Pre-baby, I read 100–150 books a year. Of course I knew my life would change once my daughter was born—I expected a decrease in my reading—but what I didn’t expect was the depression. Sure, I knew postpartum depression was a thing, and I knew it could affect anyone, yet still I didn’t expect it to happen to me. I wanted my baby so much. Why would I experience depression? (Cue hormonal changes.)
With the depression, my reading didn’t just decrease, it almost stopped altogether. In the month of Marian’s birth, I read three tiny books. The same goes for January. And February. In my mind, any moment not spent on Marian—even when she was sleeping—made me a bad mother. I felt overwhelming guilt over every moment to myself.
I tried to convince myself it was the baby blues, and would soon be over. I told no one, except my husband, how I felt. But as the weeks turned into months and I still felt overwhelmingly depressed and guilty, I finally reached out and sought help. Now, with the aid of medication, I feel as close to normal as a new mom with a seven-month-old can feel.
And I can read again.
Once the medicine kicked in, I realized I missed my books. But at the time, Marian was resisting naps except when I took her on walks. Only then would she sleep. I also started working two days a week. So when and how to read?
Audiobooks were an obvious answer, so I went to my fellow Book Riot contributors for recommendations, and they, as always, had suggestions. I started with The Clothing of Books, a collection of essays by Jhumpa Lahiri that explores her thoughts on her book covers. I then read Shrill by Lindy West and Born with Teeth by Kate Mulgrew. But what really helped bring me out of my reading slump and make me feel something not pertaining to my baby again was We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby.
Samantha Irby reads the audiobook and is so self-deprecatingly funny and honest; it was exactly what I needed. I laughed at her stories about her cat Helen Keller, I cried when she related her experiences growing up with a disabled mother, I cringed at her descriptions of Crohn’s disease. I became caught up in her story and hours passed at work where I didn’t feel guilty or obsess over my little one. I listened while taking Marian on walks, using the speaker on my phone rather than headphones in case she needed me. At one point, right when Irby began describing the first time she used a strap on, a group of middle school girls started walking beside me and I had to desperately fumble for the pause button. But hey, it was probably a lot more interesting to them than whatever they’re reading in middle school. 😉
Samantha Irby and I have very little in common. But she made me feel like a human again.
I went on to listen to Meaty, Educated, The Sun Does Shine, and The Poet X. These books transported me into different perspectives, helped me empathize and, through listening to other’s stories, heal. I also listened to Eloquent Rage, So You Want to Talk About Race, and Being Mortal. These audiobooks allowed me to question and deepen my way of thinking and being in the world. To work on myself. Of course, I read many books every day to my daughter, but I needed to expand my own way of thinking, not just hers. Contributor Jaime Herndon had a similar experience as mine, except instead of turning to audiobooks, she found solace in comic books. Whatever the way, books can help heal, as they’ve proven to me before.
I started reading print books again too. The year’s halfway over, and I’ve read 40 books. I probably still won’t reach my norm of 100–150 books, but that’s okay. I never expected to, and that’s not the point. The point is, I’m doing something I love again. And I’m happier for it.