Bless This Mess

There’s something wrong with me. Lungs on fire, acid stomach, twelves hours of sharp, jutting pains through my midsection that came and went. I went to the doctor after a quarter of a yogurt made my esophagus light up like a Duraflame. He called for a nurse to be present while he dug his fingers into my midsection: Where does it hurt you, baby?

Maybe an ulcer. I bought $80 worth of prescription drugs at Walgreens on 23rd street and went back to work.

My colleagues asked me how it went. Their eyes clapped shut and opened wide in disbelief when I told them what it might be. How old are you? None of them have children.

The days are so long now. I used to have time to breathe. I remember when weekends were for recovery, when rest was possible, when sleep was more than the gulp of air needed to dive back underwater for another 15 hours. When I find little pockets of space now, a few minutes on the train where I’m not answering emails, half an hour after my daughter finally falls asleep before my face hits the side of the pillow with a splat, I am numb. I play Candy Crush. I have nothing left.

Feeling Things is not my forte. Feelings are messy, uncooked. I’m a planner, an organizer, a doer. I will acknowledge them only when they press me, or are not my fault. They get hurt and I will ask for your repentance. There now, it’s been handled. Keep swallowing.

Feelings have a way of rising up. They do not appreciate being ignored. I drank them down. When that stopped working, I spent hundreds of hours stroking and fondling them in recovery. I opened the door and let them in. I decided we could all live in this body. They settled in, despite hating the furniture.

Now, I’m a mother. There isn’t time.

I leave for work at the crack of dawn, before the sun or my daughter is awake. I walk the dog in the pitch dark freezing night. I pick his steaming shit up with a black plastic bag and feel it warm my hand. I sit on the commuter train with business men in suits with mouths like parentheses who skim quickly through the Wall Street Journal so they can watch Family Guy on their iPads. They wear wedding rings and don’t smell like anything.

At work, I think about cancer. One guy has six kinds of cancer and half an arm. He is not old. My heart breaks open. My brain says, “You are going to die, too.”

There is nothing I want to do more than this work. To keep the anxiety at bay, I walk to the water machine and push the button. Cucumber seltzer. It’s a good prize.

I leave a meeting early and hustle to daycare to pick up Lucy. She doesn’t want to leave. I bribe her into the car with a two-pack of Saltines. At home, she throws a tantrum when I put her down, pick her up, give her milk in the wrong plastic cup. I offer TV and she is happy. She doesn’t want dinner. I microwave something. I eat it out of the plastic tub on the couch while Lucy sits engrossed in cartoon mermen. I love her so much in this moment, where she is happy and my attention is not required.

I try to read her books but she’s impatient. We look for everything in her room that’s yellow. She wants banana, a yogurt, sweet things. She refuses pajamas. She smells like pee. I bribe her to change her diaper. Once the lights are out, she clings to me with force, won’t let me put her down. I sing Baby Beluga over and over again in the dark. When she’s almost asleep, she shoots up, realizing how I’ve tricked her eyelids into heaviness. She shouts for Dada, who is more fun. I leave, and they throw all the monsters out of the bed.

My bedtime routine is 5 things, and I hate them. I do them anyway, and crawl into bed. I play more Candy Crush. I look at Instagram. Women are wearing bikinis and cooking beef short ribs from scratch. I compare myself to them. I click the lamp to black and let a podcast lull me to sleep, filling my brain with someone else’s story.

I take it back. I feel constantly. I feel guilt and shame about not spending time with my kid, and then guilt and shame about being so tired that when I do see her, I want to check out. I am sleepwalking through a room full of people shouting, “Wake up! You asked for this!”

I did. I want all of these things. I love Lucy, how she puts all of the monkey things together in one pile, how she grits her teeth for the camera, thinking that’s what a smile is. I love my job more than any work I’ve ever done before. I love the man with 6 types of cancer and half an arm and I want his suffering to mean something in the larger context of research and fighting and fixing and curing.

Here it is, everything you asked for. Job, daughter, husband, house. Meaning.

I love it. Please don’t take it away. Just tell me: how do I not self-destruct?

I took the day off today, my first day off. I didn’t need to. I feel okay. I am not shitting blood.

I’m reading. I’m lying in bed in a sweatsuit listening to Arvo Part with my dumb cats, feeling stuff. I’m moisturizing. I’m waiting for this aromatherapy diffuser I ordered to be delivered from Amazon. I haven’t decided yet which smell to experience first.

I think they call this a mental health day.

