Category Archives: Parenthood

Subculture Subconscious

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This is a draft of a post from July 15, 2013…back in the deep throes of my postpartum depression and new motherhood. It’s unfinished. I didn’t post it, because what was there to say? What point was there to make? That this new life was difficult? That I was dying? But I want to post it now.

It’s not like this anymore, but I wanted to put this up, because it’s like this for a lot of people. And if I’m honest, I still have moments that remind me of these:

 

Motherhood.

I literally felt like I was slowly dying. Like when people asked me how I was doing (“How are you?”), I would answer, “I am slowly dying.”

For the record, responding with “I am slowly dying” is a conversation-killer. There’s not much you can say to that. Except, “What?”

To which I would reply, “I am slowly dying.”

There’s not much you can say to that. Except, “What do you mean?”

To which I would reply, “I am slowly dying.”

There’s not much you can say to that. Except, “What’s wrong?”

To which I would reply, “I am slowly dying.” Because I felt like the life force was draining out of me. Because I’d gone well under pre-pregnancy weight and now I was balding and I couldn’t remember anything anymore and all I wanted to do was sleep but sleep was the last thing I could do, because I had to take care of my kid-who-kicks-me-in-the-head-all-night. No matter what I ate, I’d keep losing weight. I figured out how to make fast-as-hell meals. I ate cheese cake. I ate ice cream. And yes, there were days I had zero time to eat at all.

My kid, otoh, has been Happy As a CLAM. (Why do they say that? Is it because clams look like they’re smiling?). She giggles and coos and smiles. She is thriving. She’s enormous–in the 97th percentile in height and weight. I could see my weight transfer to her body, my hair loss translate into her hair growth. I loved her to death. Literally.

Because in a sense, I am dying. I’m saying goodbye to my old life and building a new one. I am re-examining my life, my own childhood, in this little girl. I’m revisiting my childhood bliss and pain. What hurt me? How can I not hurt her?

When Serena becomes Catwoman, she dies. Peter Parker gets bit by a spider and gets ill, and becomes Spiderman.

Add on top of that–the psychic mirroring a child creates. It brings up all this past trauma–and if not trauma, emotions. Re-examining my own childhood. Re-examining my parents and my own parenting. That plus the sleep deprivation brings everything to a Whole Nuther Level Of Crazy.

But here’s the thing–a few things are saving my life these days.

My friends. In particular, this tribe of parents. In particular, the tribe of moms and stay-at-home-dads.

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Why Don’t We Talk About Postpartum Depression?

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I recently blogged a bit about my postpartum depression (PPD). It is the beginnings of an essay I plan to write, and possibly part of a future memoir. There are still a number of moving parts to my life right now, much of which I am not ready to make public, so the post is purposely ambiguous. But I hope it gives you an idea of how PPD feels, even if depression manifests in different ways in different people.

Your questions in the comments, however, are helping me understand what it is I have to address in subsequent revisions and essays on PPD, when I share my process. For the record, I’m scared shitless writing about my PPD. But I know it helps more than it hurts me to do so.

But mostly, I’m glad I’ve got people talking. The thing that mystified me most about having PPD was the total isolation and lack of rescue/help/resources/education. My friend S also survived PPD and interviewed me for a story she is writing on the subject. One of her questions was, “What can we do to change the landscape for mothers with PPD?”

We can do so much. Because right now, there is so little. Here are some of my thoughts on the taboo nature of PPD–of discussing PPD, of addressing PPD, etc. I welcome you to join in on the discussion…

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P is for Postpartum Depression

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I never thought I would get pregnant.

I had an easy pregnancy. Easier than I thought anyone with high risk factors like I had, could anticipate. No morning sickness. No bloating. I was able to wear my wedding ring until the very last days. My feet stayed the same size throughout. I even went off blood pressure medication and my blood pressure stayed low for almost the entire duration of my pregnancy. I was glowing. I gained weight only in my belly.

Birth was amazing, too. I was induced because my blood pressure climbed in the last three weeks of pregnancy and could not be managed. And so a week after my due date, I checked into the hospital, clutching my yoga ball and a huge bag of snacks for my husband. They started me on cytotec, gave me an Ambien, and I went to sleep (well, I thought I went to sleep–my husband said I started dancing and falling and dancing on Ambien). The next morning at 6:30am, they started me on pitocin, and what felt like the worst diarrhea cramps in the world paired with the ultimate in constipation, hit me. I breathed through the contractions. I had no desire to scream–I just rode the waves of pain with deep breaths. I felt calm and ready. I wanted to meet my kid.

Every time the pump clicked, I knew a contraction would hit me. My contractions reached two minutes long, with less than a minute rest in between. I got an epidural. I felt no contractions from that point on, amazed when my husband read the monitor and announced, “That was a huge contraction you just had!”

Really? I couldn’t feel it.

