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Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, parenting

Airplanes

August 20, 2017
plane

By Billie Hinton

1961

I’m being held in the arms of someone while my mother and father board a plane. We’re on the tarmac and they walk away and up the steep steel stairway into what appears to be a black hole. I push away from the chest I’m held up against, straining to follow the two people I know best in this world. The stairs roll away and the black hole closes and the plane moves away, slow and then fast. The black hole opens up inside of me; everything I know slips into the distance with that plane. I stop pushing and cave in to the chest, allow myself to be held, hot tears soaking into fabric that does not smell like anything familiar.

1985

In his small office my therapist sits too close for comfort, my knees and his a few inches apart. I find solace in the large window that looks out to trees and flowering shrubs. The wash of light through blinds is an escape hatch. He asks for my earliest memory. I tell about watching my parents leave in an airplane. He asks if I felt comfort with the person I was left with and I tell him I don’t know who that person was. It seems unfathomable that my parents left me with a stranger. How did you calm yourself? he asks and I tell him, I didn’t. I still don’t.

1988

In the office of my therapist, I write the final check for the final therapy session. His office feels larger now. The check number is 2001 and he comments that it has been an odyssey. I am moving to Texas to attend graduate school in clinical social work, inconsolable at saying goodbye to a man who has sat across from me several times each week for several years, knees inches away, wearing Birkenstocks which at one point I mocked, but have come now to love. After I leave I meet friends for lunch, still bereft at the loss of my thrice-weekly sessions, tears sliding down my cheeks at random between bites of food. One gives me his wristwatch to wear while we sit in the sun with take-out containers and iced tea in plastic cups. Comfort. Continue Reading…

Addiction, Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, parenting

Poison In My Home

July 16, 2017
poison

By Kirsten Wasson

There is poison in my home. And the poison is my son.  My one and only child—Jonah, my soulful-eyed, shy-smiling son who paints landscapes of rocks that seem to have opinions, empty shimmering roads, and mounds of land floating in green fields rippling on the canvas. My son, an actor-hopeful who, with no help from anyone managed to get himself a manager for acting, a contract with L.A. Models. Jonah, my only living family–only child of an only child of only children, my blood, heart, and soul. My poisoned and poisonous son.

Maybe the poison is the reason my hands are shaking. Maybe it’s the reason I walk around and around my apartment like an addict looking for where he hid his last pill. Maybe the poison is the reason I keep wanting to get to CVS to buy bleach and then wash my son’s dingy gray-white  shirts; I want to make something clean.

It is the week of Thanksgiving.

It’s been exactly a year since Jonah came to the full realization that all the memories and dreams about his father touching him when he was about 3 are accurate. A year ago, Jonah flew to Syracuse, New York for Thanksgiving at his dad and stepmom’s house. He spent three days there. Then he got back on the plane, and ordered a drink–after having been stone cold sober for two years and eight months. Working the steps in a rehab, and then a sober living community, and then moving on, out into a relationship with Anna, and working in a rehab. After all that, he just got on the plane and ordered a drink.

Jonah didn’t tell me about the drink on the plane; he told Anna, and said that he thought he was able to have a drink with her now and then. She was naïve; she didn’t understand addiction. She loved Jonah. He said he wanted to be able to have the occasional drink with her, that he’d decided he could drink like a “regular person.”  And so, Anna drank like the regular person she was, while he drank like an addict, keeping bottles in his backpack and on the grounds of their apartment complex. He was also consuming pot most of the day, though she didn’t know.

One night Jonah got furiously angry at something small and then furiously sad at something small and, Anna told me later, he said in a wild, quiet voice that he’d realized in Syracuse that his dad had molested him. “I knew it when I got in the car with him at the airport.  When I looked in his eyes.”

Anna repeated this to me a month and a half later; she called me just as I was getting into the elevator at school in Westwood where I taught English as a Second Language.

“I have to talk to you.” Anna’s usually low, gravelly voice was squeaking.

“Hold on. I’m getting into the elevator. Is Jonah OK?”

“Not really. Call me back.”

I rode the elevator down, imagining he’d lost his job as an R.A. at the rehab, or they’d gotten into a bad fight. I walked out of the building and across the alley to the Westwood Village Memorial Cemetery where there were benches for me to sit, and where no one but the dead could hear the conversation. Anna started with some background, about having been at her wit’s end with his recent behavior–mood swings, violent nightmares, and general erratic behavior.