Tomorrow I’ll commute into the city for an endoscopy. An invasive medical cherry on the proverbial cupcake. As a former drunk, I am not not looking forward to the procedure’s required black-out. Sounds like rest, to me.

Bless this mess. Good things are rarely easy.

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via @taprootdoula

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My Cesarean

I did not want a C-section.

I wanted to give birth the “normal” way, which is to say via a nickel-sized slit that had previously only been used for sexy purposes.

I also didn’t want an induction, but I got one of those, too. I was 43 weeks pregnant when “I don’t want an induction” turned into “induce me right now or I’ll slay you.”

I labored for 50 hours before they wheeled me into surgery. I was 5 cm dilated and decided I couldn’t labor for another 2 days before starting to push, if that’s what it came down to. My husband sat by my side and held my shaking arms down as they sliced me open and pulled out my daughter. That was birth.

Physical recovery was difficult. How does one recover from major surgery while also not sleeping and worrying constantly and feeling emotions that had not previously existed? Very slowly.

Emotional recovery takes even longer. While I’m grateful my daughter was born safely, I didn’t want this. I didn’t execute my plan. I failed to give birth the way I should have been able to. These are the thoughts that creep in and strangle whatever ownership I’ve managed to take of my experience. This is the shit that gets to me.

One night, I was laying in bed with my husband and just happened to brush my hand across my scar. I broke down in tears.

Shouldn’t I be over this already?

Does any woman, ever, anywhere, get over the experience of giving birth? No. You’re not supposed to.

This 6 inch slice that cuts across my abdomen exists to remind me that I cooked up Lucy right inside of there. Thanks for the sperm, but I did this myself. I made dozens of small decisions every day for 10 months about what to put in my body, how much to move it, and how to take care of myself in order to grow her exactly how she is. During labor, I made the best decisions I could through excruciating pain, tremendous fear, and piercing self doubt. When they carted me into surgery, I was unbelievably fucking brave. I meditated, I counted, I breathed deeply as they slit me open from one hip bone to the other. “You’ll feel some pulling,” they said, as they lifted my 9 pound baby up into the air. I did that.

Birth is birth, and it made me stronger, softer, braver, and better. And I got this kid to prove it.

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You can read my full birth story here.

Sometimes, I Just Don’t Want to Mom Right Now

At some point, without my permission, my baby turned into a toddler. Now, instead of carrying her around, I’m following her (unless there’s something I really need to do involving two hands, in which case, she absolutely must be held at that moment or it’s power tantrum time).

My one-year-old’s main interests include the following:

  1. Pulling tissues filled with snots out of the bathroom garbage can and trying to eat them (and if you take them away from her: power tantrum).
  2. Trying to get into the dishwasher to play with knives.
  3. Dipping her hands in the toilet.
  4. Throwing 100% of the food you give her at meal times off her high chair tray and onto the back of the dog (think “spaghetti comb” because that’s what I have to do after dinner).
  5. Pretending not to understand what “no” means.
  6. Attempting to fling herself head-first off the couch.
  7. Insisting that you read the same book to her 18 times.

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sharing used toilet paper with mama – so thoughtful

There are moments in our days that are really nice, like when she cracks up about something, or figures out how to put a puzzle piece in the right spot (GENIUS), or makes adorable sounds. But also? Having a toddler is really, really hard, and exhausting, and it caught me by surprise.

Now, in addition to the having to feed, clothe, bathe, care for a baby thing, there’s also a constant battle of wills. She does NOT want you to wipe up her nasty boogers as they slime their way into her mouth. She NEEDS you to let her eat that applesauce pouch right this second or she’s gonna lose her shit. She will look me in the eyes as I say “Lucy, No” and fling spaghetti onto the dog’s head.

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spaghetti

So, I’m tired.

And honestly, if I didn’t have the luxury of part-time daycare (to cover my part-time work schedule), I would be looking for a full-time job. Because honestly, I don’t know if I’m cut out for this all the time. I love every squishy, boogery ounce of Lucy, but doing this for 12 hours a day 5 days a week? Nope. I couldn’t do it.

Admitting this to myself isn’t easy. I still operate under the (incorrect) default assumption that the parts of me that are wrong are just things that need to be fixed, so that one day I can be perfect. It’s like I want to take my 1997 Honda Accord to the mechanic and have him turn it into a Tesla and then not charge me, just because I’m so great. I just want my therapist to boop me with a magic feelings wand and all of a sudden I’m an infallible mom machine.

But instead of doing everything right all the time, I get exasperated a lot. I get impatient. I look at my iPhone.

