Tag Archives: parenting

Bounce Back

I’ve been trying for months to spit out some words. I have started and then failed to complete any number of thoughts in a way that would be, best case scenario, marginally intelligible to readers. I had more or less given up on the idea of creating useful or insightful content, primarily because every concept I entertained eventually slipped through my sieve-like mind. The mental fog has been so great, I haven’t been able to string words together, let alone thoughts.

There were times when the desperation felt so great, I didn’t want to write at all. I crawled over each task on my belly and every word I attempted to write felt like mountain in a long, desolate range than stretched as far as I could see in either direction. Naively, I believed I was just tired, overwhelmed with work and the stress of raising a toddler. I didn’t see how my mental health was spiraling out of my control until I was on the precipice of a crisis.

The signs of a major depression are known to me and have been for a long time, but I still managed to take the sadness, the intolerance, the anger and loss of interest for granted. Recently, when my behavior escalated into full-blown mania, I couldn’t pretend that I was getting by anymore. Hard to feel healthy and grounded when your mind is propelling you straight into the sun.

I’ve been telling myself to that I need to bounce back. Pick yourself up by the bootstraps and move on. Just get up off of the floor. Stop doing this — get. up.

Every day I am trying very hard to be here.

I recognize that there will always be times that life leaves you in places of despair. This time, in attempts to insulate from those places and those people,  I chose to withdraw back into myself, knowing it was a risk. But I have tried to withdraw in the direction of the Right Things: my husband, my child, my work, my tribe. I have been trying to care for myself the way a mother would, because I know that I need caring for.

“You have to find a mother inside of yourself. We all do. Even if we already have a mother, we still need to find this part of ourselves inside.”
– Sue Monk Kidd, from The Secret Life of Bees

I am searching for that part of me inside that is going to push me to bounce back in the way that I must. The woman who will nurture me and encourage me to try something new. To turn away from relationships and loves that no longer feed my soul. I am trying to identify that voice inside that says, “Get up. Breathe. You can do this. Don’t sell yourself short. Just breathe. Breathe, and go eat a good meal, and wash your hair, and then get in bed early. Get up in the morning at a reasonable time. Go to work. Do your best like you always do. Work, and work on you. And work on those things that are important to you. Brush yourself and the naysayers right off. Trust that you are a good mother. Trust that you know what you’re doing is right, because you know what’s right for you. Leave fair-weather friends behind, and then forgive them. And then forgive yourself, because you are worthy of being loved just as you are, which is just as I made you. Circle back in on yourself when you need to, but grow. And live. And love. And at the end of every day, let your final take-away be this: My darling girl, look how far you have come.

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Crisis

Crisis. An interesting word when you hear it or speak it over and over again to yourself in a short period of time, am I in crisis? I am in a crisis. A mental health crisis, meaning, a moment in time where I am a potential danger to myself, if not others. A moment in which my ability to make sound decisions has come into question. A crisis of consciousness — as in I have TOO MUCH OF IT on account of the fact that I very much want to not exist anymore, not now, not in this moment. I don’t want to be here anymore.

The first year after we lost my stepfather, I would wake up in the apartment that I shared with my mom, his wife, where we lived together still surrounded by his things and when she was in crisis I would sit with her until it passed. In the year after her death, I would be in significant moments of crisis as my boyfriend slumbered peacefully in the bed beside me as I sunk to floor in the cold moonlight and desperately tried to make peace with the sudden terrible desire to die, hating him a little bit for being oblivious to the tempest raging in the room beside him. And now I am here: hours post-triggering event, still slowly circling the drain of my consciousness just waiting to fall off the edge into what? I don’t know. It never occurred to me to care aside from my literary sensibilities warning me away from the phrase “into oblivion” — if you must be crazy, try not be be crazy and also a cliche. Make no mistake, though, that is what I want: nothingness. Perhaps not forever, but just until the storm, this “crisis” passes.

Even if the crisis never passes because it is ME I am the critical component here and the harbinger of my own descent into madness. I am the failure. I am the reason for my own sadness.

I just want to hurt in a way that I can see and touch. A pain that I can feel on the inside and the outside. I want to grasp something tangible and say THIS. This hurts, it is injured and it gives me pain and because I can touch it with my hands not only am I positive that it is real and that it is there, but I am also confident that it will heal someday. It’s a strange sort of drive that makes a person want to harm themselves — mostly, I think, it is the innate desire to have one’s insides match their outsides.

