Postnatal depression, mum and me

by Rose Proudfoot

somewhere between a miscarriage and my sister being born
my mum bathes me
she sits by the tub and helps me clean my five-year-old body
she has become a statue of loss
joints creaking and grinding like stone on stone
her eyes grey like her skies grey like her lost child grey

and I have tried for days
to grab hold of her grief-bitten hands
to coax a smile from her crumbling mouth
I have tried to summon her voice
warm mother voice that soothes like warm milk
like hummed lullabies like the smell of home

she bathes me in silence
all she can hear in me is
I’m alive I’m alive
running playing crying mocking
I’m alive I’m alive

she can’t even cry
death greets her in every room
the flowers are wilting
but all I can do is grow
and she can’t stand me

barely looking she squeezes shampoo into her hand
reaches slowly for my hair
while I sit still as rock
as un-rocked cradle
as air in the empty nursery
and try to be a good girl
because mum is angry and I don’t know why

she’s cold like old bathwater cold
like bathroom tiles cold like new-born skin can be
so I screw up my face and clench my baby teeth
while she pulls and writhes at my hair
then combs at knots on knots that have been
unbrushed for weeks

my hair sticking out
wild and unkempt as songbird nests
raided by magpies
left eggless and dishevelled

when she’s done she pulls me shivering from the water
wraps me in a warm white towel
pulls the plug and leaves the room
water swirling with suds
long strands of hair ripped out by the brush
my scalp aches and throbs

and she aches for what’s missing from her body
from her womb her breasts her arms
all that pain
all that harm

and I’m still clean and dry
my pink skin shattering her
distant grey eyes

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