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here she is feeding printer paper to the dog

I know better than to feel guilty about this. If any of my mom friends admitted to me they felt guilty for this shit, I would tell them they’re nuts. This is totally normal! So what if you look at your phone! So what if you want nothing more than an hour alone after a 12 hour day! That is NOT WEIRD.

And yet.

The internet is a place full of faerie moms, who breastfeed their 11 year olds, and cosleep with their 12 year olds, and whose 1 year olds gleefully slurp kimchee without ruining their clothes. They have faerie babies who never get sick, and all they do all day is run around together holding hands in fields of wildflowers.

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don’t ask me about the last time I vacuumed

By 5pm (or, ya know, noon) I am desperate for reprieve. I am counting down the minutes until my beautiful girl is tucked into that crib, and I can finally sit on the couch with a cup of decaf and watch Top Chef totally alone.

Sometimes I miss it; being alone.

 

Bits and Pieces

I feel naturally unaccustomed to the phenomenon of things coming together in my life. I lived in chaos for so long; waking up every morning sick and groggy, doing the bare minimum at whatever job I hated, seeking refuge against myself and any feelings I had with socially sanctioned numbing agents. I both hated myself and wanted to control everything. No thing or body could help me, because of my devastating uniqueness. I was a very special piece of shit.

Unfortunately, I still feel. Fortunately, I get to feel things now like the sensation of being five and someone tells you a huge chocolate cake is right through that doorway and you can eat the whole thing by yourself, which is what it feels like every day at 4 o’clock that I pick my daughter up from daycare. Mostly, the feelings are good, and sometimes they are absolute magic.

But in allowing myself to be present for all of it, I’m learning to sit with the stuff that is more bitter lemon than rainbow sprinkle. Sometimes, there is the piercing shame of an old stunt remembered. Sometimes, it’s just a feeling in my body, a dark wave that rushes through me before my brain gets the heads up that we are now remembering what it felt like to give birth. I’m not having fantasy contractions, but there’s a peach pit in my uterus that says, “Remember when you felt the pain of everything that’s ever happened to you all at one time? Remember how you clawed your way through the dark? Remember how it felt to hold your baby for the first time and understand what light is?”

I still don’t understand it, because I can’t. I have to feel it.

I hardly recognize myself anymore. My skin is different, particularly where the belly used to be. My breasts hang low. I look more worried.

Lately, I’ve been so productive. I’ve been working almost all the time that I’m not taking care of Lu, or cooking or cleaning the house. It feels good.

But this is old behavior; this is me wrapping my fists around my tiny universe and saying, “I can control you, I just need to work harder at it.” Don’t rest. Keep all of the balls in the air, master juggler. You can do everything all at once, just keep holding your breath.

I can’t maintain it, because as soon as there is a hiccup (an unexpected event, a tragedy, bad weather), it’ll all come crashing down on me. I’m not taking care of myself, I’m working, taking care of other people. (Not because I’m a saint- because no one else will do things right. Because I need to do everything. Because I can’t ask for help. Because don’t you see how much I sacrifice? How much I do for you?)

Yesterday, I took the whole day off. I talked to friends on the phone, ate Pho in Connecticut, told my husband that I appreciated and loved him, and I made art, because it helps me ride the terror of an emotional wave.

Today, I’m committed to loosening the reigns. I will not check every box on the list today. Today I will admit that I am still fucked up from giving birth. Today, I will pick Lucy up at daycare at 4 o’clock and feel the Willy Wonka anticipation. I’ll see her face light up when she recognizes mine, and her crooked, stumbling run for my legs. I can feel it already.

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Motherhood in Sobriety

Three years into sobriety, I gave birth. This is a letter to my daughter about her alcoholic mother.

Dear Lucy,

The second that doctor sliced me open and grabbed you, pulled you out and held you up to the light, I felt a bone-crushing, spooky love that I’d never felt before. My arms were splayed on either side of my body and I couldn’t move them, but they held your cheek up to mine and I felt you. I sobbed hysterically and so did you.

I am a good mother. Today, you are ten months old, so being good means that I read to you, feed you vegetables, build tall towers of blocks for you to knock down, keep you warm, and love you with a fierceness that you never, ever question. It also means that I never take a drink.

Since you’re half my soggy genetic material, I fear someday you might know what I mean.

Drinking made me feel like I fit into my own skin. I was born with a too big, too clunky, too awkward spirit, an amorphous thing, that a god I don’t believe in jammed into a disproportionate, human-shaped meat. Two arms, two legs, all the parts were there, but it felt all wrong.

