Postpartum Depression

This has been an odd week. The manuscript for Collateral Damage went to New York on Monday. Now it’s the long wait, holding my breath, waiting to hear what my new editor is going to say. In other words, it’s the literary equivalent of postpartum depression. I’m familiar with that, because I’ve had it before—both kinds.

First let’s address the real thing. That happened in 1974 after the birth of my second child who came by way of an emergency Caesarian. Things were tough financially at our house, and the marriage wasn’t exactly going swimmingly, either. My son was born in May. By September, I had a live-in babysitter and a full-time job selling life insurance that often required my going on evening appointments. Eventually it also led to my having to work out of town three days a week. As I drove to those evening appointments, I would see families sitting down and eating their meals together, something I doubted our family would ever have. Most of the time, coming and going, I would cry the whole way, stopping to fix my makeup before going inside.

My district manager’s office was in Longview, Washington. One night, after my last appointment, I stopped by the bar at the Huntington Hotel, had four stiff drinks, and then drove home to PeEll on fifty miles or so of back roads. The next morning I woke up with a terrible hangover and a tough realization. What I had done the night before had been beyond stupid. What if I had died? Who would take care of my two very young children? That very day, I hied to Centralia to see a counselor. During the appointment, I poured out my heart to him—telling him about my situation—two small children, a demanding job, and a drunk for a husband. He listened, gave me a prescription for anti-depressants, and sent me on my way.

I took the pills, but nothing changed. The following week I went back for my second appointment, hoping to hear some words of wisdom. “Well, he said, you have two problems in your family–your husband’s drinking of course, and your women’s lib. You know, you’re very ambitious.”

“What is it?” I demanded, “a disease?”

He allowed as how ambition in women was a real problem. Let’s just say I left his office in a towering rage. (At six-one, believe me, I can do towering rages!) I flushed his anti-depressants down the first toilet I found, and I haven’t been clinically depressed even once ever since. I believe now that that sudden surge of fury that rushed through my body caused a chemical reaction that actually reset whatever was going on in my brain at the time. And I have to hand it to the psychologist—he cured me completely in only two visits. That particular cure may not work for everyone, but being boiling mad in his office certainly worked for me.

So now on to the literary version of postpartum depression. Agatha Christie once said that after finishing one book she always felt as though she would never write another. I often feel the same way, although, right this moment, I have a teeny-tiny seed of a story that’s bouncing around inside my little gray cells that may end up coming to fruition.

In the meantime, I’ve watched a lot of TV–The Formula 1 race from Australia, the Masters from Augusta, and lots and lots of “blood and guts” show, which is how Bill refers to the true crime programs that dominate the saved shows on our DVR. But two real bright spots came to me via email this past week. One was from a man who had just finished reading Nothing to Lose. He said that “Although J.P. Beaumont may be getting older, he hasn’t lost his sense of duty and purpose.” That’s how I think of him, too. And I was delighted to have that belief affirmed by one of my readers.

In a previous blog, I spoke about how at the beginning of the pandemic, I introduced two of my devoted fans to one another. They both lived in Tucson and had husbands in hospitals with non-Covid related conditions. The three of us became an inadvertent on-line support group, something that has continued to this day. We called it the Circle, and eventually two more women were added to the list. By the way, during the Tucson Festival of Books, three of us, Janice Molina, Valerie Golembowski, and I were actually able to sit down and share a meal together.

But this past week, when I was at a low point, Valerie sent me a piece she had written, and I’m including it here. It’s a vignette that includes three characters you’ll all recognize:


“Hello, Sheriff Brady. This is Beau. How ya’ been?”

“Fine, Beau. How are you? What’s up?”

“Well, just wanted to let you know that JA’s been laid up here in Seattle.”

Joanna Brady sat down at the kitchen table, snuggling the cordless phone against her ear while she aimed another spoonful of oatmeal into baby Sage’s mouth. “Is she all right? What happened?”

“Just some minor surgery. She’s already home from the hospital, but I thought she could use some visitors. Are you up to it?”

“I have some vacation time built up, and Butch wants me to use it,” she said, wiping a dribble of cereal from Sage’s face. “I think I can persuade him to watch the kids for a couple of days. What’d you have in mind?”

“I left a message with Ali. If it’s okay with you folks, I can make some reservations. Ali will probably have to take US Airways from Flag and you can hop aboard an AA flight from Tucson. How does that sound?”

“Sounds good to me. I could leave on Friday.”

“Good! I’ll confirm with Ali and get back to you.”

“Beau, let me call Ali. I haven’t spoken to her in a while and it’ll be good to catch up.”

“Okay. Let me know if Friday is good for her, too.”

“Thanks, Beau. Talk to you soon.”

Joanna disconnected and took the baby from the high chair. “Butch, you have a minute?”