Little did I know, that I would have to get very used to feeling nothing.

I took a long nap. I woke up and said, “Hey guys–I have to either fart, take a giant poop, or the baby’s coming out. One of those things is not acceptable right now.” The baby was coming. I was 10 cm dilated. Time soon to push. They called my doctor, who arrived and had to tell me, “Stop pushing! I haven’t scrubbed in yet.”

I was bearing down and counting to ten. Breathing. Bearing down and counting to ten. My amazing doula coached me, coached us. It was calm and peaceful. They brought in a mirror. She was coming. And then at 6:35pm I pushed her into the world of oxygen and light.

She was here.

And I felt nothing. When they handed her to me, she felt like someone else’s child. I waited for the gush of joy, and I felt blank.

I had a great pregnancy, and a great birth, but had a nightmare first year of motherhood, instead.

I had no idea I had postpartum depression. It took me months to realize I was in over my head. I told people it was like walking into the ocean step by step holding my child on my head until I was underwater, struggling to keep her alive holding her aloft. I felt like I was dying.

Not until I had the darkest thoughts a new mother could have (wishing my baby didn’t exist–wishing for SIDS), did I pause and think, “This cannot be right.” My OCD was off the chain (obsessing over the sterility of bottles was crippling). I was unable to let my baby go into anyone’s arms but mine. I forced everyone to wash their hands well beyond the first 6 months before handling my child. Still, I waited. I thought the postpartum depression would lift. I waited.

Meanwhile, my daughter thrived. My husband went back to work.

My friends told me I cried when they visited. They said I told them I felt hopeless. I couldn’t get myself to shower. I went days without showering. I tried to go on walks, and went on walks everyday with my baby, but came back so exhausted, I crawled right back into bed.

I pumped in bed. I ate in bed. I slept in bed. I cradled my child in bed. I did not leave that bed almost all year. I begged my husband to stay in bed with me. He resisted.

My daughter thrived. My husband was going to work. My husband was traveling. My husband said he was traveling. My husband said he was out of town. My husband said he could not come home.

I was at pre-pregnancy weight by 3 weeks postpartum. I stopped being able to eat. I couldn’t figure out how to make food and take care of a baby. Food no longer tasted good. I dipped down to the lowest weight since junior high. Clothes started to fall off my body. My wedding ring slipped off my finger.

I hired help. The help didn’t work out. I hired more help, and found I could not let my daughter out of my arms. The help, who has now turned into one of my dearest friends, kept me company. That was help. We watched movies while I sat in bed with my daughter. She washed the bottles, the G*dawful bottles. Did the laundry. Got me food, which I only nibbled.

My friends dropped off food (posole, pasta, tomato sauce, minestrone, eggplant parmigiana). When they left, I would cry with gratitude, but I could not get myself to eat.

My friends emailed me. Texted me.

I walked. I tried to do yoga. I tried to be happy again. I used every tool in my toolbox to overcome my depression.

My husband was no longer coming home except on weekends. Where was he?

My best friend happened to move nearby. We met for a meal, for coffee, for a walk, everyday. I was at the bottom of a well, and my best friend met me at the bottom, and stayed with me in the dark.

I looked up from the bottom of the well. I could see the sky. I knew I had to get up there, somehow. I could hear my baby’s laughter, like a distant bell.

I started wearing makeup again. Tried to pretend. Fake it until you make it. I faked it and faked it and faked it.

I held my daughter. I fed my daughter. I survived each day.

My friend met me at the bottom of the well.

My friends brought me food.

I turned 40. I planned my own birthday party. I woke up so exhausted, I didn’t shower. I put on a dress and some makeup and attended. Faked it. I could not look my husband in the eye.

The postpartum depression did not dissipate. It was now October. I read somewhere that postpartum depression could last 2 years. I couldn’t last that long, I knew.

I called my husband and cried each night. Told him I was dying. He asked “What are you dying from?”

And I said, “I don’t know. I’m dying,” before bursting into tears. I needed help.

He said, “I can’t help you. I’m not coming home for a year.”

I cried until I lost my breath. I’d never felt more alone. I’d never felt so helpless. I had to save myself. And I was fighting a creature I had never before fought. I needed help. I cried. I needed help.

“I can’t last a year,” I said.

“You have to,” he said.

“I don’t think I’ll last 3 weeks.”

Silence.

And so the next day, I called the doctor. “I have postpartum depression,” I said to the receptionist.

“What’s that?”

I had to explain.

I waited and waited and waited for the return calls. The help.

I called and called. And finally, the help came.

And then my life changed. I started climbing out of the well. And my best friend–my friend climbed out, too.

Forever grateful to all who saved my life in 2013.

***

Joining Heather’s Abecedary, Fog City Writer, and other writers like Susan Ito in working through the alphabet with short, memoir-like pieces. Except I’m going to go in reverse, beginning with “Z.” It’s called Alphabet: A History.