In the middle of the storm, I recorded a few of my racing thoughts. The state of crisis lasted for a few days, which felt bizarre at the time. I think that I have often considered a “crisis” to be a singular moment of tragedy, a precipitating event for a Before and an After. However, after this crisis was triggered, I saw that it bloomed into a complete mental and physical state that took several days to subside. Days during which I didn’t know exactly where I was, except for the few brief moments of clarity and presentness that punctuated the dark.

I caused myself physical harm in that time. Self-harm has been a constant blip on my radar for years, but it’s been manageable. During my crisis, the desire to self-harm bowled me over, seducing me with promises of equilibrium. Where I once felt that I was spinning out of control, my focus narrowed and concentrated on a single point in time, a singular feeling of physical pain that obliterates all other sensation from my mind. In that moment, it was a welcome reprieve, but in the bright light of day I was disappointed and ashamed of myself — not only because I had resorted to self-harm, but because I had allowed myself to be triggered and suffer a crisis at all.

I like to envision myself as fairly invincible. I frequently imagine myself in horrible situations and think myself through the step-by-step reactions I would deploy to control and ultimately survive the situation. In my own mind, I am capable of withstanding absolutely anything. In life, however, I find myself wanting. It becomes clear to me that I am not, in fact, invincible.. I am actually vulnerable and weak, and in many ways, defunct.

I can’t get pregnant. My body seems to have forgotten how to make itself a host for a new life. Despite trying for over a year, we’ve come no closer to growing our family, and I know that it’s my fault. I can’t get pregnant and my heart is broken. This isn’t how it was supposed to be. I think back to all those times as a teenager, my girlfriends and I taking turns with the awful possibility that we had gotten in trouble. Too young to be mothers, so we prayed and prayed please God don’t let me be pregnant. Now all the manic energy that went into counting the days until we bled has been translated into a deep emotional clenching trying to hold it in and support a life that we are desperate to give birth to. There was a genetic legacy that I was rather depending on, that I have since been discouraged from cashing in. None of the women in my family have been infertile; at least, not that I’m aware of. One of the last things my mother ever told me what was a good mother I would be someday, speculating how easy for me it would be to get pregnant once I was ready, and I believed her, of course, because mother knows best.

So now a new crisis: a crisis of faith. Ever the believer, ever the hopeless optimistic, I’ve not yet given up the dream. But it has cost me no small measure of peace to hold on with such determination, as if I could, by sheer force of will, make myself conceive. It’s ridiculous. I am no Mary and there is no reason to expect Divine Intervention. After all, it’s not exactly uncommon. Secondary infertility, the inability to become pregnant despite previous successes, happens to a fair share of women. Though if I’m honest with my myself, the birth of our daughter nearly three years ago is truly nothing short of a miracle. We struggled to get pregnant, and I struggled to carry her past those first tremulous weeks where it seemed all too likely that she would just slip away, out of my body and out of existence. It would appear that Moira, fated to be born, was the exception, and that my wasted body, this useless mass of flesh, has no miracles left to give.

Every wretched cramp that twists my insides, every drop of wasted blood, every excited announcement of another woman’s fecundity is a thorn in my side. Salt in the wound. I am so angry, I want to scream at someone. I want to make another person feel as hurt, as dispossessed as I feel. I want to give this grief a name and a purpose and to make this pain wearable, apparent. I want everyone to know I’m a fucking open wound, just walking around, waiting to hurt.

And then, the guilt. As I’m reeling through these feelings of loss and failure, a part of me comes to attention to remind me, with cruel alacrity, that I am not, in fact, as disenfranchised as I may feel. I have a beautiful daughter. I have a wonderful career that I love, and a family that loves me, and there are starving people in China, for crissakes, so what’s your fucking problem? You are not a victim. I am not a victim of anything or anyone except myself. I ought to be focusing in on the good things in my life with humility and gratitude. After all, there are scores of women out there, some of whom are close friends, who have been unable to conceive at all. At least I have one child. One perfect, lovely, intelligent, beautiful child. I shouldn’t be so selfish, so greedy, as to wish for more.

But it just isn’t fair. Perhaps it’s the Libra in me, this constant preoccupation with fairness that so brutally trips me up when life becomes chaotic and unreasonable, as it is wont to do. Life isn’t fair, of course, and I know that. But I’m stubbornly resistant to the notion, unwilling to capitulate to fate. I reckon that if I do everything right — if I eat right, I exercise, I keep healthy, I take my vitamins; whatever — if I do all the right things, then I ought to get the outcome that I want. That’s how we’re often taught to look at problems, excepting for those insurmountable challenges that are so far out of our hands that we are instead told that it’s God, or the Universe, or Fate, that will decide. Just be patient. Relax. Whatever is meant to be will be.

