Archive for the ‘post-partum bad’ Category

Out Like A Lamb

March 9, 2009

I don’t understand how this works, but for some reason, getting away by myself for one night this past weekend seems to have caused me to become even more tired than I am usually. Of course, the fact that getting away for that one night involved flying to New York and attending an event that was by some turns thought-provoking and by others head-exploding (more on that at some later date, when head-combustion is less of a threat to the structural integrity of my psyche) and, in the process, suffering near-intolerable nursing-boob-related pain (relieved only under circumstances that, again, must wait until I am considerably less tired to be explained and discussed) goes some distance to explaining why I am so tired. It does not, however, explain why I feel so emotionally fatigued, why I feel so utterly tapped-out, so completely drained of any will or energy to write/create/stand upright.

Spring is pressing upon my window, and I feel in my bones that the coming season will bring good things (a baby who sleeps through the night in his crib, who takes an occasional bottle – both causes were advanced by my night away – renewed energy for me, renewed spirit, sunshine) but at the moment I just feel limp. Lifeless. Maybe this is just late-arriving winter dormancy; maybe it is just March coming in like a depressed lion. I don’t know.

Whatever it is, it requires that I sleep. And eat, maybe, and try to not worry, for the moment, about finding ways to express things that have hurt my heart or my brain. That, and watch the entire first season of Gossip Girl over the course of an afternoon while eating chocolate and popcorn. I need a day, or two.


And a little mental space to enjoy me my sunshine.

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What Does A Body Good

March 3, 2009

This is me, nine and half months post-partum:

In which I reveal my muffin-top, my inability to properly clean mirrors, and the fact that my personal trainer is a Siamese cat.

I’m okay with how I look. Sort of. I think. Some days are better than others. Some days, I look down at the plush landscape of my body – the belly with its rippled hillocks, the mountainous breasts under snowy swaths of cotton – and I think, well, it’s a mother’s body. It’s a new mother’s body. It’s the body of a nursing mother, a mother who is run ragged by a preschooler and has no time or energy for focused exercise, a mother who has learned the hard and disappointing way that preschooler-wrangling and baby-hoisting do not, contrary to expectation, tone the muscles. It’s the body of a mother who is in her thirties, and who does not have personal trainers or dietitians on call. It’s not the body of Gwyneth Paltrow, dammit. Wanna make something of it?

Some days, I am accepting of my body; some days, I get defensive. Some days, the line between forgiving myself for not having the body that I had four years ago and berating myself for same gets blurred beyond recognition, for the simple reason that the very idea of needing to ask forgiveness of myself for something that is in no wise a wrongdoing confounds any effort on my part to accept myself, my body, as good. (The very idea is toxic, is it not? That I have transgressed myself for allowing my body to become matronly, for having put my energies into nourishing my baby and raising my little girl instead of shredding my body back to pre-maternal form? That I need to forgive myself for something that I should celebrate, something for which I – I believe this, I do – deserve praise?) I need to move past this idea that the reality of my body is something that I need to explain/justify/forgive. I need to allow myself to just be the physical being that I am – lumpy, imperfect. And to do that I need, maybe, to find ways of thinking and speaking (and writing) about myself that are a little less accusatory (lumpy, imperfect) and a little more celebratory (soft, strong, life-giving, perfectly suited to nourishing babies and cradling children.)

(I have a nearly perfect sense-memory, from childhood, of my own mother’s body: the soft curve of flesh on her back, between her breast and her shoulder blade, just under her upper arm, where my hand would rest when I snuggled against her, and the plush pillow of her belly, where I would sometimes rest my head, and the sweet-smelling skin – part Diorissimo, part flour-and-sugar, part soap – at the back of her neck, where I would bury my face to sob over some childish disaster or another, or to rest, or just to feel at peace. It was always soft and fragrant and reassuring – there were no hard edges, no unyielding surfaces – and it enveloped me and comforted me. It still does, when I think of it, of her. I want my children to remember me this way – as a space/place/body of comfort and safety and love.)

And yet… I do want this body, my body, to be my own. I want to return, in some significant way, to the relationship that I had with my body when it was all mine, when I regarded it selfishly and proudly, when I vainly primped it and polished it and when I casually disregarded it and – yes, sometimes – misused and abused it. (The days of subjecting it to diet Coke and cigarettes and all-night clubbing and all the petty and not-so-petty abuses that all-night clubbing entails are long behind me – thank god – but I do long, sometimes, to not pass on that third glass of wine, to not put my body’s status as a life-giving, child-nurturing organism first in any consideration of whether to drink more or stay up later or have that fourth espresso.)

So here I am, stuck between wanting to love my body as it is, and wanting to change it, and it’s so tempting to throw my hands in the air and wander off in search of another cupcake, or, alternatively, to berate myself for wanting the cupcake and then to drop to the floor and do two or three sit-ups before deciding that it’s not worth the effort and getting up and looking for that cupcake anyway, after which I will just feel alternately guilty and self-satisfied. And this is the problem, right? That however much I love my body the way that it is, there’s still that part of me that wants to love it more. Rightly or wrongly, I want more from my body – not for my children, not for my husband, not for my shred-happy friends (who I enthusiastically support, by the way) – but for me. Just for me.

