Annie Fitzgerald took her time between albums—eight years to be exact.
The singer-songwriter had a good reason for the gap: the birth of her son, Will. While she eagerly anticipated becoming a mother, the reality of caring for a newborn wasn’t as idyllic as those baby product commercials would have one believe. Following a difficult birth, Fitzgerald recovered physically while her mother stayed with the family for six weeks. But there was still another level of healing that needed to happen, one that Fitzgerald wouldn’t recognize until Will’s first birthday.
“When I was with him and he was awake—which wasn’t a lot in the beginning, of course—I felt grounded and happy and good,” Fitzgerald says. “But whenever he would sleep, I cried a lot. And that wasn’t like me. I tend to me a pretty joyful person and a happy person and a grounded person. And I didn’t feel any of those things at first.”
Fitzgerald suffered from postpartum depression, a condition that anywhere from one in seven to one in five new moms experience. Symptoms vary from mother to mother, but for Fitzgerald, the depression showed up mostly as sadness and loneliness. Despite her new purpose in life, there was something missing. She felt disconnected from herself.
Though there were a couple of new mothers in her social circle, “I don’t necessarily feel like I gave myself permission to really talk about it,” she says. “I played into some of the stigma and some of the shame that surrounds post-partum mental health. I think I was scared. I was a little bit ashamed of not feeling like I was together.”
Fitzgerald figured the sadness and loneliness were symptoms of being isolated in New Jersey while her family lived in Minnesota and her in-laws lived in Florida. But after Will turned one, she began to emerge from the depression and realized that geography wasn’t the sole cause of her emotions. She started therapy to better understand what had happened, to learn to trust herself again, and to restore self-confidence. She also got back on the songwriting bandwagon, a practice she’d neglected during Will’s infancy.
“Any time you’re not doing the thing that helps you feel connected, you feel kind of lost,” she says. One day while Will napped, she picked up her guitar and started playing. It sounded promising, so she shared the song with her husband that night. That tune became “Rest of Me,” a whispery ballad about finding your way back to yourself. “That was a turning point for me to really start telling the truth and being honest,” Fitzgerald says.
When Will was two, Fitzgerald and family moved back to her home state of Minnesota. Her songwriting was gaining momentum and soon she had the ten tracks that make up You & Me & the Sun, the follow-up to her 2010 debut All in Good Time. Fitzgerald’s vocals on the new pop-rock album conjure the full spectrum of the feminine, from intoxicating nymph on “Be Like a Tree” to tough rocker chick on “Black & Blue.” It’s a bright and feel-good collection of songs, with little indication of the malaise that preceded its creation.
“I think this record was really healing for me,” she says. “The fact that I stayed open and vulnerable through the process, I think that kind of comes out in the music and that the record is better for it.”
Will is now five years old and Fitzgerald’s relationship to her role as his mom is much improved. “The one thing motherhood has done for me that has been such a gift is it’s helped me be so present and in the now and in the moment, because I don’t want to miss anything,” she says. “I love it. I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. My son is super precocious and brings me so much joy every day.”
One night, when Fitzgerald and her husband were putting Will to bed, the little boy said, “I want to infect people like Mommy does.” (Fitzgerald was puzzled until she realized he meant “affect.”) Will continued: “I’m going to put on a huge show in the front yard and everybody’s going to come and all of the states are going to be very lonely because they’re all going to be here in Minnesota while I infect them with my music.”
Fitzgerald laughs at this memory. “We might have another little musician on our hands,” she says.
In addition to nurturing Will’s love of music, Fitzgerald encourages her son to talk about his feelings and to speak his truth. As for her own emotions, she was afraid to discuss her postpartum depression publicly, but hopes it will help other mothers know they’re not alone. Ultimately, she says, “If it scares me, I probably should do it.”
Where: Hook and Ladder Theater & Lounge
When: 8 p.m. Fri. June 1
Tickets: $12 - $15; more info here