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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    KD @ A Bit Squirrelly October 15, 2008 at 12:49 pm

    I *heart* Svetlana. She says everythign so simply, doesn’t mince words, and makes her point perfectly. Now put doen the baby who can’t dance and get some Peas.

    abdpbt October 15, 2008 at 12:57 pm

    Is this your psychiatrist or your masseuse? I’m confused.

    kaila October 15, 2008 at 1:08 pm

    I *heart* Svetlana. She is doing good things for you. Peas.

    Amy October 15, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    I love Svetlana too. She’s awesome.

    Do you have a sling? Having arms is so important, and the sling really helped me when #2 was tiny.

    However, she’s right. He will be fine if you put him down. It’s good for him. Sometimes PPD can make you feel (irrationally, of course) like you’re a Bad Mommy if you put the baby down. At least mine did.

    Oh PPD sucks. You’re well on your way to feeling better, though. This too shall pass, this too shall pass.

    Amy @ prettybabies

    zchamu October 15, 2008 at 1:19 pm


    Reminds me of something. I visited a family in Alabama years back whwo had 8 kids, ranging in age between 1 and 16. When we walked in the front door, there was a baby laying on the living room floor with a bottle in her hand. All by herself. Just hanging out. I was amazed, because all my friends had kids of similar age and there was no way in heck that those kids would ever be left alone on a living room floor. But then I realized: Those were all new mothers who still wondered if their babies were breakable. This mother had done it 7 times previously and knew that kids are by and large not breakable, at least not as easily as we think they are.

    WaltzInExile October 15, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    You can never ever EVER leave Svetlana. Never. She’s the BadMother Whisperer.

    Christy October 15, 2008 at 1:49 pm

    Beautiful. Thanks for passing on that bit of wisdom. You may be in turmoil, but you can still write a fanstastic blog post. Peas indeed.

    Niksmom October 15, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    OMG, I totally heart Svetlana! If you tell us that she’s doing backflips or playing the cello next time…well, I wouldn’t be surprised and I would be dying to meet her!

    BadMother Whisperer, indeed.

    Karen Sugarpants October 15, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    I wish I’d known Svetlana 4 years ago. I could have used some peas. And put Thomas down more. And had arms. Anticipating his every need was exhausting.
    Here’s hoping you get some peas.

    Mary G October 15, 2008 at 2:04 pm

    Fascinating! Sometimes an obvious thing is right there and it takes simplified symbolism and actual demonstration to make you see it.
    Trouble with you, HBM, is that you put *nothing* down — you do so much so well.
    A pea or two is a good thing!
    Love it!

    Michele October 15, 2008 at 2:15 pm

    I know, I know. Sometimes common sense is not so common.

    I love Svetlana!

    Mimi October 15, 2008 at 2:35 pm

    Funny. So funny. And true. About the metaphors and the arms and the peas. I’m glad you’re having a giggle about this …

    Issas Crazy World October 15, 2008 at 2:45 pm

    I think I would do just about anything to have her for my shrink, instead of mine. Arms and peas, she is seriously awesome.

    I was thinking about something as I read this…Emilia is a force to be reckoned with. She, from what I can tell by reading since she was a teeny newborny, takes the world by storm. I remembering reading your birth story with Jasper. He does it too, he has to make himself known, as all second kids do in some way. Differently, yes, but he’s making sure you know he is there and taking the world by storm too. And this is all well and good, but you have to remember that you are just as important as them. More so, because if you don’t take care of you, no one will take care of them.

    Jerri Ann October 15, 2008 at 2:47 pm

    Sound so much more entertaining than my own male doc who says, “yea, well, so you’ve gained a few more pounds, it’s ok”…, 220 is not ok, 120 plus gained a few is ok, but 220? No…wish I had Svetlana to tell me.

    ewe are here October 15, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    I have to agree with Svetlana about putting the baby down… I was not a ‘baby wearer’ or a ‘let the baby fall sleep on me just to appease them briefly’ person because I knew I couldn’t handle the kind of hyper-attachment that could create. Hyper-Attachment that would mean I never got any peace.

    Some people will call me a bad mother for that attitude, but it kept me sane and my kids are just fine.