“And he’s drinking. All the time.”

“What?! When?” I was shocked. He was, as far as I knew, completely sober.

“Since Thanksgiving.  Since Syracuse.”

“What?!”

“Kirsten, that’s not even the point. Jonah told me something. Those nightmares he’s having…they’re about something…that happened to him.”

It was about 4:30 on a hot L.A. February afternoon, and the graveyard was just getting cool, as the sun lowered and the sprinklers came on. I stood up and walked to a spot near the wall of famous dead, Marilyn Monroe among them. It had surprised me that Marilyn didn’t have a mausoleum in the cemetery; just one square in a bank of lost lives. But she did, every day, have fresh flowers, jammed into the alabaster cup by her name and dates.

“I don’t know what you are saying.”

“Jonah made me promise not to tell you.”

“I’m sure he did, but I need you to tell me.” I could feel that she wanted to tell me but felt loyal to Jonah. Anna and I did like each other and, to some extent, trusted one another.

“The dreams about being hurt. When he was little. Those are real.”

I remembered an awkward conversation with Anna a few months earlier; Jonah was working the night shift at the rehab center, and she and I went to a movie and had Chinese food.  She seemed both listless and worried, not like her usual tough, lively self.  She told me that Jonah had bad dreams about being chased or attacked, and would wake up flailing his arms, even trying to hit her. I listened but couldn’t really hear it, and I shelved it in some drawer of my brain. But now I remembered the conversation, my own uncomfortable-ness, and my thinking Anna was whining.

“Someone hurt him?” That made sense. Nine years of wondering why my son was so troubled, so angry, and a drug addict in and out of four rehabs. I had a cold, clarifying feeling I’d just been slipped a piece of paper with an essential clue. I got off the bench and started to stride across the graves, their wet, glistening grass.

“Was he…abused? Like, molested?”

“Yes. And he knows who.”

For a second I thought. “His dad. Is it Art?” A bizarre conclusion, but I was spinning, and reaching toward what made no sense, and what might just make perfect sense.

She was quiet.

“If it was his dad, Anna, then say nothing.”

Anna said nothing.

It felt like a thin, silver snake slithered inside my bloodstream, moving from my head, down my neck, into my heart cavity. Around me, the sprinklers were shuddering, rhythmically spraying into the air. The bottom 4 inches of my slacks were soaked. I was shocked, but not that surprised that Art had molested our son. I couldn’t have known back when it was happening because it didn’t happen when Art and I were still in the house together. I realized that, tried assuring myself with the idea that because I didn’t know, this was not as horrible as it was.

Here’s the “sense” it made: my ex-husband had been emotionally sadistic to me, and our sex life consisted of me tolerating a number of things I hated. I never once climaxed with him in ten years, and he didn’t care; I was, he told me, “frigid.”  There was also the glaring fact that Jonah had had a lot of intense tantrums from three to four whenever Art came to pick him up. I had thought the tantrums were about the divorce and separation anxiety. My therapist said it was normal. More things fell into place, including the baby talk Jonah used after returning to my house.

Three weeks after Anna told me, I brought it up with Jonah, despite Anna’s request that I not. I had to hear it from my son’s mouth, and know what he was feeling. We were in Woodland Hills, sitting on a bench outside of Trader Joe’s.

“Please don’t be mad at Anna, but she told me what you remembered. Or realized. About your childhood. When you were little.”

Jonah stood up, walked stiffly and swiftly around the bench. “I can’t fucking believe she told you that.” Then he threw himself on the bench. He looked away from me, down Ventura Boulevard, his long legs crossed at the ankles, his arms folded in a white t-shirt, his profile so defined: large forehead, long eye-lashes, full lips, and strong jaw. So like my mother’s, I often thought.  Without turning toward me, he said,

“Well so now that you know. Can you imagine that Dad would do that?”

“I can.”

He asked me a few questions about why I could, and I told him, without too many details. Still not looking at me, Jonah commanded: “Do not say a single word to Dad. Not a word. I would lose it. And become crazy.”

“Okay, Jonah,” I nodded.

