I have eighteen hours a week to myself. This is when I work on my writing, do laundry, wash dishes, avoid cleaning the house in any meaningful way, shower, watch the occasional television program, cook, and shop for groceries. Among women who are stay at home mothers, I am pretty damn lucky to have those hours. I am also self-employed and working during those hours, so my days are still busy. I don’t really vacuum. Any TV I watch or snacks I devour are done so while writing copy or articles. It’s a good life. A good balance. A balance I’ve finally struck after being in Durham for three months.
I’m as much a stay at home mom as I ever will be, and looking at the above paragraph, I guess that “mom” is the role that occupies a majority of my time. “Wife” (cooker of food and cleaner of laundry, hirer of my amazing cleaning team) is secondary. “Writer-to-make-money” is tertiary; “writer-for-my-soul” is fourth-iary. I think it’s a pretty great balance, but it took some real growing pains to get here. I still don’t have it all figured out, but I might be as close as I am ever going to be.
As a woman with anxiety, I’m going to come out and say that being a stay at home mom is probably one of the hardest things I could have chosen to do. As an intensely independent and strong-willed woman, being a stay at home mom is doubly difficult. I still choose it.
Why is it difficult?
This is my third re-write of the why-is-it-difficult explanation. Ahem. Here it is: being at home with my child challenges me in a way I haven’t been challenged before. I like to be alone. I like to do my own thing. I like to shut myself off from the world and write. I do not like to be tugged on and climbed on when I’m not in a good mood. I don’t particularly like coming up with healthy food options for lunch. Nor do I like playing blocks. Nor do I enjoy finding wholesome and enriching shit to do with my child in lieu of watching television all day. (If I didn’t think it would be crap for his developing brain, I’d have “Toy Story” on a loop all day, followed by “Toy Story 2” the following day, and a topper of “Toy Story 3” every third day.) I am physically lazy, and I don’t really like going places or doing things most of the time. (Don’t I sound charming?)
I also have generalized anxiety disorder, which is a fancy way to say that I worry a lot about nothing in particular. My therapist calls this “free-floating anxiety.” As she puts it, hippie genius that she is, my anxiety floats around and attaches itself to different things day-by-day or week-by-week. That means that I’m really never not worrying about something, which is kind of shitty. It feels like a button is always pressed in my brain. That button makes most everything kind of loud and intense. It makes interactions with people the topic of made-up concerns, or it makes my skincare routine the topic of a whole lot of thinking that might be spent on other things. Or it makes me wake up in the night thinking that someone is breaking in, when the only sound is my dog snoring. The end result is that I am very tired — mentally and emotionally — since a lot of my psychic energy is spent on worrying about inane shit. A lot of my other psychic energy is spent trying to “fix” myself, or as I recently phrased it, “being anxious about having anxiety.” I had to start dealing with my anxiety when it became worse during my postpartum depression, and here I am, dealing with the pieces of it.
In order to be successful at the life I lovingly crafted for myself and my kid, I have to be patient, caring, creative, and active. The anxiety sucks a lot out of the “patient” and “active” centers of my brain, which leaves me at a deficit. More of a deficit than some other stay at home parents, I’m betting. It’s a hard job no matter how you look at it, and on the best days with all resources available, it can tire out and irritate and drain even the most well-rested, energetic, and patient parent around. I’m coming to work with one hand tied behind my back, kinda.
How do I manage?
I have this amazingly excellent day care where my kid goes three days a week for six hours a day. That’s essential, since it gives me time to do what I love to do, something that is very much part of who I am. (That’s writing, if you hadn’t gotten the clue.)
After that, I pull a lot on those caring and creative aspects of my personality. When I’m feeling annoyed, I give kisses and hugs. When I’m feeling at the end of my rope with that anxious rage creeping in, I remind myself that my son is only two and some, and sometimes being obnoxious is the only way he knows how to communicate. That’s pretty simple, but it’s hard sometimes. As all parents know. I try also to extend that caring to myself. I even remind myself that I’m a good parent, I love my kid, and my kid loves me.
As for the creative bit, I keep a variety of low-stress-for-me but fun-for-toddlers activities around the house. I have paints, tape, Play-Doh, hidden caches of unused or older toys, and recipes we can make together. I also have a library card, a garden outside, a membership to the science museum, and a ten-visit pass to the Stay and Play Cafe in Durham. When I know I will opt for sitting on my butt and lackadaisically watching my kid with his HotWheels cars, I take him somewhere. Not because I particularly want to, but because I know I’ll be a better parent if we go somewhere vaguely enriching. And he’ll have fun.
What happens that is pretty awesome — it happened today — is that sometimes, everything falls into place, and a day is lovely and magical. Sam is such a little weirdo with such an awesome sense of humor and a fantastically kind and gentle soul. I come to a place — just about every day that I am with him — where there is this incredible moment that is just pure joy. And it’s okay if everything else sucks. And it’s okay if I’m chronically worried and tired, and if he doesn’t nap and everyone is tired and eats chips for dinner.
And specifically for the anxiety piece, I deal with that as best I can. I don’t sweep it under the rug, and I don’t pretend it’s not there. I see a therapist, and I readily admit that to anyone ever, because there’s no shame in it. I work on meditating, exercising, eating healthy, and all of that irritatingly simple crap that actually makes anxiety worlds and worlds better. I’m also vocal and let my husband and the other members of my support system — my parents and friends — when I’m having a hard time. Most of all, I try very hard not to feel ashamed, which is something that anxiety has always made me feel. I also try to feel okay that this is hard on some days. And okay that other people have it much, much harder, but it’s still hard on some days for me.
Also, I don’t have a no-TV rule. We really like movies.
Why do I keep choosing this path?
As I said before, I keep choosing this job (part-time writer/part-time SAHM) not because it is easy (writing for cash ain’t easy either, but that’s another post) but because it is right for me and my child right now. “For me” and “right now” are the keys in that post, because this is not what is right for every family, nor is this always going to be my choice. In four years time, I’ll be quite ready to choose an awesome kindergarten. I don’t know what will happen in the in-between years, either.
