Baby Can’t Dance (Or, Everything I Needed To Know About Post-Partum Mental Health I Could Have Learned From Jonathan Swift And Ally McBeal)

October 15, 2008

Ooooh. Is so big!

Svetlana gives Jasper’s belly a poke. He giggles.

Is big baby. Is happy baby! He grabs her finger and yanks it into his mouth. And strong!

I shrug. I know that he’s big and strong. I am, after all, the one holding him. With difficulty.

This is why you are post-traumatic stress. This is big boy who make big entrance. He come fast, he is big, it is BLAM, and you are stress.

I nod. That’s one way of describing the circumstances of his birth.

And now, he is the BIG big big boy. And the strong. He is like Gooliver! This is the tired. You are tired from Big Gooliver.

I stare at her, blankly.

Gooliver? And the Poochins? I do not know this in English. The Poochins, they tie Gooliver?

Oh, I say. GULLIVER. And the Lilliputians?

Yes! This is this baby. GOOLIVER. He is big for you! So big for birth, so big for holding! So much for to make you tired, and stress.

I think about this. I wonder if the better analogy isn’t that I’m Gulliver, and my children are the tyrannical Lilliputians, attempting to bend me to their tiny wills. Or that I’m Gulliver, and Jasper is a Brobdingnagian. Or that I’m a Brobdingnagian, and Jasper Gulliver. Emilia is almost certainly a Lilliputian, albeit a very, very tall one.

Whatever the case, Jonathan Swift is spinning in his grave, I’m sure, to hear his work reduced to awkward literary tropes – giants and little people, tyranny and oppression – exploited for the purpose of post-partum psychiatric therapy.

I’m missing a point here, I think.

I give my head a shake and shrug at Svetlana. I don’t know, I say. He certainly exhausts me. But I don’t feel oppressed by him. I’m just tired. And anxious. And tired.

You sometime want to escape?

Hell yeah. But not like ‘oh god release me from these ties that bind’ kind of escape. Just, you know, some kind of ‘gimme a break’ escape. A little bit of quiet, sometimes, maybe. A little bit of peace.

Peas. Yes. You need this. You have had some peas these weeks? She looks at her clipboard. These two weeks?


You need more peas.


She brightens suddenly, looking at Jasper, who is squawking and hooting like an angry squirrel to get her attention. He is not Hooliver! He is cartoon baby! Very big baby, very smart, very strong, but is still baby. Is still BABY.

She looks at me expectantly. I’m not sure where she’s going with this.

You see. He looks like big boy. He is strong like big boy. But he is just baby. You tell him: ‘YOU ARE BABY.’ And then you put him down. And you do not worry. She leans forward as if to tell me a secret. He cannot dance.

I stare at her, again, blankly.

She raises her arms, elbows bent, and does jazz hands. OOGA-CHUCKA. This he cannot do. She leans forward again. He is just little baby. He stay where you put him. Do not need to hold him always. Do not need to tie him down with arms. He is baby. Put him down.

I put him down on the floor of her office, sitting upright against my legs. He immediately grabs one of his feet and chomps down happily.

You see? Is fine. And now you have arms. Maybe not always peas, but arms.


What I learned, then, yesterday: sometimes, a few minutes of free arms equals a decent measure of peas/peace, and any measure of peace does a mountain of good in an anxious life.

Also, that mixing and mangling metaphors and analogies is good for the soul. And that having a Slavic pantsuit-wearing, Swift-reading, Ally-McBeal-loving throwback of a psychiatrist isn’t such a bad thing as I might have thought.


Postscript: that whole put him down and free your arms thing? Works best when he isn’t shrieking in protest. That’s not so peaceful. Just sayin’.

Need to work on that part.

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    Anissa Mayhew October 16, 2008 at 10:34 am

    Jasper’s going to find his peas with that teeny bit of arm freedom, so will you.

    Her Bad Mother October 16, 2008 at 10:37 am

    Laural – we do have an exersaucer. and a bouncy chair, and a swing, and a jolly jumper, and a floor mat. I use all of them, every day. *rolls eyes*

    LAVANDULA October 16, 2008 at 11:27 am

    svetlana sounds so wonderful!…hope you get some more peas and arms free time catherine.catherine jasper will probably get used to being out of your arms and stop shrieking when he gets more used to it.