Which, translated into a course of action, means this: a cupcake, some coffee and some gentle Sun Salutations. And then, maybe, when it gets warmer, a run around the block, or a bike-ride with my girl. And if I ever get around to shredding, great, but if not? I’ll just enjoy the fact that my belly is soft, comforting place on which tired little heads can rest. I’ll just celebrate being strong and soft. And then I’ll have another cupcake.

The Other Side Of Anger

February 4, 2009

Before I had children, I understood that parenthood would be challenging. I read a lot of books about it, actually, because I was a little worried. Would the first months of my child’s life be like boot camp? Would I go insane from sleep deprivation? Was I going to be comfortable breastfeeding? Would I gag at all the shitty diapers? Could I do this? I was pretty confident that I could do it. I figured that I was about as well-prepared as any mother could be, and, besides, I was not in this alone. My husband would be right there with me, doing his share and gagging at runny poos. We would be doing it together, and together, we would be strong.

And then Emilia was born and it was, as expected, hard. And my husband was there, just as I had expected him to be, and he provided all the support that I could hope for. He provided all of the support that I could hope for, and more, and yet: I found myself feeling very, very angry. At the situation. At him. Mostly at him.

I was struggling with post-partum depression, which of course exacerbated things, but it was more than just a byproduct of the depression. It was a deep, almost aggressive, resentment that burbled up in my throat – burning, like an acid – and choked me, every time that he walked out the front door to go to work, or to pick up milk or cat food or whatever, his arms swinging freely, his keys dangling casually from his fingers. Maybe I’ll just stop by the barber for a hair-cut, he’d say. Or, I’ll swing by the grocery store on the way home from work. Or, I’m headed out to work; call me if you need anything; love you! The bastard.

He could just walk out the front door, just walk right out and head off to wherever, totally unencumbered, totally unburdened. He was free. I was not free. I could not even go to the bathroom without undergoing complicated rituals to ensure that the baby would not scream for the five minutes that I would be out of her line of sight (having failed to master this activity, I soon resorted to waiting until she had one of her two eight-minute naps of the day, or jerryrigging the baby carrier so that I could hold her and pee at the same time.) If I wanted to leave the house, even to venture the half-block to the bakery for a take-out cappuccino, I had to plot my outing like a military manoeuvre, making certain that my plans were in accordance with nap schedules and feeding times and stocks of supplies and the appropriate alignment of the stars. I was not free, and I resented my husband’s freedom with a fury that sometimes made me tremble. I was angry. I was sometimes not sure whether I was angry at him, or myself, or the universe, or all three. Usually I settled for just being angry at him.

Last week, the New York Times reported a story – originally posted on Parenting.com, later covered by Jezebel – about moms of young children feeling anger toward their husbands. According to the original story, nearly half of all moms who took a survey about anger reported that they “get irate with their husbands” at least once a week. Fully half of them described their anger as “intense.” Moms, the study concludes, are mad. Which, whatever. I could have told them that.

The story that I would tell about this anger, however, might be a little different than the one told in the Times. The Parenting.com story focuses on the imbalanced distribution of parental responsibility in most households, and their characterization of that imbalance rang perfectly true for me (“We carry so much of this life-altering responsibility in our heads: the doctors’ appointments, the shoe sizes, the details about the kids’ friends. Many dads wouldn’t even think to buy valentines for the class, for example, or know when it’s time to sign kids up for the pre–camp physical… We’re the walking, talking encyclopedias of family life, while dads tend to be more like brochures.” Yes, I said to myself, reading this. YES.) But I’m not convinced that that imbalance necessarily leads – must lead, should lead, justifiably leads – to rage directed at one’s spouse.

Is it really my husband that I’m angry at when I find myself trapped (yes, that’s how it feels sometimes) alone inside the house with a squalling baby? When I’m awakened for the umpteenth time in the night by a baby who won’t take a bottle? When my husband reveals that he doesn’t know when Emilia should visit the dentist, or when Jasper should go in for his next well-visit? When he complains about being tired or overwhelmed while I’m scrounging in the medicine cabinet for the Ativan? Sure, I feel angry – I sometimes feel very angry – but is my anger really directed at him? And if it is directed at him – should it be?

