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Inconsolable: How I Threw My Mental Health Out with the Diapers
ISBN: 1580051405
By: Marrit Ingman

Review by: Patricia R. Payette

06/07

Marrit Ingman’s memoir about new motherhood, Inconsolable: How I Threw My Mental Health Out with the Diapers definitively blows the lid off any soft-focused portrait of mother and baby locked in a mutual gaze of adoration and love. Ingman’s fiercely honest, brutally funny and painful recollection about her son’s first year of life—and the battering that her body, mind and marriage took during that year—is an important contribution in the crowded literary field of recent “momoirs.”

In her book’s introduction, Ingram aligns her memoir with the personal tales of new motherhood that let ambivalence, doubt, anger and depression come to the surface—books like Anne Lamott’s Operation Instructions and Susan Kushner Resnick’s Sleepless Days. Her book stakes out its own maternal territory by offering up short essays that sound like your best friend “telling it like it is” in stark contrast to what the “experts” like Dr. Sears and your well-meaning relatives tell you about the joys of attachment parenting or the instant bond you experience with your newborn. Ingman desires to expose the Hallmark-card tributes our society gives to mothers as a hollow echo of reality:“Behind Mom’s beatific smile is a nest of emotions, from purest joy to total heartbreak.”

Indeed, Ingman’s book is filled with heartbreak—but not an ounce of self-pity-- about the trials that she and her husband Jim endure as Baldo’s arrival (their nickname for their son in uetero remains after he is born) splinters their pre-baby life into pieces. Their baby’s constant vomiting and crying soon reveals that Baldo has reflux that he must grow out of while Ingram battles her own inner demons—depression and overwhelming feelings of social and emotional isolation that are treated with medication by sometimes less than supportive therapists and clueless doctors. She is not afraid to reveal her deepest suicidal thoughts and her experiences of disassociation that allow the reader to peer inside the head of a mother’s attitude toward her newborn under the influence or postpartum depression (PPD). The PPD mother is a woman who secretly feels she “holds him too much and not enough, loves him too much and not enough, hates him and hates herself.” Ingman shows us the vicious, irrational cycle that a PPD mother is caught within—lost, alone, despairing.

Ingman is passionate on the subject of PPD, debunking the myths that PPD is a result of merely a temporary hormonal imbalance after childbirth—just the ‘baby blues’ writ large. She wants the reader to see—both through the research she has done and own personal example--that PPD and maternal depressions are both psychological and “situational in origin—from exhaustion, emotional depletion, from being alone with a baby, from being supported inadequately.” Ingman points out that pre-existing psychological disorders play a role, but so does the “shitstorm parents endure because we are tired, frightened, isolated, confused, apparently powerless.”

Ingman and her husband experience their own private “shitstorm” in a number of ways. Baldo is diagnosed with eczema, and then severe, extensive food and latex allergies, which they are told will probably eventually lead to asthma. In “Lubricating my child, “ Ingman recounts Baldo’s oozing, itchy, scaly rash that covers his body and requires desperate visits to multiple dermatologists and prescriptions for steroids, as well as special clothing and lotions to keep symptoms at bay. The stress and strain is exacerbated by Ingrman’s dismaying discovery that talking with other new mothers is an exercise in silencing and ignoring “taboo” parental topics such as mental illness, loneliness, feelings of inadequacy. Ingman’s single “satisfying” break from new parenthood comes in the form of a hospital stay where she is diagnosed with hepatitis. In her typical refreshing, matter of fact style, she admits that she relished this rare bout of privacy: “I can imagine nothing more magical in the life of a new mother than the combination of uninterrupted sleep and intravenous hydration.”

Ingman offers no magic solution for readers to take away—the therapists, the drugs, breastfeeding, a special diet, the well-meaning but simplistic parenting books and the new Mommy playgroups are all fodder for the author’s dismantling of the myth that proper parenting is prescriptive and narrowly defined by “others.” Ingman is keenly aware that we new parents are trying to “win” at being perfect at one of the most difficult roles of our lives at the cost of their connection to and compassion for other parents, ourselves, our partners and our children.. Collectively, Ingman implores, we must shun the ideal of the picture-perfect self-sacrificing mother. “Our lives simply do not measure up and we will make ourselves crazy trying.” She concludes her book with the most important kind of self-help advice that urges readers to speak truth about their lives, as messy and mixed up as they really are: “ It is up to each of us to tell her story by talking to other parents, to men and women, to our elders who may have forgotten or deliberately disremembered the struggle to keep their heads above water while raising young children.”

It’s a relief and a victory to read Inconsolable, especially those of us with young children who are working hard to make ends meet, to keep body and soul together, and need to reassured, ultimately, that we are not alone. Marrit Ingman’s memoir should be required reading for every desperate parent pacing the floor at 4:00 with a colicky baby, crying at the kitchen table while they pump breastmilk and argue with their partner, or spending a long day alone with their infant, convinced they have just made the biggest mistake of their life.

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