How is it possible that a person’s life, or reality, can be misinterpreted so completely contrary to their actual reality?
A simple compliment uttered to me in a supermarket one day, which stated that I ‘always look so calm and happy’, with my brood in tow, quite literally stopped me in my tracks. The observation was so far removed from my reality at that time.
In effect, my life was, (and still is) chaotic. A living hell of long and lonely darkest of dark days. I met people on the street who kindly imparted their experiences and wisdoms which truthfully at the time were unwelcome... “enjoy every second, it flies by” ... it didn’t. The minutes felt like hours and the days felt like weeks. Each passing second of time waiting for my husband to return home from work was excruciating beyond words. How I hated it. Everything in my world was upset, upside down, nonsensical... a bad dream. Our once beautiful home became a dark dungeon, the sunlight outside taunted me with the rest of the impositions, never fully coming into the kitchen, only to fall short of the slimy wooden decking in our back garden. How I hadn’t noticed it before motherhood.
My senses were entirely distraught. Noises were too loud (the crying mostly), it was too dark, too hot, too stifling and yet we couldn’t go outside because people would hear the crying. My own perhaps, but most likely that of our first born. I could go nowhere with him, he was as inconsolable as I was. I did try once, and it failed on such an epic proportion I found myself up a side street with just him in my arms in the pouring rain, no jackets or bags, such was my haste to remove us from the glare of my former colleagues and the clientele of the coffee shop. He cried, and I cried and when we were both wet through from tears and rain I mustered up the strength to re-enter the coffee shop to retrieve my keys and excuse myself from every public outing ever again until the crying stopped. It didn’t stop for a long while, mine or his. I used to sing to him, and he cried louder.
Yet amidst all of this, I apparently emanated the quintessential of motherhood, or at least so this person had perceived it in the supermarket that day.
The art critic, John Berger’s take on perspective struck me, he said “the convention of perspective, ..., centres everything on the eye of the beholder, it is like a beam from a lighthouse - only instead of light travelling outwards, appearances travel in”. Popular culture constantly presents picture perfect images of the ‘celebrity mom’, and I loathe it.
Without giving myself over to utter self-deprecation I have had since that day in the supermarket felt compelled to explore, compare, and contrast my reality with the phenomenon of ‘picture perfect motherhood’ and I continue to do so through writing “Motherhood in the Flesh” and through photography in my work “Down The Rabbit Hole”. While I like to talk and write about this as catharsis, I am always conscious that this may be perceived as a pity party. But let it be known that I have had the bad days, but I have never allowed my experience to make me a victim. Surviving post-natal depression has only ever awarded me an opportunity to build a greater strength for life as a mother, and for that I’m so grateful.
Words and images by Sonja Smith