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The Ghost Mama

It was a dark and stormy night. Rain lashed against the windows and flashes of lightning illuminated  dark tree branches outside. A dim lamp cast ominous shadows over the nursery walls. On the rug lay a forlorn baby, alternating between stuffing her hands in her mouth and crying angrily. In a rocker sat a bedraggled woman, rocking, rocking, rocking. Like an autistic person. Staring at the wall. Rocking.

A few weeks ago, Mr. Bunny went out of town. His absence happened to coincide with my menstruation-induced milk supply dip, and possibly also a growth spurt, but most certainly a fussy, angry baby. Like…an entirely different baby from the one I am accustomed to caring for. And I began to lose my shit. On the night the scene described above took place, Bun Bun spent much of the day wailing and refusing to nap, and I was tore up. After rocking her and cuddling her and nursing her and singing to her and walking her around etc., etc., etc., I put her down (gently, safely!) and just took a moment. And then as I looked down at her with a stoney face, it suddenly felt weirdly familiar. As though a ghost had briefly taken possession of my body. The ghost of my very own mother.


I wondered, was this what it was like when I was a child? Was I remembering being on the receiving end of such behavior?

As I’ve mentioned, my mother went through some rough shit while I was young, including depression. Because of that, and because of my own tendency to become cold and detached when under pressure, I’ve always secretly feared that I wouldn’t be able to handle motherhood. That I’d turn into a silent, angry presence. Certainly during my episodes of FUCKING DEPRESSED I felt a bit like that. Remote. Cold. However, aside from those times, I actually feel like I’ve taken to motherhood pretty naturally–the love and playfulness and patience (you know, SORT OF) and strength are there after all.

Just not always. And my brush with the ghost mama made me wonder: will having this spectral presence just outside the door ultimately be a good thing? Will it put me on my guard, make me extra wary of becoming angry or withdrawn? Do people who had less than perfect parents make better parents themselves?

Of course not. I simply experienced a typical episode of being worn out, the kind every parent goes through, even those who had perfect milk and cookies parents. People with good parents have good parenting models, and are therefore just as likely to be good caregivers as those of us cobbling together a ramshackle model out of our favorite books.

That’s the conclusion I came to in the light of day, anyway, with the phantoms of night all banished and so forth.

19 Comments Post a comment
  1. I appreciate your reflectiveness, Bunny. I hope you have people around to talk to about Ghost Mama and when FUCKING DEPRESSED surfaces. And may I also mention, off topic, what lovely penmanship Bun Bun has? Please thank her for her thoughtful note. Thinking of you all.

    September 4, 2011
  2. Oh, so I should not have been tearing around like a banshee last night at about 2:00am loudly muttering, "I wish you would both just fucking sleep because I am fucking tired. And sick too." We're all sick around these parts. It's not one of my finer parenting moments. They do happen. I remember the stony look on occasion, too, but I am pretty sure that is exhaustion making it impossible to do anything but stare blankly forward. Be aware when you are slipping into the "parent I don't want to be" mode. Then, to the best of your human ability, turn the ship. Sometimes it happens right away. Sometimes it takes a day or two. Being a good parent is a very active task. Anyone that says it is an inherent state of mind is – well – I would argue they are a liar.

    September 4, 2011
  3. I just want to thakn you Bunny for your honesty. I more then appreciate it. It makes me feel a ton better about myself and the moments to come. Thank you for being brave.

    September 4, 2011
  4. Great post. Thanks for the reminder that life isn't all unicorns and sunshine, and there are some rough fucking times. Makes us all feel not-so-alone when we have our own times…

    September 4, 2011
  5. I know that blank look very well, as I perfected it in the early weeks. She still comes bsck for a visit here and there though I've begged her to stay away. I hope you know you are a rockstar mommy. Neither yourchildhood memories nor being your mothers daughter can change that and if nything, probably makes you a better mommy. Has the supply gotten back in check? Do you think it's the rain that brings on those bad nights you mention, or a coincidence. If I conjure up memories of my worst nights I keep envisioning rain.

    September 5, 2011
  6. I don't have to tell you to be brave because you already are. When I told my therapist I didn't want to turn into my mother (an alcoholic banshee ) she said I didn't have to be perfect I just had to do my best. Just do your best bunny. You are wonderful just as you are.

    September 5, 2011
  7. This post made me feel a lot better. Knowing there is someone else out there that deals with stress by detaching and also knowing that being aware of it and accepting that it will happen *on occasion* makes these rough patches just a little bit easier.