    Peas to you. ;-)

    Shannon October 15, 2008 at 3:35 pm

    She sounds like just the thing many new moms need. Someone who gets it. And someone who gives you permission to feel as tired as you feel instead of judging or shaking a finger at you. I’m glad you have Svetlana. :)

    Kristy - Where's My Damn Answer October 15, 2008 at 3:37 pm

    I need Svetlana in my business right now. I’m feeling stressed out and FULL of anxiety. I wonder if she’ll tell me to put down the tools and hire someone that will work for free … cause THAT is what I really want to hear that someone out there will work for free and learn a thing or three from me.

    Olivia October 15, 2008 at 3:46 pm

    I heart Svetlana (and the telling of the story… so perfect, so funny.) She sounds like a wise grandmother.

    I’ve got a big 5-month old who wants to be in my arms or within three inches of me at all times. I, too, need to put the baby down. But how do you do it, if he wails every time? How do you fight the urge to comfort him?

    Tiffi33 October 15, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    svetlana is awesome..

    and she is absolutely right..
    I know that I struggled and suffered thru PPD and one thing that kept me from completely losing it was knowing that a few minutes of screaming for a baby wouldn’t kill them..but me losing it could..

    hang in are doing fantabulous

    Vicki October 15, 2008 at 4:17 pm

    Svetlana is awesome. She is the BadMother Whisperer. Not just that but she makes a lot of sense when she just puts everything so simply. No over thinking it. Just plain and simple advice. Jasper will be fine propped on a boppy on the carpet while you catch your breath. And if you need a boppy, I can totally hook you up. I have more than my fair share from having twins…

    Her Bad Mother October 15, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    Olivia – that’s the million-dollar question. It’s also why I only get a few minutes of peas when I put Jasper down. He shouts a lot when he’s not being held. BUT – I do find it helps to rotate him through different positions and places – in his exersaucer, in a bouncy chair, in a bumbo, on his tummy, on his back, sitting up…

    Mac and Cheese October 15, 2008 at 4:57 pm

    Does Svetlana know what a celebrity she has become? It’s great that you’ve connected with her.

    Her Bad Mother October 15, 2008 at 5:11 pm

    mac and cheese – oh god no. I could never tell her. because then we’d have to analyze it. I’m not up for that ;)

    Lindsey October 15, 2008 at 5:49 pm

    See, and my response would have been, “Yeah, uh, thanks for the empty advice, but how about some more happy drugs…” But that’s just me, after having been through this the first time around.

    I’m glad what you’re getting is working for you.

    catnip October 15, 2008 at 6:23 pm

    I can’t quite believe I understood all of that, and yet it made perfect sense. It sounds like Svetlana is good for you. And us too.

    Momily October 15, 2008 at 7:13 pm

    Is it bad that my first response to this post is, “See, an English degree can be useful in the real world after all”?!

    Hope things are all kinds of better!!

    courtney October 15, 2008 at 7:23 pm

    She sounds like an amazing therapist! I’d like to see Svetlana, too!

    Sarcastica October 15, 2008 at 7:41 pm

    Peas and quiet is good, if you ever need a baby sitter…I’m not too far away (Karen’s cousin by the way – not some creepy stalker I assure you!)

    Momo Fali October 15, 2008 at 7:52 pm

    For the love of God, please give her my number.

    Michelle October 15, 2008 at 7:59 pm

    Great advice. I’ll let my bad mother hang out and point out that if you need a break, that’s what cribs are for. Sometimes mommy needs a “time out” too…
    Love Svetlana. I wonder if she could make me feel better about the election ;) ?

    marymurtz October 15, 2008 at 7:59 pm

    Gooliver! I love it.
    She is f***ing awesome!

    Her Bad Mother October 15, 2008 at 8:09 pm

    Sarcastica – I don’t mind creepy stalking. Not in the least ;)

    Rusti October 15, 2008 at 8:15 pm

    I think Svetlana rocks, and it seems that she is doing you some good too… and I’m also taking notes (and I’m sure will be bothering you a plenty come January when Copper arrives) in the event that PPD gets to me at all… thanks again for your outright honesty – and I love the simplicity of Svetlana. :)

    Heather October 15, 2008 at 8:16 pm

    She sounds wonderful (vundervul?) this Svetlana.

    organicyogamom October 15, 2008 at 8:29 pm

    First time I’ve visited your blog and I must say I was laughing out loud. Thanks for the great chuckle………will be coming back for more!

    Poppy Buxom October 15, 2008 at 8:29 pm

    Hey, call me the world’s biggest nay-sayer, but when I was brain-addled from a world-class case of PPD, I would have hated having to strain my brain to figure out what my therapist was saying. I think having to deal with the fractured syntax and crazy accent would have sent me right over the edge. Of course, at that point, I couldn’t have read to the end of this paragraph–but still.