For right now, I take this challenge as part of my growth as a person and as a parent.
Full-on extreme disclaimer: I’m aware that there are a lot of women (and some dudes too, lest I be sexist) out there who are home forty hours or more a week at home alone with their child — or children! MY HAT IS OFF TO YOU, GOOD PEOPLE. I don’t think my situation is unusually difficult or whatever, but I’m writing about it because it is a thing in my life that I want to write about.
At two years old, he can sing the “Super Readers” song, and say “To the book club!” It doesn’t quite sound like that though. (It sounds more like “butt plug.” But we try not to point that out to him. As much as we want to.)
At two years old, he can give bear hugs, pee pee in the potty (sometimes), and make a joke with Grandaddy.
At two years old, his highs are high and his lows are the lowest of the low. Sometimes only a song can help. Or Grover.
At two years old, he says, “Thank you, Mama,” and “Thank you, Daddy,” sometimes out of nowhere. Maybe he’s thanking us for being awesome parents, or for making him feel safe, or for all the kisses and hugs. Or the gummy vitamins.
At two years old, he’s smart, and funny, and kind, and charming. He’s big and tall, and he’s not a baby anymore. I get emails no longer about “your toddler,” but about “your preschooler.” (I didn’t know that they became that until they were three, but there you have it.) At two years old, he asks, “What’s dat?” and “Who’s dat?” and “Where Daddy go?” and “What Weeda doing?” He knows what he wants, and what he doesn’t want, and when he wants it or doesn’t want it. Tonight, he just ate a roll for dinner. He was offered kale, sausage, grapes, pasta. Nope, just bread, and apple juice.
At two years old, he knows three verbe tenses: fart, farted, and farting. At two years old, he knows comparisons: turd, big turd, and bigger turd. (We should work on appropriate alternatives, but we love his foul little mouth.)
He asks for kisses on his scrapes (over and over), and he sometimes licks my face instead of kissing it. It’s gross.
How you love an infant is so different from how you love a little boy. When they’re so small, you can’t do anything but hold them and stroke their little cheek to make them feel better. And then they grow — into a person with needs, wants, desires, passions, and personality. The love develops, grows, and changes into something fuller and more whole. I now understand what my mother means when she says that her love for me grows and changes all the time. When you come to know someone fully, you fall harder and more completely.
How blessed I am to bear witness.
I was on birth control for ten years. I got on it to regulate pain during my menstrual cycle when I was eighteen. I went to Student Health at the University of Virginia early one morning, in total agony from my period. I was doubled over in pain. The doctor — likely a resident — was nice, and he was a little freaked out. He said that I might have endometriosis. I didn’t really know what that was, except that I knew a girl who had it and was addicted to painkillers. I didn’t think I had something like that. The doctor prescribed Ortho-Cyclen to regulate my cycle and hopefully prevent pain. It did the trick, and my cycles were easy, predictable, and short — for ten solid years. Damn, I can’t believe I was on the pill for that long. Anyway, apparently that little box of push-through pills works quite well to prevent endometriosis. That agony did not crop up again until last year, when I chose to get a copper IUD instead of using hormonal birth control.
Hold up — before I get into all of that story — let me tell you what endometriosis is. It is some gnarly shit. The endometrium is the lining of the uterus. For some women, the endometrium decides to go all out of whack and grow outside of your uterus. According to the NIH, when endometrial cells “…implant and grow outside the uterus, endometriosis results. The growths are called endometrial tissue implants. Women with endometriosis typically have tissue implants on the ovaries, bowel, rectum, bladder, and on the lining of the pelvic area. They can occur in other areas of the body, too.” These tissue implants get especially angry when during menstruation, since the muscles in that region of the body are all contracting, and your hormones and uterus are trying to expel extraneous endometrial tissue. When that junk is outside of your uterus, it can’t be expelled. It sticks with you, and sometimes, it grows. This doesn’t only cause painful periods (and the pain is like WHOA), it causes intestinal cramps, constipation, painful bowel movements, pain during sex, back pain, and even pain during ovulation. I won’t go into incredibly graphic detail, but I’ll just sum it up — it feels as if a knife is twisting around in there. Endometriosis, particularly on the ovaries, can also cause infertility.
So back to the story. After the birth of Sam the Mule, my cycle returned without much occasion (except for an unexplained bout of frantic crying right beforehand, which was then quite well explained). I had already gotten my Paragard, the delightfully non-hormonal IUD that would prevent me from having a baby when Sam was 10 months old. After a couple of months, my period became something I dreaded. I had pain — but not normal pain — curl up in a ball type of pain, can’t sleep type of pain. I chalked it up to my body getting used to the IUD, or perhaps a bit of hormonal stuff that needed to work itself out over time. I decided in August of 2011 to have the IUD taken out, partly because I thought it must be causing the pain, and partly because we wanted to get pregnant again. Unfortunately, my periods continued to be horrible, sometimes even worse than before. I was prescribed mefenamic acid, a strong non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (like Advil, but stronger, and works kinda differently). I was also prescribed some medicine that you snort. I think it dulls your pain receptors. Anyway, I never got that, because my insurance didn’t cover it, and it costed something like $200. My nurse practitioner, probably correctly, hesitated to prescribe any opiate — the only drugs that could have touched that pain.
Finally, I met with my OB in the same practice and told him that something was wrong. It was January of 2012, and we’d been trying (not too terribly hard, but still, trying) to conceive since August of 2011. And each period I had felt like a mini-version of labor. I had also started to have pain during ovulation and during the week before my cycle began. My doctor sent me for a pelvic ultrasound, which freaked me out a bit, but he assured me it was standard procedure. When I went to have my ultrasound (which is a highly unpleasant experience, if you haven’t had the experience of having one), the lady with the magic ultrasound wand kept saying, “Hm,” and taking pictures. I asked her if she had seen anything that wasn’t supposed to be there, and she said she couldn’t say — the doctor would have to evaluate the results. (How reassuring!) I asked her if there were fibroids, and she, kindly, said no.
