Being Away

There are many different ways to be away, and I think I’m trying all of them. Motherhood is so demanding, so emotionally heavy, like wearing your heart on the outside of your body for the first time after 33 years of it being safely tucked inside a fortress of meaty ribs. I try alternately to confront all of these feelings, here and there, for a few moments at a time, or let them slip obligingly to the back of my mind, forced out by more immediate and important concerns, like do I have any cold diet cokes left in the refrigerator or do I need to add more.

Lu and I have been traveling frequently, usually to either set of grandparents, because that’s how I get help. Having just quit my job to stay home with Lu, I feel like hiring a babysitter or mothers helper is an unjustifiable, selfish expense, so instead I pack up 200 things every few days, and we drive hours north or east, stop in service stations for bottles of milk and 6″ subs, listen to books on CD or NPR, smile at each other through the defroster lines of the back window of the Ford while I pump gas. When I’m feeling good, I tell myself that it’s good for her to experience new places and people. When I feel bad, I wish I were capable of parenting her all by myself without needing other people.

I try to drown out the emotional weight of things by staying relentlessly busy. I recently replaced Facebook and Candy Crush (a “social media cleanse”) by starting four different books, continuing to spend hours a day creating products for my upcoming business launch, and writing. A new mom friend told me yesterday that she was slightly envious of my productivity. The truth is that it’s sometimes just too hard to hold my baby, look in her swamp eyes, and feed her, because in doing that I feel fucking everything all at one time, in a terrifying, subsuming way, and so instead I put her in a robotic rocking chair and prop her bottle up with a blanket and make yarn tassels in the chair next to her. I wish I could just be present for all of it, but I can’t.

This urge to run away from the love soup I’m full of has been cultivated over many years. I prefer to think than to feel; it’s easier, cleaner, less messy. Everything about babies is fundamentally messy. They wrap you up in the currents of their tornadoes and toss you around until you don’t recognize yourself anymore.

The other urge is more powerful: the urge to stay. The urge to never be away from her. The urge to hold her and stare at her and let everything fall apart.

Feeling this way, internalizing every pin-prick of self-doubt about my ability to wholeheartedly mother the whole heart with two teeth and chubby arms and a bald spot on the back of her head who lives outside my body but is not apart from it, makes me wish I were a religious person. I wish I felt the sense of peace and security that other people feel when, in the words of Donald Trump, they “eat [their] little cracker.”

John Dewey wrote this in A Common Faith, and it makes me feel better about wishing I believed in god:

The actual religious quality in the experience described is the effect produced, the better adjustment in life and its conditions, not the manner and cause of its production. The way in which the experience operated, its function, determines its religious value. If the reorientation actually occurs, it, and the sense of security and stability accompanying it, are forces on their own account. It takes place in different persons in a multitude of ways. It is sometimes brought about by devotion to a cause; sometimes by a passage of poetry that opens a new perspective; sometimes as was the case with Spinoza—deemed an atheist in his day—through philosophical reflection.

A “reorientation” that provides “security and stability” is exactly the thing I want, and what I always try to squeeze out of the comfortably modernized or vaguely spiritual texts that I reach for when I’m overwhelmed by feeling too much. I like how Dewey divorces religious experience from religion with pragmatism, by saying that’s it’s good so long as it’s useful, and can be brought on by anything.

I started rereading a corny but helpful book by an American Buddhist nun about how to meditate and started doing that again. I half lie down, propped up with a bunch of pillows because my back is bad, and I put on a Ravi Shankar mp3 and try to loosen the stress-knots in my brain about work, or drop the narrative I tell myself about the type of mother I am and just be with the fat, oppressive feelings in my chest. That’s another way I try to be away.

I know that the truth is that I’m okay, that I’m doing a good job. Lu is thriving. The decisions I make now to drive to Massachusetts for three days don’t matter that much. I should do what I need to do to stay sane and be happy and just lighten up about everything. I want to do that, too.

What I need to accept now is that it’s okay to be away. It’s okay to drive 150 miles northeast and sit at my mother-in-laws dining room table while she makes me pasta salad and sliced cucumbers and then washes the dishes afterwards. It’s okay to stare into Lu’s eyes sometimes and be completely sucked in, and other times to look at the TV and shield my heart from the whole thing. It’s okay to have a massive, paradoxical, self-deprecating ego that wants to be a hot shit atheist but also to desperately seek the wisdom of some practiced institution that promises relief from feeling, which to me means suffering.