UPDATE (Resources):
There are resources out there–here are a couple, which the Postpartum Resource Center of New York, provided me this morning:

You are not alone. You are not to blame. With help, you will be well.

Postpartum Support International (PSI) is dedicated to helping women suffering from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, including postpartum
depression, the most common complication of childbirth. They also work to educate family, friends and healthcare providers so that moms and moms-to-be can get the support they need and recover.
Helpline:  800-944-4PPD (4773) or email support@postpartum.net
www.postpartum.net

In New York:
Postpartum Resource Center of New York provides emotional support, educational information and healthcare and support group resources for New York State families.  Free and confidential support including Moms on Call and Family Telephone Support available
Helpline:  Toll-free and State-wide at (855) 631-0001 (Hablamos Espanol)
www.postpartumny.org

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Filed under Alphabet: A History, Life, Memes, Motherhood, Parenthood, The Personal

Locked

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I went on a tour of a daycare preschool for my 10 month old this morning. I saw a lot of happy kids, and I saw one kid on her first day, crying. And then I saw teachers comforting her. They were unsuccessful, but they kept trying to reassure her in a calm and persistent manner. I was touched by their caring.

And then I had a flashback to my first day of preschool. It was 1977 in New York City. I dressed up in my favorite red dress and black patent shoes. My hair was in ponytails. My parents saw me off to the bus. I held the hand of the bus driver and they took pictures. In those pictures, I look like I’m holding my breath. I probably was.

When the bus took off, I started crying hysterically. The bus driver had to pull over and strap me in, because I pummeled the windows, hoping I could get him to stop and drive me back home. But we continued on to school.

I spoke no English. I was born in the States, but my parents didn’t want me to speak with an accent; they’d experienced endless pain in their early years in the United States because they spoke accented English, and did not want me to live through the same. They took me to the preschool administrator and asked what they could do. “I’ll teach her English,” she said. “Don’t teach her a word.”

So I showed up at preschool with only the words, “Where is the bathroom?” burned in my memory.

The bathroom is where I would spend the first three days of preschool.

I was scared. I spoke no English. I had not ever been separated from my family for this long. And I cried. I cried with hysterics. I was frustrated. I kept trying to speak Korean, and screamed it, thinking that the louder I spoke, the better chances I’d be heard.

The teachers grew frustrated with me. And dragged me to the bathroom. And locked me in a bathroom stall. They put a chair against the stall. And I could understand that they were saying, “Stay there until you stop crying.”

I cried. I kicked the metal walls. They came in and I understood they were telling me to stop doing so. I did not. I kept kicking and screaming.

I spent the entire day in the bathroom stall.

I spent the second day of preschool in the bathroom stall, too.

And the third.

I don’t remember being let out. I don’t remember what happened to end it all. But I remember being locked in there. I’ll never forget being locked in there and being ignored with all the pain I had as a four year old. And that is how I feel with my pain to this day–locked in a stall, without the key, hidden, and alone. And only allowed to come out once I stop crying.

In other news, I was diagnosed with postpartum depression a month and a half ago. I’m okay now. It’s like waking up from a living nightmare. One in which I lost half my hair. In which I realized I’d neglected my life and half of my life had fallen apart. It was hell. And now there’s light. And I’m back.

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Pain

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There are scars we carry from childhood. And they can be incredible sources of strength once we examine them and extract lessons. On my body, like so many people, are multiple physical scars, ranging from knee scabs to surgical incisions.

The ones I want to share today are cuts on me that can be seen only when you look for them–like palm readers and certain doctors do, or the occasional eagle eyed observer. They are raised, like mountains following the veins on my wrists. They are different in texture, shiny like rivers. They are a different color than the rest of my skin, pale even in Summer. And there are also other cuts, perpendicular to the veins, like white bridges.

“What are these?” they ask, pointing at the scars on my wrists. I pull my hands away. “Nothing,” I used to say, “they’re from long ago.” And now I say, “I used to be a cutter.” They are not nothing even if from long ago.

The scars remind me of the horrible way I processed pain. I grew up in a household in which vulnerability was not allowed. This guideline was made with the best of intentions–my parents are survivors of war, and anyone sitting on the side of the road crying or feeling sad during war or the even worse post-war period likely died. Like all parents, they projected their fears onto their children; they wanted us to first and foremost always always always survive.

When we cried, we were screamed at until we turned angry. When we said we were hurt, we were ridiculed until we turned indignant. Until we learned to channel our sadness and pain and hurt into anger.

Angry people apparently survive wars.

There is a point at which the anger is too great. It spills over. It turns inward. And because the anger at oneself is too much to bear–in my case, it turned into a great numbness.