I brought my CD of the inside of my pelvis, provided by Virginia Hospital Center, to my OB. I had a dermoid tumor (totally harmless) on my left ovary (which I actually knew about through my ultrasounds with the Sam inside), but it had grown to twice its size (not huge, but a few inches of weirdness). My right ovary and parts of my uterus showed calcifications, one of the indicators of endometrial growth. The doctor said he’d schedule me for surgery whenever I wanted. Laparoscopic surgery. Didn’t sound too bad.
I asked my doctor what the recovery time would be, and in his typically positive and unassuming manner, he said, “Oh, no more than one day, my lady. You can return to work the next day if you want.”
I should say this in bold: if your doctor every tells you this about abdominal laparoscopic surgery, he is wrong. It’s not as major as other abdominal surgery — like a c-section — since the openings are tiny, and the surgery is done with a small scope. However, the surgeon fills you up with dry air and pokes around in your innards. The air does something to your diaphragm muscles, and it fills you with pain and rage. According to an article on pelvic laparoscopy, “Some people feel neck and shoulder pain for several days after a laparoscopy as the carbon dioxide gas irritates the diaphragm, a pain which is felt in the shoulder.” Gee, you can say that again.
I scheduled surgery in February, shortly after my thirtieth birthday. I was a little scared going in. But it was okay. Eric was with me when I wore my weird little robe and starved all day waiting for the doctor to get done with his other patients. When they finally wheeled me away and put the ice cold, make-you-forget-and-totally-high medication in my arm, I was ready to be done with all of the crap mentioned above. I was happy. I remember saying to the doctor and the residents looking over me, “Gee, this must be a weird job. You guys come and do surgery on people every day, huh? That’s weird.” I remember them being nice about my random commentary, but I don’t remember what they said.
When I woke up, I puked. My whole body felt like it had been run over by a truck while being stabbed. They immediately gave me two Percocet, which probably made me puke again when I went to the recovery room, and chuck again when we arrived home. Exhausted, I ate a chocolate chip cookie, and I went to bed. The next few days were filled with Law and Order: SVU and a Percocet haze. That would have been fine and dandy except for the pain and swelling that plagued me. Right before I was to return to work, my internal sutures popped, putting me back to that painful place I’d almost escaped.
Little by little, I healed — but not without feeling that there was something broken in my body. I can’t be sure, but I suspect the endometriosis found on my right ovary, and the tumor on my left, were causing me not to ovulate quite properly. I checked for ovulation with Wondfo One Step Ovulation (LH) Test Strips, 50-Count, so I know for sure that an egg was being released each month — I’m just not sure it made it where it was supposed to go, or if the environment of my uterus was just hostile. Now, many women with endo get pregnant just fine, but I’ll always have to know that it might be harder for me. After surgery, I was put on birth control again to let my ovaries heal. I still feel twinges of pain in each ovary at random times, and I just don’t know what it means.
I’ve come to peace with my body. I was angry at it for a long time. Just before I was diagnosed with endo, I had shingles, another blow to the old immune system. I had a bad attitude about my body, and I was pretty disgusted with it. I struggled for months with hating the vessel that failed me and hurt me. It took my brain a lot of persuasion, but I am again at peace. I know it’s what I’ve got, and it gave me a damn beautiful son. Sometimes, when I am driving in my car or sitting by myself somewhere, I thank my body and the universe for blessing me so fully. Damn the endometriosis — I’m a woman who has it all.
I take a regimen of evening primrose oil, 1300Mg and borage oil 1300mg, 60 Softgels to give my body GLA, a fatty acid that can block cramp-causing prostaglandins and reduce inflammation. I also take a high quality fish oil pill, which can also help the inflammatory cells that can make endometriosis flair up. In the week before my cycle, I drink Yogi Woman’s Moon Cycle Tea. I’m not sure if any of it is helping, since birth control fools my body into not producing extra endometria and depositing it on my ovaries. (Since it reduces flow in general, it helps the growth not get out of control.)
I don’t know what happens from here. I know for sure that I will always have endometriosis. It doesn’t just stop, and some women have to have multiple surgeries. Is it life-threatening? No, but it can be debilitating if left untreated, and it can cause infertility. Like many other issues that women have with their reproductive systems, endometriosis is left untouched and largely unexplored by the medical community. When you look up endo in the internets, you’ll find over and over that no one knows why it is caused, and there are few cures, besides endometrial ablation or hysterectomy. Often, endometriosis is left undiagnosed and unaddressed, leaving its victims to suffer in silence. I urge you — if you read this and see symptoms here that reflect what happens to you — see a doctor, and check out what can be done. The surgery sucks, y’all, but it doesn’t suck as much as endometriosis. Get it tended to. It’s the best thing you can do for your own, very beautiful body.
I’ve been freelancing since July, but I haven’t touched this blog since June. Well, here I am again, a freelance mom.
I write, I write, I write. After that, I go to my job as an adjunct professor at a local community college. I write during my lunch breaks, and I send pitches when I don’t have writing projects to do. I update syllabi after that. When I get home, I snuggle my kid, give him a bath, feed him some food, and I sit down on the couch to watch a bit of TV before I go to bed. While I’m watching TV, I write again. When I get in bed, I read for my classes. I highlight and make notes. On Fridays, I stay home with the boy and try to get him to pee on the potty. Sometimes we watch movies, and sometimes we go to the nature center and look at turtles.
I took a 40% pay cut to go part time. I have one steady freelancing client, with bigger clients in between. I remind myself that I am at the bottom of a very tall mountain, and that being a writer takes time. I am happy, though, and for the first time in my adult working life, I feel like I am headed in a direction that is exactly where I want to go. I work more, and I work harder than I ever have in my life. I am satisfied, and I know I have found work that will sustain my soul and push me to be a better person.