My husband is not – I am pretty sure about this – acting maliciously when he walks out the front door to go to work. And he does not actively try to avoid retaining certain information about the household schedule or the children’s appointments or how many Valentines Emilia needs to bring to school next week. Nor is he making a conscious effort to disregard how challenging things are for me when he complains about his own exhaustion. Sure, he’ll never be as exhausted as I am – nobody will ever be as exhausted as I am – but that doesn’t preclude him from experiencing his own sleep-deprivation-related discomforts. So why do I feel anger about these things? These things are not his fault. He’s a supportive husband and father, but he’s got his own challenges to deal with: his job pays the mortgage, his cooking skills keep us from living on soup and donuts, his ability to stay awake at night and get up early in the morning to wrangle baby is required to keep his sleep-deprived wife from going batshit crazy. This new household order isn’t a walk in the park for him, either. So why do I – and, presumably, half of the married mothers in North America – blame him for the seeming imbalance in that order?

My point: it’s not my husband’s fault that I carry most of the burden of responsibility for caring for our kids. It’s just the way that it is. I could blame him – and believe me, sometimes, in my darker moments, I do – but mightn’t it be more reasonable to blame society’s patriarchal hangover? Or even more reasonably: mightn’t I blame the choices that we have made as a couple, that I have made as a woman and mother? We made choices as a couple that established a certain division of labor in our household, and we agreed upon those choices. I’m a stay-at-home/work-at-home mom. The children are in my care for a far greater share of the day than they are in his. If he didn’t work, things would be different. If he lactated and could breastfeed, things would be very different. If parenting were just an easier gig, things would be different. I could justify my anger as rightfully directed at him if I felt – if I believed – that he just didn’t take the care of our children as seriously as I did, or if he actively shirked parental duty and left the burden of work unfairly to me. But he doesn’t, and so I can’t.

And my guess is that this is very probably true for many women. Pressed with the question, do you get angry at your husband?, any one of us might say, “hell yeah, I get angry!” Do you feel that you work harder in caring for your children, that he doesn’t do as much as you do, that things are easier for him? “Yes, yes and yes!” Does that make you mad? “YES!” But are we really mad at our husbands and partners, or are we mad at the circumstances of our parenting arrangements? Are we really a continent of enraged mothers, silently seething at our significant others, filled with justifiable rage at their failure to measure up to our needs and expectations? Or do we all just find parenting really, really hard sometimes – not to mention isolating – and so just fall easily into the trap of resenting our partners for not – from our blinkered perspective – having it as hard? When we talk about being angry at our spouses, aren’t we really, many of us, talking about being angry about hard this motherhood business can be, and about what a drag it is that the larger share of the burden of childcare has, over the course of human history, fallen to women? You know, as the ones with the boobs? Is this really about our own husbands at all? Or this about long-standing, world-historical tensions concerning divisions between men and women generally?

None of this is to say that my husband doesn’t f*ck up sometimes, nor that he is perfectly attentive to my every need as his parenting partner. Sometimes he’s just an outright doofus about things. And so I feel completely justified in feeling a teeny bit – maybe a whole lot – pissy when he asks why I can’t just go to sleep earlier, or maybe nap when the baby is napping, or when he doesn’t put away the laundry or when he says oh, hey, would you mind terribly if I just went out for a while to do whatever and left the kids with you? But the larger issues, the challenges and obstacles and difficulties that provoke real anger and deeper frustration: these are not his fault, and my emotional struggle with these should not be his cross to bear. This should be our shared burden, one that we manage, in part, by acknowledging that we both ache from the strain and and that we both buckle, sometimes, from the weight.

And then he should mix me a drink and rub my feet. Then we’ll be good.

Where are you at with this whole angry-at-mah-hubby thing? Are you one of the 50% of the population that’s filled with rage? Would a foot-rub help? Is it just me, or does even talking about mother-rage feel discomfiting? Like, if I had a good feminist household I wouldn’t even be talking about this crap because dude would have a prosthetic, lactating breast machine strapped to his chest and would be nursing our baby himself while I added a few more degrees to my CV and maybe found a cure for cancer? GAH. Maybe I get angry because I fetishize the inside of my own head. That shit’s tiring.

Look At Me Not Sleeping

November 6, 2008

Update below.

I haven’t slept in four nights.

Which, you know, isn’t totally bad, considering that until about four weeks ago, I’d gone nearly five months averaging only three or four hours sleep a night, every night. New mothers don’t sleep. That’s just a fact.

But when you’ve passed that ‘fourth trimester’ grace period – wherein, it seems, Nature gives you a pass on needing sleep and proper nutrition and enables you to function like a superhero, leaping over the newborn weeks in a single bound, fueled by the nitro-force of a wicked hormone buzz – when you hit the wall, somewhere around week 13, the lack of sleep catches up with you and no amount of cinnamon rolls and double-shot espressos will set you to right. So you set about pursing sleep with a vengeance (so appropriate, that idiom – you chase sleep hoping to tackle it and wrestle it and punish it for so cruelly withholding its gifts) and when you finally get some (oh yeah) through some combination of spousal support and anti-anxiety medication you cling to it desperately, desperately, determined to never let it slip your grasp again.

And then when it does slip your grasp, you go to pieces.

