In this season of bright lights and dark thoughts, I think of young mothers like Andrea Labbe, who recently killed her husband, Brian Langer, and three-year-old daughter Zoe, and then attempted to kill two-year-old Brigitte before turning the knife on herself. Motherhood is strong medicine. The one life experience I would not have missed, it has been a strange voyage that cracked the protective shell I'd built for myself and released both great strength and shattering vulnerabilities.
We women experience a range of reactions to the infiltration of our bodies by others. The degree to which we welcome sexual congress or pregnancy varies widely according to our natures and our personal histories. And our acceptance of these penetrations is only the beginning of a process that profoundly affects our identities.
It takes a kind of violence to propel nature's biggest fetus (in proportion to the mother) from inside our bodies out into the world. The storm continues as we find ourselves constantly on call. After giving birth, I felt I'd been cleft in two and would never be one person again. As nursing ended, the severing of the intense psychic bond between my son and me was a source both of mourning and relief.
For me, the most difficult demand of motherhood was being with someone constantly, being always both a responsible human being and good company. During that first year with my baby, my skin felt tattooed by the impression of small hands. I love to be touched, yet often during the months of highest mother-infant contact, my husband's caress was too much after hours of that relentless, loving tattoo.
In older cultures, community child-rearing and prohibitions against sex while nursing prevent women from being the focus of the kind of persistent need to which young mothers like Andrea Labbe are subjected.
With three children under four and a husband who was crazy about her, how would Labbe's skin have felt at the end of the day? After three births in as many years, into how many pieces was her consciousness riven?
Most who take on the role of motherhood get through it. Most of our kids survive our mistakes and our occasional dementia. But many of us have felt enough dislocation and stress during our mothering years to feel compassion for Labbe in equal measure with our horror.
Post-partum depression is not only a hormonal event but also a complex societal phenomenon rooted in our nurturing practices. As always, children are the chief victims of our blindness.
Motherhood is blood, laughter, milk and tears.