My Review of Inconsolable: In Which I Get Deeply Personal
by Marrit Ingman
Seal Press, $14.95 trade paper, ISBN-13: 978-1580051408, copyright 2005
Marrit Ingman became a mother on February 27, 2002. She went crazy — also on February 27, 2002. Her journey began with a plate of carne guisada and led to an emergency cesarian, ankyloglossia, colic, gastroesphageal reflux, eczema, Zoloft, Paxil, peanut allergy, suicidal ideation, hepatitis, and a whole lot of pie. Ingman documents the agony of elimination diets and tearful, sleepless nights with the same candor and humor she does the ecstasy of mama’s night out and her own invention, the Playgroup Drinking Game.
Ingman addresses her own postpartum depression, her feelings of inadequacy, and her self-admittedly ridiculous perception that her infant son truly hates her. With irony, sarcasm, and wit, Ingman paints a portrait of parenthood far unlike the popular image of glowing bliss. She recounts the painful and difficult moments of babyhood with her colicky, difficult child with a mix of humor and anguish that reflects the transformative process of becoming a parent — the compromises, struggles, useless advice, and failed expectations.
Overall Rating: 4
What causes postpartum depression (PPD)? Who gets PPD? How long does it last? How far-reaching are its effects on mothers and children? And isn’t it horribly boring to read about PPD if you’re not even a parent?
Not if it’s Marrit Ingman.
Ingman went through pregnancy with every intention of making all the right parenting choices and the expectation that she would form an instant bond with her baby that would bring joy and fulfillment to her life. From the moment her intended vaginal delivery turned into an emergency C-section, though, Ingman learned that parenthood is made up of failed good intentions. Next thing she knew, she and her husband had a baby with acid reflux, which caused him to projectile-vomit constantly. He also had the dreaded colic, which caused him to scream and cry non-stop, meaning Ingman lived in a state of constant sleep deprivation. Oh, and did I mention he had eczema and would scratch himself bloody? AND the food allergies. Don’t forget the food allergies. And the contact allergies… Is it any wonder Ingman had a mental breakdown?
Ingman chronicles her adventures in new motherhood, from exploding diapers to useless doctors to judgmental fellow parents. She exposes the damage done to her mental health: the suicidal thoughts, the cutting, the yelling fits when she couldn’t stand her son’s crying for one more second, the mini-catatonia spells when she simply could not make herself react to her child, no matter how many books he threw at her. Along the way, she offers insight into PPD causes that go beyond the chemical and instead stem from our culture: the isolation of new mothers, the media ads and outside-looking-in perspective that causes the pre-parental to believe that children will be a source of boundless joy and fulfillment, the endless judgment parents face from anyone who doesn’t agree with their choices…and whatever choice you make, someone is going to disagree.
Infused with dark wit, hope, and the strength of someone who survived hell and became a new person in the process, Inconsolable is a frank insider’s look at PPD that slices a giant hole in the perception that parenthood is one long episode of life-altering bliss. Ingman’s mission is not an attack on parenthood, however. Instead, she urges parents to offer each support and compassion instead of competition and judgment, to be honest about their struggles rather than try to put a happy face on their lives. A great read for anyone facing new parenthood (PPD affects both genders and happens to adoptive parents as well as biological parents!), Inconsolable is entertaining, educational, and worth your time.
Now, those of you who personally know me are thinking, “Why the eff is Jacki reading books about PPD? She’s not pregnant, is she?”
I’m not. Everyone else is! It seems like everyone is pregnant or has a new baby. Friends, family, acquaintances… I cannot believe the bumper crop of babies popping out of uteri all over Oklahoma and Texas.
I feel like I need to know about this baby stuff in case one of my friends needs emotional support. As with journeys to the moon or meditating in an ashram, the closest I can get to understanding the experience at this point is to read about the topic, and since my friends will need the most help if something goes wrong, I’m reading about things that can go wrong. Also, in some superstitious part of my brain, I have the notion that if I put time and energy into preparing for the worst, my friends will have healthy, happy babies and adjust beautifully to motherhood, and I will wish I had done my coursework and read fewer baby books.
Inconsolable is my first selection, and I learned two lessons:
1. No matter how busy my friends get with their babies, no matter how crazy their lives may be, no matter if they live far away, no matter if we wind up speaking so little that it seems like we’re technically not even friends anymore, it’s important to ask how they are doing. NOT how the baby is doing, mind you, because everyone is asking about the baby. I must say, “How are YOU? How are YOU feeling? And do you need me to do…whatever?” I was particularly disturbed during Inconsolable when Ingman left her child with her husband so she could take a mental health break. I wasn’t disturbed because she left her child. Every suicidal mommy needs to get the eff out. I was disturbed because her husband had help from friends, neighbors, and his parents. When she came home, THE HELP LEFT. As the father, Ingman’s husband was not expected to handle an infant on his own. Everyone assumed he needed help. Why, then, would they assume Ingman, who had no more training or knowledge than her husband, and who had taken a break to prevent herself from committing suicide or physically harming her baby, be expected to take a short break, return to the toxic situation, and flourish?
Somehow we as a society have this idea that when women go through childbirth, they receive some wisdom, instinct, hormone, or secret radioactive spider-powers that render them magically able to parent without help. For many women, motherhood does not come naturally. Maybe it doesn’t come naturally to any woman. In fact, everyone who’s ever told me, “Oh, if you had a baby, you’d just know what to do because it comes naturally” was a man. The next time a man says that to me, I will say, “Oh, really? Give birth much?”