    That you made such a good post of it is proof that you are getting better. Hooray!

    sam {temptingmama} October 15, 2008 at 8:29 pm

    Dammit. That dancing baby is dancing on mah brains now.

    I like Svetlana and peas.

    catnip October 15, 2008 at 9:05 pm

    About that postscript – he’ll be okay. CIO saved my life and my sanity, and I don’t regret it one bit.

    Her Bad Mother October 15, 2008 at 9:10 pm

    catnip – thanks. need to hear that right now.

    Tiffi33 October 15, 2008 at 9:19 pm

    I will echo catnip..CIO is a lifesaver when you are losing your baby ever died from crying for a while..

    Hannah October 15, 2008 at 9:35 pm

    Chiming in to say I am allowing my six month old to cry it out before bed… it’s the only way he will sleep well. I didn’t do that with my first, it just wasn’t working for him or me, but either I’m more pragmatic this time or else better at blocking out the yelling… but CIO is working well for us.

    Last night at bedtime, he screamed for half an hour while I rubbed his back and sang to him. Tonight? Less than ten minutes. And he’s still asleep now.

    Thank you for letting us use Svetlana. Because she is teh awesome.

    Mama Snyder October 15, 2008 at 10:45 pm

    I love the story and I love Svetlana’s method of communication. She could have just suggested putting him down, but she really leaves her mark with her “baby can’t dance.”

    This may not be quite the right forum to say this, but you seem pretty tolerant, so I’ll proceed. My little guy is 13 months old and very clingy. He is a twin, but she is miss independant.

    I was blowing off steam and complaing to my girfriend one evening – Moaning about how my hubs can’t seem to accomplish one of the 12 tasks I handle in a day. Later in the conversation, I went on to b*tch about my little guy’s neediness when she said something that stopped me cold.

    She said – You’re raising him to be the same way, you know. The same as your hubs – unable to take care of himself. I was mildly offended at first, but it got me thinking. I allow him to need me all the time. It just made me realize that I push my girls to be independant, but I don’t seem to do the same with my little boy.

    Crying it out helps him learn to take care of himself. You are teaching him to begin to care for himself, in small doses, in baby steps.

    I know that you are much smarter than I, and perhaps you have a very differnt viewpoint, but her comment helped me to feel better about letting him CIO. Hope it helps…

    Mama Snyder October 15, 2008 at 10:47 pm

    that was WAY too long – so sorry

    Mrs. N October 15, 2008 at 11:17 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. Your story has helped me begin to seek help for PPD, even though I’m not having my baby for 2.5 weeks–because I needed to see that it was okay to ask for it.

    Mia October 15, 2008 at 11:47 pm

    I think I’d keep going to her. Even when you start feeling like you don’t need her, keep going. She’s good and what goes on in your mind during these sessions must be priceless!

    Anonymous October 15, 2008 at 11:48 pm

    Ok, 1st I wanna admit I read that only once. But am I the only one scratching my head saying to myself “WTF?”

    It sounds like your psychiatrist is one the same manic/depressive meds that *I* am on. I’m still pondering if I “*heart*” her or not…

    The only thing I can recommend is that you put Gooliver in a closet and pour yourself a shot of tequilla–then sip one more.

    Martie of

    Rachael October 16, 2008 at 1:23 am

    Thank you for sharing your journey here with all of us. I think it can be so helpful to so many women. I love how Svetlana simplifies things and points out things that should be SO obvious, but just aren’t for some reason!

    Mother Musings October 16, 2008 at 1:57 am

    I concur with every one of your commenters. Svetlana sounds amazing. And yeah, CIO is not an easy route but ultimately I think it works. It just takes time to undo a habit that the two of you have gotten into.
    Wishing you all the best! And some sleep. ((hugs))
    Oh, and everytime you say peas it makes me think of whirled peas. ;)

    susiej October 16, 2008 at 9:02 am

    I’m just sayin’ these sessions with Svetlana make me cry… in a good way. I love that you have found her; I love that you are sharing her here — healing for all the of us.

    Peas… here’s to peas.

    Laural Dawn October 16, 2008 at 9:59 am

    Do you have an exersaucer?
    Okay – I know this is maybe bad parenting, but with Matt I went with the exersaucer/Baby Einstein combo.

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