The Postpartum Carousel by Denise A. Castro

It took three days for my postpartum depression to knock on my door; pushing itself in like an intruder. I had overly prepared for its visit, assembling community support with family and friends, keeping quarantined before my due date and over nesting at home to ensure a smooth transition. But no matter how much I preempted all the possibilities; I was caught in a whirlwind of inner turmoil; hurting in places I forgot could hurt. I was in its grasp; like an anaconda squeezing around its prey before devouring it whole. I felt as though I may bleed out physically and emotionally and no transfusion would stabilize the endless red wave of pain. My daughter’s birth marked a new found love; small in size yet colossal in the form of a tiny human. It would peek its head at me in a shy way; patiently making its way to help calm my inner storm. But I was a passenger on the postpartum carousel; and at night it claimed me hostage; to a ride I never wished to board in the first place.

In my unconsciousness; a little music tune starts to play. This was my trigger, the key that unlocked the door and let the postpartum guest in. It sounds like a little circus melody – starts slow and picks up its pace. It belongs to a Fisher Price sleeper that my son used to sleep in. I remember purchasing it when I was on vacation in Colorado. We had traveled with my 6 month old at the time and did not bring a sleeper with us. We had conditioned my son to go down in one – so I bought him another one. This one was electronic and had a music mobile. When he was 9 months the sleeper was put away until my daughter Ava was placed in it. The song reopened up my son’s postpartum door at the exact same time my daughter’s door flew ajar too. Floodgates of memories knocked me off my feet. My son and first born would be turning three just days after his sister was born; and it hit me like a freight train. The overlap in pregnancies a clear indicator that I was re-living the same postpartum period.  Almost like a cruel reminder of his memories and my present postpartum sadness. It found a crack in my armor and sliced inward; deep, and I just pray for the little music to stop.

The carousel stands beautifully shiny in the midst of a luscious garden; with beautiful porcelain like horse figurines and bright yellow twinkling bulbs detailing the shine on the floors and mirrors. “Come take a ride“; it says to me. “Come pass the time in the carousel of your memories“. And I don’t hesitate, I get on it, nostalgia possessing me. The music starts to play; and the carousel begins its motion. I look to my right and my daughter is in a gold bassinet with intricate gold details and my horse is a white and grey mare of royal caliber. The music picks up its tempo and with that the motion of the horse –an upward and downward motion. I look to my left and see myself in the mirror; except it’s not present me. It’s 17 year old me. She sits on the other side of the carousel; laughing loudly and conversing with someone I cannot visibly see. How carefree she looks I think to myself; annoyed by her buoyance. I try to think back at what could possibly be so enticing for her; she runs her fingers through her hair twenty times. I hear a scream towards the back; I turn around and see no one. Just rows of beautiful horses with no passengers. The carousel comes to a stop and with that the music. I quickly get off unsure why I boarded in the first place; and I force my heavy feet to walk into the dark thick garden maze; closing my eyes as I do so.

When I open my eyes again; I stand directly in front of the carousel. The music already playing; except my son is one of the horses; unaccompanied. I panic and jolt forward and hop on a light beige horse before it picks up speed. I try to keep my balance but clearly struggle with the carousels current speed. I call to my son to hold on; he looks back at me and waves. He couldn’t be more than 16 months, how the hell did he get on that horse alone? I try again to grasp the reigns of another horse closer to him; and call out to him. He motions with his hand for me come and laughs his baby laugh that I love so much; and I cannot seem to get to him. I cry out; please stop this fucking thing! And the music keeps going; circulating viciously upon me with no signs of stopping. I hang on to a smaller pony; grasping as the wind whirls past my face drying every tear that comes down. I am helpless; and surrender. I squeeze my eyes shut; biting the side of my cheek to feel pain and cognizance, suddenly the carousel comes to a sudden halt. I throw myself off the carousel and look back to make sure there is no one aboard. It stands their mockingly with blinking lights and no music; with only me in one of the spotless mirrors; haggard and tired- reflecting the shell of the person I once was.