“Sure. Who was on the phone?”

“That was Beau. JA’s had some surgery, and he thinks it’d be a good idea if we paid her a visit.”

“You know what, that’s a great idea! She’s always there for all of you.”

“I think so, too. I’m going to call Ali and see if we can get away on Friday. Beau’ll make the reservations.”

Joanna handed Sage over to Butch. “I think a diaper change is in order.”

Butch sniffed and agreed. “Anything for you, dear!” he said.

While Butch did diaper duty, Joanna looked up Ali’s number, hoping she was home in Sedona. “Hi, Ali? This is Joanna. How’re you?”

“Great Sheriff! Good to hear from you. What’s new?”

“That’s why I’m calling. JA’s been laid up for a bit and Beau thinks we should pay her a visit. Are you up to it?”

“Absolutely! Is it serious?”

“No, I don’t think so, but we’ll find out more when we get there. Can you leave Friday? From Flag?”

“Sure. Things are under control at the office right now. That shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Beau said he’ll make the reservations. I’ll let him know Friday’s good for both of us.”

“Thanks, Joanna! It’ll be good to see JA again. We have a lot to catch up on.”

Friday afternoon, Beau picked up Joanna and Ali at SeaTac his Mercedes which was big enough to accommodate three adults and two carry-ons.

“Love the car, Beau! Thanks for extra room!”

“Not a problem, Ali! It feels good to stretch out every once in a while.”

“What hotel are we at, Beau?”

“Well, as you guess, I’m at the Belltown condo with Mel, but JA asked if you’d two would like to stay with her at Casa Jance.”

“Sounds wonderful,” replied Joanna, “but won’t we make for extra work, especially if JA’s under the weather?”

“Not at all. She assured me it wouldn’t be any trouble, and besides, it’s just for a couple of days.”

“Okay, then! Onward!”

“That was a wonderful dinner, JA!”

“Yeah, its amazing what good takeout is available nowadays!”

“And no dishes, either.”

“How about a game of Scrabble?” asked Ali. “I haven’t played in a long time.”

“I’ll get it”, offered Beau, “if Bill’ll point the way.”

“I’m not big on Scrabble,”, JA said, “so I’ll keep score, but Bill’s a killer as far as Scrabble is concerned, and he plays to win!”

“So do I!” said Joanna. Ali merely nodded.

“By the way,” Joanna added, “Here’s a card and some cookies Jenny made for you, and before we start the game, I have something else. It’s from Valerie. I saw her just before I left. When I told her we were going to visit you, she asked me to give you this.”

With that, Joanna got up from her chair, stooped in front of JA, and gave her a big hug. “All your fans love you, you know.”

Wiping a tear from her eye, JA replied, “And for that I’m very grateful. Now it’s time play! Who goes first?”

In case you’re interested, that fictional tear resulted in a real one. What a gift it was to have my characters show up in person to cheer me on when I was at a low point. And although it was strange to hear them speaking words I hadn’t personally written, it was also very gratifying.

So thank you for that wonderful get well card, Valerie. Between those two very different cures for postpartum depression, I much prefer yours.

42 thoughts on “Postpartum Depression

  1. Your depth in my life just keeps increasing. The more I learn from you vicariously, from you and your imagination thru your books, the more I am able to accept my foibles and turns in my life. Thanks again for all that you do For US, your readers. Chuck in Tacoma. Poor English but heartfelt. Keep on Keeping on.

    • “Your depth in my life just keeps increasing.” J. A. Vance uses names and incidents that seem to come from my life but obviously couldn’t.

  2. I loved what Valerie wrote. I pictured my minds description of each one. I also am asking if you are familiar with the new game fads on line. “Wordle and Globle and Octordle”. They are one a day challenges that promote brain cell action which at 83 I need! I am a fan of yours , have been for many years. Now I am also enjoying your weekly messages. Look forward to the next book!!!

    • Is there anyone who DOESNT “WORDLE”?!. I’m guessing that’s on top of JP’s list, before a crossword puzzle!

      • My sister introduced me to Wordle in February. Since then I’ve done a few when I stumbled on a link, but don’t seem to be drawn to it. But then, I prefer Kakuro and jigsaw puzzles.

  3. Wow! I know exactly what you mean about postpartum… In the literary sense. I spent about six months wondering what my characters were up to when I finished my six book Cozy series. A lot of my followers are calling for me to write a sequel, but I’ve been busy with some other projects. Meanwhile, I looked up the definition of “towering rage,” and yes indeed, your picture was there! Wish I’ve been invited when Beau and Joanna and Ali came to visit. I really like playing Scrabble with good company!