Anyway, who doesn’t like road trips?

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The Failed Listicle: Wear More Jumpsuits, Eat Mud, and Practice the 5 Second Rule with Authority

You know what I did last month? In the throes of a severe depression unlike anything I’ve felt since I was 15 and missed Ani Difranco on her Little Plastic Castle tour, I forgot to book Lucy a 4 month visit at her pediatrician. Forgot! You’re supposed to take babies in once a month for things like vaccines and making sure they’re still healthy and okay, and I just forgot to do that.  Then I beat myself up about it for two days before actually calling to make the appointment. Then the receptionist told me, “You know, it’s really important not to miss these visits.” Well thank you for letting me know.

There are so many small anxieties like these, and they happen all the time. I should really wash Lu’s pacifier more, especially since she throws it on the ground 400 times a day. Two times (okay, three) I forgot to buckle her into her car seat when I was driving (I had to tape a post-it to my steering wheel that says “IS LUCY BUCKLED IN??”). Pretty much every morning while she’s partying in her exersaucer I sneak in five games of candy crush when I should probably just be engaging with her and teaching her world geography. I love propping bottles instead of holding her when she eats, so I can use those 20 minutes to pick up the house or make dinner, but she will probably grow up to be a psychopath because she missed out on that mother-daughter bonding time where we shoot love beams into each others eyes while she drinks milk.

Please don’t let me be the only one who does this: constantly feels bad about my billions of perceived shortcomings as a mother.

In honor of the anniversary of Lucy’s 5th month on planet earth, which is today, I’m going to make a list of some things that I’m doing right. These are the things I need to be reminded of, and these are the things I need to remember the next time I want to shame-spiral because Lucy isn’t eating homemade baby food today because I slept 3 hours last night.

1. We go places. Everyday, rain or shine, I pack up Lu’s things and take her somewhere. Sometimes we go for a nature walk, and feel the sun shine and the wind blow on our faces. Yesterday, we drove all the way to Point Pleasant Beach so Lucy could take her first dip in a swimming pool and hang out with the huge ducks in my uncle’s backyard. Sometimes we go to the mall and people-watch. Whatever it is, I make sure she sees a little bit of the world each day.

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2. I should probably include in this list that Lucy’s every need is met. I feed her, change her, play with her, love her, and make her smile all day every day. Does keeping her alive, healthy and happy count as an accomplishment? This is the thing I need to remember the next time I get mad at myself for giving her a bath 15 minutes early because I’m exhausted and just want to end the day already: she is getting a bath. Wow! I’m the best.

3. God, I’m really hard on myself. I should probably feel bad about that, too. Speaking of, when am I going to lose the rest of this baby weight?

I’m the type who’s always been unnecessarily tough on myself. I’ve never lived up to my own expectations, which are very unforgiving and impossible to meet. But you know what? This is not what I want Lucy to grow up with. I don’t want her to grow up pinching her hips in the mirror and complaining she’s too fat to wear a jumpsuit. I don’t want her to think the B she worked her ass off for isn’t as good as an easy A.

So, in honor of that, I hereby forgive myself in advance for the next time I forget a doctor’s appointment or use the five second rule on her pacifier. I forgive myself for giving up on breastfeeding when it got to be too hard. I forgive myself for not vacuuming everyday and the fact that sometimes she eats a handful of dog hair. And I’m going to start wearing jumpsuits every damn day I want, even if I’m 15 pounds heavier than I was before I got pregnant.

The kind of mother I really want to be is one who drives far in a single day because I think she would like to hang out with backyard ducks. When she’s old enough, I want to take her outside in the dirt and let her get filthy making mud pies (I want to get muddy, too). I want to eat pixie sticks with her before dinner not even on her birthday. I want to teach her how to make costume jewelry out of (whole wheat) macaroni and then not feel bad after I leave the room for two seconds and come back and she’s feeding toxic Chinese paint to the dog.

Lucy, you are LOVED.

I need to work more on loving myself, too.

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I Got Severe Depression from an IUD

Last week was one of the worst weeks I can remember. What started out as a few bad days turned into a bad two weeks, and that snowballed into the worst depression I’ve ever experienced.

