The Babadook and Postpartum Depression

I have always loved scary movies, but, over the past few years, I have found myself being too sensitive to enjoy them. The other day, I decided to have a scary movie night with my brother. We watched The Babadook, so if you haven’t seen this movie and want to I suggest you stop reading now, because there will be spoilers.

Let me give you some background information. With my first daughter, I went off my medications for the pregnancy and then remained off them in order to breastfeed. Being a new mom, I was naive as to just how important it was for me to get some sleep. I set an alarm at night for every hour and a half to get up, feed her and change her diaper. Every. Hour. And. A. Half.

Needless to say, I plunged into a deep depression. I don’t want to go into the nitty-gritty details, but it was postpartum depression. I spiraled quickly, was irritable and began to lose my ability to ‘care’ for my daughter. I don’t mean care as in take care of her; I went through the motions to make sure she survived, but that was it. That was all I was capable of doing. I couldn’t “feel” anything for her anymore. The emotions just weren’t there. A part of me understood that it was not okay for me to have zero feelings towards my daughter. The psych major in me knew it was dangerous, but there was a bigger part that was in too deep to do anything about it. It only got worse as she developed colic. (For those of you unfamiliar with colic, they never stop crying unless they’re asleep. And they don’t sleep much. So for six to eight hours in a twenty-four hour day, she was NOT screaming.)

After a few weeks I began to imagine doing things to hurt her. Those images would flash into my head and be gone within a second. But they scared me. They woke me out of the fog and made me realize I had to get help. One morning when my husband was getting ready for work, I told him he couldn’t leave. I opened up and told him I didn’t feel comfortable being left alone with our daughter. He quit his job that day. Luckily for us, he was a veteran and in school, so we could live off of the GI Bill.

Things still got worse, and after an incident in which I almost hurt her, I was hospitalized. I slept for days, and then the doctors got to work on getting me back on my medicine while my husband and parents got my daughter supplemented with formula. After the sleep and medication changes, I began to miss my baby. It was like a floodgate opened up and emotions just poured into me. I missed her but felt so guilty that I was afraid to see her.

Life was much better after I was released and came home. I now knew that sleep was crucial for me and took the time to get good, quality sleep. It also turned out that my daughter was allergic to my breast milk, and that within days of being only on formula her colic went away. Over time, and with proper medication, I came to love being a mom and absolutely adore my daughter.

Now back to the movie. The movie itself isn’t really that scary, but the concept that the Babadook may actually represent grief is brilliant. That, in my opinion is the movie’s only saving grace.

There were a few points in the movie that triggered memories from my postpartum days and I almost had to turn it off a few times. The mother in the movie was a single mother of a six year old boy who clearly struggles with behavioral issues. As a mother of one autistic child and another getting her screening done soon, this movie hit home. It was rough to watch the boy have his outbursts, crawl into bed with her and keep her up all night, and to see how apart she felt from her friends. I’ve dealt with outbursts, kids crawling into my bed, and losing friends as parenting takes over your life.

It wasn’t until she started to go mad from the Babadook that I really got uncomfortable. The mother comes very close to hurting her son, and the book shows her scenes of her killing her son. The mother was sleep deprived, stressed, struggling at work, struggling with a child with who needs help, and all of that just really hit me hard. The movie did too good of a job of adding to her pain. As the movie goes on, you learn of her heartbreaking loss of her husband, you see how women her age view and speak to her, you see her sister pulling away from her because she’s too “depressing” for her sister to handle. And to see her go mad from it, start seeing visions of hurting her son, and coming close to actually doing it, (not to mention she strangles the poor dog), is like watching my greatest fear. I know that I have the potential for a psychological break and that absolutely terrifies me.

Because of this great fear, I keep my doctor appointments, I go to therapy, I fight with Medicaid every month so that I can get all of my prescriptions, I sleep when I know I need it, and avoid alcohol if I think I have a “low” coming. I make a point of playing with my girls, of running around and having giggle sessions. I make a point to be affectionate to my husband, to show him just how crucial his very presence is to me. Family is everything to me, and seeing a woman begin to fail herself and her family because of outside forces she can’t control was brutal. For me, the end really saved the movie and my mood. She came to terms with the beast, learned to live with it, and that spoke volumes to me. Whether the Babadook is supposed to be Grief, or mental illness in general, the ending was not only appropriate but relieving.

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