Postpartum Depression

Chicago Tribune, January 31, 2013

Dear Editor,

Thank you for the article “Man defends wife who stabbed baby; Postpartum depression becoming more widely understood…” I am 89-and-a-half years old and want to share my experience, which I’ve never talked about before.

Our first baby was stillborn; a year-and-a-half later, I bore a beautiful baby girl. When I got home from the hospital, my husband, who was a minister, explained that he had to supervise a summer work camp for our denomination’s youth. This meant that I would be home alone for that first week.

I had never handled a baby before because my parents would not let me take baby-sitting jobs. After five days the baby was still crying so much, I was exhausted. That day, I decided that I would turn on the gas at night without lighting it so that the baby and I could sleep. Fortunately, the parsonage we lived in was large, and a small apartment was rented to another couple, who invited me upstairs for dinner. We finally managed to get the baby to sleep, and their invitation obviously saved my life.

I never told my husband about it even when another minister friend tragically lost his wife. A week after their baby was born, the wife jumped off the roof of the hospital and died.

I share my story now in the hopes it might help someone else.

Bernice Klosterman, Evanston, Illinois

That’s a True Story if I ever heard one.

My Adornables

It’s fun to see who your childhood friends grow up to be, isn’t it? Especially if you haven’t talked to them in awhile. Some surprise you–the overly cheery cheerleader who now kicks tush and takes names as a corporate executive, the aggressive defensive tackle who becomes a stay-at-home dad. My friends–the ones I toddled the neighborhood with, jumped rope with, and traded notes with–have become teachers, designers, therapists, zookeepers, moms, and entrepreneurs.

One entrepreneur is Cheryl and her business is MyAdornables, which creates custom room decor. Now, she isn’t a surprise–she used to doodle on every inch of paper placed in front of her. Just a year or two ago, I found a scrap of paper inside a textbook on which she’d drawn a cartoon image of the earth with a highway strapped across it. The caption, in her perfect writing, read, “Power to the Pavers!” For some reason, the image is just so….professional. It’s like a New Yorker political cartoon. And I remember sitting in study hall and placing it there inside the book because I just couldn’t throw it away.

And while one purpose of writing about her today is that she re-blogged one of my recent posts on her new blog, really I’d just like to cheer her on and drive some traffic her way. She doesn’t need it–she’s been a success for a while. (Ever heard of Momastery? Glennon Melton writes one of the most-read blogs in the world and has a new book out soon. Well, Glennon has one of Cheryl’s signs hanging in her kitchen. I realize I sound geeky-blogger here; just trust me.)

Check out MyAdornables and my post HERE. You can click the Facebook button to get to the shop’s page. While you’re there, start thinking Christmas gifts, newborn gifts, christening gifts, Hanukkah gifts…

Boys and Nail Polish

So, raising children gets harder the older they are. Did you know that? I’d heard something about it—“Little people, little problems; big people, big problems,” my mom always said—but like most advice, I ignored it.

It all started (well, not really, but how else to begin the story?) last weekend. An older child my five-year-old son knows, who is usually patient and kind to my little tag-along, got a bit impatient. And I overheard it, and my heart broke. So I told my husband, hands wringing, and he said, “Let him figure it out.” I agree with my husband, because this older child wasn’t exactly being mean, but I continued to engage in hand-wringing because—well, because I’m too tender-hearted and I don’t even let my kids step on ants. So imagine my heart bursting when I perceived that my sweet son had been rebuffed. Oh, the pain and suffering. What made it worse, to me, is that my son took it like the happy little imp that he is.

The very next day, my son eyed Grandma’s huge stash of nail polish and asked if I would paint his nails. He’s asked before, about a year ago, and I said then: “Of course I’ll paint your nails. Just so you know, usually girls and older people wear nail polish. Do you still want me to paint them?” He said yes and I did.

So when he asked last Sunday, I said sure, since I’d already explained nail polish to him. His father, who usually shrugs in these instances (being a man who wears pink), walked in and said, “What are you doing?!” I shushed him away. After he left, my son said, “Take it off, Mama. I don’t want to be weird.” Heart broken. Again.

My husband and I think every good thing comes from Confidence, so I told our son: “There’s always going to be at least one person who thinks something you do is weird. So you might as well just do what you want.” I pointed to my pink running shirt. “I’m sure someone has seen this and thought, ‘Who would wear that?’” My son laughed and held out his hand for me to keep painting. I was glad, though in the back of my mind I knew why my husband had been a bit aghast: if our son is having some trouble with the older kids, we shouldn’t set him up to be made fun of. My husband is more of a “Deal with the world as it is” person and I’m a “Who the hell says boys can’t paint their nails?” person. Though I admit, arguing against gender stereotypes is one thing; putting your words into action, especially when it involves your child, is…a bit harder.

