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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The Goosecamp Adult Coloring Book for New Parents

Apparently, an “adult coloring book” is a collection of very detailed drawings with mature themes, such as flowers or Christianity.

I made my own adult coloring book, which is for new parents. These drawings are meant to relax you, as you color in teeny tiny dots with a marker the dog just tried to eat and get nauseated by your own smell, which is a combination of baby vomit and old poop.

Enjoy.

Drawing 1: You’re Late And You Finally Got Your Baby in the Car Seat and She Used That Moment to Blow Out Her Diaper

 

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Drawing 2: Old Lady in the Grocery Store Parking Lot Yells At You Because It’s 60 Degrees And Your Baby Is Not Wearing Socks To Walk The 100 Feet Between The Store Entrance And The Car And Is Therefore Doomed 

LADY YELLING ADVICE

 

Drawing 3: You Turned Around For One Second And Now Your Baby Has Just Eaten Driveway Gravel

GRAVEL EATING

 

Drawing 4: Your Baby Is Allergic To Pants, Particularly In Public, And Everybody Is Judging You Because Please Put Pants On Your Baby

HATES PANTS

Psst! The coloring book is REAL and available HERE: http://glamcamp.co/collections/for-you/products/a-coloring-book-for-parents

The 10th Circle of Hell: Postpartum Yoga

Welcome to class! Find a comfortable position, close your eyes, and relax.

It is so great that you finally got away from the baby, not that you would ever, you know, not want to be near your baby for five minutes. You read that article about attachment parenting, right? So good. I think we can all agree that going to the mailbox without your baby will probably cause severe emotion problems and bipolar disorder. I slept in my mother’s bed until I went off to graduate school at the Institute of Graceful Bending, and now I’m dating Jude Law’s younger brother who has hair.

Relax and remember, you are in a safe place. The great thing about Equinox gyms is that no one really sweats here? Well except you, but maybe that’s because you wore such a large sweatsuit. Is somebody wearing… barbeque sauce? It smells like ribs in here. I hope no one brought food into class, because I’m allergic to dairy, wheat, alcohol, soy, tree nuts, farmed fish, cheap textiles, and scientific literature. I love juicing so much!

Okay. Surya Namaskar, sun salutation time, guys. Stand at the front of your mats, and then hop or pedal your feet back, coming into downward dog.

Very strong pose, Pringle, just tighten up those hamstrings a little. I’d move them for you, but you’re just too tall! You look amazing, by the way. How old is little Taylee now? 4 weeks? Wow! Well of course she’s sleeping through the night already; your breastmilk is powered by flax, chia, and walnut oil. It’s definitely all about the omega-3’s. I can’t believe you’re back to a double zero size already. Thank Buddha you can get your Lululemon’s customized these days.

Focus on the breath, and exhale into Warrior 1. Nice, guys.

It’s okay if you’re the only person in the class who needs to go into child’s pose every 5 minutes. No one here is judging you. We are just all looking at you to make sure you’re okay. Are you still breathing? It’s really hard to tell with that huge sweatsuit and your more elaborate size. By the way, I think you’re so brave for coming here. Namaste. Oh, you have a little something in your hair here. Ohmygod, is that baby feces? I’m going to need you to buy that mat, okay. Wow.

Core work! Did anyone here have a C-section? No, right? I gave birth at home in a tub of organic eucalyptus flowers, which bloomed the moment my son crowned. I was in labor for THREE HOURS, which sounds so long but really was okay because I just meditated and let my inner goddess guide me. I had a huge orgasm when he came out, and then I had the best quinoa salad. He breastfed no problem.

Oh, really? You had a C-section? I believe we are all entitled to let our intuition guide us, so okay, but wow that really sucks for you huh? Did you try to have a real birth first at least? I should send you this article I read in The Homeopathic Guide to What You’re Doing Wrong, though. I have a monthly subscription. It might change your life.

Savasanah, guys. Lie down in corpse pose, and just totally relax. I’m going to come around and rub some essential oil on your temples, because this room is really starting to smell like lasagna. Seriously, does someone have food in their bag? Because I read this study about why carbs are bad and basically, they stop your brain from functioning. It’s like your neurons see a bagel and are just, bye.

Begin to bring awareness back to your body, like, all of it. You guys did so good today. Most of you seem to really love this new motherhood thing, and are really great at it. If it’s still super hard for you, maybe try reading some more articles and getting more exercise. It’s a really bad time to be so lazy.

Ommm.

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19 Things I Said I’d Never Do Which I Did Within 3 Months of Becoming a Mom

  1. Think that 5 am is a reasonable time of day to get up

  2. Consider a sweatsuit to be a practical, flattering outfit

  3. Own 3 strollers, because they all serve very different purposes, ok?

  4. Have someone else’s poop touch my body and not run screaming into a bathtub full of Lysol

  5. Consider four hours of sleep in a row to be “a real improvement”

  6. Sing Daniel Tiger songs in the shower, and occasionally hum them in public

  7. Have an Instagram feed of entirely pictures of a bald wrinkly blob with eyes

  8. Let a human being drag their hands around on the floor gathering dog hair tumbleweeds and then stick them in my mouth

  9. Memorize a mental checklist of 47 things I need every single time I leave the house

  10. Bite a black bean in half and feed it to someone

  11. Have porn star boobs

  12. Join a bunch of Facebook groups and participate in thoughtful discussions about what kind of rash that is

  13. Get peed on

  14. Post photos to the internet of someone covered in disgusting foods and sauces

  15. Eat dinner in restaurants at 4:30pm

  16. Invent a song about a washcloth

  17. Go to Starbucks with barf in my hair

  18. Tweet a cute garbage can company

  19. Think that one hour alone with a book and a breadbasket is afterlife-level paradise

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How to Make Other New Mom Friends

In 2013, Kyle and I were still living in an Upper East Side studio apartment, a 5th floor walk up over a sushi restaurant named after a brand of family sedan, approximately the size of an upper lip mole. We furnished it with an Ikea love seat, very small bed, and two bar stools. I went to bed early every night, the apartment still reeking of food, and Kyle would sit up on the Barbie couch and very quietly sip a Bud Light and try not to disturb me with his typing.

