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What Reading to My Son Reminds Me About Postpartum Depression Recovery

If you ask my husband to describe my relationship with books, he would probably tell you I’ve had affairs with many of them. I’ve often gone to the local book store at midnight for the new release in the Harry Potter series, only to ignore him for the next 48 hours while I read it from cover to cover. The same could be said for most books I pick up that I just can’t put down. If a book was 567 pages, my husband could stop at page 565. Not me. Once I start, if I’m sucked in, I’m all in. I have to finish. I need to know what will happen, and I need to know now!

When I became pregnant, I thought about all the incredible picture books I would read to my son after he was born. I already owned so many because I love them just as much as my novels. During pregnancy, you could often find me in the children’s section of Barnes and Noble choosing new books to add to our already growing collection. I couldn’t wait to introduce my son to Corduroy, Paddington, Max and his Wild Things, the creations of Dr. Seuss and so many others. And even though it would be several years, I fantasized about the day my son and I could share in the magic of Harry Potter together.

Then my son was born and my desire to pass on my love for the written word was taken from me and replaced with anxiety, sadness, fear, and the feeling that I had made a terrible mistake becoming a mom. Postpartum depression set in pretty quickly, and no book could help me escape it.

When I struggled to bond with my new son in those first few months of motherhood, my mom would say to me, “try reading him a book.” For some reason, I couldn’t. I couldn’t bring myself to put my own child on my lap and open a book and read the words inside. Something that came so natural to me before, something I loved to do more than anything was suddenly so impossible. How could this happen? How could I fail my son in this way? How could I fail not just at the simple task of reading him a book but at motherhood?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had my face buried in a book. The first books I remember devouring and reading over and over again were “The Bobbsey Twins.” In elementary school, they were my people. Once I outgrew those, I moved on to solving mysteries with Nancy Drew. The list of worlds I visited and characters I grew to love goes on. And on and on well into my mid-30s today.

There is something about the written word transporting one to another time and place. For me, books were always an escape of some sort. If my parents were fighting, I could escape to the world inside whatever book I was reading. When I was depressed, I could lose myself in someone else’s universe.

I remember the first time reading one of my favorite novels, “The Count of Monte Cristo.” I fell so deep into this book that I ignored my own family members at Thanksgiving that year so I could keep turning the pages, and the only thing that pulled me back to reality was my Granny in her very well-pronounced Long Island accent reprimanding me, “Jennifer, close that book and speak to me!” I begrudgingly closed the book only later to pull an almost all-nighter to finish it.

The first book I managed to read during my battle with postpartum depression was about postpartum depression, and it didn’t make me feel better. Looking back, I believe this was because I wanted it to give me concrete proof that I would get better in a set amount of time if I did X, Y, and Z. I now know this isn’t how the illness works. There is no formula to getting better, and every mom’s experience is different. I also remember the first book I read to my son when I started down the path to recovery. At almost six months after having my son, I sat him on my lap, and read him one of my favorites, “Where The While Things Are.”

This might not seem like a big deal, but to me it was everything. Finally being able to read to him and pass on something I love meant I was finding my way back to myself again. It symbolized the bond that was starting to grow between my son and me. It proved I was getting better. It showed me I wanted to be a mom, his mom. I just couldn’t see that through the postpartum depression fog.

My son is now almost 4 years old, and he loves books just as much as his mommy does. He can’t exactly read them by himself, but he’s on his way. We have just started reading about the world of Star Wars, and after that comes Harry Potter! My mom gifted him with the oversized story book of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” the last time she came to visit. A few days ago, he walked the book into my room and asked if we could read it at bedtime. I promised we would read two pages (they are very long) each night before bed and eventually we could do more.

Every time I read books to my son, I remember the time in his new life when I wasn’t able to. So while these incredible stories we read together are for him and his imagination, they are for me too. Every book we read together serves as a reminder of how far I’ve come. Of the battle I fought against postpartum depression and won. Of a time where I thought I never wanted to be this little boy’s mom only to realize I couldn’t picture being anything else. I may have believed there wasn’t a book that could help me escape postpartum depression three years ago, but that’s because there was no escape. There was only through, and every book I read to my son reminds me that I got through.

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Thinkstock photo by Artfoliophoto