Nov 9, 2009

Hillbilly Gothic

A Memoir of Madness and Motherhood
by Adrienne Martini

New moms are supposed to be all smiles and delight over their tiny little bundles of joy, right? So what happens when they're not? In this heartachingly wry memoir, Martini takes us through her experience with postpartum depression. She knew going into motherhood that her family history was peppered with women who habitually "went mad" after giving birth, not to mention those who suffered from depression or bi-polar disorder, and a number of relatives who were suicidal. These things went unspoken in her family, but they began to make more sense to her when soon after the arrival of her first baby she felt her emotions sliding out of control, into an abyss of tears and helplessness. Insomnia, difficulties breastfeeding, frustrations at the baby's demands, at her own inability to live up to her concept of the ideal mom. When her infant was barely a month old, she finally admitted herself to a psychiatric ward and sought help. Martini takes the reader along as she plumbs the depths of her emotions and patches her life back together: what triggered her depression? can she recognize it if it happens again? can she face the birth of a second child? She also talks a lot about place, about living as the descendant of Appalachian mountaineers, but I didn't really get a sense of the "hillbilly" aspect of it. Most of all, I was intrigued by her discussion on the stigma of mental illness; even though we now know that mental health problems are caused by genetics and chemical imbalance - not weakness of character or sin- it is still a difficult and sometimes shameful thing to admit. At one point in the memoir, Martini mentions how she picked and chose which friends she would tell the truth of her condition to; at another point she's recently moved into a new neighborhood and introduces herself with this information, choosing which people to befriend by their reaction to it. More than anything, Hillbilly Gothic feels so painfully honest. Here's a normal, perfectly nice woman who just couldn't hold it together when the new baby came. I am sure there are hundreds of others like her with stories untold. People don't like to think about moms who fail to go ga-ga over little babies, but they exist, and they're not horrible people, and perhaps this book will help them be more understood.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 221 pages, 2006

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6 comments:

carolsnotebook said...

Sounds like a good read. Post partum depression is something most people know exists, but to actually experience it or know someone who has must be heart-breaking.

bermudaonion said...

This sounds like something I'd like even though I know it's a tough read.

Nymeth said...

"I am sure there are hundreds of others like her with stories untold. People don't like to think about moms who fail to go ga-ga over little babies, but they exist, and they're not horrible people, and perhaps this book will help them be more understood."

Exactly! It upsets me that these feelings are so socially frowned upon. I want to read this book just because of how brave it is.

Jeane said...

Carolsnotebook- I was well aware of it before reading this book, but I've never known anyone personally who had it, so reading about the experience was an eye-opener for me.

Bermudaonion- Some parts were hard to read but overall it was well worth it.

Nymeth- That was one her main threads in the book- how much society turns a blind eye to this. I think she was incredibly brave to write this book, yet there were some aspects of the experience she admitted were still too painful to talk about, and they got skipped over.

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Jenny said...

I want to cheer for this author for being brave enough to write this book. As you noted, there's such a stigma attached to mental illness - I was raised by two therapists and I still have a hard time admitting that I suffer from depression. This sounds wonderful and I can't wait to read it!