Today, an important and intense fictional look at postpartum depression and OCD, "Keep Her Safe" by Kari Nguyen. May it help to remove the stigma of feeling something other than the recommended euphoria.
Keep Her Safe
by Kari Nguyen
Beebee is gorgeous. Tia stares at Beebee's face and wonders when she will sleep again. Tia is sitting in Beebee's room in the padded chair they found second-hand, the one in which she'd planned to spend many blissful hours together with Beebee. Before giving birth, Tia sat here with a stack of books from the shelves she and her husband built and hammered into the wall. She wept while reading Love You Forever and Puff the Magic Dragon, picturing a yet unseen Beebee growing up, up, and away from her. In those first days of holding her daughter, Tia realized she was holding her own heart and the heart of everyone who loved her. The only thing that mattered was Beebee, and it was her job to keep her safe.
Kill Beebee. The thoughts are with her constantly now.
Tia needs to eat; she is not exactly hungry but faint from nursing. She stares at BeeBee's gorgeous face but is picturing the steep stairwell outside the nursery door and, as if in a film she's watching, sees herself hurling Beebee against the wall leading downstairs, the baby's body hitting, dropping, then rolling down the steps with a thud, thud, as if powerless to control her own actions. Despite this, Tia stands and moves. She must keep moving. She crushes Beebee to her chest and exits the room, inching slowly as she approaches the top stair. She can't help the flashing images so she is extra, extra careful. At the bottom Tia whispers I love you, her teardrops christening the tiny head.
When Tia became a mother, her worst fear was losing her child, especially in some horrific way. These ways were horrible to speak of but played out again and again in the news: kidnappings, SIDS, drownings in the bath. Now she longs to fear these again. She knows these are normal fears, ones she can voice and arm them all against.
Kill BeeBee. Kill BeeBee.
In the kitchen Tia grabs a piece of bread, a piece of cheese, a glass of water. BeeBee is crying. Tia is afraid to walk near the knives which are lined up, waiting, in their wooden block on the countertop. She pictures herself grabbing a knife. She has visions of knives in her hands and what they are able to do, even though she would never ever want to do those things. The line between what she is able to do and willing to do has blurred but even monsters must eat, and the baby wants to move, so Tia does this too, but not near the knives. The harder she tries to block out the images, the more powerful they seem.
Kill BeeBee. Tia is forced to imagine it in numerous, haunting ways. The knives were a present one year to her husband.
The parenting books Tia has read say she should get out with the baby at least once a day. This will be good for them both. Often they do not make it past the front porch. She really is so gorgeous, Tia thinks as she sinks into a porch chair, and she tries to concentrate on this thought instead of how helpless and unaware BeeBee is in her arms. She tries to keep from looking up at the empty hooks spaced out along the length of the porch ceiling. If she could pull herself together and buy plants to hang on them then maybe she wouldn't have to imagine-
Poor Beebee, she sobs. She is afraid someone will come up the walkway, though no one is coming. What would she say? Tia tells herself she will get help before it's too late, that she'll never let herself act. But she is terrified to tell anyone. Surely this discounts her as a mother? A human being? She can see it now, locked up and never let out. Gone to the place monsters go. If she can just hold on, she thinks, for a little longer. Surely this can't last?
A friend calls up. Isn't it magical? It's so much work but it's so worth it, just to see them smile. Tia wants this magical smiling life, the one she pictured as a pregnant mother-to-be. Or, rather, she desperately wants the normal shitty kind of life, where it's only magical looking back. That would be magical, to Tia. Inside, she is hollowing out. She stops answering the phone. The world around is a dangerous place - all moms talk of this - but the danger she fears is inside her.
At night when Beebee is sleeping, Tia tiptoes across to her crib, Kill BeeBee an anthem in her brain. BeeBee lies on her back, no crib bumpers, no pillow. The safest way. The room is dark except for the glow of a nightlight. A round cheek, pouting lip, eyelashes, arm splayed to the side. She won't be sleeping long. Sometimes Tia's husband is there, checking one more time before turning in for the night. Sometimes he'll slip his arm around her and whisper Can you believe we made her? Should we go make another? And Tia will close down and open up and pray for deliverance.
At night they move quickly. There's rarely much time. With her husband she is all need and body, desperate to reduce herself to frenzy. Tia's husband is encouraging but understands little of her desperation. None of this seems to matter together in the dark. They take turns leading, and for Tia it is all take, even when she's giving to him. It is for her, all she is, and when she is stripped and parted and entered and rocked she knows herself again, these intimate maneuvers by now so familiar, so normal, so god damn good. She begs for release. Release is dissolution. It is falling away.
She thinks of mythical, enchanted Honalee, land of Puff the Dragon. Tia wants to believe in a land rising out of the mist but she knows the land is your land my land the shore is this one, but not everyone can see the dragon. Sometimes the dragon dragon-walks out of the misty cave and pushes off, disappearing above in a swish of wings. Tia begins driving at night, taking off after the evening feeding, dark trees and clouds blending and swirling into atmosphere outside her car windows. She thinks of the mother in Love You Forever, crawling to her son's bedside all those years, and, later, driving across town to his house. She pictures a silent dragon coasting above in the night, undetected by headlights but there nonetheless. Tia agonizes. The emphasis on living. Surely, dear god, surely - she can stick around for that.
Near the changing table in BeeBee's room, Tia has left the detailed, typed list of instructions, the one she has been working at for weeks. The list is everything that BeeBee needs, wants, and does; the list even anticipates what BeeBee will need, want, and do in five years. At first Tia deleted the list, over and over, the typing and listing unbearable. But bit by bit she came around to it, and the thought of it scared her less as she centered on the belief that she could still protect her baby. The first item on the list: Tell her every day how much I love her, and love you, and always will.
Tia is cold and having trouble moving her fingers, although the air in the bedroom is warm. Her arm is wrapped around her sleeping husband but slowly she withdraws it, and presses her head gently against his. Keep her safe, she whispers, barely able to force the words so that they sound terribly strange to her ears, but he reaches around to squeeze her shoulder, his usual way of saying Everything will be okay.