Four nights it’s been; four nights of wrestling a vibrating baby who is development-spurting at the speed of light and spending his nights rolling and crawling oh god help me around his crib – or, when the victory squawking has become too much, in our bed – in pursuit of some invisible gold ring that I assume hovers magically just beyond his reach. Four nights of spending hours trying to get him to just be still, to just chill out, to save the gymnastics and the glee-clubbing until the morning, please oh god please, only to have him settle into something approximating a sleepy calm at the precise moment that the preschooler wakes up coughing and hollering about her nose hurting.

I’m so tired that I can’t see straight. And I just can’t see any solution. Crying it out doesn’t work because he seems to have an infinite capacity for wakefulness and so can outcry, outsquawk, outholler, outlast us with little effort. Bringing him into bed with us doesn’t work because although he’s more likely to take a few sleep breaks from his gymnastics practice when he can crawl up tight against my breast, he never actually stills, and so even though he snoozes while he’s cuddled up against me he also kicks me in the ribs and/or punches me in the head every few minutes and that’s, you know, not conducive to sleep.

The husband does all of the actual getting up, the hovering over the crib, the delivery of child to my side when it seems there’s nothing left to do, but still: I can hear it all, I can feel it all, and not even the Ativan helps when your body is shouting at you to tend to your baby. So what’s next? Do I just check into a hotel for a night or two – seriously, we talked about that last night – to catch up on sleep? Or do I just ride it out? How long can I go without sleep? How crazy will I get?

Mama said knock her out.

(And, and… how long can I go on just barely coping? I have an out-of-control inbox – I am seriously weeks behind in responding to e-mails – and an ever-lengthening to-do list and – worst – a backlog of things that I need/want to write about – my frustrations searching for my long-lost brother, my ongoing struggle to figure out how not to be dominated completely by my nearly three-year old daughter, some thoughts on raising children under the condition of post-modern capitalism, an anecdote or two about politesse as it pertains to penises, etc, etc. My brain is backlogged and cramped and sore and all this sleeplessness is making it worse. Is it possible for one’s brain to simply explode?)

Seriously. If my husband were to bring up the issue of vasectomies right this minute? I’d give him one myself.

Update: Last night (Friday night), he slept over eight hours straight. EIGHT HOURS. No idea why. Things we did differently: kept him up a bit more in the day, so that he had two longer naps rather than multiple shorter ones, put darker curtains on his nursery window to block more light, and put him to sleep in a snuggle (modified, arms-free swaddle) blanket. Will repeat these steps today and see if it works again. Whatever it is: AM SO ABSURDLY, MANICALLY GRATEFUL.

Mom At Work

October 29, 2008

You’re never more aware of how much drudgery is involved in the work of mothering than when you’re doing that work while suffering from a bad cold or flu or some such viral misery as makes your head pound and your lungs ache and your throat burn. You lay in a fetal curl, hacking miserably, wishing for sleep, unconsciousness, a coma, anything to take you away from your discomfort, until you hear the baby stir and you must rise to nurse and soothe and nurse and soothe and nurse and soothe, which you do, of course, hoping that he’ll settle enough to lay beside you and amuse himself with rattles and soothers while you rest your tired head but of course he does not do that because his diaper is full to bursting and so you must rise, again, and deal with the shit-soaked diaper and damp pajamas and that’s fine because once you’ve done that you can lay back down unless, of course, the inevitable cry comes from the other room – Mommy I got poo I need to go to the toilet – in which case there’s another cycle of shit and damp to deal with and if you’re really lucky it just means wiping a bum and overseeing some toilet-flushing and hand-washing but if not – and let’s be honest here, at this point your luck is about as reliable as sub-prime mortgage lending – it’s going to mean tossing the three-year old in the bath and disinfecting all visible surfaces because when she says I got poo she very probably means it in the Lopburi monkey sense of I got poo in my hands and that just never ends well and certainly does not end with you tucked cozily in bed with a hot lemon drink and a Nyquil buzz. Not, at least, for some very long hours yet to come, if they ever come at all.

Under these circumstances, the work of motherhood seems like a bad scam, like some multi-level marketing scheme that someone tricked you into by promising wealth and glamor and a pink Lincoln Continental but that just ended up being a whole lot of catalogue-pushing and bad kitchen parties. (This is a bad analogy, really, because, no matter hard motherhood can be it at least offers its rewards up front – you get your Top Performer Bonus, your pink Lincoln Continental, right at the outset in the form of your beautiful children, and that gift, the gift of their loveliness, just keeps expanding regardless of how well you sell the program – Motherhood: Your Key To Bliss!™ – and so what if they crap a lot? Still, on days like these, days when you’re tired/sick/desperately-in-need-of-a-day-off, it’s hard to remember how or why it was that you agreed to do this work.)