I decided to change my career because I had reached stagnancy at my former job. When I woke up, I waded into murk, and at the end of the day, I waded back home, with bits still stuck to me. I was weighed down, hurt, and tired because of the emotional output that my job demanded of me. I also felt like I had no room to move or grow. I can write about that more sometime, but I’m not able to just yet.
I don’t really know what I’m doing yet, and sometimes that stresses me out, but I’ve pointed myself in the right direction. I know that this is probably one of the most important decisions I have made because I made it with my son in mind. There were a lot of conversations, and there may have been a bit of crying, and there was some downloading of finance apps to see if we could actually pull this change off. My husband supported me, even though he was nervous, and the people I love have all cheered me on.
Sam doesn’t know much difference at this point. Maybe he knows that he’s home with me a little bit more — that change is probably mostly just for me right now, but it could affect him; it’s not apparent. However, I know that the change in me is the important thing, and it will continue to be important as my son grows up. I think there are some people who have assumed I switched to a part time teaching job just so I could stay home more with my child. This is not the case. It is certainly a bonus, and it has made my transition that much sweeter. The true crux of the issue is what I want to teach my son. When I started thinking about leaving my cozy job with its very nice salary and stellar benefits package, I had to ask myself a lot of questions. Did I want my kid to have a mom who trudged to work? No. Did I want my son to see a mother smiling and happy at her job? Certainly, yes. Did I want to set an example of someone who is proactive, adventurous, and positive? Yes, because those are the things I want him to be. Did I want him to see his dreams as something he could definitely accomplish? Why, yes. So, after many job applications, a lot of horrible SEO writing, and some blind pitches to companies and colleges, I made a change. It fell into place, and now it is what I do. I’m still at the bottom of that mountain, but it’s not unscalable. After my leap, it seems that nothing is impossible.
When Sam grows up, I don’t want him to shut his dreams down because they aren’t immediately tangible. I don’t want him to look at his desires and only see impossibility. I want him to see opportunities everywhere he looks, and I want him to see adventure in the choices he makes. Above all, I want him to continue to value fun and pleasure in the passions he has developed. In being a teacher and in being a writer — the two things that I love and am good at — I am setting an example for him that will last for the rest of his life.
In a book I was reading about self-esteem, the first few chapters focus keenly on the way you, the reader, were parented. If your parents were consistent, loving, and positive, then you’re likely to be a stable, self-assured person. I also heard that what you tell your kids when they’re young becomes their inner monologue. It follows that the examples you set about your chosen work will influence how your child thinks about his. When Sam’s inner monologue starts rambling about his major in college, or his decision to go to Barcelona and take photographs for a year, or his yen to travel the world and read stories to children, or his desire to paint, or make music, or do math problems like his dad — I want it to say,”Yes.” That one simple word will make all of the difference in the way he chooses to live his life, and I want it to reverberate through his brain, and his soul, and his body, and his actions. As he grows, I want to see him glow with positivity at the thought of trying something challenging, I want him to reach heights that I cannot, and I want him to be content with whomever he becomes.
I owe a lot to my own parents. They said to me over and over that I could do or be anything I wanted, and overall, they were happy with what they did for a living. This has made it possible for me to make the next leap forward in my own life. This is not a part-time job that I am taking so that I can spend an extra day or two a week with my kid. That’s just the bonus, as I said. This is the tender little beginning to the rest of my life. It is raw and new, and I don’t know what I am doing. I run to work with a smile, though, and I sit and write with satisfaction. I can only hope that Sam will someday know that every bit of my weird little career is completely for him. May you always be happy, my boy.
I breastfed Sam for the last time just after he turned eight months old. It seems funny that I didn’t know it would be the last time. Now I replay that moment in my head — lying down next to my baby after a long trip to my parents well after his bed time, and nursing him until he fell asleep gently beside me. I knew he needed me then — not for nutrition but for comfort and warmth. He slept through the night until the next morning. He woke up happy.
Since then, he’s had exclusively Earth’s Best formula, which he seems to like. He hasn’t had any upset stomach, weight loss, or other adverse reactions — and it seems that he is thriving, growing, and meeting his milestones just as he should.
And yet. There isn’t a time that I feed him that I don’t think I’d rather be nursing him. He makes sweet little humming sounds when he eats — just like he did when he nursed. And it makes me feel deeply guilty and quite sad.
As I have said before, I wasn’t that enthused about breastfeeding from the get-go. And as natural-mama as I try to be (sometimes), I didn’t see myself breastfeeding too much beyond one year. (No hating for those who do … it just didn’t seem right for me.)
We have a healthy, thriving baby. I am a lady who knew she would make the switch sometime — to formula or cow’s milk. So why the feelings?
For one, I wasn’t ready. My body made the choice for me in a lot of ways. When I returned to work and started pumping, Sam was okay at first — and then, he started eating twice as much as I could pump in a day. I made up for that by pumping at night and on weekends. I took Lactation Support (which is primarily made of the herb Fenugreek), which worked but left me with some not-so-great side effects like intestinal cramping. When I was prescribed Wellbutrin, my supply shot down to the point where I had to start formula. (I don’t know why I responded to the medication that way — but apparently other women have had the same problem. And some don’t.) Once I started formula, Sam didn’t want to nurse as much, and when he did he was left hungry and fussing. He got so used to the bottle that he stopped nursing altogether — and now he doesn’t even remember that he ever did.
I look at my history with nursing — the complications and the inconvenience and the supply drop that made me quit. And I feel like that’s just what I did. I quit. I gave up on my baby when he still needed me, and still needed the perfect nutrition that is human milk. No formula compares. Handling formula makes me know that — it’s essentially sticky powdered cow’s milk mixed with corn syrup (or table sugar!) to make it sweet. Its fat content comes from added oils like palm and coconut. The fat in formula condenses in little yellow globules when it’s mixed with water. Just looking at breast milk, you can see the difference — the creamy milk fat rises to the top and separates (just like how cream separates from cow’s milk before it’s processed). Breast milk smells sweet, where formula smells strongly of iron and oil. Breast milk is living, full of nutrients and antibodies that no science lab could replicate into a powder.