What rubbish.

I am, or at least, I have considered myself to be, a spiritual person, but instances like this test my faith. It incenses me to hear that “God has a plan” or “You never know what the Universe has in store for you.” Bullshit. I have plans. My plans aren’t good enough for God? The Universe is withholding my happiness from me because It knows better? Ridiculous!

These are the uncharitable, heathenous thoughts that intrude upon me every waking moment. I am painfully aware of how unreasonable my sadness and frustration have made me. As this writing has proven, I vacillate between petulance and shame frequently. I am struggling to float, let alone rise above the tide. Yes, I ought to deploy some focused gratitude, and center myself around what is really important. Yes, I am at the mercy of my biochemistry in some respects, but I am responsible for how I respond to the changes in the tide. I am aware of these truths and more, but the sadness and disappointment are indefatigable and merciless. I am as trapped within my spotty mind as I am within my troubled body. What is broken cannot always be mended.

 

My Monkey, My Circus

She is my daughter. My charge and my responsibility. I get to make the calls, decide the treatment, and set the course of action. She is my monkey. This my my circus. And there are days that I haven’t the slightest clue how to conduct the show.

There are a lot of things that they don’t tell you about being a parent.

That there is just about the most common thing you hear, ironically. So common as to be a cliché. I mean, with all of the parenting books, websites, blogs, random strangers giving you advice, friends and family imparting parenting wisdom — how could there possibly remain something that they don’t tell you?

I think I know the answer: they don’t tell you because they don’t want it to be true. The truth of the matter being that parenting comes with a big, heaping dose of shame.

Shame for different reasons, though. Maybe because you didn’t breastfeed, or because you use those awful, eco-disaster disposable diapers. Shame because you do (or don’t) ascribe to a parenting philosophy, like “the gentle parenting method” or “the Montessori approach”. People will give you stink-eye for just about anything: how you make your child’s food, where you buy your child’s food, organic versus mass-produced versus vegan, home-care versus day-care, TV versus no TV, et cetera.

The worst shame, the most taboo, is the shame of wanting a break. That is most common, most stigmatized, and most under-rug-swept dirty little secret that parents can harbor. Sometimes we are simply and completely maxed out.

Doesn’t seem that the world has a great deal of compassion for us poor bastards. There’s no chapter in any parenting book that I have ever picked up that gives you tools for how to keep on keepin’ on when you’re just about ready to throw your hands up in the air, say “fuck it!”, and let the little bastard have their third cookie if it will just shut him up.. There are no online support group for parents to talk, openly and without censorship, about how they just don’t enjoy parenting some of the time. (Except maybe this one.)

No one warns you that some days, you won’t like your child very much, and that’s all right. Nah, we judge the hell out of parents who have the temerity to admit their feelings, saying things like, “Well, you were the one who chose to have them! It’s not the kid’s fault — she’s only a baby!” and “Didn’t you realize what you were getting into? Parenting isn’t easy, after all.” “What on earth are you bitching about? Isn’t not that hard.”

But the thing is that yes, it really is that hard. Even though I knew what I was signing up for, even though I even anticipated a colicky, unmanageable child much worse than the one I eventually got, there was no way I could possibly have been prepared enough. And while I understand that M is a small child who lacks the ability to control her actions, she is sometimes a tiny, tyrannical sociopath and the truth is, it gets to me.

I can’t help it. I love my daughter absolutely and completely. I have never, would never, consider a life without her. Being a mother has been a gift unlike any I have ever known. That being said, I would like very much to be able to take a short break from motherhood, in order to reacquaint myself with, well, my self.

There are things I used to do for myself that I simply haven’t the time or money to do anymore. Parenthood has robbed me of my ability to self-care. I can’t tell my daughter that her screaming is giving me an anxiety attack. I can’t explain to her that I have been feeling very depressed and low-energy, so I need to return to bed for a day. I never expected that my feelings could be hurt so swiftly by her capriciousness, that her coy refusal to give hugs and kisses would stir my feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem.

I was prepared be tired. I knew there would be tantrums. But I never fully appreciated how sleeping in two days a week was integral to maintaining my sanity. I never understood how much I needed those quiet, isolated hours spent underneath the duvet in my darkened room. It didn’t occur to me that once I started caring for my daughter, seeing to her every need, that I would no longer be able to care for my own, or that my emotions could be so heavily influenced by hers.