    September 5, 2011
  8. If I can say without it sounding all cliche & crap, but this is so normal it hurts. There were days when A was an infant that NOTHING would soothe him…NOTHING! He wasn't hungry,wet, no poop–just seemed to be screaming for no apparent reason. His nursery is/was right off my living room. I can literally him him breath if there's no noise in the house. So when he would get in the mood for inconsolable crying-I simply put him on his back in his crib, told him how much I loved him and turned away closing the door behind me. When he would finally stop, I'd listen at the door to here his breathing (if I was concerned, of course I opened the door to make sure). For some reason, that just helped–him & me. Most of the time, he cried himself to sleep (making me feel like a dog), but sometimes he would eventually stop and just be ready to play. Stressful was not the word for it. On top of all of that, I was deeply concerned and felt guilt that somehow he knew I wasn't his birth mother–and there was no way to explain it to him when he was that little. (which he completely understands now–my little champ took it like pro-water off a ducks back) He is an amazing little boy.

    September 6, 2011
  9. Holy hell. I remember that day! It was EXACTLY the same one- husband away, period came back, screaming baby……………..until the last part. I vividly remember having a complete breakdown, lying on the floor and screaming way louder than the lil mr. You got through it with grace. For someone who doesn't even read the books, that's a perfect textbook response. You can be proud!

    September 6, 2011
  10. I am impressed with your ability to be so circumstpect about this, when it was relatively recent. But yeah, this all seems normal to me. THere were definitely a few times when I had to just put the wee one in his crib and walk away because I was going to lose my shit. ANd I felt terribly guilty and awful until I realized that I would be a better mother if my ciomposure was regained and my teeth were brushed (or hair washed or whatever it was that desperately needed to be done) and that it is sometimes ok for a baby to cry so that a mother can pull herself together. You are fine. And Bun Bun is unscathed, I promise.

    September 6, 2011
  11. Well, my worry-ometer did blip for a second, but then I remembered you have huge resources to draw upon, not least of which your self-awareness. I think you'll be fine. Not that it's easy. But I have great faith in you.

    September 6, 2011
  12. bunny – does bunbun really nurse for only 5 minutes per feed? i remember you saying this in an earlier post. pippa is on a hunger strike, eating 3-4'x's a day for only 3-5 mins and i'm about to lose my shit with worry.

    September 6, 2011
  13. JB #

    I am sad to say I know this "can't become my mother" feeling too well. It's a shitty club we belong to, we of the less-than mothers. I've had many, many days like the one you describe and my little munchkin is no worse for it. And, I think, neither am I.

    September 6, 2011
  14. I used to go into the bathroom, close the door, and scream. Anyone who claims to never, ever lose it even a little bit is LYING.

    September 7, 2011
  15. woha Bunny…sounds like things over here too except we have no rain. I know my supply gets super low when AF returns and it makes everything so much worse for everyone involved. I was graced with it's return 8 weeks pp. I was pissed. Exhaustion does crazy things to us. As a side note…I do want you to know that since your inspiring tummy time post we've followed your lead over here and little Bee rolled over for the first time today. I cried.

    September 7, 2011
  16. I think of this scenario and know that it is precisely that you feel the undead howling, that you could not mimic that specter. I imagine you are going to catch yourself many times with all those doubts and wonder what you look like to bun bun. She's going to grow up and feel deprived because you made her clothes (instead of buying behbeh couture), fed her wholesome food (instead of Micky d's), and kept her safe (as opposed to letting her reenact the evil knevil snake river jump at 11 on her retro banana seat schwinn). Crosses she will bear with indignity until she discovers the world of mothers out there that are possible. The bunny mamma ghost is formidable, but I suspect that she's going to not show up all that often.

    September 7, 2011
  17. Scary stuff, isnt it? Ghost Momma is no where near the same situation as House of Bun Bun, but that chill would run deep. I am glad you get it. It is a heavy subject. No one can try to tell you just how fucking HARD it is when you are on the other side. It is some hard ass work and the lows can be stark.

    September 8, 2011
  18. I've been trying to get back to this post, working my way back through my reader. Nothing exceptionally insightful to offer, nothing that hasn't already been said…but just that I get this, I really do. There've been times when I am just consumed by disappointment and even self-loathing that I've tiptoed anywhere near the behavior/attitudes/reactions of my own mother. It's a terrible, terrible feeling. But, we are not our mothers. Nope.

    September 13, 2011
  19. I've had exactly three episodes where I screamed at Ian as loud as he was screaming at me. Three in four months. I can feel very very guilty about it – which I sorta do – but I choose to submit that it is a better scenario than others. 99.9 percent of the time, he receives unconditional love and comfort and I figure he won't remember the .1 percent that he got a really awful parent. I am not proud of it, but it happened and I think there are worse coping mechanisms. And screaming is a lot worse than looking stone-faced at someone. I understand the stony looks from my own mother. She was at the absolute end of her rope and she never got a break; and she was one of those cookies-and-milk moms. We are all just human.

    September 19, 2011

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