I’ve gone through these punishing thoughts a fair number of times, letting them cycle over and over again in my brain. On better days, I respond to them by saying: “My husband and I were formula fed, and we’re fine, healthy and smart. Sam is thriving. I gave him eight months of my milk, and he will always have that. Formula is not unhealthy — it is designed for human babies, and it is researched and improved upon all the time. Plus,” I whisper, “It’s easier. You can drop Sam off with your parents and stay away for a night. You can let your husband feed him. You don’t have to worry that day care will run out of breast milk.” But still, I struggle, and I struggle to shut down the voice that says I didn’t do the right things, and I didn’t try hard enough.
I’ve talked a lot about judging in my two previous posts. If I’m to look back and take wisdom from my own words and thoughts, I would say that moms tend to judge themselves the most harshly. I know I do — I know I’ve always been my own worst critic, and when it comes to being a mother, I tend to make that critical voice ten times worse. There are certain things that I must let go. Even though I know that I could have bent over backwards to keep breastfeeding, with supplements and teas and endless pumping (and I applaud the ladies who do that — y’all are hardcore), for us, now was just as good a time as any to end. For other moms, maybe their journey is longer or shorter, or maybe it’s a formula feeding journey the whole way. What ends up being important is a healthy baby, who feels close to and trusting of his or her mother. Whatever way that is accomplished is, and will be, alright by me.
By writing this, I hope to release it and move on. My baby is beautiful, and every day, he shows me that he is strong and happy and loving.
Hello to the three or four people who read my blog! I know that you may have noticed that I have been absent recently. If you read my previous post, you may have guessed why I have been absent. That’s right — it’s because I’ve published a bestselling memoir of my life, and I’ve already sold the movie rights to Warner Brothers. I’ve been told they may cast Ellen Page to play me, but I’m still holding out hope for Scarlett Jo. I just don’t think Ellen would look right with blond hair. Either way, I’ve just been way too busy rolling around in piles of money to write on my little blog.
Ha ha. Opposite day. That didn’t really happen. As you may have actually guessed, or if you know me, you’ve likely become aware that I haven’t been myself in the past months. I have been coping with postpartum depression — not as majorly terrible as some folks experience, but still it’s pretty rough.
I was talking with a friend recently about how “depression” is such a dirty word. “Postpartum” certainly makes it sound better — “Oh, I don’t have depression, I have postpartum depression. It’s a special kind of depression that mommies get because their hormones are doing terrible things to their brains. It’s not like regular, run of the mill depression. The kind that doesn’t have a specific cause or a specific end date. I have the kind of mommy depression that Gwyneth Paltrow had with Apple. And now she’s a regular guest star on Glee!” Yes, it’s okay to have postpartum depression because it’s gotten a little bit of a notoriety, and it has this specific CAUSE that makes people feel a little more comfortable with it.
Well let me clue you in, it is EXACTLY the same as the regular, run of the mill, general depression. The same chemicals go haywire in your brain. Even though there may be a specific cause, no one can guess an end date. You have the same horrible thoughts, perhaps even obsessions and compulsions, and on many days, you just might not want to get out of bed. I feel exactly the same as when I have suffered major depressive episodes before — except this time, it doesn’t just affect me and my college roommate, or me and my boyfriend, or me and my experience living abroad in Japan. It affects me and my child, me and my husband, me and my family, me and my job that I love. It’s just the same ugly thing that it always has been; only now, the stakes are higher. It isn’t trendy, or fun, or “lighter” than regular depression. It doesn’t magically end when Sam turns one, and it didn’t have a discernible starting point either. It’s the same damn thing as depression without the adjective, and it really sucks.
Because PPD (at least, for me, I can’t speak for others) is like the regular old-hat depression, I’ve looked to treating it the same way. I take medication, I try to exercise when I have the time, and I go to talk therapy. I look up on days that are good and realize how lucky I am. I have insurance to pay for appointments and pills that make my brain work well enough so that I can begin to heal. I lucked out and found an amazing therapist who really gels with my personality — she laughs at my jokes and curses and has my same politics, and isn’t shy about saying so. I have colleagues who care about what’s going on with me, and I have a family who supports, encourages, and loves me. On not so good days, I sink in ways that I don’t want to describe here. For those of you who have experienced depression, you know what I am talking about. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
I look back on my blog over the past year, and I am proud that I came back to writing along with the creation of this beautiful new life. I also look back and wonder — and perhaps this is through the lens of depression — why anyone would want to read my pronouncements about how cloth diapers are better than disposables, or why you should breastfeed as long as you can, or why you should give birth without an epidural, or choose not to circumcise your son. These are things I still believe, but depression has humbled me and my strong opinions. I had to go to using disposable diapers 80% of the time when Sam entered day care, and the medication I am on dried my breast milk up almost as soon as I took the first pill. (And fenugreek, you can suck it. I hate you forever. More on that in another post.) I look at my birth and I am proud that I accomplished exactly what I wanted, but I am no better than any other mother who has ever had a child.
Moms, and dads, you are heroes. Whether or not you choose to have an epidural, or put a organic hemp diaper or a Pampers Swaddler on your baby’s butt, or choose to feed breast milk or Enfamil, whether to stay home or have a nanny or day care — those are NOT the important decisions I once thought they were. The important decisions, well, those are harder to define. I believe they are the decisions that relate to how you love yourself, and how you love your child. What example you choose to present, and what kind of person you raise your child to be. How you choose to express yourself to your child and how you choose to bring order into your child’s life. Those are the things — and they are really the only things right now — that I view as important.