Were we setting him up, or were we giving him a lesson in confidence? I think probably both. I’m not sure you can shield a child from derision and still raise a confident child. What do you think?

Meet: A Nonagenarian

They say it takes a heap o’ living to make a house a home. Part of that heap o’ living was the tornado that took the trees out of our backyard two days before our daughter’s wedding. We thought the tornado would ruin things. We cut the trees into logs out back, tried to make room for people to walk. But they just sat down on those logs, and laughed.

The father-in-law was a musician. He and his friends brought their instruments and before I knew it this place was jivin’. The mother-in-law had a trombone. She got pretty happy with her champagne. She was all over the house with her shoes off.

That’s one things I remember about this home. It’s well over a hundred years old, just six years older than I am. We’ve been here fifty years. We came because it was country-like and quiet. That road to the east of us used to stop before the railroad tracks and the street behind us was just a dirt path that went up to a house in the woods. Now the traffic makes quite a bit of noise.

I like to garden. We’ve got crocus, tulips, iris, peonies, and lilies. Just a blur of color. Though raccoons, rabbits, and squirrels are very good at harvesting my crops. When I’m not gardening, I like to lie down over there on the couch. I’m old, you know.

I interviewed Mr. H ten years ago for a newspaper article about his home. I visited him a couple times after while out on walks in his neighborhood. I could have listened to him talk for hours. His wife was quiet, had entered the stages of dementia. A year later, I moved to Minnesota and Mr. H moved into an assisted living facility. I was not surprised–he had told me that when he could no longer care for his wife, he would have to take her there, and he would never have her live there alone because once in a while she was lucid. And how awful, he said, if she woke up in those moments completely alone. So he went with her. 

I moved back to the area in 2007. Six months later, I heard that Mr. H passed away at the age of 100. I’d always meant to visit him.


Edith Chandler Kinder was born on a small farm in the woods of northern Minnesota in 1923. At the age of eighty-three, Edith, my grandmother-in-law, politely allowed me to interview her, slightly flummoxed as to why I should care. For over an hour, she answered my questions in her lilting, singing voice, often resting fingers bent by age on her cheek as she reminisced. Following is an excerpt:

I was born in Minnesota. A township, but we always used Ballclub, Minnesota as our mailing address. Ballclub was kind of an Indian community. They had an Indian school there. And so I was the eighth child, and the first delivery my mother ever had a doctor attending her. And she got mad at him because all he did was sit in the living room and talk with the men. That’s what she said he did!

Anyway, all went well. And I was a momma’s girl all my life. My dad left us when I was three years old. He was, I think, a nice man. I never really knew him. But he would drink. Not all the time. He was more like a drunk on the weekend or when he got his paycheck for the logs. He was a logger. And he’d go to town and he’d get his money and then he’d pay his bills and then he’d drink the rest. So my mother had a hard time that way.

He hit her. I remember it. I was there. I was three and we had a bedroom, the boys’ bedroom. Was two double beds and then just an alleyway between the two and he had her down, hitting on her. And I remember jumping up and down on the bed, screaming. That’s all I remember about it. From then on, he could not come back. So I don’t know if that was the first abuse and she said once is enough, or if there was trouble. I don’t know why it was so cut and dried, right away. That’s all I know about it. But, you see, when I came along everybody was tired of talking about everything. I didn’t hear a lot of things.

[We had] maybe at a time ten milking cows and my older brothers would come home and help put up hay in the summer for these cows. And [my mother] sold the cream. A few dollars a week. And that’s what she supported us on.

My mother came from Norway when she was three years old. Had two sisters that lived in the neighborhood, they were always good friends. And that’s where my cousins come so important now in our life. Because we were brought up with them, out there on the farm. But they had dads, yet. I really didn’t know about having a dad and I sure never missed it. I think if you have one good parent, that’s about enough.

My mother had six boys in a row. And then she had two girls. And then somewhere long about the fourth boy, whose name was James Thomas, her little old log house caught fire. And some of the boys were in the house with her and she set them outside. You know, you only had a pail of water. You carried a pail of water from the well. That’s all she had. She threw it on the fire but it didn’t do anything. So by then she went outside and the little one was missing. Little James Thomas was just walking age. And she had to go back into the burning house to find him, and hunted for him, and she got burned, badly. And she found him hiding behind a door, to get away from the fire. But he was burned badly, and he died.

And they didn’t expect her to live. She said that when she was lying in this bed in this so-called hospital, she heard her two sisters talking about who was going to take her other boys.

Simple little things stick in my mind. One night, my youngest brother was pitching hay off the haystack, feeding the cows. And I was lying on top of this haystack, and it was the most beautiful night. I can still see it. In the middle of winter. Cold night. Sparkly stars. That has always stuck in my mind. Beautiful.