When I originally decided to quit my job and be a stay-at-home-parent, I woke up every morning feeling so unbelievably lucky that I’d get to spend another whole day with Lu. I would rock her to sleep and whisper in her ear about her how much I loved her and couldn’t wait for her to wake up so I could see her again. When she went to bed, I’d sit on the couch and look at pictures of her, miss her, ignore even The Bachelorette. I had nothing but stalker-level love for this kid.

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It’s not that I didn’t love her last week, I couldn’t. I woke up last Monday morning in a full-on bell jar, sobbing from the very first moment I lifted her out of her crib, filled with total and suffocating dread at the thought of getting through another week with her. I couldn’t help her, couldn’t parent her, couldn’t give her what she needed (hugs, milks, love). I cried while getting her dressed. I cried making sure we had extra diapers to leave the house with. I cried all the way to my old psychiatrists office, where I said OH MY GOD WHAT IS HAPPENING HELP ME.

Feeling like I was dying would have been preferable. Instead I felt the coupling of dark, self-consuming depression with the thousand pound guilt of wanting desperately to take care of Lu and not being able to. She felt foreign to me and I resented her. I left her floating in outer space and fell into a black hole somewhere, ripped apart by gravity. It was like simultaneously failing and dying, with a splash of shame for good measure.

My psychiatrist did a couple of very helpful things. She said, this is a crisis and you need to treat it like one. Call your mother and tell her you need her to come here right away. And probably you need drugs.

I left her office and called my mother, still sobbing, from the car. Lucy was in the backseat. She dropped everything and drove to my house, three hours away. While she drove here, I desperately texted friends, said please someone help me get through the next three hours. It was unfathomable to me that I’d be alive when she got there (not because I was suicidal, but because I was unfathomably lost). I called my midwife who asked if I thought I was going to hurt myself or the baby, and I broke down at the question. That is the worst question anyone has ever asked me.

When my Mom got here, she held the baby while I walked around in a zombie state crying into a roll of toilet paper. It went like that for a couple days. I cried because I was debilitated by depression, and I cried because I needed to want to be a mother.

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On Tuesday night, Lu got sick for the first time. She projectile vomited into my lap, which I responded to by sobbing. I stayed up all night staring at her, in a panic that she would die from this. I fed her Pedialite in a bottle and cried some more. I played a lot of Candy Crush and hated myself.

The other thing that happened that night was that my IUD started to fall out. I couldn’t walk or lie down without the metal wires poking me, which, are you kidding me, universe?

Please just imagine me at this moment, walking around the house at 2am in a really wide I’ve-been-riding-a-horse-for-10-hours stance, sobbing into a roll of Charmin with milky vomit in my hair. You’re welcome.

Wednesday morning I went to a psychiatrist. We spoke at length, and I left her with instructions to get blood work done and a prescription for an SSRI. I also called my midwife, who was not in the office that day. I told her that waiting one more day to get the medieval torture device out of my vagina is not an option. She took it out.

Maybe I’ll feel better now, I said. I’d heard that some people have strange reactions to IUDs. She told me that was extremely rare.

Within 24 hours of my IUD removal, I felt almost completely back to my old self. I got up in the morning and cleaned my house, got dressed, brushed my teeth. WIthin 48 hours, I felt perfectly normal, totally restored. I woke up on Friday morning feeling happy, competent, cheerful. I stood over Lucy in her crib at 7am, smiled, and told her that I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to get another whole day with her.

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In retrospect, my bad days started right after I had the IUD installed. They got worse the longer I left it in. I’ve felt like my old self ever since they took it out.

I don’t want to be naive about this. There may still be other stuff going on. I’m staying on an SSRI in case I’m having some weird hormonal swings, or this is still PPD masquerading as a few good days. (But please, let this be over, let that have been it).

But man, I’m pretty sure it was that IUD. Fuck that IUD.

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Thank you for all of your letters of support. Thank you for texting me during those 3 hours I thought I was dying and the week that I was in really deep. Thank you for the Turkish saffron and the Lisa Frank velvet art. You guys really know how to make a girl who couldn’t love herself feel like there were people out there picking up the slack.

Sometimes the bravest thing you can do is ask for help. Take it one day, one hour, one minute at a time. Tell your friends you need them. Let your Mom take care of the sick baby while you lie in bed crying. It’s important to let other people take care of you, even when you feel like that’s your job now.