It feels somewhat trite to muse over all the things I don’t like about being a parent. As I said, it’s an amazing gift, and one that I jealously anticipated. My husband and I are already planning Baby #2 (A second one! My god!) because we have always known we wanted to have a nuclear family. I am also acutely aware that there are many, many people unable to have the family that they dream of, which throws my words into rather harsh light. Still, it is my truth, and the unspoken truth of many: our love is boundless and unconditional, but our patience is not. The fact of the matter is that we are only human, and repeated trials by a demanding two-foot-tall bully will deplete our mental stores. It can’t be helped. Sometimes, the ringleader of the circus needs to leave the monkeys to their devices and exit the tent.

Separation Anxiety

I have been blessed with a child who is flexible, pleasant, and joyful. She is also loud, opinionated, and relentless. So when Moira’s godmother and godfather offered to take her for the whole weekend to allow me some much-needed rest, I leapt at the chance, particularly when they offered to watch her over this weekend, as I have just had my last two wisdom teeth pulled and I fully intend to spend the next few days hopped-up on painkillers, eating Jello, and watching bad TV. Hey, you recover your way, and I’ll recover mine.

Jello: It's what's for dinner.
Jello: It’s what’s for dinner.

I’ve been looking forward to and dreading this weekend in equal measure. First of all, I’m not a real big fan of having teeth pulled. It’s painful and uncomfortable and it prevents me from eating solid food. On the other hand, SLEEP. I get to sleep in for two whole days in a row; a decadent, delightful vegetative treat. I’m really looking forward to indulging in that prolonged unconsciousness. On the other-other hand, though, I’m going to miss my baby. Since the day she was born and was whisked away to the NICU for the night, I’ve always been anxious when we are apart. So far, she has only ever spent isolated nights away at her grandparents’ houses and I have always rushed to pick her up the next day. When I’m home without her, I am at a complete loss as to what to do with myself. What do I do when I’m not acting as Mommy? While I’m anxious and troubled, however, Moira has proven to be as carefree and cheery as ever. I’ve never received a call in the night from a sleep-deprived Nani or Grampy with a screaming infant in the background. No desperate pleading for tips to get her to eat, or ways to decrease her crying — because she doesn’t cry. She is blissfully unperturbed. As always, my darling girl is too busy loving life to feel anything but elation.

Unbeknownst to me during my pregnancy, I had conceived the Anti-Sarah: a child so delightfully unlike me as to be persistently effervescent, filled with sunshine and happiness.
Unbeknownst to me during my pregnancy, I had conceived the Anti-Sarah: a child so delightfully unlike me as to be persistently effervescent, filled with sunshine and happiness.

This has confirmed something that I have always secretly believed about becoming a parent: by some miracle, there are times when neurotic, emotional people have kids and witness these children turn out far better adjusted than the parents have any hope to be. Hallelujah! Honestly, I consider it a triumph: so far in my daughter’s 16 months of life, I have not managed to imbue her with any of my anxieties or neuroses. She doesn’t have any trouble sleeping over at her Auntie’s house because she is loved and secure. My daughter has no worries. Score ONE for Mommy! I’m not sure how long this will last, of course. Right now, she is fairly unaware of my struggles and idiosyncrasies, but that will not always be the case. I will have to continue to monitor myself and wage my personal war in private if I am to avoid exposing Moira to my various insecurities. I know from experience how important this is — I see in myself so many of the same feelings and manifestations of self-loathing that my own mother had. That is not the legacy I want Moira to grow into. My mission in life will be to preserve my little girl’s outlook (sunshine and rainbows included), so that the only one who has to suffer separation anxiety — or any other sadness — is me.

The terrible, inescapable joy of toddlerhood

I did not have rose-colored glasses on when I looked forward into the future and saw myself as a mother. I knew that there would be sleepless nights, unbearably disgusting messes, and futile tantrums.  During my pregnancy, I had prepared myself to give birth to a child much like myself — and according to family mythology, I was no picnic. I pictured myself nurturing a squalling mess of a newborn, overcome by colic; a disagreeable little potato-person who wouldn’t let me leave her sight without wailing, just like her mommy before her. I was pleasantly (to say the least) when M was born and she was perfect. Perfectly formed, perfectly darling, perfectly perfect in every way. She was a good sleeper, a good eater, and she loved people. The only time she really kicked up a fuss was when her FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) kicked in. When she settled into a routine around 4 months old, I rested easy — maybe this wasn’t going to be so bad, after all.