If we don’t want our mommy (or daddy) friends to feel isolated, trapped, or suddenly without identity as their life’s focus shifts to the child, it’s up to us to let the parents in our lives know that at least one person is concerned about the mental and physical heath of the parents, not just the baby. It’s important that we acknowledge that their lives have changed and we understand they need to focus on their families, but we also know they still have an identity separate from their child and that integrating parenthood into it can be a struggle. We must let them know that if they need help in any way, they can go to their friends and not feel judged. We must not assume they will know we are here for them without being told.
And the second thing I learned is…
2. Some women shouldn’t have children.
Motherhood is hard and not everyone survives it intact. Ingman describes her first two years as a mom as an experience that broke her completely so that she could reform as a person strong enough to raise her child. She survived, she adjusted, and she became a capable mother.
However, she also acknowledges that some women do not pull it together and acclimate. Some women are never themselves again. Are these the harried, child-slapping women we see in the produce aisle from time to time? The ones who make us want to call Child Protective Services? “Some women should never have children,” we say, meaning the ignorant, lazy, violent woman we think we see. We say it judgmentally, and we never say it to her face. Of course child abuse is wrong, but we blame her, and yet, where does the real blame lie? Who fed her the line that children always bring joy and fulfillment? Who failed to encourage her to examine her personality and patience, to reflect on whether motherhood was the right choice for her before she took that leap? Who never looked her in the eye before she became a mommy and said, with love and concern, “Some women should never have children, and it’s okay”? And now that it’s too late for that, who’s failing to say, “I know your children are your responsibility, but I love you and care about your happiness. Let me give you a break, let me take the kids for an evening. I’m going by the store anyway, let me grab the salad. Let me help”?
Some women shouldn’t have children, and that’s okay. Don’t get me wrong, it sucks. For one thing, it limits your dating pool. Don’t even think about going for a guy who already knows he wants kids. You’re not going to change his mind. Walk away. He’s going to have children and you’re not going to be their mother. You will always know you’re dating someone else’s future husband, and you will think to yourself, “But why does he have to have children? Why is our love not enough?” Sorry, sister, but you can’t change his mind because his mind hasn’t made the choice. You’re fighting biology, and it’s going to beat your ass just like it did sophomore year in high school.
Also, your friends are going to assume that since you don’t want children, you hate them, especially if you say things like, “I don’t have the patience to be a mother.” If their adorable little children come up and start having a conversation with you, these friends will sweep the child off to a different activity. Perhaps they’re also worried that their child should not be around you, that your short patience might equal a short fuse. Perhaps they’re worried that their child is annoying or boring you. Or perhaps they’re so used to the chatter of their kids that they’ve forgotten how much fun interaction with children can be for people who get little of it.
Maybe society needs more childless women. By not having our own children, we have the time and flexibility to act as supplemental adults for the children of our friends and relatives. We can watch the newborn while Mommy takes that long hot shower she wants so badly. We can keep the baby while Mommy and Daddy get a moment to themselves. When the baby is two years old and a sibling comes along, we can provide extra attention for the older child who may act out because the focus has shifted to the new baby. Moms are expected to have the energy of Superwoman, but the trick to being Superwoman is not needing to be her all the time, and that’s where we free birds could come in handy. I also think it’s important that little girls and boys see women who have chosen other life paths so that they understand that not having children is a valid choice. Why should today’s baby girls grow up feeling that not wanting children is unnatural? Why should today’s baby boys grow up feeling that they have failed in life if they don’t produce a son and heir? Do I need to do my Katherine Hepburn voice and say, “It’s 1183 and we’re barbarians?” Why not have a future in which adults who feel called to have children have children, where women who say, “I don’t think I should have children” are told, “You know yourself best” instead of “Oh, it comes naturally” or “I used to feel that way but you get over it” or “Children bring meaning and joy to your life!”
Some women shouldn’t have children, and that’s okay, because if a woman’s life looks like the image below, she should be thinking about the beauty of the moment, not “How many stones did Virginia Woolf have to use?”
I love all my mommy friends, and my best babysitting nights are usually Monday and Tuesday.
A rather insightful review and I agree with what you say about giving support to new parents. Telling someone “it comes naturally” is not true, in other cultures new mothers had the support of other women, usually older more experienced women and we all could benefit from this kind of tradition. I like the idea of reviving the concept. I’m in.
Oh, the book sounds pretty good too
Your point that new mothers in some cultures used to benefit from the tutelage of their mothers reminds me of something a prof once told my American Literature class: “The nuclear family is destroying America.” He said that the government and various industries encouraged the idea of the nuclear family instead of the extended family because they wanted portable employees. Consequently, small family units were uprooted from the greater family structure. Mom, Dad, and kids often live several hours away from relatives, including grandparents. We may actually be the only primate species to live that way. Gorillas and chimps, for example, both live in family groups. Separation from the older women who would provide support certainly doesn’t ease a new mom’s path (although I certainly acknowledge that some moms are probably glad Grandma is a few states away), and finding an unrelated mentor means admitting to someone outside the family that the new mom is having trouble. As Ingman said, it’s important that parents quit judging each other, set aside the co-sleeping debate, and have honest dialogues about their experiences, because competitive parenting is only hurting everyone involved. Maybe that’s something else childless people have to offer: We’re less likely to be invested in a school of parenting since we’re childless, and therefore less likely to judge. I don’t know, I’m just throwing that out there.
Very interesting review! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.