    Tabitha (From Single to Married) October 16, 2008 at 12:38 pm

    You have such a way of writing. And I’m glad you got something out of your visit. I’m also glad you were able to translate it for us. :)

    hedra October 16, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    I’ve been there, and it’s important to just be told that it is okay to let go a little, that you don’t have to hang onto the baby for the baby to be able to hang onto you. Not wrong, not bad, not dangerous to take a breath on your own. My friends told me that it was okay to put the baby down and step away when I needed to, even if the baby wasn’t so happy with that. And they’re all very AP types in general. It isn’t that the goal is to step away, but life includes many rounds of putting them down and stepping away, then back, then away. Your baby can’t dance, but you can.

    I don’t know if Svetlana said it to you directly, but it isn’t in the details that your child will find their mental health and lifelong wellbeing, it is in your underlying philosophy, your love, regard, and respect for them, and your willingness to take on big tasks like therapy so that your philosophy can have more room to work as you all grow.

    As for the down=not always so peaceful, some babies are ‘up’ babies, and some are ‘down’ babies. Most are somewhere in between, and shift their opinion regularly. I like slings, backpacks (sometimes a sling is too close-in for myself or them), the Super Yard (fence off some safe space, move it where you want), and a baby entertainment mat, plus all the items you listed. Something from each column. You’ve already got several items in circulation – maybe consider a couple more options that incorporate some of the up-ness. My life freed up immensely with a backpack carrier, when I had an up-baby who hated slings. No screaming on those ‘do not put me down’ days, plus two hands free. Ahhhh. Peas!

    blissfullycaffeinated October 16, 2008 at 7:44 pm

    I love Svetlana. I wish I had a Svetlana. I’m glad you’re finding a little bit of peas.

    Ernesta October 16, 2008 at 10:31 pm

    Just wanted to say I get a kick out of your posts – not your life, just your funny posts!

    Sarcastica October 16, 2008 at 11:18 pm

    Haha good then I can admit that I do lurk in a slightly stalkerish way, haha jokes :)

    Nina October 17, 2008 at 12:14 am

    Okay maybe you’ve already tried this? But I just bought an Ergo Baby Carrier last week to carry Ced and it has helped SO! MUCH!

    I really cannot express how much it has helped. I used lots of slings with Caius, but with the 2nd I needed something that I could put him on my back or even in the front where his legs would tuck away (unlike in the bjorn).

    Now that Ced is rolling, I can put him on the floor and let him roll around for awhile, but sometimes he just wants to be held (yes, the shrieking!), but now I can hold him and have my hands free. Which has pretty much changed my life.

    Hope you get more peas Catherine.

    Millicent October 17, 2008 at 11:34 am

    Can I have Svetlana? She would come in handy right now. BTW, I absolutely love you. You express all the things I wish I could, but cannot get out.

    Tiffany T October 17, 2008 at 12:03 pm

    Oh, honey. I found your blog from All Things BD‘s blog. I remember these feelings. I remember wondering if my mind would ever be the same again. After all, this child will be mine forever, so how will my mind be mine again? Drugs can help, thinking your way through it can help, but knowing that one day (much sooner than I expected), my mind will be mine again – the one I recognized from before children. I will be able to think like myself again was the biggest relief. My children are now 4 and 6, and as I see them getting more independent, it frees my mind a little every day.

    prochaskas November 5, 2008 at 12:13 am

    I’d bookmarked you months ago and only now found you again…

    Just based on this post? I don’t like Svetlana. She reminds me of the therapist I recently quit. Bad taste in mouth…

    Ear plugs rule. Allowed me to hold the baby and otherwise take care of her without having my adrenaline whipped into a frenzy by that grating cry.

    And — a compromise between AP and CIO — we used it for bedtime, but would work for breaks, too, I suppose. Put the baby in the crib or wherever he sleeps. Pat and say bye. Leave. If he cries, wait a few minutes — if he’s still crying, go back in, pat, reassure, say bye — don’t pick him up or stay long — and leave again. Repeat ad nauseum. For me it was the right balance of respect and compassion for her needs AND mine.

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