  4. This morning I awoke feeling terribly sad, for no reason that I can think of, unless it’s because it’s Good Friday, when we remember how Jesus was falsely accused, then tortured and crucified. So then when I opened my emails, yours was the only one of several dozen that I didn’t immediately delete. I’m so glad Valerie’s piece arrived when it did–when you were at a low point. I would call that a “God-thing.” So I’ll wait to see if a “God-thing” happens for me as well. In the meantime, maybe the sadness is actually a gift, to help me really enter into what this day is about.

  5. You speak to my heart about both kinds of Postpartum depression and about misogynist counselors of the 70s vintage. I have similar stories from my early days of motherhood on my own (after divorce). Thank heavens we had the gumption to rage into the good life we’ve created.

      • Thank you, Lori. It was easy to write because Judy writes such believable authentic characters. it’s like talking to a friend.

  6. Is Valerie’s line from JA “I’m not big on Scrabble” actually true? I’d have imagined that our beloved writer would be a formidable Scrabble opponent. I married into a Scrabble-addicted family and we are looking forward to celebrating at least 3 occasions at once on the 23rd with a gathering that will absolutely include Scrabble.

    I had an interesting conversation yesterday with someone who revealed that he keeps an extremely large amount of cash in his house. I had been thinking that the character in Nothing to Lose who does that was a little unreal, but I’ve known the person I talked with yesterday for a while, so now I have a real face to put to that particular behavior. Does this fall into “truth is stranger than fiction”?

    Wishing everyone a satisfying resolution to their taxes on this tax-time-ending weekend! I, for one, will be happy just to live through it. Will be filing some extensions for people in the next few days.

  7. Sorry to hear that you’ve been down. I hope you fully recover quickly.

    Your experience with the therapist reminded me of my mother. Mom raised 6 kids and I’ve always thought she and Evie would have a lot in common. One day when she was in her 80’s we were having coffee with a couple of her much younger friends. Both of the friends went on at great length about the medications they were taking for depression and to help them sleep. When the friends left, in a very matter-of-fact manner said “If those two would get off their butts and do their own cleaning and yard work they wouldn’t be depressed and would be tired enough to sleep without needing to take any drugs.”

  8. So glad your coping mechanism worked so well. Your empathy for those under stress really shines thru in your writing.
    Thank you!

  9. That’s just one of the wonderful characters in these books. They reside in the books but their characters live in our hearts and minds. Thank you for expressing it for us, Valerie.

    • Thank you for your kind words, Gloria. I feel blessed to have Judy in my life. She is an amazing writer and a very special person and friend.

  10. Your rage worked like Electric Shock Therapy! Once a doctor told me that women should not study medicine- They should be technicians-
    I love that Beau and Joanna and Ali are meeting at Casa Jance- I myself am hopeless at Scrabble- Inevitably I try to use words that are not in the dictionary-
    Wishing everyone a joyful Passover and glorious Easter-

  11. Great story, great friends. Thanks for sharing with your fan friends.

  12. Thank you for sharing both stories. In a single post, you took me from rage and fury to loving tears – just like your books!

  13. Thank you for sharing the story or people ministering to their creator at a rough time. So appropriate for Good Friday

  14. The vignette was WONDERFUL, you have some clever readers.

    Post-birth depression can be fatal. I knew a woman in Seattle who killed herself because of it. Bob Glass

  15. This was awesome! I felt like I was right there with you all. Thank you for including your most attentive and loyal fans.

  16. A delightful vignette. Heartwarming to hear from all four of you at once. Maybe the whole gang needs to reunite in a book? With JA?

  17. Judy, Which book is it where Anne Corley is killed? I keep thinking I have read them all, but this missing piece keeps rearing its head.
    Valerie, I love this little story. My husband, who is also a J.A. fan has mentioned many times, how cool it would be for the characters to all meetup. But then again, he is hoping J.P and Harry Bosch or Joe Pickett will run into each other some day.

  18. Hello Neighbor! I am next door again. A little under the weather, seeing doctors here in Seattle who will figure it out. Going back to Alaska Friday and then back here the 27th for 10 days. Perhaps we can have a “cheer up” coffee or cocktail. Today I participated in my Book Group by Zoom. Nothing to Lose was our read. The Alaska group loved it. They identified Twink as a real Alaskan character and they appreciated Beau’s wisdom. They loved Christopher and his teenage angst and warmth. We all recognized small town Homer, Alaska. Two members have already begun from the beginning with “Until Proven Guilty”. Thank you so much for the fun time you gave my Alaskan Book Club today!

  19. After reading Valerie’s “get well” card to you, I have to ask if you’ve considered co-authoring with someone as an intro to your series’ continuation when you no longer want to (or cannot) write? Ann MacCaffery did it with her son, Todd; Rex Stout did it with Robert Goldsborough. Not being one of “The Circle,” I don’t know y’all’s ages, but that vignette shows that Valerie has a pretty good grasp of your characters…

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