Okay, so maybe I had some rose-colored shades hanging around my neck, but I swear, I really wasn’t picturing Maytag-commercial levels of parenting bliss. I was ready for anything — until she morphed, slowly but completely, into a tiny tyrant, willfully defiant just for the simple joy of watching me lose my shit.

We had entered the Toddler Zone.

100% of toddlers just want to watch the world burn.
100% of toddlers just want to watch the world burn.

All of a sudden it seems that my delightful, joyful little girl has become hellbent on making me turn into the worst possible version of my own mother, screaming admonitions through my clenched teeth and wielding an open palm, posed to strike a diapered butt. This is not the parent I want to be, but damned if it doesn’t come naturally.

Other mothers know what I’m talking about, but women are so damned competitive, most of us would rather floss with barbed wire than admit to our shortcomings. Not to mention the fact that parenting is an art that we all consider ourselves to be masters of: hindsight, it seems, is not exactly 20/20 when looking back at the first few years of your child’s life and recalling with perfect clarity the successes, but not so much the failures or struggles. Whenever I broach this subject with more “seasoned” parents, I hear “Oh, I know exactly what you mean. You really ought to try this…” followed by a stream of well-meaning advice that certainly may have worked for them, but doesn’t fulfill my immediate need of someone to commiserate with.

I mean, advice is welcome and it is typically well-intentioned, but sometimes I don’t want to hear about your parenting philosophy which has been vetted by child psychologists and is tried and tested and true. Can’t you tell me about the time you wanted to drop your screaming toddler and run in the other direction? Or about how you tried every approach you could think of or read about to discipline and redirect them, but nothing ever stuck? I want to hear about how you were at the end of your rope when your 15-month-old decided to pour juice over their head for the second time while watching you with an impish grin on their face, blissfully ignorant or apparently disinterested in your distress. THAT’s the story I need to hear, while gazing in wonder at your polite, well-behaved 4-year-old who, eventually, grew into a charming little person. I want to hear that all three-year-olds are assholes, and that toddlers are, by definition, tiny sociopaths who, like the Joker, don’t know why they need to do the terrible destructive things that they do, but they simply must. Those are the stories that give me hope that we really will survive this, and that my child is not actually trying to give me an aneurism.

She might just succeed though.
She might just succeed though.

This isn’t to say, of course, that I’m no longer enjoying myself. Even when M is being a tiny monster, she’s still pretty cute (God made them that way on purpose so we wouldn’t kill them, you see). I just find myself uttering the words “Parenting is hard” and “I’m so fucking tired” more and more these days, living for those moments when she’s exhausted and cuddly, before she becomes a little hellion again.

toddlernoun
She is equal parts lovable and maddening, and I wouldn’t have her any other way. Well, okay, maybe I’d have her be a little less interested in climbing the furniture, but that’s about it.

The Momma Bear Protocol

Parenthood — motherhood in particular — comes loaded with a lot hidden programming. Sure, there’s a lot they don’t tell you — I did not anticipate, for example, having my moderately sized 36Bs landing in the 40F range by the time it was all over.

Poor High-School-Boyfriend. He missed out. But at least he's related to the Pumpkin King. Still has that going for him.
Pre special-order bras. Poor High-School-Boyfriend, he really missed out. But at least  he’s still related to the Pumpkin King. He’ll always have that going for him.

Besides boobs more massive than Husband or I could ever have dreamed of, there’s also the ability to diagnose minor ailments by glancing inside a poopy diaper, and the somewhat less desirable ability to hold protracted conversations about what I have found within those diapers.  But there are also things I wouldn’t have believed, things that well up from deep within.

There exists an intrinsic desire to care for every aspect of your child’s well-being, to make sure that they are safe at all costs — it is deep, lizard-brain,  instinctual caveman shit. And if you’re a mom, I speak primarily of the Momma Bear Protocol.

Yeah, I would want to tango with that gal, either.
Yeah, I would want to tango with that gal, either.

As a new mother, you may not realize that you have downloaded this critical programming until after you have given birth. Perhaps not even until long after, not until your child stumbles unwittingly into a situation of some minor threat or danger, and you quite suddenly find that the rational, pleasant, complimentary person you once were has suddenly left the room and a wild, raging animal has taken her place. The Momma Bear Protocol has been activated.

God help you, you poor, unfortunate soul.
God help you, you poor, unfortunate soul.

