Singing crept up and tapped me on the shoulder when I was depressed. I had post-natal anxiety, which even now just two years later is being acknowledged as a form of post-natal depression and treated similarly. The difference as I was told it at the time was that I was able to bond with my newborn, was able to get dressed and even sometimes leave the home, but that my anxiety about things that could go wrong had disabled me from being able to function normally. That means that I was awash with tears, as in all the time. That I’d cling to my husband as he left for work and cry harder. That when left alone with my newborn I could function as long as I didn’t have to leave the house or see anybody at all, including close family and friends. I'd had depression before, knew the shape of it and had done the medication route for a while with help from my GP.
I fought with my Mum. I cried. I held it together for some work-friends to visit. I cried and cried and had secret panics. Pushing the stroller I would fear that I’d get the urge to let it roll into traffic, then fearing that urge I would fear I had post-natal psychosis.
This vicious circle was worsened by not being successful at breastfeeding. That alone is loaded with womanly failure, but on a very practical level it means it’s harder to get a baby to sleep. Breast equals comfort; even adults know the pleasure of cuddling against breasts, and to not be able to offer this to my baby made getting him off to sleep all the more difficult. So he’d cry then so would I.
One day I tentatively started to sing. Feeling that the act of singing made me breathe deeply and slowly for the first time in weeks, I just kept going. When I first sang my chest hurt from breathing normally again it had been so compressed with panic. I ran out of known lullabies very fast and so fell back into singing what I had as a pre-smoking young woman: show tunes and jazz standards. I sang badly, then as my throat got used to the strange little stretches, I know I sang better. I found an ability to move into my own falsetto, and in doing so found many songs became more singable. I sang so constantly that before long I was walking the neighbourhood singing past new gardens and old people in them, past mechanics and bakers and thyme-pizza-makers. It not only got me past the worst, it made me happy, very often and very easily.
It helped fix my soul up. The next step was going to be meds, but I’m glad I didn’t have to go there. I think it was just part of the fix, combined with time, settling hormones, growing confidence, more fresh-air walks and a baby that was starting to sleep to a kind of routine. But I know that my singing and relaxing was all tied into his ability to sleep.
I don’t ‘have’ to sing as much now because I’m not constantly working to make a newborn relaxed and fearless. But I miss it and so remind myself when setting up the old sixties library I work at, to just sing. As I switch on PCs in the glowing early light, I sing folk tunes and gay tunes and swing tunes and rock. I sing jazz and when I forget the words I make up my own blue tales of women wronged and men with shine, tramps in new shoes and ladies pulling tricks for a dime.
Of all the lovely things to have come my way in the last few years this singing and the simple, forgiving pleasure I find in it has been the most singularly precious to me, the woman who came before the Mother and now sits alongside.