Actress and writer June Diane Raphael is the mother of two young sons and an outspoken advocate for women dealing with postpartum depression, which 1 in 9 women will face. Raphael’s experience with PPD was amplified by the loss of her mother: Losing a parent is always traumatic, but the grief can be heightened when you have your own children and feel the absence in a new way.
Ahead, Raphael shares an essay she wrote to celebrate her son and mourn her mother in the midst of her own PPD.
My dad is not quite sure what happened with my mom and breastfeeding. “Maybe she tried with Deanna and it didn’t work? And then she gave up with the rest of you? Yeah, I think that could be it. Yeah!”
Or, I think to myself, not it at all.
I am a month postpartum with my first child and I’m breastfeeding what seems like all day long. I’m calling my dad, an unreliable gatekeeper of memories. I had imagined that, once I had a child, I would miss my mother as a grandparent to my son. Now that he’s here, I am stunned at how much I miss her as a mother to myself.
I have searched my childhood home high and low for baby pictures. Any photographic evidence of me before the age of three. I found one picture of my baby self taking a bath in the kitchen sink. The angle is off-center and the photo is ripped in half, but nonetheless there it is! I stare at it for some time. I repair it as best I can and frame it. There I am!
Years later my father will see this photo hanging in my home and remark casually that it’s nice I put up a picture of my sister Lauren. Decades of memories are hazy for him, and yet his voice rings out crystal clear, “That’s Lauren! I can tell because we had just redone the kitchen when she was that age. No doubt about it! That’s your sister. What a cutie!”
One thing I know is my mother suffered from postpartum depression after she had me. She told me, so I know. I know this for sure. The way she described it, for three months she felt gray — and then one day, in our kitchen, she bent down to adjust her shoe, and when she got back up…the gray had lifted. Just like that. It was gone.
I stare at my own son. And I see my mother staring back at me, her red hair shining bright. I see my father’s jawline, my husband’s lips, my eyes. And I stare at his ears and I remember another thing my mother told me.
It’s the story of my mother’s pencil. The story she told me about my early months.
My mom was leaning down over my carriage. She had a pencil tucked behind her ear, and I noticed it. And I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. My mother couldn’t believe how curious I was. How alert at such a young age. How intent I was on figuring out what was different about the face I had become so used to. She took the pencil out from behind her ear and showed it to me and let me touch it. I marveled at it: This thing, this was what was different and unusual. And my mother marveled at her baby. She marveled in the moment and she marveled when she told me the story of the pencil, time and again.
As I marvel at my own son.
As I trust the grayness may come but it will also lift. I reach out and grab my mother’s pencil and write down his days. As I remember.
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