In Transition Again

In some ways it’s been an amazing month. I can’t believe how bright and vibrant this baby is. His smiles could power a city for a week if we hooked them up to a generator.

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But in other ways, things are not so great. For starters, if I ever have a baby again, I will have a longer leave. I am only starting to feel little tastes of normalcy now, and Abraham is almost five months. What a crazy society to expect us to go back to work so soon (and to think many women don’t get any paid leave!). All blessings to any woman who wants to go back to work, but I really think the rest of us should have some more time. For instance, five months later I still can’t breathe normally, what with not being able feel my lower abdomen. (They say it can take two years to recover fully from a C-section, and some women never get all sensation back because the surgeons have to cut through so many layers of muscle.)

 And then there’s the depression, which I am finally admitting is still here. I’ve been in and out of it since my last trimester. I have days where I am ok, even great. But then I work hard and I crash. The pace of working as a full time pulpit rabbi does not seem to be working for me now that I have a baby.

I’m trying to talk about it and write about it, since the strongest and worst sensations of depression comes from the internal isolation. Here is all I can say about it right now:

The acuteness of it comes and goes. When it is here, it is like I’m experiencing the world through a muffled blanket, or looking out through a dim glass. Everything is water and I am oil. I can’t quite touch or directly engage in life. Things that are usually easy for me – reading an article start to finish, composing a friendly email, completing a household task, getting out of bed after a good night’s sleep, talking on the phone, listening to other people talk about their lives, making future plans — are all very difficult. When I was writing emails today at work I felt like I was typing while wearing garden gloves that were too big on me. It was so clunky.

I would rather the depression than high anxiety any day. Of course they are two sides of the same experience, but the somatic sensations are completely different. With the anxiety I am much more physically uncomfortable: Shaky, unable to breathe well. My solar plexus feels quivery and nauseas and the only slight relief comes when I’m lying down. I wonder if depression is an emergency off-switch to my anxiety, a last ditch coping strategy to give my nervous system relief.

It is easiest to tell people I have postpartum depression, because there is a simple explanation: I had a baby, my hormones went weird, and I’m depressed. But the truth is much more complex and dynamic. I’m depressed because it brings relief from intense anxiety – an anxiety not about my child’s safety, by the way, which is what people keep assuming, but about life, about the amount of effort needed now, about the upending of myself, about our acute frailty and existential vulnerability. I’m depressed because I’m numbing out from how strongly I feel the pain of children and parents in need, an empathy that has ratcheted up intensely since falling in love with Abraham. And yes, I’m depressed because I’ve been sleep deprived for months, after a perinatal depression and a ridiculously hard birth.

I feel most whole when I am with Abraham and he is happy – nursing, playing, sitting, cuddling, chewing on board books.  Other than that, I kind of want to curl up in a ball and take a break from existing for a while. I keep thinking about the line from the song I wrote for Yotam: It’s hard to be a human but it’s so worth the fight. I know part B of the verse is there waiting for me to find it again, but for now I’m hanging out in part A. I’ve decided to ask for a month off of work, to spend time with Abraham, and then to return part time. What a huge surprise for a person who has always assumed she’d work full time throughout my adulthood…

With the decision to go part time, a window of clarity has opened up for me. I’ve been thinking how easy it is consider creativity in leadership as an outside job, to pull examples of creative problem solving, creative projects and creative expression. But creativity is also an inside job. It is the work of letting ourselves be recreated – by our choices, by the people close to us, by circumstances beyond our control – and reflecting on that transformation the way we would any leadership challenge. After all, when you think about it, motherhood is the most primal leadership role and as I read recently, a mother is no more a woman with a baby than a butterfly is a caterpillar with wings