500 square feet would be a generous estimate

500 square feet would be a generous estimate

As romantic as it was to revel in the many smells that emanated from the miniature bathroom into our shared airspace, we saved up to buy ourselves some more room. We decided on Westchester, which offered a relatively quick ride to Manhattan and plenty of adorable towns where things like $7 pickles and steaming bowls of ramen could be sourced.

Until I got pregnant, we both commuted to the city for work. On weekends, we invited our friends to visit, hosting elaborate dinner parties. We didn’t make local friends because there was really no need; we were both still connected to our city roots.

Then pregnancy, then baby, and I found myself feeling very alone in a strange town, with no one to rely on for things like holding the baby for 10 minutes so I could shower. New motherhood feels incredibly isolating even when you haven’t moved: mothers who work full time all of a sudden have maternity leave to contend with (at least, I certainly hope so). You feel every single minute of the day tick by when you’re not sleeping, and a purple raisin baby is screaming and flailing in your face, and you doubt every instinct you have. My best friend in those early days was Google, who was also a very mighty enemy, frequently sending me into a panic spiral. Also, you probably have poop on your face.

Once I got myself together a little bit (because Lucy started sleeping for more than an hour in a row) and Lu lost her veil of newborn delicacy, we ventured out into the world, desperate for some compatriots.

Here’s what we learned about making new mom friends:

1. Storytime at the library is the epicenter of friendless new mom activity.

It’s like speed dating. As soon as your baby is old enough to swim in the germ pool, go to storytime. The very first time I went, I met two other women, both first time mothers with floppy little nuggets just like Lu. As you sit in storytime, awkwardly smiling while trying to remember the words to the itsy bitsy spider, shooting laserbeams of quiet desperation through your eyeballs at other women, remember that they are also half insane right now. You already have no dignity, because you definitely reek of baby barf, so just go talk to them.

please lick all of these disgusting toys individually. oh! good job.

please lick all of these disgusting toys individually. oh! good job.

The proper method of furthering the relationship without seeming like a potential stalker is to trade email addresses. You can then list a phone number in the email, if you wish. Always sign off with your name plus your baby’s name, because otherwise you will never, ever remember. You will probably confuse all the names anyway, and call many babies by the wrong names, but no one can blame you for this: you probably also are only wearing one shoe and have a booger on your eyebrow.

2. Go to every free introductory class.

Baby classes are hilarious, and also very ridiculous. There are all kinds of weird structured activities available for kids these days, and many offer classes for small babies, too. Many of these are outrageously expensive, but most offer the first class for free. Go to all the free classes, meet moms, revel in the ridiculousness, and then never return.

Yesterday, I needed something to do. It was veterans day and the libraries were closed, so I googled around and found: a baby gym. This gym offers classes once a week to babies under 10 months old for $850 per 6 months.

Apparently 6 months of baby gym time are worth more than my car.

Anyway, we went to the free session, and oh my god. The session started with Coach Claudia talking us through “baby stretches,” where you hold your baby’s legs and gently extend their “quads” and “hamstrings.” We did baby flips which apparently did something to the vestibular something in their inner ears. I’m not sure if the pseudoscience was included or cost extra.

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The highlight was the gym “free time,” where babies could explore their own routines, and by routines I mean crawling around licking stuff.

3. Reconnect with old friends who are new moms.

This one is sort of cheating, but it helps. You know all those people you lost touch with after high school? The ones who also have kids are very fun to reconnect with after you join their parental ranks. A digital support network is a big help on the days you can’t seem to leave the house, or need someone to remind you that you’re not doomed to spend an eternity in a blazing inferno of hellfire because you let the baby watch 15 minutes of Sesame Street so you could look at Instagrams and chug coffee in peace.

Love you, Sarah

Love you, Sarah

4. Maybe don’t wear embossed sweatpants and a leather baseball hat on your first mom meet up.

On the one hand, it’s a good gauge for who will truly understand your soul. On the other hand, it matters very little how much your new mom friends immediately understand your soul, because they will understand why your boob is hanging out of your shirt at a restaurant, or why you haven’t showered in 3 days, and that is more important.

Your new mom friends will not be your old college friends, the ones who know you inside and out, and remember staying up all night with you drinking 99 Bananas liquor and watching repeats of Friends while you eat a very large bag of bagels. While you were in a punk band, they were in a very good small town production of Fiddler on the Roof, or while you are a vegetarian, they might bake whole pig in a pit in their backyard. Maybe you’re an atheist, and they give it up to Jesus.

We can work with this. As different as everyone will be in your brand new ragtag team of sleep-deprived zombie moms, you need each other. These weirdos will become your closest allies, the ones who babysit for you at the very last minute because you desperately need help, who tell you how great you look when your eyeballs are about to fall out of your face, who don’t judge you for feeding your 8 month old nothing but white bread for lunch.

mm!

mm!

Find them. They’re out there, and they need you, too.