I love my children. I love being a mother. I love, even, the condition of motherhood, the state of things whereby I am a mother, down to my bones, the state of things whereby my entire physical being strains to care for and love my children, whereby my very biology demands my commitment to these creatures who run and laugh and hug and kiss and shriek and hurl poo. What I do not love so much is the work. I do not love the diapers, the toilet-training, the cajoling, the cleaning, the washing, the arguing, the bargaining (okay, sometimes I like the bargaining – not even the most sophisticated trial lawyer could keep me to my wits the way my preschooler does when she wants something -“Mommy,” she says, “let’s make a PROBLEM”, meaning a deal, and then proceeds to offer to eat her veggies in exchange for three marshmallows, which upon negotiation becomes a bargain of one carrot for one marshmallow or two broccoli for one marshmallow or maybe three marshmallows for two carrots and a firm commitment to go straight to bed after bath) the screaming, the squirming, the wiping, the endless, endless wiping… and I love them all the less when every fiber of my being is begging to curl up under the blankets with some Vicks VapoRub and retreat into mentholated silence.

I know why this is. On an ordinary day – on a well-rested day, on a day when my spirits are up and my energy is good – the drudgery of motherhood is a minor irritant, a reasonable price to pay for the deep satisfaction of being surrounded by such love, the true pleasure of being witness to such beauty. The giggles of my baby boy, the peals of laughter from my little girl – these are ample recompense for the poopy diapers and the spilled milk and the temper tantrums. But I’ve had, of late, little energy for such pleasures, and so although I smile through the headache and the hacking cough at the giggles and the hugs and the malapropisms, I find that I would much rather have a few hours alone with the Nyquil than wrestle the baby (however snuggly and adorable he is) or hear another disquisition on the superiority of Dora to Fifi The Flowertot.

Does disliking the work of motherhood make one a bad mother? My impulse is to say, of course not – one can love being a mother, being mother to one’s children, without loving all of the tasks that usually attend that role. I loved being an academic, but I didn’t enjoy everything that went with that territory. But then again, I quit the academy for precisely that reason – I didn’t love everything about it, I didn’t love it enough to take the bad with the good. And I figured that if I didn’t love it enough, I wouldn’t be good enough. So I quit. I quit, in part, because I loved motherhood and writing more, but still – the quitting was in the offing long before motherhood came along, and the quitting stemmed from the fact that I did not love the work enough.

I’ve already said – the diapers are more than amply made up for by the joy my children bring to me. I love my children – I adore my children – and I love mothering my children. But there are some things that I don’t so much love about the work of motherhood. There are quite a few things, actually. And so when I think about, say, the prospect of having more children, I pause. (I pause, actually, and say to myself, HELL NO, but then when someone asks me seriously, really seriously, whether this is it, no more children, I pause again, because I can’t quite wrap my around making that HELL NO official. Which, if that sounds confused: YES, I KNOW.)

Do you have to love it, all of it – or at least like it, all of it – to do it well? Or is just loving your children enough?

Baby Can’t Dance (Or, Everything I Needed To Know About Post-Partum Mental Health I Could Have Learned From Jonathan Swift And Ally McBeal)

October 15, 2008

Ooooh. Is so big!

Svetlana gives Jasper’s belly a poke. He giggles.

Is big baby. Is happy baby! He grabs her finger and yanks it into his mouth. And strong!

I shrug. I know that he’s big and strong. I am, after all, the one holding him. With difficulty.

This is why you are post-traumatic stress. This is big boy who make big entrance. He come fast, he is big, it is BLAM, and you are stress.

I nod. That’s one way of describing the circumstances of his birth.

And now, he is the BIG big big boy. And the strong. He is like Gooliver! This is the tired. You are tired from Big Gooliver.

I stare at her, blankly.

Gooliver? And the Poochins? I do not know this in English. The Poochins, they tie Gooliver?

Oh, I say. GULLIVER. And the Lilliputians?

Yes! This is this baby. GOOLIVER. He is big for you! So big for birth, so big for holding! So much for to make you tired, and stress.

I think about this. I wonder if the better analogy isn’t that I’m Gulliver, and my children are the tyrannical Lilliputians, attempting to bend me to their tiny wills. Or that I’m Gulliver, and Jasper is a Brobdingnagian. Or that I’m a Brobdingnagian, and Jasper Gulliver. Emilia is almost certainly a Lilliputian, albeit a very, very tall one.

Whatever the case, Jonathan Swift is spinning in his grave, I’m sure, to hear his work reduced to awkward literary tropes – giants and little people, tyranny and oppression – exploited for the purpose of post-partum psychiatric therapy.

I’m missing a point here, I think.

I give my head a shake and shrug at Svetlana. I don’t know, I say. He certainly exhausts me. But I don’t feel oppressed by him. I’m just tired. And anxious. And tired.

You sometime want to escape?

Hell yeah. But not like ‘oh god release me from these ties that bind’ kind of escape. Just, you know, some kind of ‘gimme a break’ escape. A little bit of quiet, sometimes, maybe. A little bit of peace.

Peas. Yes. You need this. You have had some peas these weeks? She looks at her clipboard. These two weeks?

