This review was originally posted on my previous blog, Muses of a Mom in July 2022. It is being reposted here with updates and as a resource for Mental Health Awareness Month.
I will not often sit down and read a novel from cover to cover in one day, but this book had me doing just that.
Recommended through one of the publisher e-newsletters I receive, this book was available on Kindle Unlimited simultaneously. Instead of adding the title to my ever-growing TBR (book addict’s lingo for “to-be-read” list), I immediately checked out the book. Now it would be ready to read when I could get to it.
After finishing “The Paris Apartment” (by Lucy Foley, a great suspense read) for my local book club meeting, I remembered this title on my Kindle and made it my next read.
If you are anything like me, you may also be a reader who cannot necessarily sit down to a novel unless that book has arrived in your life at the right time. (This makes attending a book club a struggle for me since I have never liked “assigned reading.”) Because my TBR is filled with many recommended titles, the book’s setting, subject matter, or something else in the description must motivate me to begin reading right then and there. Secondly, if I can’t get past the first couple of chapters, I set the book aside for later, or if it’s just not for me, I accept that and delete it from my list.
It was the prologue of this book that pulled me in as I read the journal entry of a young mother named Grace from the fall of 1957:
“I am alone in a crowded family these days, and that’s the worse feeling I’ve ever experienced. Until these past few years, I had no idea that loneliness is worse than sadness. I’ve come to realize that’s because loneliness, by its very definition, cannot be shared.”
“I have learned a hard lesson these past few years; the more difficult life is, the louder your feelings become.”
“I’m scared of so many things these days, but most of all now, I fear myself.”
I was drawn to Grace and her feelings of desperation from those first few pages. Because of my own history, I immediately recognized post-partum depression in Grace’s journaling. Throughout the day, I took periodic breaks to read, then finished the book before bed.
“Things I Never Told You” (released in 2020) is by native Australian Kelly Rimmer, who sets this story in Seattle, a setting that plays its own role. Through the stories of three women in two eras (the 1950s and 1990s), the reader will experience the different societal views on several issues for women: post-partum depression, dysfunctional families, and women’s rights, to name a few. According to the author, “these issues, both in the 1950s and today, are critical for women, and they are more related than some may think.” Another emotive issue in the story is abortion, which makes reading this book timely with the current overturn of Roe v. Wade on June 24 this year.
In the late 1950s, American TV shows like “Father Knows Best,” “Leave it to Beaver,” “Make Room for Daddy,” and even “I Love Lucy” depicted family situations much unlike what Grace experienced. Following such society “norms,” Grace married Patrick just out of high school. Patrick saw himself as the breadwinner, while Grace stayed home. The couple had four children (one son, twins, and then a daughter) in quick succession. Because both were raised Catholic, birth control was out of the question.
After the birth of her twins and again with her youngest child, Grace recognized the changes in her mental state the first year after giving birth. It was something she struggled to understand and what caused her to begin journaling what she was feeling.
Another character in the story is Beth, a psychologist, home on maternity leave in 1996 with her new son. She is always tired and irritable, with a constant nagging in her mind that she is not a good mother. Because she and her husband, Hunter, had wanted a baby for so long, she feels guilty for thinking it was all a mistake. However, Beth denies anything is wrong when asked by her older sister, Ruth, and her husband, Hunter.
Everything changes when Beth’s father, ailing from heart issues and dementia, is moved into hospice care for his final days. Beth, the only sibling of four who isn’t currently working, offers to clean out her father’s house and discovers that her childhood playroom has been padlocked. Inside is a nightmare – an attic room full of trash, clutter, and her father’s paintings, giving a disheartening look into her father’s struggle with dementia. In this room are also clues that call into question everything she knew about her father and her mother, who she was told, died in a car accident when she was about four years old.
During this stressful time, Beth’s symptoms worsen. Because of Ruth and Hunter’s intervention, she finally relents and sees her doctor for a consultation. She is surprised to be diagnosed with post-partum depression. I appreciated how the author constructed the statement of the doctor, which is remarkedly accurate: “Depression doesn’t always look like simple sadness. Sometimes it’s muddled up with anxiety and irritation and a general inability to manage your way through the ordinary world. Sometimes it’s intrusive thoughts you can’t shake, or feeling like the world has been drained of color. Sometimes it’s like everything leaves you feeling inexplicably flat. Some depressed patients report that finding motivation to tackle simple tasks is completely overwhelming, or figuring out how to do things they’ve done a million times is suddenly impossible.”
These women and their struggles, although from different decades, depicts how mental illness can wear away at the quality of life, sometimes with disastrous results without treatment. Today, women are fortunate that attitudes and approaches to disorders such as post-partum depression have changed for the better. Now it is treated correctly and successfully, rather than with the uneducated stigma years earlier. Thank goodness. My story may be different if things hadn’t changed.
When I had my first son in 1997, my mother told me about the “baby blues.” Giving birth to my sister during the same era that Grace had her children, the “baby blues” was no doubt a simplistic term given to mothers experiencing “sadness” at that time. Today we can see it as a misdiagnosis for post-partum depression.
Still, knowing that my mom struggled with “baby blues” was helpful to me when I had my second son five years later. In the first days, something felt different. I was irritable and felt inadequate managing a baby and a five-year-old. I also felt guilty that I was feeling resentment toward breastfeeding. Fortunately, I mentioned it to my understanding OBGYN on my first post-birth appointment, who immediately identified it and prescribed medication. It helped me tremendously.
Any mother who has had this battle will provide a valuable advantage to her daughters (and even daughters-in-law) by honestly telling her story about post-partum depression before her daughter becomes pregnant. Just as important is for a mother to express to her daughter that it is not shameful to share how she may feel after giving birth and ask her doctor for help. As a mother of two sons, I intend to tell my story so they can be watchful and helpful to their partners when they are fathers-to-be.
For readers who love novels about family dynamics, relationships, and women’s history, “Truths I Never Told You” is an emotional story of heartbreak and hardship, love and forgiveness that brings together a family from past to present.