As Natalie Portman said in Garden State, I’m “in it” right now. And being in it — and being much more concerned with trying to figure things out in my life — that’s made me not want to write posts about which organic baby food I feed to my kid, or why exactly I think FuzziBunz are great diapers. I know a lot of my previous posts verged on preachy, and while a lot of my friends have let me know that they enjoyed reading what I had to say, I’m pretty done with being preachy.
As parents, we’re doing the best we can (I mean — not every parent is — but the ones I know sure are). We’re surviving day to day, trying to teach these little amazing people how to be good and honest and conscious. We make great decisions and terrible mistakes. Who am I to say what is best?
Another friend said to me, right before the birth of her second child — a beautiful little girl — that she does not judge other parents. Or she tries not to. Her husband had remarked to her one day, upon seeing a four or five year old girl with a pacifier, that it was improper, or wrong, or something like that, and that the parents shouldn’t be allowing her to have a pacifier at that age. My friend responded — “You don’t know. That little girl could have autism, and the pacifier is the only way she can cope with being at the store. You don’t know. You NEVER know.” This has stuck with me big time. What wise words — we can’t ever know what is going on in another parent’s life, or what is happening in the life of their child. We can give advice, when solicited, but that’s really all. (I CAN judge that horrible woman who is making her child get Botox treatments, because I do know that is wrong for sure. Otherwise, I’m trying to be like my wise friend and just chill.)
You can never predict the choices you will make, or will have to make, with your child. You can never predict how you will feel on a day to day basis, or exactly how you will figure out how to be the best parent that you can be. Being a mom and dealing with depression has made me more aware of this than I ever was before.
So, on good days, hopefully I will come back to writing with a different tone in my voice. On not so good days, you can probably find me sitting on my porch and soaking in the sun, or in my bath with my baby who is squealing at the wonder it is to splash in the water. (Oh the sounds he makes!) In trying to find contentment, I am discovering myself to be a person who must release some of her firmly held opinions. I am slowly learning not to judge the decisions of others, and in this process, I am learning not to judge myself. At least, I am trying.
My sweet little man,
Hi. It’s your mama. I know you don’t know that word yet, but you certainly know who I am. And you know who your daddy is. You light up when you see one of us walk in the door. You squawk with excitement and kick your legs when you see one of us come home from work. If it’s me you see, you start fussing almost immediately, because you know that seeing mama means that you can nurse and cuddle. And you want to do that right away.
You are taking great efforts every day to learn and know the world around you. You are terrifyingly mobile and interested in everything electronic. You’ve even figured out how to turn on the XBox and open the DVD slot. Your father’s child.
If someone could capture the feeling you give me when I see you every day and put it into a little bottle to sell at CVS, well that person would be like, the richest person ever. That is how you make me feel.
Some days, though, are better than others. And some days, Sam, are really rough.
I have to be honest, my little man. I’ve struggled with depression for most of my life, and it’s been progressively worse since you’ve been born. This is not because of you, but because of something in my brain that doesn’t work exactly like most people’s. It might have to do with some of the hormones in my body that were altered after I had you, but it might not. So it’s nothing personal.
Someday you’ll understand what depression is, but I hope that you do not understand the dark insides of it like I do. I hope beyond hope that it does not hurt you like it has me. And if it does, my love, I will always be there to support you, and I will always make sure that you feel like you can keep moving forward. Because that is so important.
I wanted to tell you this for a lot of reasons. I wanted to tell you this because sometimes I am not the best mom that I can be. On some days, I cry when you cry, and on other days, I crumble when I can’t get you to nap. I know you don’t notice this now, but I do, and it hurts me deeply that I sometimes cannot appreciate you as much as I feel I ought to.
The other reason I’m telling you this is because all the work I do towards healing is for you. I go to therapy for you. I talk and examine my problems for you. And I work on myself and my way of thinking as much as I can, in all the ways I can, for you. I do these things because I want you to know a mother who deals with problems when they overwhelm her, and I want you to follow that example throughout your life. I want you to know that it is okay to admit you are not perfect, because no one in this world is. Above all, I want you to remember that it’s just fine not to be perfect. On some days, you will have to remind yourself of that, and I just wanted you to hear that early on. Really early on.
Sam, you are my light when darkness and anxiety overwhelm me. You will always be my light. I am so glad I brought you into this world, because you amaze me.
I just wanted you to know all of this because I love you so much, and I will always make great effort to be honest with you and be strong for you. And there will be nothing that you can’t tell me. I am always here.
I love you.
I’m officially back at work. Well, if you consider part time official. I consider it official, since I have a full time job at home (being a mom), and a thirty hour a week work from home/work at work job. It’s a lot to manage, and it feels pretty official to me.
I like it. I like it more than I thought I would.
I like it because we do fun things at work, like guided meditation and small group activities for training. I like it because the students we teach and guide are smart, funny, passionate, and unique. They break stereotypes. They learn, and we learn from them.
I like it because my coworkers are excited to see me, and there’s always someone to sit down and eat lunch with.
I like it because my work serves a good purpose. If I can convince one student to pursue his or her dream, finish college, or love a book, I’ve done good in this world. And I want to keep doing that.
I like it because I have a new role that I’m excited about. I will still be teaching, but I will be designing and observing classes. And that is really cool.
I like it because my coworkers are smart and insightful, and they inspire me to grow. I like it because I work with other working moms and dads who love their kids and make time for their families. I like it because they share their experiences with me. I like it because I work with some of my best friends, mentors, and people that I truly admire. My coworkers are a gift.
I like it because it is a part of me that is not mom. And that’s okay. It is a part of me that is me, and that is beautiful.
I like it because, when I get home, Sam smiles at me, and I remember how much I’ve missed him all day.
I like being at work because it gives structure to my life. It is a challenge, but it is good and real and solid.
It’s good to be back.
If you’ve had anything to do with me for the past few weeks, you’ll know that I’ve been taken over by a cloth diaper obsession. Some people would totally balk at this, because they don’t like the idea. That’s cool by me. But I’ve got to tell you, some of those little tiny diapers with kangaroo and chickadee prints are the cutest friggin things I’ve ever seen. So don’t knock it until you’ve done endless hours of online research and window shopping.
What does this have to do with the title of my post? Cloth for ladies? Well, it has a little to do with it. Babies aren’t the only ones that get cute handmade cloth these days: ladies can have it too! (If you are squeamish about reading stuff having to do with PERIODS and MENSTRUATION, please stop reading here. Again, folks, I’m not squeamish about that stuff. Natural processes, natural body parts, etc etc. So I’m going to happily write about it, and if you want to go on your way, please do so.)
In the cloth diapering and green family community, babies aren’t the only ones to get cloth. What did ladies use before the invention of Tampax and plastic pads? Why, they used cloth of course. And thanks to modern fabric like ZORB, bamboo and hemp terry, and PUL (polyurethane laminate), there can be absorbent, waterproof, thin pads that sit softly against your skin. In fact, there’s a booming internet business dedicated to selling cloth pads for ladies.
I’ll take a minute to acknowledge that some people might think this is totally gross. I think I said before (in my first cloth diapering post) that it’s about how you perceive grossness. I hate disposable pads and tampons and haven’t used them since 2007. I don’t like how they feel, I don’t like how they smell, and I don’t like throwing away so much garbage. That’s just how I roll with that particular thing.
That said, I haven’t considered mama cloth until recently. What was I using? I used the Keeper up until my pregnancy. I got it in January of 2007 for $30 (now they are running $35), and I used it for a solid three years. That’s $10 a year. You’d probably spend $4-5 a month on pads and tampons, which would be about $60 a year. I figure I’ve already saved about $150 in that regard. Oh yeah, and again, gross mention, close your eyes if you can’t handle it, but I haven’t had a single yeast infection or UTI since I started using the Keeper. It could be a coincidence, but hey, it’s true. (That’s my little advertisement for the Keeper. You can also get the Diva Cup — available at Whole Foods or other natural foods stores — or the Lady Cup, made in Europe and available to us Americans on Ebay.)
Well, the Keeper was enough for me. Why isn’t it still?
There’s this little thing called lochia. I’m really not going to explain it since you can google it for yourself. I can just say that after you give birth, your body begins to heal, and from what I hear, you definitely need pads — tampons or cups like the Keeper are unacceptable given the tenderness of your hoo-ha and your body’s natural healing process. Well, call me crazy, but I decided I really didn’t want to use Poise or Always. So I got some cloth.
The first place I searched was Amazon. I KNEW there had to be cloth pads out there! I found Imse Vimse, a bigger name brand that also produces some high end cloth diapers. I ended up getting a set of overnight pads because the price was right, and the reviews weren’t too bad. A ton of other cloth diaper manufacturers make pads — Sckoon, Fuzzi Bunz, Happy Heinys, Knickernappies … they’re all out there. Do a search for cloth sanitary pads, and you’ll find tons of the name brand items. Luna Pads and Willow Pads are also some big names. Check them out.
Well, you say, I see those boring white Imse Vimse pads in your picture, but where’s the cute stuff from?
It’s from Etsy. For those of you who are already addicted, you know the glory of Etsy. I found this shop that makes cloth napkins and breast pads. The robot breast pads are from this talented lady, as are the super duper cool 15 inch postpartum pads, the skull and crossbones pad, and the yellow monkey liners. Flannel, lovely, soft — and waterproof! The other two, with the monkey/jungle designs, are from this shop, which mostly boasts cloth diapers, but occasionally stocks reasonably priced packs of pads. I just feel nice having some cute prints.
Lots of other ladies make handmade pads — you can find them on Etsy or on Hyena Cart.
Okay … questions?
- But won’t they leak? Most fans say absolutely not at all. They are backed with a waterproof barrier — fleece, wool, or PUL.
- How do you wash them? In the washer! Cold water. I plan to rinse mine in cold water before washing.
- How do you store dirty ones? In a waterproof bag.
- How many do you need? Probably about 12 for a normal period. More if you like!
So that’s my post on cloth pads (and you can see my soft, cloth breast pads in the picture too). Some might think I’m crazy, but hey, the prints are cute, the fabric is absorbent, the environment is healthier, and they’re reusable! What’s not to like?
For those of you who knew me before Eric and I started planning to get pregnant, you may have at least guessed that I wasn’t exactly a natural birth advocate. I thought the idea of a scheduled c-section sounded like a great idea, and the thought of breastfeeding totally creeped me out. I had a colleague who had had an all natural birth that lasted thirty-six hours, and that was enough to convince me that ALL THAT was something I did not want. After all, as Americans in the twenty-first century, we’ve been given the opportunity to do away with pain during labor. Why wouldn’t you want to do away with pain? Why wouldn’t you want to do away with the strangeness and ickiness of breastfeeding? Knock me out, and give me the drugs. That was quite and very much the way of my reasoning.
Fast forward to July 3, 2009. That’s right — almost exactly a year ago. Eric and I formally decided to go off of birth control that day. I only remember it because it was the one week in the summer that Eric was home from a business trip to San Diego (one that he thought I’d be able to go on, but that’s another story), and it was the night that we saw Away We Go, the day before the fourth of July. Yes, a baby. We decided we were going to have a baby in 2010. Exciting. As you might have guessed, I hadn’t given labor too much of a thought, except that I still thought it was a yucky, painful process. One that I clearly wanted to avoid.
And then I read this post on one of my favorite blogs. (And this one and this incredible, beautiful conclusion to follow up. If you read one of those posts, read the last one, please. Yes. So amazing.) And with those words, and her experience, I began to question what I once knew. When I went to stay with my husband his last week in San Diego, I told him that I thought I wanted a natural birth. Of course, he’s always been a big supporter of this, pretty much calling me crazy for wanting a c-section — I mean, that’s major surgery, and why would you want to schedule that when you don’t have to?