A few days later, I found a therapist specializing in trauma, and Jonah saw her for a few visits and then stopped. She’d told him she needed him to be sober. Jonah was drinking, and also—although Anna didn’t know nor did I, imbibing pot all day.  By May, he’d lost his job at the rehab, and Anna had thrown him out. I didn’t blame her; he was yelling all the time, and punched a few holes in their walls. He was driving drunk.  He was poisoned and poisonous.

A funny thing about Jonah is that he always gets work, and always works hard. So, he got a certificate as a security guard, faked the drug test somehow, and got a job at L’Hermitage, a luxury hotel in Beverly Hills.  For four months, he lived in air b’ and b’s with four beds in a room or hostels, and worked nights at the L’Hermitage. When he spotted a celebrity, he’d text me. Escorted Tom Cruise and crew down elevator. Seemed nice. A lot of fillers in that face.” I’d get messages on my phone under my pillow as I was falling asleep. “Saw Cher fall down in the hall. Completely drunk. Pretty like a ghost.” I’d squeeze the phone in my palm until it started to sweat. My boy. At least he’s in touch. He is working. My son was damaged and in pain and I could do nothing.

Jonah was twenty-four years old, financially self-sufficient. I couldn’t make him go back to rehab, and he wasn’t even admitting that the drinking and pot were a problem.  I thought about Jonah all the time during that summer and saw him every few weeks. His affect ranged from forced smiles, “It’s all good, Mom,” to raging about Anna to crying about her. He shut me down when I brought up the molestation. He lost his contract with his modeling agency, and his acting manager was clearly almost done with Jonah because he missed appointments, and probably his auditions were lousy.

After years and years of therapy and Al-Anon, I know I can’t guide my son. I kept mumbling to myself the one Al-Anon slogan I could almost stomach, “Let Go and Let God.” Sometimes I prayed. Sometimes I hoped he’d get caught driving high and go to jail. Sometimes I thought about buying a gun and getting on a plane to Syracuse. I mean really thought about it. I looked up gun shops and the rules about purchasing a weapon in California.

In October I went to Chicago for a work conference, and let Jonah stay in my apartment and use my car; I was still thinking I should do things to help him. I was still in denial.  When I called to see how things were going, he screamed at me for checking up on him.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?! Leave me alone, Mom!”

“I’m worried about you driving when you’re tired and…maybe high?”

“I have a life, Mom. Or I’m trying to. Leave me the fuck alone.” He hung up.

I realized I’d made a mistake by letting him stay in my place and use my car, but all I could do was to ask God, who I wasn’t sure I believed in, to not let Jonah die.

When I returned, my apartment was a mess. Mad, worried, but not yet aware that Jonah’s life was close to imploding, I swept and swabbed and folded laundry. And then I found the piece of paper stuck in the couch that listed the drugs he’d bought, how much they cost, and the days he’d bought them. I recognized “Ox” for Oxycotin, but didn’t know “Roxies,” “Norco,” or “Girlfriend.”  He was doing opiates and cocaine.

***

Lucky to be alive, my son. Jonah does not feel lucky. He feels, he told me recently, “tainted.” I never heard him use that word before, and it’s not one I’d imagine him using. “I never feel clean, Mom. No one knows what I really look like–on the inside.”  I wanted to tell him he was beautiful and clean and good on the inside, but I don’t know what it feels like to be molested by a parent when you’re three years old. I don’t know how you carry a secret—one that you don’t even know the meaning of—for years, then find it inside dark dreams and feel it within yourself like a heavy, aching weight that will not let you go.

***

When, in late October after my Chicago trip, I told him I had found the scrap of paper, he shut me down. Into my cell phone I spoke sharply but still trying to sound like a person who understood him, telling him I knew he was doing pills and cocaine.

“I think you probably want me to know, Jonah. You left that paper for me to find…don’t you think?

“I fucking did not. You think you are so fucking smart. Have me all figured out. You don’t even know what that paper meant.”

“I looked up the things I didn’t know.”

“Aren’t you a genius, Mother.”  I don’t know who hung up first.

Every day I worried. Every day I tried to lead the life of the normal. I succeeded about twenty percent of the time. Most days I floated blankly through my new job as a counselor at a high school, then grocery shopping, yoga, talking to friends on the phone, making dinner, lying on the couch for hours watching tv. I got especially attached to “American Horror Story,” where the evil spirits, self-mutilation, and toxicity resonated.