I could no longer feel pain. I alternated between numbness and anger. Mostly, rage at myself. So I cut. I cut to feel pain, because there was no other way to create the space for pain. No one had taught me how to accommodate psychic pain–so I created a physical manifestation. I sliced and sliced with a surgical scalpel that I hid in my medicine cabinet, and the oddest thing is that I didn’t feel the physical pain. I saw the blood ooze from my wrists, and wondered whose wrists those were.

People saw the scars in high school, and did nothing. In those days, there was no discussion around cutting as there is today (and there is barely that, still).

The cutting escalated.

There are other scars on my body, too–but the cutting scars–they remind me that I ought to always make room for pain in my life. To let it run through me. To not fight it. Pain is necessary, and creating a space for the pain is crucial to health. And pain is a necessary part of building strength. I didn’t make space for processing psychic pain, and still, I craved it.

So the scars from my childhood, one of many, have taught me to make room for pain. To ride it. To be with it. To allow myself hurt and sadness. To be vulnerable. Because it’s human.

And here’s the odd thing: I can survive war, even with pain. True survival is keeping your humanity intact through war. To love and say you are not okay and you are in pain. To keep your heart open. That is real survival. That is strength. To recognize and embrace your pain.

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On Opportunity and Unexpected Collaboration

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Busy Mockingbird’s post on art collaboration with her four year old is inspiring. She is an artist. With a sketchbook. All artists know that there is sacred space–for me, that’s a Moleskine or my novel on Scrivener–for Busy Mockingbird, it’s her sketchbook. And you cannot invade sacred space. Nope.

Unless you’re a child. And you are all, “Sacred space? Huh? No. All space is shared space with me!”

And that’s what happened with Busy Mockingbird. Her daughter took over her sketchbook:

No longer had I drawn my first face (I love drawing from old black & white movie stills) had she swooped over to me with an intense look. “OOOH! Is that a NEW sketchbook? Can I draw in that too, mama?” I have to admit, the girl knows good art supplies when she sees them. I muttered something about how it was my special book, how she had her own supplies and blah blah blah, but the appeal of new art supplies was too much for her to resist. In a very serious tone, she looked at me and said, “If you can’t share, we might have to take it away if you can’t share.”

Oh no she didn’t! Girlfriend was using my own mommy-words at me! Impressed, I agreed to comply. “I was going to draw a body on this lady’s face,” I said. “Well, I will do it,” she said very focused, and grabbed the pen. I had resigned myself to let that one go. To let her have the page, and then let it go. I would just draw on my own later, I decided. I love my daughter’s artwork, truly I do! But this was MY sketchbook, my inner kid complained.

Not surprisingly, I LOVED what she drew. I had drawn a woman’s face, and she had turned her into a dinosaur-woman. It was beautiful, it was carefree, and for as much as I don’t like to share, I LOVED what she had created. Flipping through my sketchbook, I found another doodle of a face I had not yet finished. She drew a body on it, too, and I was enthralled. It was such a beautiful combination of my style and hers. And she LOVED being a part of it. She never hesitated in her intent. She wasn’t tentative. She was insistent and confident that she would of course improve any illustration I might have done. …And the thing is, she DID.

The result of the spontaneous collaboration is ASTOUNDING. Busy Mockingbird draws the human heads, and her daughter draws the bodies. This means dinosaur bodies. And slug bodies. And lobster bodies. And human bodies, too. But different. Together, they are amazing. Seriously, go take a look.

I was mesmerized. Mostly, I was hopeful.

You see, I’ve been, for the most part, miserable these days. I love my kid, but my life has been turned upside down. Inside out. Gutted. Meaningful fiction writing has been impossible. Sleep has only just recently been attained (and nowhere near pre-baby levels). I know, it’s only been 7.5 months. But still. My writing life is in shreds. I want to get back to my novel. How do other mom-writers do it? Is everyone lying?

I made a crack that said Busy Mockingbird’s post made me fantasize about my daughter finishing my novel.

Busy Mockingbird has some of the collaboration prints up for sale. I bought a print to remind me of the potential of collaboration with my daughter, if not literally, figuratively. And to tell myself that motherhood doesn’t equal loss. And to continue to give in and let go. There may be unexpected gains in doing so. This is new space. New sacred space. Scary as hell, and expansive as not-hell. There’s gotta be good stuff here. I’ll keep the faith.

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Sweet Peas Agency: Caveat Emptor

Sweet Peas Agency Review
(There are several nanny placement agencies named “Sweet Peas”–this review is for Sweet Peas Agency located in Oakland, California).

Because Yelp only allows 5001 characters, I’m posting an unabridged review of Sweet Peas Agency, here…(And yes, I’m mad. Yes, I waited over a month before posting this, in order to let my anger simmer down). If you wish, you can read my abridged yelp review.

Apologies to those of you who usually read this blog for posts about my life and writing/reading.

Complete review follows after the jump.
….

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