Keeping Mum

By Humphery, Diane | Hecate, January 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Keeping Mum


Humphery, Diane, Hecate


After the birth of my second child I suffered post-natal depression. While on the surface I kept up the appearance of coping, underneath I felt dis-abled, impaired, and unable to function properly. I was filled with self-doubt and withdrew to a silent place. I was struck dumb by my condition. Not wanting to be seen as flawed in any way I "kept mum" about what I was experiencing, "mum" being a frighteningly appropriate term for my situation -"an inarticulate sound made through closed lips, indicating an unwillingness to speak out loud."

I was living in Darwin at the time and an exhibition of Egyptian relics was in town. Outside the temperature was the usual 32 degrees. The scent of frangipani followed me into the museum. Inside it was cool, dark, and shadowy-a better fit for me than naked sun and unrelenting heat that grabbed you by the throat and choked the life out of you. So much for Paradise. I wandered past items that glittered and gleamed, yellows and blues which mirrored the outside view, a lapis lazuli sea beneath a golden orb. But I was drawn to something much plainer, a mummified body in a sarcophagus, rigid in its moth brown ordinariness. Immediately it struck a chord and straight away I recognised myself in that tightly wrapped, silent figure. I was that mummy, entombed and hollowed out.

After emerging from the depression, I wrote a short story entitled "Mummy," based to a large extent upon my personal experience. The title reflected not only the state of motherhood but also the way in which my depression mummified me as a woman, as it does many women. The story explored my descent into a place where living and non-living meshed.

Mummy

i am a mummy bound and wound tied and dried gagged and ragged i am stiff as an old board can't move can't speak dumb and dead brown as rust dry as dust

These are the words Sandra says to herself as she lurches through her days, her zombie days that have no beginning and no end, that stretch on and on ivith no regard for light or dark. Nocturnal, diurnal, who cares? It's all the same. These are the words she says as she pushes the trolley at the supermarket, the pram at the park, the food across the table. They are her mantra. She says them as she sits with the baby sucking at her deflated breast. She knows that more than milk is being extracted. She is being sucked dry. All her inner organs are being sucked out, all the purple coiling snakes that live inside her, all the blood and bodily fluids and shit that sit just below the surface of the body, hidden from view. But she's seen it. On the sheets, on the floor of the hospital, on the baby that came slithering and slipping out of a place she no longer recognises. And yet her love is fierce. A sharp and dangerous fight-to-the-death love. Which is why she accepts the hollowing out, taking comfort in the clean vacuum that is left, dry as summer grass.

The phone rings and she answers it with false brightness.

Oh, fine, fine. Well, not enough sleep but we all know about that.

She laughs.

Yes, she's gaining really well. Cute as a button. My place for morning tea? Sure. Same crowd as usual? Lovely, see you then.

When the time comes, as it does every second week, the mothers sit and chat and laugh and exchange stories about sleeplessness and the plight of the stay at home mums. They talk in exquisite detail about excrement-colour, viscosity, frequency, texture. They were all professionals of one kind or another in a past life so they also like to get their teeth into more meaty topics which they tear at with forced vigour, afraid that any sign of weakness will exclude them from the pack. She joins in, sure she'll crack the code soon. It must be like hieroglyphics. It will all make sense when she works out what the different signs mean and then she'll be alright. One of them. Any day now she'll find herself flipped over, a bright shiny new penny just like the rest. But for now the baby weighs heavy on her hip and the toddler pulls at her skirt and a red rage bubbles inside. …

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