Then in the middle of November, we had a conversation about his “tapering off.” Jonah called around ten one night from L’Hermitage on his cigarette break. I was still up, very alert, as I’d been waiting for months for this call.

“I know I can’t do this any longer, Mom.  I want to stop the opiates. I know I can; I did it before, right?! I’ll taper off. I am tapering off, actually.”

“Right. But before–you were in rehab, taking suboxone, that helped with the cravings, and you had around-the-clock professional care.”

“I want to quit, Mom. I’m already down to half of what I was using the last few months.”

Wanting to believe him, I said he could stay at my house the week of Thanksgiving—for 6 nights. During that time he would decide if he were going to go to rehab again or not. Monday he’d have to leave—for rehab or back to one of crappy hostels where he’d been staying.

The first few days I cleaned up his addled messes around my apartment after he left for work at noon, and then watched my favorite show. Scenes of carnage and violence—a decapitated witch spewing racist epithets, a couple having sex in a filthy hotel room, both aware of a stinking corpse in the bathtub, a woman gouging out her own eyes with a kitchen knife—these scenes kept me steady.

On Thanksgiving, Jonah and I went out to dinner. We both dressed up.

His pants wouldn’t stay up because he’d lost so much weight. I gave him my belt. I drove us  to a place I’d seen in a local magazine that looked classy and funky. The waitress flirted with him–as every waitress has ever done since Jonah was around nineteen. Jonah was warm and funny and sweet to me. He asked me about work, and whether I ever thought I’d meet the right man and how much that mattered to me. I didn’t flinch when he ordered a beer. And then I ordered a glass of wine. My salmon was perfectly grilled. On the way out, I asked the flirty waitress to take a photo of us.

It was like getting to see the sunlight after months inside somewhere cold and dark. I bathed in the strange grace of our being out to dinner together–a mother and son on a holiday–a bath made of milk and honey and normalcy. For the hour and a half we were out together, I did not think about whether Jonah would choose to go to rehab. I did not think about the fact that this was the anniversary of his recognizing that his father had molested him, and his starting to use again.

He had the couch, and I went to sleep in my bed for a few hours. I woke to hear the TV blaring.  I came out, and Jonah had fallen sleep in his clothes on the top of the sheets and blanket I’d left for him. His phone was right by my foot. I turned off the TV, and unlocked his phone; his password was his birthday. So I saw then, that earlier the same day he’d contacted someone to buy “chrissy.” That, I found out online–back in my bedroom–was crystal meth. And from what I could see on his phone, he’d been doing it for months.

I should have known: the weight loss, the staying up all night driving around after the hotel job, a certain hollow look in his eye. I should have noticed that hollow look. But he’d had not that look before, because he’d never done meth before. I pulled the covers off my bed and lay down in a hard nest on the floor next to my son. He was completely still on the couch.  I listened  to him breathe, thought of him breathing in his crib at two. Sometimes I slept on the floor next to him back then. His breathing calmed me, and I didn’t want to sleep next to Art. Now Jonah was sweating, and occasionally moaning. Eventually I went back to my bed because I saw we were both ghosts of our former selves, and if I were going to be the parent I better get sleep.

And although I intended to confront him in the morning. I could not. I thought he might run away if he knew I’d discovered the crystal meth. I needed time to think, to talk to someone else. There were three days until Monday. So I let him sleep late, shower, go to work. “Bye, Mom. See you tonight.”

Jonah leaves my apartment with a furtiveness that makes me nauseous. I feel the wet heat coming out my eyes. Then I pick up Jonah’s clothes, turn his pockets inside out. I look in his toiletry bag but find only toothpaste and floss. There is poison in my house, and the poison is my son, his pain, his attempt to numb his pain. My blood, my heart and soul. Now I know: My meth-addicted son. I walk around and around my apartment like an addict looking for his last bit of dope, last sources of known relief. My poisoned and poisonous boy.

Kirsten Wasson works as a college counselor at a high school in Los Angeles; four years ago she left a job as an English professor in Ithaca, New York, to move to LA and begin her life over at the age of 50. For many years she wrote a blog about the experience (www.lostandlaughinginla.wordpress.com), and she is now finishing a memoir on the subject. Kirsten has previously published a book of poetry with Antrim House Press, and her non-fiction pieces appeared in The Ithaca Times for ten years. Active in the L.A. storytelling scene, she recently won a “Best Of 2016” at the SHINE storytelling venue in Santa Monica.

