After Birth, by Elisa Albert

I’m nearly finished with After Birth, and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. Its premise is a new mother struggling with postpartum depression who finds solace in a new female friendship — a friend who is just as tough, raw, and somewhat messed up as she is. It’s raw, sometimes vulgar, usually bitter (but in a funny way, if that’s possible), and at times hurts to read in its truthfulness about new motherhood.

There are parts early on in the book, where the main character Ari flashes back to thoughts of her earliest days of a mother that made my chest tighten with the memory and anxiety of it, the way it feels to suddenly have this delicate fragile being under your care:

In the shocking days that followed [the birth] I saw the requisite awfulness: the baby harmed, the baby hurt, the baby suffering, the baby hurled to the ground, the baby’s head crushed against the wall, destroyed. Ongoing fever dream. In the grip of a kind of black magic for which I was entirely unprepared. Woke in a sweat from intermittent sleep to find him still — oh thank God, thank God — breathing.

This, of course, to a lesser degree (as I did not suffer from postpartum depression), but the  enormity of the situation, the anxiety and craziness I felt a lot of the time taking care of a newborn baby Milo in a new city with no family nearby to speak of — and even if there had been, I was so convinced that he needed to be with me at all times I was crazy if he was not. It was not easy. That dark side of new motherhood is clear and open in this book.

The part of the book I’m not digging is just how bitter and negative Ari is about other women in general. There is a kind of disdain that comes across for the mass female population save for her one “cool” friend Mina, who of course used to be in an all-girl punk rock band. This is the part that makes me cringe, this “feminist” character completely hateful of all other women. Then again, perhaps it is part of the depression, the inability to see others in a  positive light, especially when they reflect a part of who you are.

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  1. Hmmm. I could barely read this post, so I doubt I’ll pick up this book. It took me six years to get up the nerve to have a second child after suffering from PPD, and now that the youngest is six (and having it again), I’m just starting to appreciate (and even enjoy) the pleasure of being around a newborn. (Not my own, my sister’s.) I am able to occasionally read shorter pieces about PPD, but I don’t know if I could read a whole book. I look at my life and I marvel in how lucky I am; still, when anyone mentions the idea of what they would choose if presented with “three wishes”, after wishing for my niece’s return, I would wish for another round of those newborn days with both my girls. I’d love to marvel in their newness. I have nothing from those days, just a facade I wore as I worked through the demons.

    I sort of wish I could write about it more, because ultimately there is a lot of hope there, and some redemption. But I don’t. I think I could understand that level of bitterness in the novel though. It could easily prevail, particularly if the mother just isn’t getting the sort of treatment (or support) she needs.

    Whew, tough stuff on a Tuesday! I do appreciate these posts though, I’m always looking for book recs, and I’m carving out the time to read every evening.

  2. So interesting to read your summary, and also Kristin’s comment. I think I had the opposite of PPD… a real euphoria in the slow newness of motherhood. Several of my friends had minor struggles with some form of depression as new mothers, and I tried to empathize but could never really ‘get’ at an understanding of what they were going through. When you described how you couldn’t be separated from Milo though, I certainly have that! Myopic obsession, neuroses about all kinds of problems my baby might have (I actually still do some of that with W). It is certainly tough to be a new parent, even without PPD.

    I keep trying to get through an entire book, and failing. Maybe next year when Roo starts preschool. Sigh.

  3. Kristin, I’m so sorry you went through all that. It sounds like it was really rough.

    And Lilly, yes, I had the euphoria too, but much of it was an anxious euphoria, if that makes any sense, like a mania or just general craziness! Early motherhood is so emotional, so complicated.

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