Some.

You need more peas.

Yes.

She brightens suddenly, looking at Jasper, who is squawking and hooting like an angry squirrel to get her attention. He is not Hooliver! He is cartoon baby! Very big baby, very smart, very strong, but is still baby. Is still BABY.

She looks at me expectantly. I’m not sure where she’s going with this.

You see. He looks like big boy. He is strong like big boy. But he is just baby. You tell him: ‘YOU ARE BABY.’ And then you put him down. And you do not worry. She leans forward as if to tell me a secret. He cannot dance.

I stare at her, again, blankly.

She raises her arms, elbows bent, and does jazz hands. OOGA-CHUCKA. This he cannot do. She leans forward again. He is just little baby. He stay where you put him. Do not need to hold him always. Do not need to tie him down with arms. He is baby. Put him down.

I put him down on the floor of her office, sitting upright against my legs. He immediately grabs one of his feet and chomps down happily.

You see? Is fine. And now you have arms. Maybe not always peas, but arms.

Indeed.

What I learned, then, yesterday: sometimes, a few minutes of free arms equals a decent measure of peas/peace, and any measure of peace does a mountain of good in an anxious life.

Also, that mixing and mangling metaphors and analogies is good for the soul. And that having a Slavic pantsuit-wearing, Swift-reading, Ally-McBeal-loving throwback of a psychiatrist isn’t such a bad thing as I might have thought.

OOGA-CHUCKA.

Postscript: that whole put him down and free your arms thing? Works best when he isn’t shrieking in protest. That’s not so peaceful. Just sayin’.

Need to work on that part.

Scream

October 8, 2008

It was all going so well. The crib had been set up and baby moved into the nursery, the husband was home at night and embracing the task of night-time baby monitoring, the Ativan prescription was filled and ensuring that just as soon as baby had last pass at the breast for the evening, I could go right to sleep. And it was working. I was sleeping. It was good. For about four days, it was good.

Too good to last.

I am currently hanging on to my sanity by the barest threads, doing everything in my power to ignore the tightness in my neck and the pain behind my eyes as I listen to the baby FREAK OUT in the other room after 36 hours of only sleeping in 30 minute stretches. The husband is gone on his second night of overnight filming and I’m afraid to take the Ativan while he’s gone and for some reason the baby and the girl have both decided that they cannot and will not sleep while he is not in the house and the one is shrieking (teething? sinus pain? WILL TO TERRORIZE ME?) while the other is jumping on her bed and tossing her stuffed animals around her room and the cats are yowling for their dinner and I have not slept since yesterday morning and I AM SLOWLY GOING MAD.

It is taking all of my will to keep from shrieking SHUTUPSHUTUPSHUTUP at all of them. It is taking all of my will.

I have a strong will. I also have a strong bedroom door, and I currently have my back pressed up against it. I’m sitting on the floor, trying to block out the noise, trying to slow my breathing, trying to keep my calm, trying to keep my calm, trying to keep my calm.

I know that this, too, shall pass. I know that at some point – maybe in a few hours, maybe in a few days – I will look at the beautiful faces of my sleeping children and feel that blissed-out, satisfied calm that is one of parenthood’s greatest rewards and I will remember this moment – this moment of wanting to scream – only in the abstract.

But it is still this moment, right now, this terrible moment, and all I can do is live through it.

I press a pillow to my face and scream.

Visualize Whirled Peas

October 2, 2008

Her name was Svetlana. She spoke with a thick Slavic accent and wore a pantsuit, which for some reason made me think that she looked like a banker. A Russian banker. Which didn’t predispose me to telling her my secrets, but still: I had promised myself that I would do this, that I would seek help, and this place, this tidy office with a worn leatherette sofa and wilting fern and shelves upon shelves of books on psychiatry and therapy and parenting, was where I had arrived. This woman, the occupant of this office, would help me.

So, she says, peering at the file in her hands, you vant harm your child?

Um… no… that’s not…

She frowns. Say here, you vant harm your child… you have violent thoughts…

No, no, that’s not exactly right… I just…

Is chicken scratch. I cannot to read. You look, tell me vat it say. She hands me the file with my psychiatric referral.

Um… I squint at the inky scrawl “…reports intrusive thoughts of harming baby… reports wanting to drop baby on bed, escape home, reports experiencing feelings as violent, aggressive… denies intent to harm… denies intent to harm self… denies suicidal ideation… reports being afraid of intrusive thoughts.” I cringe. I’d rather not be reading this. “Sleep deprivation. Previous treatment for anxiety. Supportive husband.” I hand the file back to her. I didn’t say that I felt violent. I said that the feeling itself was violent. Like a shock. It frightened me.

Is frightening, yes, these thoughts. She looks me in the eye. I know you do not vant harm baby.

Which is as good a basis for a therapeutic relationship as any, I suppose. I could, I decided in that instant, overlook the pantsuit. I could work with this woman.