Perhaps the most surprising this about the Protocol is that there are no caveats or exceptions: it applies to all offspring (it can even apply to children under the care of the Momma Bear but not otherwise related, or children who are in the vicinity of the Momma Bear but not witnessed to be under the care of another Momma Bear) and the Protocol contains no fail-safes or contingencies for the other caretakers of the child or children, nor the inherent integrity of those caretakers — if they fuck up, GOD HAVE MERCY ON THEIR SOULS.

I'm comin' for ya.
I’m comin’ for ya.

Case in point: the night my husband accidentally locked me out of the house while our infant daughter slept upstairs.

He didn’t mean to do it. He works nights and he was running late, so in the rush to get in the house, change clothes, get back outside, and switch cars with me, things got a little hairy. He assumed I had my house keys. I assumed that anyone with a brain would know better than to lock the door with an infant in the house and no adults inside. Clearly, there were some failures in communication somewhere along the way. Be that as it may, none of of that really mattered once I was standing on our porch, listening to my daughter cry upstairs, with no way to get to her.

Momma Bear Activated: I broke the window next to the door, reached in and threw the lock.

Moira was fine, of course. She was already back asleep as soon as I was in the house, but that didn’t mean that I was any less hysterical. I called my husband’s cell phone and, in a voice that was two decibels higher than dog’s can hear, left a message that would have melted his ear off, had he been able to understand me. He called back to apologize, but it wasn’t until he came home the next morning to take in the broken window and my messed up arm that it really sunk in.

The moral of the story: Don’t mess with Momma Bears.

I amend my earlier statment: I wouldn't want to mess with her, unless she messed with my kid. And then I would poleax her, and grind her bones for breakfast.
I amend my earlier statement: I wouldn’t want to mess with her, unless she messed with my kid. And then I would poleax her and grind her bones for breakfast.

Adventures in Parenting: When the doctor asks follow-up questions.

This post has been a couple weeks in the making, because, you see, I wanted to have some facts, some answers, before I told any part of this story. Otherwise too many people would have read this and then agonized right alongside me as I waited for a neurologist’s consult, a test, a diagnosis — all the things that follow the heart-stopping moment when your pediatrician starts asking too many follow-up questions.

Let me explain:

M had her six-month check up on the second. We went over the usual stuff: height (50th percentile), weight (50th percentile), head circumference (95th percentile… kid’s got a big melon). Then we talked about her eating habits and her development. That’s when I brought up the funny “head-dipping” thing that Moira had been doing the last few weeks — she’d be playing or sitting in someone’s lap, what have you, and then her head will drop until her chin hits her chest. She’ll stay like that a moment or two, then pick her head up and carry on doing whatever it is that she was doing before. I thought it was a kind of funny, idiosyncratic thing that she was doing — until our pediatrician released a litany of follow-up questions while furiously typing information into her computer. “How often is she doing this? Are her eyes open the whole time? Does she respond to her name?” When I thought about it, it was happening at least once a day. Her eyes were always open, unblinking. She didn’t always pick her head back up when we said her name.

And that, my friends, is when the red flag went up.

Once she had asked all the questions she could think of, our doc slowed down long enough to say that it looked like M was having petit mal seizures, not uncommon in children her age and mostly benign. She was going to get a neuro consult and get back to me. So we went home and waited. Ultimately, it would a week for Moira to get an EEG and another few days for the results. And thank God, or Buddha, or the Great Powers That Be: she’s fine. Nothing on her EEG to indicate that she has any kind of seizure disorder. Hallelujah.

But first, Moira got to try on a snazzy new hat.
But first, Moira got to try on a snazzy new hat.

It was a learning experience for me: coming to terms with the possibility that something could be wrong and managing to respond without the fight-or-flight response. A great deal of my anxiety stems from losing two parents to cancer and the ensuing post-traumatic stress. I’ve always been a worry-wort, but when my stepdad and later my mom got sick and died, it did a real number on my ability to codify which fears were rational and which were not. There I was at 21, living in another state far from my remaining family, having just lost both parents, just as I always feared I would. What does it do to a person to have your worst fears realized and come out on the other side? For me, it confirmed (in my addled, depressive state) that the worst possible thing can, and will, happen — so you had better be on guard at all times. That heightened sense of impending disaster became the background music to my whole worldview. I was always — always — waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I’m proud of myself for beginning to come out from under that cloud of anxiety. It’s evident in the way I responded to Moira’s potential diagnosis — I didn’t panic. I didn’t obsessively search the internet for every vague disease that she could be suffering from. I was certainly nervous, and yes, I cried a little when confronted with the possibility that my child was ill, but I handled it. And the proof is in the pudding, so to speak.