The third night I stand in front of it; I go around it; twice. Assuring there is no one on it. I won’t be boarding it; I say to myself. Then the music starts but the carousel stands motionless. I hear someone call my name and look up. My husband is on it; seated in a carriage like seat with our two children. I instinctively get on; taking my daughter from him and holding her close. She is crying hysterically and my son asks if he can ride the big horsey. He climbs up and I sit down – and the carousel begins. This time my children are by me and my husband now sits two horses behind me. I glance back at him, and I try to understand what he says. “Are you ok?” is what I can read from his lips. I just nod No, I don’t even try to speak. I am not okay. I know that much. I am mute, numb, broken, and totally unsure of what is real and what is not. I want the music to stop; I want the uncertainty of this existential crisis to end. Make your point postpartum and leave me the fuck alone. I wish to be free of this guilt that consumes me every time I board this carousel from hell.

Fast forward to my fifth day of postpartum and my son blows his candles on his 3rd birthday cake; and instinctively I start feeling the carousel motion. I hold on to the dinner table feeling as though I was on it; full speed unable to grasp at anything to keep me steady. I was crumbling; my body giving up to the force whirling past me like a hurricane; an uncontrollable force I saw clearly now; time. Around me everyone is singing “happy birthday” and as I lip sync the words I feel my heart sink into my chest. I am joyous for my grown boy; yet I am gut wrenched and unprepared in accepting how time has aged you. I feel as though I am on different wavelength, everyone is on the FM radio and I am stuck on an AM channel with just static noise mixed with muffled sounds to a shitty station. I can’t see, hear or feel clearly. I wish to be free of this poisonous fog; and for the joy that I feel when holding my newborn to shine its light and evaporate it for good. Alas, I lay my head on the pillow at 3 AM after breastfeeding; eyes wide staring at the ceiling. I fear sleep; I do not wish to board the carousel. My eyes give in to the heaviness of exhaustion; and there I am again in front of the merry-go-round I despise so much.

This time around I don’t resist; I choose a black and brown colored stallion. With a gaping muzzle, wildly bent backward with its two front hooves off the ground – enveloping a speed demon like spirit. I am in a hospital gown and nothing more, monitor on my chest and needles and IV’s on both arms. I hold on to the golden rod that sways up and down; and look in the mirror to my left. I’ve lost myself; where is my dignity? Where can I find a fragment of strength to cling on to and drag myself up ward? My eyes welt up with tears. I feel my breastmilk drip down my chest; spoiling, unable to feed my newborn daughter. I am broken I think to myself. My damage too great – I’ll never be the same. My life will never be the same. There is blood that trickles down my leg; red tear drops from my uterus; mourning the baby that no longer resides in the womb. I wish I could connect all my pieces again; get my mind to align with my body. I wish I could find a shortcut to gather some breath and recover like pushing in between contractions. I swear to myself that if I do wake from this nightmare; to never take for granted all that I do have. A familiar sound starts to play as I continue to ride, a strong tempo I have clearly memorized. The sounds of a quick and thudding heartbeat; and I can picture the wavelength lines of this sound. The sound grows louder; stronger and more rhythmic. Is it mine? No – it cannot be mine, it’s too fast to be. Then the sound doubles and two beats can be heard; beating apart. Enveloping a warm invitation to listen endlessly to its soothing thumps. It dawns on me; these are the heartbeats of my children; calling me to come home.

Everything morphed backwards then. I grasped for control; time to reign in my beast; and make it yield to its master – me. The carousel stops abruptly and with it the little music; giving me whiplash in the effort. It stands with its twinkling lights; shiny and spotless. I unmount my stallion; and stare into its eyes; wild and fierce with a thirst for peril. I hold its porcelain muzzle in my hands and rest my forehead against it; goodbye I whisper to it. I walk backward staring at the glorious carousel and nod my head. The heartbeats thud stronger in the background; providing me a sound map and I pace in its direction. The twinkle lights start to fade and turn off one by one; darkening every second horse and carriage seat. This time I walk forward; and don’t look back. This time I know it will no longer power up again. Goodbye postpartum carousel; it’s been a hell of a ride. And this time when I finally open my eyes; I see light.

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