Taking a drink was like easing into myself. The bitter taste, the slow burn in the throat, the warming in the stomach, and then the release of discomfort, passing in a slow howl, like puncturing a tire. I drank because it made the world make sense, and I made sense in it.

As a young teenager, I learned that drinking instilled in me the confidence I needed to talk to boys. Some of those boys took advantage of me in sickening, disturbing ways. I learned that I couldn’t control what happened to my body when I drank. The only cure for the bad things that happened was to drink more to help me forget.

There were thousands of mornings that I woke up and promised myself that it wouldn’t happen again. Each of those mornings was exactly the same: my eyes flash open; I realize I’m still alive; I check to see where I am; I try to remember how I got there; my head roars like a thunderclap; I tell myself this is the last time. As the hangover dissolves into day, so does my resolve. By six o’clock there’s a martini in my hand, all gin. As I take the first sip, all of the crashing in me starts to calm, nothing but little waves lapping at the shore.

While the first martini squeezes my brain back into my body, the second makes me giddy with excitement. Not only has last night’s replay loop vanished, but now I’m noticing how smart I sound in conversation, how funny my jokes are, how the puffiness and ruddiness of my face add a youthful quality.

Two drinks in and it’s time for dinner; wait any longer and I won’t eat at all. Dinner comes with wine, usually white, at least half a bottle. I feel good, socially apt, sophisticated. I talk about what region the wine is from, where the vegetables were sourced.

After dinner, there’s grappa, Irish coffee, an expensive liquor. I’m teetering on the edge of my chair, saying less now than before, spinning but not badly. I drink coffee to revive myself, because I need to keep drinking. There is an inextinguishable desire woven into my roots that tells me I need to keep going. I quickly think about how much alcohol I have at home: a six pack? Wine? How many bottle are left? One six pack for two people is not enough, because whoever I’m with might drink three. I try to think of a reason to stop at the corner bodega, so I can casually recommend picking up more beer “just to have.”

At home, I crack open the first beer. It’s early, maybe ten. I turn on the television and queue up whatever show I’m currently on. The first beer is ice cold and deeply refreshing. When the first episode ends in a cliffhanger, I push for another one, and then another. In this way, I can drink four or five more beers before heading to bed.

My drinking always had consequences. I drove drunk into a telephone pole and badly hurt my friends. Men abused me. I stopped trying to get anywhere with my life, because as long as I could afford to drink, I was okay. They say a functional alcoholic has a job, but no soul. I always had a job.

I used to wonder if I’d ever be able to have children, because I couldn’t imagine going nine months without a drink. Would I also have to stop drinking if I were just trying to get pregnant? Would that mean a whole year without drinking? Drinking just one or two was never an option for me; one only guaranteed that I would not stop until total obliteration. I drank so I wouldn’t have to feel my life.

One morning, a few years before you were born, I woke up. It was a morning just like all the other ones. I took a minute to figure out where I was (on my couch), how I got there (no idea), and who I was with (my friend Sarah). I noticed the front door to our Brooklyn apartment was wide open, another detail I couldn’t explain. Sarah left, and I dragged myself to the bedroom, where your Dad lay sleeping. I looked at him and said, “I need help.”

That’s what grace is.

By the grace of a higher power I call “whatever”, I made it through that day and night without drinking. I made it through the next day, too. As I sit here writing you this letter, I’ve made it through 1,540 days.

I had to earn those days, one at a time. I had to learn how to sit in my own skin, in all that discomfort, with the shameful memories that snuck up on me and pounced. I had to learn how to go to dinner without drinking, how to watch TV without drinking, how to talk to and relate to other people without drinking. I felt like a teenager again, noticing strange feelings and thoughts suddenly unobscured by the thick fog of a daily alcoholic haze.

After I became pregnant, I’d sit in my alcoholic meetings and cry. I used to not drink for myself, but now I also needed to not drink for you.

When I drink, nothing is more important than figuring out how to keep drinking. I don’t care where I am, who I’m with, how they’re treating me, or how much danger I’m in. I don’t care about anybody or anything besides drinking. I don’t love anybody more than booze.

I’m not going to drink today, and so today I will be capable of loving you. I hope, in this way, I can stack up the days every day of your life. I hope you never have to feel the sting of my absence, because I’ve chosen to disappear.

I love you fiercely. I love you with every deep down particle of myself that I spent years trying to squash.

I urgently hope you don’t share my disease. I hope you grow up knowing how to love, nurture, and take care of yourself. I hope you don’t feel the same pull towards oblivion that I do. I’ll love you even if you do, and I can teach you how to ask for help.

Love,

Mom

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