Yup, here we are, and I'm keeping my shit together like, "Whoa, I'm the mom now..."
Yup, here we are, and I’m keeping my shit together like, “Whoa, I’m the mom now…”

Best laid plans

I guess you hear it all the time, but until you’re neck-deep in motherhood you never quite realize how irrelevant all of your plans are. I have daydreamed about becoming a mom since I was a teenager — I knew what names I liked, what kind of clothes I wanted them to wear, how I was going to care for them. I had visions of sweet, cherubic faces dancing in my dreams like proverbial sugarplums. Courtesy of college family resources and psychology courses, I knew how to facilitate every stage of their development. I had every intention of a doing prenatal yoga, undergoing natural childbirth, being an unapologetic breast-feeder. And then I got pregnant and realized that life doesn’t give a shit about my plans.

If you want predictable, you're better off with the board game.
If you want predictable, you’re better off with the board game.

I didn’t even know I was pregnant until I almost lost the pregnancy. Unbeknownst to me, I was 6 weeks pregnant when a gush of blood signaled that something was very wrong. In the emergency room, they confirmed I was pregnant, then told me not to get my hopes up: “At this point, if your body is going to spontaneously abort the pregnancy, there’s nothing we can do about it.” So we went home and prayed. We prayed for three straight weeks until I went to first ultrasound and saw the heartbeat. Finally, I was able to breathe again — my body hadn’t betrayed us and killed our baby.

The rest of my pregnancy was smooth sailing, though not entirely what I had expected. I was way more tired, my body under way more strain, than I had been prepared for. Forget about yoga, walking the dog, or getting up off the couch — I’m willing to go from bed, to work, and back to my sofa, and there’s nothing you can do to convince me otherwise! Forget the well-rounded pregnancy diet, too. If it smells good, I’m going to eat it, and I can’t be held responsible if animal proteins aren’t on that list.

It turned out okay though. We made it to November without incident, my OBGYN complimenting me on being the easiest patient on his roster. Having read about the correlations between epidural use and increased likelihood of complications leading to Caesarian section, I was hoping to experience natural childbirth. I read everything I could get my hands on, interviewed friends, developed a birth plan with my doctor, and practiced breathing exercises. I drafted my friend as a doula. We stocked up on calming essential oils and packed my bag to allow for a quick departure to the hospital. As we approached my due date on November 9th, I felt we were pretty well prepared for the inevitable. Baby had been locked and loaded since the end of October and all signs pointed to a timely delivery. I did everything the Big Book tells you to do in order to help things along: had sex, walked around the neighborhood, exercised on one of those gigantic balls. Short of puncturing my own water bag with a knitting needle, I tried everything. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be: at two weeks past my due date, we threw in the towel and acquiesced to an induction by Pitocin drip.

You know what happens when you go into labor under Pitocin?

Hint: It ain't pretty
Hint: It ain’t pretty

Well, first of all, your contractions tend to be twice as long and a million times as intense as those caused by the natural labor-inducing horomone, Oxytocin. Try managing six hours of teeth-gritting, horrifyingly protracted spasms in your gut — I couldn’t do it, so I opted for the epidural. It made the pain go away, but not the long, arduous contractions that were squeezing my baby every three minutes. Her heart rate dropped from 120 beats-per-minute down to 60. Turns out my daughter couldn’t handle the Pitocin, either.

I bet you can guess what happened.

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Yeah, that’s me, crying tears of, “Oh my God, what the fuck? One moment I was in the L&D room and the next I was rushed into surgery, holy crap, they’re cutting me open.” The whole time I lay strapped to the surgical table, arms spread out like Jesus on the cross, I kept thinking, “Ok. Well, so I didn’t get to labor the way I wanted. And now my delivery is going to be very different from what I had planned. But she’ll be here soon. And then we’ll cuddle and do the skin-to-skin thing that everyone’s always going on about, and everything will be fine.” Even after Moira was born, though, things went a little off-plan: she spent the night in the NICU, and I spent in the night in recovery. Once we were reunited, we had to learn how to breastfeed, and that didn’t come easily either. As we struggled, Moira and I, to hit our stride, those last visions I had of myself as Earth-Mother Incarnate went out the window. This was the big leagues. It was about survival, by any means necessary.