We spoke at length, Svetlana and I. Or rather, she spoke, and asked the occasional question, which suited me. I hate psychiatric therapy, I hate feeling that I’m being analyzed. I hate listening to the sound of my own voice droning on and on about can’t sleep motherhood hard feel anxious yes family history of depression no not suicidal just TIRED TIRED OH SO TIRED. I just want a solution. I just wanted her to give me a solution.

And Svetlana was all about the solutions. First, we get you to sleep, no? I give you Ativan; you sleep when baby sleep. Zen, we test blood: thyroid, B12, glucose… your body, I zink, it is PFFT!… zen we meet again; we talk… is good to talk… zen maybe, maybe I give you somezing for depression. Not now. Now, you are tired. You are post-traumatic stress. You need sleep and peas. She leans forward and grabs my hand. Sleep and peas.

I had to think about that for a second.

Yes, I say, finally. Peace would be nice.

Peas is nice, she says. I help you to get peas. She drops her voice to a whisper. I tell you somezing. You are not bad mother. You are good mother. She pats my hand. Not to forget.

No, I say. Not to forget. Thank you.

Peas is good. Today, I will fill the prescription for Ativan and will go to bed early with that little bottle of peas while the husband takes the baby and leaves me in the sweet, sweet quiet dark. With my peas. With my peace. So that I will rest, so that tomorrow will dawn brighter, so that I’ll move a step or two closer to feeling like the good mother that I know I am.

*******


Note to you all, who do so much to sustain me: if you have e-mailed me in the last month or so and have not had a response from me, please forgive – I am completely overwhelmed and doing the best I can. I read everything. I respond as best I can, but that hasn’t been enough to keep control of my inbox. Please know that I so appreciate the support and the contact. I really, really do.



Deep Into The Darkness

September 29, 2008

I’ve stopped keeping track of the time at night, even though a clock sits, ticking relentlessly, not three feet from the bed. In the day, I mark the time obsessively – this many minutes before the girl goes to preschool, this many minutes before she comes home, this many minutes until the boy should be ready to try another nap, this many minutes before he’ll probably wake up, the minutes counted like a miser’s pennies, added and subtracted, piling up and disappearing as I settle my accounts with daily chores and this persistent exhaustion. But at night, I avoid the clock, afraid to see the minutes and hours ticking by too quickly or too slowly, afraid to settle my accounts with my body, with the night.

Last night, however, the bill came due, and I was not prepared to settle up.

It was in one of those moments where the boundary between sleep and wakefulness is so blurred that you’re not sure whether you’re awake or dreaming – are you lucid while dreaming, or are you dreaming while awake? – is that a baby that you’re holding, or a kitten, or a bundle of straw? – is that crying you hear, or the wind, or music? – and I was groggy, confused, disoriented as I held my squirming baby in my arms. He fussed, breathing heavily through a stuffy nose, truffling for the breast and then pushing it away. He squirmed and kicked and protested and snuffled and grabbed and pushed and with every kick, every push of his fierce little legs and arms I struggled toward wakefulness, needing to be awake, needing my strength and my composure but wanting oh so badly to just let the darkness overtake me and to slide back into oblivion. But he wouldn’t let me, he was too uncomfortable, poor thing, hungry and snuffly and demanding, he would not let me let me go and he would not let this be easy and in a flash, in one moment, I felt the frustration course through me like a current and there it was, for a split-second – a split-second and an eternity all at once – ANGER – sharp and hot and as I felt the tears prick my eyes and a sob burble in my throat I was overwhelmed by the brief flash of an urge to just drop the baby, just drop him to the mattress and throw myself off the bed and stomp away into the night.

It was over almost as quickly as it had begun; the violence of the emotion woke me, woke me completely, and I froze – there’s no other word for it – with fear and I’m certain that if anyone had been watching at that moment they would have seen my eyes flash open, wide, and I caught myself, mid-breakdown, and stopped. I laid him down and pulled myself into the corner of the bed and took a breath. And was afraid.

It was just one moment, the briefest flash of a moment, but there it was. I had felt anger. I had wanted to shove my baby away from me. How close was I to wanting to shake him? How close? How close was I to becoming a monster, to crossing over from Mama Jekyll to Mother/Monster Hyde? I want to say that I was fine, that I am fine, that it was a completely understandable loss of emotional control that only lasted for a second and that I never, ever, would have actually just dropped him onto the mattress (and even then, such a soft mattress, so innocuous a fall, right? right?) and I hadn’t wanted to actually shake him, I hadn’t been angry at him, I was just tired, too tired, and it could happen to anyone and nothing would have happened and I’m fine.

But the fact is that no matter how brief that flash of uncontrolled emotion, it was uncontrolled; it was sharp and hot and angry and I no more want to risk exposing my baby, my little heart, to that anger than I would want to place his bassinet on a train track. Not even for a second.

