By Nancy Sherwood
In August 1984, we moved to Tromsø, Norway, a small town of 35,000 at the time, north of the Arctic Circle.
As with any of our overseas postings, we looked forward to learning about a new culture and the exoticness of a new and different place. That sense of excitement was usually tempered by the “what am I doing here” feeling that creeps in once the happy tourist feeling begins to fade.
When we arrived in Tromsø, I was 8 months pregnant with our third child. My first two births had been cesareans, but my doctor in the States assured me that there was no reason for me to have another cesarean. I felt so optimistic. Norway has such a wonderful record of normal, low intervention births. Midwives deliver most babies in Norway. And so I would have a midwife-assisted birth.
It didn’t turn out that way. I had a cesarean forced on me and was left very angry, sad and depressed. And lonely for my friends at home. My husband was depressed as well. I think that he felt that he had let me down.
But, depressed or not, life goes on. I had three children who needed me. When we arrived, they were aged 6 and 3 years old. And soon after a new baby to care for too.
I made friends pretty quickly which was a godsend. I cannot imagine what I would have done without the support and companionship of other women who were also mothers.
We left Tromsø in 1986, when my baby was just shy of turning two.
This year I went back to visit. I was overjoyed to see the same beautiful mountains I remembered. The town has grown, and has traffic lights at every street corner just about. There were none when we lived there. So many of the old wooden buildings are still there and are completely recognizable. Ships still come in and out of the harbor at all hours.
There is a bridge that connects the island of Tromsø, where we lived, to the mainland area called Tromsdalen. When we lived there, I drove across that bridge quite often. I had friends across the other side of the fjord. And the Arctic Cathedral and the Fjellheisen (cable car) is on the mainland side of the bridge.
I don’t like driving on bridges. Not long, high bridges. But I did drive that one.
When we were in Tromsø recently, we went across the bridge in a taxi.
Going over that bridge brought back some of my darkest moments as a mother. So many times, as I drove over the bridge, I thought of just driving over the edge into the icy water, with my three precious, innocent babies. I was that depressed and overwhelmed by my feelings of despair.
As you know, I am here and alive, as are all of my children. I stayed on the road and did not drive off the bridge. It took real strength to keep my head right, and drive across instead of off of that bridge.
My son will be 31 on August 31 this year. He doesn’t know this story. I have not shared it with anyone. Having those memories come back so swiftly and so strong made me sad. Sad that I didn’t realize what gifts I had in my family and the wonderful and truly beautiful place I was living in.
I am so happy that I went back. I visited my old house. Met with old friends. Felt at home in my former, temporary hometown. I soaked in the beauty that I had not been able to appreciate as much before, when I was in such a dark place within. I used to joke about looking forward to being nostalgic about Tromsø.
That is, to me, what postpartum depression is. A dark place. A place that it is almost impossible to leave sometimes. It is such a contradictory condition. The joyful falling in love with your delicious new baby tempered by thought of making the baby “go away” as if, irrationally, that will make everything better.
This summer, when I crossed that bridge, I remembered how I had felt. And I was happy that those feelings are not there any more. It’s just a bridge. A beautiful bridge, but nothing more. ©
|I did not take this picture. This is the view of Tromsø and the bridge from the Fjellheisen|
There is help available if you are suffering from postpartum depression: