The things she will know

I don’t quite fit into the modern mom culture. Sure, I’ve joined the world of #moming – the one in which you’re always a bit distracted, you see the world through little eyes, and your arms double in length as you carry all the bags that exist, ever.

Really, it started before she was even here. “What’s your theme for your nursery?” Me: “Uh, it’s a girl?” My husband picked the paint color, and we ended up with a lot of elephants, not because we chose it, but because that’s what people got for her.

I love her room, because it’s filled with love and memories. She will know we created it for her.

And wine? Nope. I am definitely not a “wine mom.” I don’t fit into that box.

I have not thought a lick about her first birthday, and I didn’t get her anything for Easter (except an Easter outfit – that counts, right?).

I’m more of a let’s-take-it-day-by-day-mom, because while I’m typically a type A planner, I’ve already reached the conclusion that this little being is her own, and she will change as quickly as she grows.

But there are things she will know.

When we have dance parties while rocking out to Alicia Keys’ “Girl On Fire,” she will know that girls are important and strong, and that her mom will do anything to see her smile and laugh.

When we say, “I’m sorry you’re upset” and “I’m here, I’m listening” while she cries, she will know that all feelings are okay, and that we will be there to help her through the really big emotions that can be overwhelming.

When we cheer her on as she struggles to do something new, she will know we are always behind her, supporting her efforts, even and especially when it gets hard.

When we say, “You are strong, you are kind, you are beautiful,” she will know she is all those things.

When we say, “We are so glad you’re our daughter,” she will know that she was and is so wanted, loved, and appreciated for all that she brings to this world.

I have never fit into any one box, and I hope she doesn’t either. Because as difficult as being on the outskirts can be, it also forces you to think for yourself, and to grow stronger than you ever thought you could be. I wish that for her.

Oh, the things she will know.

 

 

 

 

 

My heart grew three sizes that day

Not that I was a Grinch before, but at 38 days postpartum, it is still my biggest surprise.

I knew my life would change. Everybody tells you that. I knew my priorities and perspectives would shift, my house would fill with stuff, my marriage would become more important and less important at the same time, sleep would be like a drug I crave constantly, and my body would be, well, stretchier.

But the feels? For everything, all the time? It’s been my hardest adjustment.

Upon leaving the safe cocoon of our hospital room, it felt a bit like we were pushed out of the nest. My husband was unshowered and sleep-deprived, I was swollen and still drugged up, and our baby was screaming about everything. We were a hot mess.

As we launched into parenthood face first, we eventually found solid ground as a little family of three, and celebrated our survival minute by minute. But as soon as this felt somewhat comfortable, my husband returned to work, and keeping our tiny baby alive fell solely on me. What a kick in the nuts that was.

I knew enough about postpartum depression and anxiety to know the signs and to talk about them with my husband and my doctor if needed. I read articles and checked in with my husband about his thoughts on my state of mind. I’m not totally in the clear yet, but I’m doing okay. Seriously though, the sleep deprivation alone is enough to make anyone feel batshit crazy. Add to it lack of time to eat anything normal, healing from birthing another human being, creeping quietly around a dark house all day, and giving your all to a screaming tiny human, and it’s no wonder we fall and need some help getting back up. Jesus.

Aside from my routines changing pretty much completely, I wondered if the physical changes would make me feel sad. Would seeing a stretch mark make me cry? Would having a softer stomach make me feel ugly? Would my husband think my post-baby body is in need of improvement? The answer to all that, for me, is no. Even though I was confused by some of the random places my skin chose to show it’s stretchiness (seriously, did my thighs really GROW that much during pregnancy?), it’s all good. And my husband, I’m pretty sure, is still in awe of all the work I did, from pregnancy to now. He doesn’t have time to consider all the ways my body has changed because he’s too busy polishing the pedestal he’s placed me on for birthing a human fucking being. His human being.

The biggest change in me has been to my heart. For sure. It’s like my heart grew to make room for all the newness of our baby – every cute face, sleepy stretch, and every grasp of my finger. My heart is a mom heart now, and it’s bigger and better than before. And as much as I knew this would happen, it still took me by surprise. More startling was the connection I now feel to my husband, who’s no longer just my partner in life but the father of my child and the only other person who loves our daughter the same way I do. Sure I was committed before, but now? Damn, he permanently has a piece of my heart that he carries with him. A pretty big piece. Which explains why I feel a bit empty unless our little family of three is together.

At 38 days postpartum, my body and my mind are still making room for my bigger heart. My mom heart allows me to feel more deeply and love more openly. It might mean more tears over seemingly silly things and so much empathy that you can physically feel someone else’s mood, it also means a fuller life.

August 1, 2016. My heart grew three sizes that day. Here are all the pieces:

heart

 

Oh, Genetics

Since finding out that we are going to have a baby together, my husband and I have spent a fair amount of time talking about what our baby will be like.

Will she be like me? Like him? Quiet? Loud? Curious? Patient? Girly? Tom-boyish? A mix of everything?

And what the heck will she look like? We talk about this a lot. Last weekend, we were talking about genetics and the role they play, and we had a conversation that went something like this:

It started when Andy was crazily scratching his knees due to dry skin (dry skin being one of the many fun skin irritations he has).

Me: “I hope our baby gets my skin.”

Andy: “Me too.”

Me: “And I hope she gets my eyebrows.”

Andy: (laughing) “I hope she gets your nose.”

Me: “Me too!”

And then it hit me.

Me: “Oh my god. Your laugh.”

Andy chuckles (quietly, at least for him.)

Me: “Can you imagine a little girl having your laugh? That would be brutal.”

Andy laughs really, really loudly. (If you know him, you know what I mean.)

A few minutes pass by.

Me: “So really, what are you bringing to the table?”

Andy: (without hesitation) “Personality. I hope to god she gets my patience.”

Me: “Good point.”

The more I think about it, Andy is bringing a lot to the table. The most important trait obviously being his dimple. If our baby gets a dimple like his, she will literally be the cutest thing alive. Let’s just hope it ends up on her cheek where it belongs and not under her eye like my ridiculous misplaced dent.

Oh well, genetics will do as they please. The bastards.

My belly is my new favorite body part

I have never had to listen to my body as much as I have these last 15+ weeks. Lately, my body generally tells me about five different things:

1. Drink a lot of water. And then go pee. And then repeat.

2. Eat everything in sight. Except things that could possibly be icky in sight/smell/taste/texture. And if it is in fact icky, then be prepared for a gag-a-thon.

3. Sit down. Don’t move for a very long time. Except if it’s to go to bed. Or pee.

4. Only pay attention to me. I don’t care that you have a full-time job.

5. I do not want to be touched, unless it’s to massage my aching back or scratch my itchy shins.

Well, body, I hear ya loud and clear. 10-4.

The neat thing about listening to my body is that I’m growing fond of its needs. Even on my worst gag-a-thon, bone-deep exhaustion, migraine-yielding days, I know it’s serving a purpose. And that purpose is deep inside my belly.

I’m so in touch with my body and the amazing life force growing inside me, that it is literally ALL I can think about sometimes. And I’m okay with that.

Every part of my body has been renewed with meaning, because I no longer feel empty. I am full. In every sense of the word.

Belly. Mind. Heart. I am full.

Sperm Have Tools and I Might Steal Your Kid

For some of you, seventeen months might be a way that you would describe the age of your child. You know, another way of saying almost a year and a half. For me, it’s the way I describe the length of time my husband and I have been trying to get pregnant. Unsuccessfully.

Now before I go on, don’t get all huffy thinking this is another blog post complaining about my empty womb. This is just my way of expressing all the shit that piles up inside and needs to be let out. It will be honest and raw and probably sarcastic. It’s just what I need to do. (Side note: If you don’t want to read about sperm and babies and sex, you may not want to continue reading. You’ve been warned.)

Okay, first. How many years did I try not to get pregnant? Answer: A lot. All those years of health class and sex ed make you believe that it is so figgin’ easy to get pregnant. Like if you even think about a boy, his sperm will magically jump inside your uterus, hunt down your egg, and fertilize it.

Or the time my high school boyfriend’s mother told us this horrifying story that she swore up and down was true: after fooling around, this guy splooged on this girl’s leg, and instead of cleaning it up, she let it trickle down her leg toward her vagina and she ended up pregnant without ever having sex. (In retrospect, I’m not sure if this was a story she heard or the story of how she ended up pregnant herself.) Anyway, growing up, adults all over the place would have you believe that sperm have these special tools to break into your uterus and attack your helpless egg, knocking you up and leaving you to live as a single mother.

Well, I call bullshit. Never in my life did I think I’d be trying so damn hard to get pregnant. Do you know how many times my husband and I have had unprotected sex since we’ve been trying to conceive? Answer: Hundreds. Do you know how many perfectly good sperm, with tools intact, have been released inside me? Answer: Probably buckets full. Still, Aunt Flo comes knocking every 28-30 days, smiling and bearing flowers that I just want to bash her over the head with.

Also, I just have to vent about all the people who accidentally get pregnant. I can’t even. I know I’m not supposed to compare my journey to anyone else’s, but come on. This is just ridiculous. People who are not physically or emotionally healthy, they somehow make babies.

Or, and I preface this by saying I really am happy for you, the people who have been trying for less time than my husband and I. Again, I’m not supposed to compare. But it’s happening so get over it. There’s a very irrational part of me that thinks, wait a minute, we were in line ahead of you, we’ve been waiting for longer, how come you get to go first? That’s not fair.

And that’s when anger shows up. I expected the sadness and frustration, and even the hope and despair. The tears and the ‘I’m not going to cry again’. But anger, that surprised me. I find myself getting angry for all sorts of reasons. I get angry at people who are pregnant, who have been pregnant, who talk about their pregnancy in positive or negative terms. I get angry at people who have kids, who talk about their kids, and especially at people who talk to me about not having kids. I get angry at my body for failing me. Basically, there’s no possible way you can win. It’s irrational and it’s no one’s fault. Anger is an irrational emotion, and it comes from a place of hurt. I know that. (Another side note: I feel the need to say that I don’t hate pregnant women or mothers at all. Go ahead and talk to me about your children, because they’re beautiful. It just gets hard sometimes, you know?)

And then crazy creeps in. There are times when I think I might just, you know, take someone else’s kid and call him/her my own. That would work, right? I’m not talking about adoption. I’m talking about stalking the cutest kid at a public place, waiting for the moment that his/her parent is preoccupied with something else, and go in for the grab. Oh, wouldn’t my husband be surprised to come home and find me trying to soothe our new child (who would no doubt be terrified and traumatized). Obviously, I’m kidding. You don’t have to keep a close eye on me around your children, I promise.

All I’m saying is, this whole trying to conceive thing is hard. And it brings out the ugly. It’s one of those hot button issues that no matter what your beliefs or what you say, you will somehow be wrong. Each person and each couple experiences it differently. I can’t give you advice on how to be sensitive to someone you know who’s struggling to get pregnant. What I can do is be honest and say that there are days when I’m really, really ugly about the whole thing. It’s not rational and it’s not cute. But it’s part of the deal.

I don’t have a rainbows and sunshine way to end this. It’s another day, another try, and another load of sperm.

Such is life.

We don’t need to hear it

We have been trying and trying. We have been patient and poised. We have been hopeful and cheerful. We have been relaxed and we have been stressed. We have listened to a lot of sympathy, advice, and stories from people who are trying to help. We need you to please realize, this is our journey. And it’s delicate, and it’s hard, and it’s OURS.

Perhaps my words may help you understand someone in your life who is struggling with the same thing, or perhaps it will help you. Either way, I need to say this.

We don’t need to hear about your friend who spent four years trying to conceive before she did so successfully. This is not helpful. It only causes added anxiety about how long we may struggle ourselves.

We don’t need to hear that God has a plan for us. We respectfully request that you keep your beliefs to yourself. Pray if it helps you but we will decide when and if we want to accept any sort of religion as part of our journey.

We don’t need to hear you say that it will happen for us when the time is right. For us, the time has been right since we started trying.

We don’t need to hear your advice about what we should say to our doctor or which tests we should have done. If we want your advice, we will ask you for it.

We don’t need to hear that trying is the fun part. This comment is completely insensitive and untrue. Anyone who has struggled with infertility knows that trying, unsuccessfully over and over again, is not fun.

We don’t need to hear that your pregnant friend only wants a boy, or only wants a girl. What the actual fuck?!?! And while I’m on the subject, do not ask us what we want to have. WE WANT TO HAVE A BABY! That’s what we want. Gender is meaningless to us.

We don’t need to hear you say “just wait until you have kids” while we are in the presence of children. We ARE waiting to have kids because that is all we can do. This isn’t going to scare us out of wanting to have children. Also, our kids will be different because they will be ours (I know all future parents say this, but it’s true).

We don’t need to hear you complain about how your body is changing during pregnancy, or morning sickness, or difficulty sleeping, or just wanting it to be over. Please know that some women would give anything to experience these “problems” and some men would be glad to help their partners through it.

We don’t need to hear your repeated sympathies. Once is enough. And please, for the love of all that is holy, do not give us anything baby related. This is incredibly hurtful.

What do we need to hear? Nothing. If we want to talk about it with you, we will. If we want to share a part of our journey with you, be glad and just listen. Be respectful of our boundaries and keep what we tell you private. It is not your journey and it is not your information to share.

It is our journey.

We know you are trying to help us feel better about all of it, but please realize, this is a sad and frustrating thing and we need to be allowed to feel sad and frustrated. It’s part of the process. We know you care and we know you are thinking about us. We appreciate your love and your quiet support.

We don’t need to hear it. We can feel it. And that’s enough.

We’re already parents

It was a clerk at Rite-Aid who was the first person who got me to admit that I was actually trying to get pregnant. The interaction was short but emotionally charged. And so, I remember it well.

It was three months ago. On my way home from work, I stopped at Rite-Aid to pick up two things – a box of tampons and a bottle of prenatal vitamins. The vitamins were my first purchase towards trying to conceive.

As I approached the counter, my stomach was fluttering from nerves. As the clerk bagged my items, she suddenly stopped and with a confused look she said, “Wait…tampons and prenatal vitamins?!”

I almost died right there in the store. Did I really have to explain my story to this stranger? No, I decided I didn’t. So I smirked and said, “Yup!” Her confusion cleared and she said excitedly, “Ohhh, you’re trying?!” Again, I almost died. Instead, I practically started crying while I choked out a “Yes.” She smiled wide as she said “Good luck!” I ran out of the store and threw my bag in the back of my jeep. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

That was three months ago, after almost seven months of trying to conceive.

Anyone who knows me probably knows that I’ve said many times that I don’t want to have children. This was true. Was. I honestly didn’t think I’d ever become a mother. I never felt that urge or desire to be a mom. I knew others who did, but I wasn’t one of them. And so, I never became one.

I used to see parents out in public with their children and think oh, I’m so glad that isn’t me! Slowly, as I grew older, this thought changed to oh, what if that were me?

I used to look at my husband and only see a husband. This, too, has changed to seeing him as a father. I see all the good in him and think how amazing it would be to pass on his positive qualities.

My husband and I have grown, independently and together, since we married four years ago. A lot. The way we decided to stop trying not to get pregnant and start trying to get pregnant happened rather suddenly. Still, it started as, we’ll see what happens!

As time passed by and nothing changed, we started paying closer attention to all the numbers, signs, symptoms, etc. that go along with conception.

We kept trying.

For ten months.

Ten months of buying tampons rather than home pregnancy tests.

Ten months of the “two week wait” between ovulation and period.

Ten months that lead us to seek advice from our doctor; a painful and somewhat humiliating conversation.

Ten months of seeing babies and baby bumps pop up everywhere. Everywhere.

Ten months of fielding the overly asked yet still inappropriate question, “So when are you two going to have a baby?”

Ten months of hope, disappointment, sadness, frustration, and anger.

Ten months.

We don’t know if it’ll ever be for us. We don’t know what we’ll do if it doesn’t work.

What we know is that in our hearts, we’re already parents. We’re already naming our baby, building the nursery, and thinking of how we’ll handle various parenting decisions. We’re already thinking about how we can raise a kind and courageous child, and how we’ll be strong to enforce consequences and accountability. We’re already thinking about our baby, with a little of both of us, growing and amazing us each and every day.

We’re already parents. Empty arms. Full hearts.

An open letter to the mother of a mentally ill daughter

Judging parenting styles is as old as time. It’s certainly not a novel idea. But it’s so easy. Even a tiny glimpse into how a parent is interacting with his/her child, may give you cause to silently or verbally ridicule them. They’re too harsh, too lenient, too controlling, too permissive, too out there, too boring, too nice, too mean, or too something else.  It’s so easy.

Not being a mother myself, I try my best to keep myself in check when it comes to judging parents. After all, they have the hardest job in the entire world. Props to all the parents out there. 

But, there are also those times when a little judgment is needed. I encountered such a time last night.

My husband and I went out to dinner and were seated next to a mother and her daughter, who couldn’t have been older than 10. Upon sitting at our table and being handed the menus, we were witness to an emotionally distraught little girl withering under the scornful eyes and words of her mother. This little girl was sobbing, not the manipulative cry that 10-year-old girls do when they want their way, but a real, hurting, emotional cry. I immediately wanted to hug this little girl (I may not be a mother but I do have some maternal instincts).

For the next hour and a half, we listened to the mother berate and shame her daughter about her behavior, which became very clear to my husband and I was a result of full blown anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. This little girl was struggling with mental illness, and her mother wasn’t having any of it. I cannot tell you how hard this was to watch.

Well, let me try. It made my skin crawl, my jaw clench, my heart hurt, and my hands want to strangle this mother. This, folks, is a parenting situation that I give myself clearance to judge the shit out of, because it should never fucking happen. Ever.

The following is an open letter to this mother, the words I couldn’t bring myself to say to her face, but words that will hopefully prevent other parents from committing the same detrimental mistakes she did.


 

Dear mother of a mentally ill daughter sitting at the table next to me,

I see you. I see your shifty eyes, your cold stare, and your need to control your child. I see the hurt in your daughter’s eyes as you tell her you’re disappointed that she’s done it again. I see her tears coming stronger as you tell her that you’re onto her “game,” that she has got to stop, that she has upset everybody (every single person) at her summer camp, and that she’s the reason you’ve had to come and get her, to talk some sense into her. I see her shoulders shake as you explain that you’re here to give her the “tough love” she needs, and that her father isn’t here because he isn’t capable of giving her this tough love.

I see your daughter’s self-worth crumbling as you pick apart every single thing she does – “Straighten your fingers,” “Hands on the table like mine,” “That’s not how you hold a crayon,” “You didn’t draw the line right,” “Do you want to order food? Then stop.” Every few seconds, your daughter was ripped from any resemblance of childhood by your commands.

I see you instilling further anxiety into your daughter as you shame her for feeling worried about germs. “There are germs everywhere in life. You can’t be afraid of germs. You can’t do this anymore. You’re upsetting people. Did the waitress pass her germs to you when she handed you your drink? There are germs everywhere, but they die. You can’t let germs bother you. Here, I just touched this crayon to my nose. Now it has my germs. Anyone else who touches the crayon will get some of my germs.” I watch in horror as you reach across the table and shove the crayon onto your daughter’s nose, on your quest to prove to her that germs are nothing to worry about. I cringe as you do this a second time, even when your daughter cries, “Stop!” and physically backs away from you.

I see you unwilling to let your daughter smile, even for a minute, without reminding her of her shortcomings. “See, this is the kid you used to be. You’re having fun. Why can’t you do that at camp? Why do you have to play your game with the camp counselors? They’ve been in contact with me and have told me how you freak out about nothing, over and over.”

Finally, I see you controlling every inch of her as she tries to enjoy her dinner – “Sit on this side,” “Hands on the table like mine,” “Straighten your fingers,” “Don’t crunch your fists like that, it upsets people,” “How do you hold a hamburger? Not like that.” And later, which really takes the cake, “You’ll have to take a break from eating to call your father. He’s really worried about you. Are you ready to call him? Wipe your hands. Are your hands clean? Are they CLEAN?!”

After observing you and your daughter for over an hour, I have a few things I’d like to say to you.

First and foremost, you have a beautiful daughter. She’s struggling and she needs you. This is a pivotal point in your job as a parent. You can be loving, caring, understanding, and supportive, or you can be cold, callous, judgmental, and cruel. Which kind of parent do you want to be?

Second, when you learn of your daughter’s struggles, the right thing to do is to be quiet and listen. Hear your daughter out. Learn why she’s feeling upset and what she needs. She can’t talk if you never shut up. And she certainly won’t open up to you if you judge her, blame her, and shame her for her feelings. Your daughter needs validation that her feelings are neither right or wrong, regardless of how they play out.

Third, your daughter’s actions are not a game to her. A game is supposed to be fun for children. Does it look like your child is having fun? She is not playing you or anyone else. Mental illness is not a game. There are no rules. And your daughter doesn’t want to play; she doesn’t have control over her illness. Any amount of blame or shame you place onto her will not change that.

Fourth, in addition to my third point, if all it took to change someone’s behaviors or feelings that are rooted in mental illness, was to lecture it out of them, our world would be cured. Do you think your daughter wants to ruin her summer camp experience with meltdowns? At 10 years old, she is well aware of how her behavior looks to other people. If she could control her reactions to anxiety, she would. And by the way, she is not the embarrassment here.

Fifth, the appropriate reaction to learning that your daughter’s life is being affected by her fear of germs, is not to say the word “germs” 17 hundred times or to remind her that germs are everywhere. And you can bet that shoving a germy restaurant crayon into her face will not cure her. What you’re doing is building her anxiety and increasing her debilitating fear.

Sixth, mental illness is hereditary. Picking apart and correcting everything your daughter does is a clear sign of your need to control your environment. Take a look into your family history and your childhood. Explore your experiences with anxiety, obsessions, and compulsions, and then seek help. Immediately.

Seventh, the outside world can be cruel and can leave lasting marks, especially on those who struggle with mental illness. Your daughter doesn’t need tough love from her mother. Society will offer enough of that, trust me. What she needs is for you to hug her, hold her, listen to her, and love her, unconditionally. If not you, then who?

Eighth, if your ridicule and shaming doesn’t stop, your daughter is headed towards dangerous life paths. It won’t be long until she has her first suicide attempt, since her self-worth has been cut down to nothing. An eating disorder may enter the picture, since your daughter isn’t allowed to control anything else in her life. It won’t be surprising if she turns to alcohol and drug use to cope with her disorder(s), since she hasn’t been allowed to develop healthy coping skills. It’s inevitable that your daughter will be at greater risk for dating violence, teen pregnancy, and drop out, since children who are not validated or accepted at home so often seek out acceptance elsewhere, even when it comes with harmful and lifelong side effects.

I noticed your daughter didn’t look up very much during your meal. The reason I know this is because I wanted so badly to make eye contact with her, to lend a friendly smile or kind gaze, to shield her from your torment, even if only temporarily. I wanted to wrap my arms around your daughter and pull her close, to tell her that even in the short time I’ve been near her, I can tell that she is beautiful, poised, patient, and kind. I wanted her to know that she is worthy of love, acceptance, and happiness, even and especially when she’s struggling. I wanted to encourage her to be around people who help make her feel good, and that those kinds of people do exist.

And lastly, I wanted to tell her to stay strong and finish out her summer camp experience, so that she can be away from you as long as possible.

Sincerely,

The upset-by-you-and-not-by-your-daughter diner at the table next to you