Fast forward again to January 2010. I find out I’m pregnant on the day that we go to visit Eric’s family. I read What to Expect When You’re Expecting that weekend, and it only makes me nervous. After that, I start to do my research in earnest. I read everything I can get my hands on about healthy pregnancy, natural birth, and labor: Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin, Birthing from Within by Pam England and Rob Horowitz, Your Best Birth by Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein, Pushed by Jennifer Block, Hypnobirthing by Marie Mongan, and The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin for my husband and coach. (And I just got The Birth Book by William Sears.)
I began to realize that I was seriously under-educated about pregnancy and childbirth. I began to realize that most of us — women and men — are seriously under-educated about childbirth. As Americans, we’ve also been seriously mis-educated, misled, and misguided about PAIN. We hear a lot of cliches about labor in particular, and we see them on our television and movie screens. We hear this: “You wouldn’t undergo a root canal without anesthesia, right?” or “It would be like trying to push a watermelon out of your nostril.” We hear about how painful it is, how it’s unlike any other pain you’ve experienced, how it’s pure insanity to go it without pain relief. We see women in terrible pain on A Baby Story, lying back as the doctors swoop in to save the day. We see Ellen Page in Juno and Katherine Heigl in Knocked Up begging for epidurals when they go into labor (and Amy Poehler in Baby Mama celebrating her choice to have one in a rather public way). Think about it: do you see any positive portrayals of natural birth in the media? Do you see any portrayals of women being empowered as they choose the way their child comes into the world?
Let me know if you think of some. I can’t.
In fact, I would posit that we’ve been taught to fear labor, fear the natural signals of our bodies, and fear the pain that is associated with those natural signals. We’ve put our trust instead in doctors, who are incidentally, mostly dudes. (Side note: there are lots of great doctors, and natural-friendly ones to boot. But there are plenty who keep on pushing the fear.) By putting trust in someone other than ourselves, and by passively absorbing the fearful images we see in the media, we give up a valuable part of our birth experiences. We get swept away in the wave of fearing pain, and we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to become educated, take control, and guide our birth experience as captain, rather than passenger.
When you fear something, it gets a lot worse, right? It hurts worse, it feels more painful, it is more intimidating, more frightening … so it is with labor. If you fear it, you will automatically tighten up, which works against the natural contractions your body is producing to guide your baby forward. When you work against your own body, and cannot relax, it can hurt a lot worse. Common sense, right? But still, over nine months (and indeed, the many years before we get pregnant), we are developing an image of an intensely painful experience that we cannot cope with, that will control us, that is compared to an illness in the medical world. How can one be expected to work against that fear when it comes to the day of labor?
Adrenaline plays a role here too. If you see a bunch of people you don’t know in your labor room, you get scared at the onset of a painful contraction, or your doctor gives you a rough exam while you are laboring, it can trigger an adrenaline rush. According to Birthing Naturally, “Adrenaline is the “fight or flight” hormone that humans produce to help ensure survival. Women who feel threatened during labor (for example by fear or severe pain) may produce high levels of adrenaline. Adrenaline can slow labor or stop it altogether.” And if your labor stops, you need the drugs, right? So say the doctors.
Well what’s wrong with the drugs? Pitocin and pain relief medications of all varieties help a tremendous amount of women through labor, but they can also mess with your body a bit in ways you might not expect. I’ll comment here about pitocin — it’s a synthetic version of the natural hormone that makes your uterus contract. But it doesn’t work in the same way that your natural hormone, oxytocin, does. It makes your whole uterus contract rapidly and all at once. You might guess that causes pain — not so great pain that might cause you to start seriously needing the pain meds. Pitocin also doesn’t trigger the natural pain relief mechanism your body has to offer — endorphins. So when you get the pitocin, you start needing the epidural, and the epidural, while innocuous to the body in many ways, can slow labor as much as 25%. And when labor slows? That’s right … “emergency c-section.” Sounds nuts right? It certainly happens.
Understandably, many remain frightened of the pain. But many remain unaware of the benefits of laboring sans drugs. You heal faster, you can walk around and try out different positions, you don’t have to have a catheter to pee, you can get in and out of the shower or tub, and you can sneak in a snack or a drink of water every once in a while. Too, you can listen to the signals of pain that your body gives you as positive markers of where you are in your labor. Finally, you are connected to the millions of women who have come before you — your ancestors — who labored naturally. But how do you cope with the pain in a society that tells you pain is unnecessary? Well, that’s the question. How can you?
In all the books I listed above, there are tons of relaxation techniques, exercises, and guided meditation that many women say can help. The Bradley Method encourages slow, abdominal breathing, while Hypnobirthing touts self-hypnosis. Birthing from Within tells about non-focused awareness. There are a lot of options out there. Hypnobirthing even claims that labor was never meant to be painful, and Mongan’s book all but promises a pain-free labor. (We’ll see about that … ha.) Whatever the technique is, the important thing to me is that I get to choose it. I manage the pain, and it doesn’t manage me.
I can’t tell you where I got so confident about this decision, but it happened early on in my pregnancy. I didn’t want this to be something that happened TO me, but rather a whole event that I guided in the best ways I knew how. I’ll state here that I’m not belittling anyone who chooses a different path — we’re all trying to be mothers in the ways that we think will benefit our children the most. I’m also not going to say that I won’t consider pain relief if I’ve been laboring for 36 hours. And I’ll certainly go with a c-section if my baby’s life is in danger. But the important thing to me is that I have chosen to become educated about my options, and not close my eyes in order to let someone else manage the process for me.
That’s all for now.
Welcome to the Savvy Mom Space
I’m a liberal feminist that believes that liberal, feminist ideals should gel with embracing your gender and motherhood (if that’s what you feel like doing). I support all kinds of moms and dads and parents. Oh and, although I totally love that natural vibe and not harming the environment, I supplement my organic milk and fresh fruits and veggies with the occasional Twix, the frequent Oreo, and the daily Coke Zero. I’m opinionated, not easily offended, and a loudmouth in person and on the internet. I am what I am. Welcome.