression can come on with weaning. Which is what I’m doing. What my son is doing. And it’s not a sudden stopping of nursing, it’s a long slow thing. I’m not done. He’s not done. But my milk is not the only thing sustaining him so it’s waning.
So, Zoloft. And after a month, the zoloft is finally starting to work and I’m evening out.
My doctor also insisted I meet other mothers. She said, “I don’t care if those mother’s groups aren’t your people – you need to meet other mothers.” So, I went to the indoor playground. And I saw someone I know and waved and went over to talk with her and there she was with two other women, mothers, musician mothers and one of them I had never met but I knew of (and loved her music) and I think she’s somewhere around my age and for a moment all four of us stood around talking truth about being a mother and an artist and the road and our love for our kids and our worry about being irrelevant and how the “F” to do any of this now that we have these little beings who need us.
It felt like such a relief. Like a relief I’d been waiting for for, um, 12 months. Huck is 1. And I just met another singer songwriter with a 1 year old who felt like touring had lost some of its shine. I felt like I belonged again. And I talked about my new record a bit and how I’m afraid of how to make it work to get back out there. And one of the women said “We’ll figure it out.” And I immediately loved her.
Are you still here?
Yes. I am. I never left. I got better. That’s what I want to say. I may be sleep deprived. My thoughts aren’t linear. I didn’t know Post Partum Depression could rear it’s head during weaning, so being despondent and wanting to throw my hands up in the air and say “Uncle” a few weeks ago was such a disappointment, until I realized perhaps this was biochemical and not just me being weak and self-pitying. I feel everything more. But words pour out, sometimes melodies, mostly words. My desk is a clutter of scraps of paper and multiple notebooks and midnight ramblings and nap time poetry. Empty bottles of milk, one tiny shoe that’s lost his pair, a few blocks, lots of Kleenex. To Do lists everywhere. A tornado of ideas.
I’m still here.
In fact, I’m more here than I was before. I don’t even know how to explain that but as fuzzy as I feel about Time and Purpose and Money and Sleep and Schedule, I feel razor clear about being Here. Being present. Being on fire. Being very aware of smells and sounds and silences and what I lean into and what I lean away from. I know things I didn’t know before. I know what’s bullshit and a waste of my time. I know what I love and need.
And I love being 51 years old with a little boy who turned 1 last week.
So, can I? I am.