Bad Mommy / Stay Mommy, by Elisabeth Horan, is a collection of poems that provide a visceral and often harrowing account of the author’s postpartum depression. Following the birth of her second son, Horan found her world unravelling. Her behaviour made others uncomfortable and, at times, angry. She was not behaving as a new mother is required by society. Most of all though Horan struggled to cope with the change in herself.
“I am you in mixed acrylic on a Pollack canvas”
The author writes of the guilt she feels over how she treats her two young children due to her illness. The boys know that she is sad but must still bear the brunt of her mood changes.
“Who am I? lashing out –
my tongue a leather whip
leaving verbal welts
on the back of someone so small”
In Wellbutrin in my Brain, Horan recounts the effects of the medication she was prescribed.
“I’m fat and puffy yet endlessly hungry,
my hair in my hands and
my back to the wall of a cliff;
then falling, falling
into a Dali sea –
Rife and roiling with
lunatics like me.”
Efforts to be around her family are depicted in raw, emotion. She writes of prowling through night’s darkness and of regrets when, exhausted, she lashes out again.
“But what of the little boy?
Cowering, looking to me for shelter”
Basement Mother is one of several poems that reference her self-hatred. This leads to suicidal thoughts that are expanded upon. In Mother Maple she writes of the cost to her family.
“Funnny, how they hold up
The felled trunk of me
Even as they succumb
From my smothering –
From the immense weight
Despite the torment she knows that her family wants her. She struggles to see how, in this state, she can be good for them. She becomes desperate to find a way out of the abyss.
“Gnawing on one’s own failure bed
my prone heart
the same the same”
A climax is reached in Better off without me which is powerful, painful, and should be read in its entirety.
As the title suggests, eventually Horan finds a way to stay alive.
“t’isn’t easy being in the world now
as a member, not an inmate
My own warden.”
It is rare to find such an honest depiction of a new mother’s wounds and shortcomings. The complexities of mental illness are balanced with the love felt for the children, love that is written between the lines rather than sentimentalised. Despite the depression so searingly depicted there is hope in this collection.
A stark yet spirited window into a condition rarely brought into open, honest discussion. An important portrayal that overflows with a rare candour. Hear her roar.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Fly on the Wall Press.
You’ve made this sound very compelling. It’s also very seldom acknowledged, even by mothers themselves, how close we all get to these feelings at times, even if not suffering full-blown depression. The love, overwhelm, sadness, joy and guilt all tangle up in a knot that not even Alexander can cut through!