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Child Birth, Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, Pregnancy

Delivery

July 9, 2017
delivery

By Amanda Parrish Morgan

I discovered babycenter.com shortly after I found out I was pregnant with my daughter. Babycenter consists of watered-down medical advice, product-placement-heavy blog posts, weekly produce-comparison updates about the size of a growing fetus (“your baby is the size of a butternut squash!”), and message boards. These message boards are like the comments section of a clickbait article: full of deliberately provocative personal attacks, unsolicited advice, and rampant misuse of your and you’re. Also like the comments section, engaging with the message board posters had the effect of making me feel like I’d been part of something unhealthy and malicious.

I noticed that the vast majority of Babycenter posts appear between midnight and dawn. The anonymity of the message boards invites confessional postings: women admit pornography addictions, cigarettes they’ve sneaked despite being aware of the well-documented dangers of smoking during pregnancy, suspicions of spousal infidelity, spending binges using a borrowed credit card. None of these particular transgressions speak to my own strain of pregnancy guilt and fear, but guilt and fear themselves were the defining emotions of my pregnancy. Perhaps this is what makes this collection of strangers, awake and typing away online across the country, so appealing.

***

At the beginning of my third trimester, I somewhat grudgingly, but dutifully, reported for my glucose screening test. I chose a midwife group for my obstetric care, and was surprised when, just as she’d finished complimenting my un-swollen ankles, continued running routine, and fundal height, my midwife presented the screening as routine and mandatory. I knew the screening resulted in a lot of false positives. I’d read that even for legitimate positives, the treatment was exercise and a balanced diet, which I felt proud–desperately so–that I’d maintained throughout my pregnancy. On one website, I found a list of criteria that might exempt a woman from the screening. The only one of these I did not meet was being younger than 25. I felt skeptical, annoyed, haughty. Though, ultimately, it was my intense desire to be a good patient (how much had I internally gloated after being told my belly was perfect?) that kept me from asking about the procedure to waive the screening.

She said nothing.

“What are the alternatives?”

That night, although it was already late by the time I got home from the meet, my husband Nick and I went out to dinner so he could eat a normal meal and I could order something with no carbs. But, not until after I squeezed in a short run around our neighborhood. I was tired, and had thought I might skip running any more than what I already had on the course during the meet, but in my Gestational Diabetes-googling mania, I’d read that exercise helps metabolise glucose. I was worried if I didn’t run more, I would fail the three hour test in the morning. That I was more concerned about passing the test than actually seeing results representative of my typical diet and lifestyle didn’t then strike me as irresponsible or self-centered. I didn’t exactly logically feel that I’d done something wrong in failing the screening, but I certainly didn’t feel I’d earned the right to start exercising less.

I couldn’t sleep that night, and the next morning I was waiting at Quest Diagnostics when they opened at six, already hungry.

This is when I made my first Birth Club post: sitting at Quest Diagnostics five minutes into my three-hour glucose screening test, defensive, worried (but unwilling to admit that I was worried), surrounded by pharmaceutical pamphlets.

Several people responded with tales of twelve pound babies spending weeks in the NICU due to undiagnosed GD, others responded with anecdotes of vegan yogis with GD. One woman accused me of fat-shaming. In the second before I got control of my consciousness, I thought, “yes, of course.” I’d like to think that the only person I felt deserved shame was myself, but I’m afraid that’s giving myself too much credit.

I’d brought a book to read during the test, but after I had the drink, this one twice as sweet as the one from the one-hour screening test, I couldn’t focus. My heart was racing and my mouth was dry. Were these signs I was going to fail the test? Between blood draws, as I grew increasingly exhausted, I obsessively googled. Who gets gestational diabetes? Gestational diabetes causes. Gestational diabetes treatment. Gestational diabetes outlook. Gestational diabetes complications.

Later, with the security of having passed the second test, I’d been able to admit to myself that there might be some relationship between my feelings about the gestational diabetes screening and years of insecurity about the intersection of weight, self control, and worth. I explained to Nick that when I’d gotten pregnant, for the first time I could remember, I hadn’t dreaded going to the doctor, getting on the scale, or getting my blood pressure taken. I liked the drive to the office, giving me distance from teaching and grading and coaching to enter into the mental space of expectant motherhood. I liked the appointments themselves, meeting all the midwives, hearing the baby’s heartbeat, and then leaving buoyed by reassurance from the checkup. I was sad, I said, that this once-positive medical experience had begun to feel like every visit to my pediatrician, every team weigh-in at in college, every look (real or imagined) from skinnier girls on the starting line of races.