And it continues to be. I’m definitely not a crunchy-granola kind of hippie earth-mother I thought I’d be. Despite what I learned in FAM-R or Childhood Psychology, I don’t actually manage to pick her up every time she cries. There are even times when I leave the room and make her fend for herself while I run to the bathroom to pee (gasp!). Now, we’re on to solid foods — will I manage to make everything from scratch and eschew store-bought baby food? Only time will tell. I still have moments of panic when my plans go awry, but then there are certain things I can’t bring myself to get huffy over. It’s just much, much easier to go with the flow. From conception, to gestation, to delivery and beyond, nothing happened quite the way I had intended it to. I think I’ve made my peace with that.

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She looks pretty well-adjusted, after all.

The Swing

We all know teething is a special hell that God sends parents to, like being sat in the corner for timeout. Now you just sit here and think about what you’ve done! We chose to have offspring, so now we must live with the consequences. Our four-month-old is just starting on this hellish roller-coaster, making her sleep patterns erratic at best and nonexistent at worst. Complicating things further is my rampant, currently untreated, insomnia. Once I’m up, I’m up — no number of sweet, fluffy Serta sheep is going to get me to go back down again. Lucky for me, I’m not in this alone. My hubby is pretty good about taking one for the team so I’m not always responsible for investigating each cry. But given the fact that we have both become incoherent zombies due to lack of sleep, we have been suffering a few lapses in communication. Case in point: The Swing.

A perk of being one of the last couples we know to jump on the baby bandwagon, we’ve benefited greatly from their shared knowledge and their hand-me-downs. One of the best things we’ve received so far is a Graco Glider. This sucker is a six-speed, vibrating, baby-soothing master machine with 10 lullaby choices and an attractive bucket seat. But like all things magical and legendary, when passed on to intrepid new adventurers it arrives with a warning: Use sparingly, lest your little angel become accustomed to sleeping while in motion, and never sleep without it ever again. But Lord help us, we have been weak! In weeping desperation after trying and failing to soothe Moira ourselves, we have slunk shamefully to the Swing, buckled her in, and collapsed back on to the bed in a heap. I know it’s wrong, but it feels so gooood.

I’ve known for a while now that we have to put the kibosh on slumbering in the Swing but then she started showing signs of teething, which included late-night restlessness and frequent waking. Now, we as parents have become dependent on the Swing for our own sleeping needs. Such was the case night before last, when I lost that internal argument with myself and after trying for an hour to get her to settle down, buckled her in to the Swing before crawling back to bed myself, thinking that her dad (who works nights, so goes to sleep and wakes up much later than me or the baby) would put her properly to bed when he came upstairs. Alas, that was not to be.

At 2am, when M woke for a feeding, she was still in the swing. I picked her up, nursed her, and while Will was still sleeping, put her into her co-sleeper beside me. Twenty minutes later, I was back asleep, only to be awoken by M’s fussing around 4am. I reached over and swatted at Will, “Babe, your turn.” He didn’t move. Using only what could be called “necessary force” to wake him from his mild, selective-hearing coma, I smacked him again. “Babe! Your. Turn.” And bless his little heart, he finally rose out of bed to tend to our girl. Pleased that I had managed to pass the buck without sufficiently activating my brain to cause sleeplessness, I started to drift back to sleep. Then I heard it: The Swing had turned on at the foot of the bed. M had been in the swing for a few hours when I first went to sleep at 10, and now she was going back in for the night. A red warning light went off in my mind: No. Swing, bad. Must. Rock. Baby. To sleep. But I’m a little inarticulate when sleep-walking, so I think I just managed to fling myself out of bed, snatch M from my drowsy spouse, and walk her to the nursery. After changing her diaper, giving her a pacifier, rocking in the glider and singing songs for an hour, she finally, blessedly, went back to sleep.

At this point, I was a little miffed that I had been the one to put her back to down — though I knew it was my own damn fault for being at first too tired to tell William I didn’t want her back in the swing that night, and second, too distracted to set up ground rules in the first place. But in the spirit of all people recently robbed of precious, precious REM sleep, I only had room in my brain to be pissed at the man for making me do it. I tucked M into her crib and  walked down the darkened hallway back to our room. Glancing at the clock before I settled in, I saw that it was 4:55. My alarm was set to go off in little over half an hour. Whoo, whoo! chimed a voice in my head. Spousal Abuse Express, your train just pulled into the station. All aboard!

However, I did not throttle my now sleeping husband about the head and shoulders. I cried a little on the inside, so as not to disturb him (I’m so fucking sweet, it makes my teeth hurt, I thought.) and I went downstairs to make some coffee, where upon walking into the kitchen I was confronted with a mountain of dishes. Toot, toot! Last call! Deep, cleansing breaths, now Sarah.

It was a close thing, but you’ll be happy to know: He survived to live another day.