So tomorrow we go to the doctor. Tomorrow I get some help. Pills, talk, anything: whatever it takes. I need some help with this, with the sleep, with the emotions running amok. Tomorrow I get some help.

You Got A Problem With My Boobies, PUNK?

August 8, 2008

Yesterday, I took my brood to the library. It’s a lovely library, with soaring ceilings and vast windows and big, plush leather chairs and – of course – miles and miles of books. We settled into a corner of the children’s section on a comfy sofa, Emilia with a stack of picture books and me with Jasper, on the boob.

It was raining outside; we were damp from our walk. Droplets of rainwater fell from my hair onto Jasper’s cheek and he pulled away, gurgling his disapproval. My breast dropped from his mouth and sagged, exposed, below the edge of my yanked-up t-shirt while he squawked.

“He’s mad at you, Mommy,” Emilia remarked without looking up from her book. “Because your boobies are wet.”

I laughed, and almost didn’t hear the polite coughing from the nearby stacks. A woman stood there, books in hand. She didn’t meet my gaze, but looked over toward a table of computers where three young boys – probably eight or nine years old – sat playing a game. She coughed again and raised her eyebrows in their direction. Her meaning was clear.

I tucked my wayward breast back into my shirt and pulled Jasper upright. My immediate impulse was to be embarassed, contrite. To gather up my children and my things and go find somewhere else to nurse, somewhere where I wouldn’t risk exposing young boys to the indecent display of my breast. To feel badly for making such a naked display of my motherhood in front of children.

My secondary impulse was to let my boob drop out from beneath my shirt again and use my free hand to make an indecent gesture at the woman.

I did neither. I simply looked away and pulled Jasper closer to my chest, tucking him against my breast so that his pale round head covered the pale round globe of the boob. And struggled to control my anger.

That woman had hit a nerve. Had we been at a bus stop, or a park bench, surrounded, say, by seniors, and someone had directed a disapproving look my way, I would have ignored them. But this woman had articulated her disapproval on behalf of children. Her problem, she implied with her look, was that I was exposing children to something inappropriate, something indecent. And for a moment, I bought it, and felt ashamed. Surely young boys shouldn’t see an exposed breast in public, right? Why, that would corrupt them!

Bullshit.

It’s so ridiculous as to not even be worthy of explaining, but still. Sometimes important things need to be stated as loudly and as often as possible: BOOBS ARE NOT DIRTY. BOOBS ARE NOT SHAMEFUL. BOOBS SUSTAIN LIFE. OF BOOBS PUT TO THEIR NATURAL PURPOSE WE SHOULD BE PROUD. OF ALL BOOBS WE SHOULD BE PROUD.

Women who nurse – and, for what it’s worth, women who don’t nurse – should feel proud – and should be made to feel proud – nourishing their children anywhere, anytime, in front of anybody. Especially in front of children, who, more than anybody, need to know that a mother nursing her baby is a natural, beautiful thing. That breasts aren’t just something for adults to leer that. That the human body is built for amazing things, and that the life-sustaining miracles that it performs are nothing to be ashamed of. Of course we teach them that some beautiful and satisfying things are private – but a mother caring for her baby is not one of those things. It is for everywhere, and should be celebrated.

It’s World Breastfeeding Week this week. It should be a week for celebrating our freedom of choice in how we nurture and nourish our children. Instead, all the stories about nursing that I’ve seen have provided more evidence that we don’t really have that freedom. A woman who was nursing in an H&M store in Vancouver was sent to a change room to nurse her infant. A woman on a WestJet flight was asked to cover up with a blanket. A woman nursing her baby in a library in Bowmanville, Ontario, got the stink-eye from some random stranger. We were – we are – all of us, at some point, made to feel ashamed for mothering.

Sure, we protest. But I’m getting really fucking sick of needing to protest. I’m tired of it. And this is why it sucks (no pun intended) (okay, sort of intended) so much: when women are made to feel ashamed for breastfeeding, they’re being shamed at the most vulnerable times in their lives. They are exhausted. They are stressed. They are, often, struggling with depression. And still they fight on, working so, so hard to care for their babies. They are champions. And yet it is during this time, the most trying time of their championship, while they struggle to keep their footing and to keep going, that others kick them down and shame them.

And that just makes me so angry that I can’t even see straight.

I’m not going to protest. I have no spare strength for protest. But I will do this: I will continue to bare my breast for my baby at every opportunity. Any time, any place. And if anyone so much as looks at me askance, I will look right back, and I will say – if only with my eyes, although I so wish for the courage to speak these words aloud – YOU should be ashamed of yourself for trying to shame me. You should be ashamed for belittling a mother. Shame on YOU.

And I will hope that my daughter is there to hear it.

Baby got boob.

********

Okay, for serious now, I am taking a small break, just a few days. There’ll be some guests here while I spend a few days restoring myself. They’ll take care of you. I’ll be around reading comments and such, but mostly I’m going read and rest and flash boob. Wish you were here, don’t you?