|How To Disappear Completely. Print by Lauren Grey.|
This image is me. I see myself in every line of its beauty and terror. The artist, Lauren Grey, perfectly encapsulates what it is to be a mother and especially what it is to have post-partum depression. There is that gaze between the mother and child. They look at each other steadily. All that exists in that moment is the gaze, that connection of eyes and through the eyes the connection of spirits. They are locked together through that gaze. The mother is still, but she isn't smiling. This isn't a picture about joy, it is an image about a primal bond and also a devastating loss of self.
What is terrifying about this picture is expressed in the title. The artist calls the painting How to Disappear Completely. The baby is almost entirely present except for one foot, but the mother is nearly erased. She is reduced to her face and the gaze that she casts upon her baby. She has her eyes to look upon him and her hands to hold him but the rest of her is simply gone, reduced to hazy outlines, whited out with gesso. She exists only in her relationship to her child and outside of that relationship she is lost. There is no surrounding context, no world outside the mother and child, no background, no locational details, no other people. The archetypal mother engages in the process of dissolution.
I wonder if the artist meant for this to be such a tense image. It's possible that the intent was a lovely one; it's possible that the artist set about to capture the act of disappearing into a single, condensed moment as a new mother forms an intense bond with her child. You can disappear into a baby's eyes. Lose yourself in the look of complete trust, vulnerability, and pure need. But it is a dark thing to be lost, to become ghost-like and transparent. The viewer can observe nothing of this mother except her motherhood. She is incorporeal, disembodied. Her baby is the only physical presence, almost fully rendered, detailed, whole. I am deeply shaken by this image in which only one half of the mother-baby dyad can be complete.
This is exactly what post-partum depression feels like—a slow fading away with nothing left but the intensely physical and all consuming bond between mother and child. When I look at my son I feel as if the entire universe is contained in his tiny body. I feel I could survive anything except the loss of him. But I also find myself shattered, my soul broken up into a million little pieces that can blow away on the breeze like dandelion fluff. I'm running through thigh-high grass trying to recover every single seed that once made up my identity and potential, but they are scattered too far. I dissolve. There is just me and my son while the rest of the world, and my self in relation to that world, disappears.
How do you learn to live within that condensed and intensified reality? How do you define yourself when your entire existence is compressed like matter sucked into the vacuum of a black hole? This painting shows a cosmic event: time and space, self and other compacting into a pinpoint of highly volatile, unbelievably heavy matter. Mater. Mother.
Post-partum depression is this duality: the beauty and immensity of a star being born in opposition to extraordinarily powerful destructive forces released through that birth. Somehow this image captures that feeling with such honesty that I want to cry, but also scream “YES. Yes. This is exactly what it looks like.”