The closer my due date drew, the more I read. I was–for fear of going to the hospital with a pile of ninth grade essays–totally caught up on grading, the days were short and cold. The mobile hung over the crib, clothes washed, sorted, and stored. I couldn’t think of anything to do but wait. For the most part, I was too anxious and distracted to read or write much. The notable exception were labor stories. I read blog posts detailing the labor experiences of professional runners. I read Labor Days, an essay collection of women writers’ birth stories. I spent more and more time on Babycenter’s December 2014 Birth Announcement thread.

I might have been able to tell myself I was looking for camaraderie, a way to feel less alone or confused or scared had any of the interactions I witnessed through the message board been supportive. Instead of downplaying anxieties and offering reassurances, women posted stories of prenatal cancer diagnoses, sudden infant death syndrome, horrible birth accidents, tales of spousal abandonment, emergency hysterectomies performed before the fog of general anesthesia had even worn off. The spectres of loss and death–mine or my daughter’s–that felt increasingly menacing as I tried to heed advice to focus on the positive. I couldn’t verbalize these fears precisely. I guarded vigilantly against negative thoughts which meant I couldn’t even bring myself to confront them.

But before this–before I’d given birth, before I’d become a mother, the most concrete and tangible way that my life was changing seemed to be that long-distance running, my primary social activity and vehicle for self worth was off limits. The end of years of keeping bodily shame at bay through distance running, was the loss I feared. Mostly, of course, the notion of control over my body was an illusion, but it was an important illusion that had defined decades of my life.

I wish what I felt viscerally that I needed had been as simple as a cheeseburger. What I craved instead was connection. Not like “I’d like to spend the evening with some friends,” but deep, insatiable yearning for a connection both to the person I’d spent thirty-two years understanding myself to be and to a much bigger and even abstract community of mothers.

Before I got pregnant, I thought of myself as someone who needed a lot of alone time. When I was about five months pregnant, Nick was gone for a week at a conference, and instead of enjoying the opportunity to watch independent movies while eating all the pregnancy-safe-sushi a person could ever want, I grew lonely, and moved to fill my evenings with plans. I went to my parents’ house for dinner, caught up with friends from work. But, all the while. I couldn’t shake this feeling that I was still lonely. That the real me was watching a different me go through these motions.

I once heard depression described as a floating sensation. In Marjane Satrapi’s graphic autobiography Persepolis, she depicts herself as a teenage Iranian refugee floating with terrifying rather than joyful weightlessness in an almost entirely black sky.

The first time that the sensation of loneliness got strong enough to knock me over, I sat on the bottom step of our staircase, crying inconsolably, imagining myself as a hybrid of Sandra Bullock’s character in Gravity, space shuttle untethered and tumbling hundreds of miles a second in some unknowable direction, and the image of young Marji, lost without a place that feels like home (and how absurd, I realized even as I imagined it–I was not woman fighting for oxygen in outer space, nor a refugee in the Iranian Revolution, but a lucky, healthy, American woman with a good job, a kind husband, a supportive and loving family, expecting her first baby after few months of waiting for a positive pregnancy test). Over and over again, I kept telling Nick, “I’m so lonely,” to which he kept responding, hurt, confused, “But, I’m right here.”

Even before I met my husband, I wanted to be a mother. I had an uncomplicated vision of what this relationship meant in the same way, I had wanted to be a teacher, a wife, a friend. I thought that I’d share my passion for literature with a classroom of undistracted and eager students, or that marriage would be cozy Sunday afternoons with chili on the stove, that my childhood friends and I would remain close for life. That none of these relationships were as simple as what I’d once imagined didn’t make me any more prepared for the disconnect I’d feel during pregnancy. I still could not envision motherhood or pregnancy as nuanced in the way I’d come to understand these other relationships. What kind of person would I be to admit fear and loneliness, sometimes building on one another until I’m floating, untethered in the middle of the night? What did my preoccupation with fear and my feelings of shame mean? That I would be a bad mother?

***

In movies, pregnant women are often shown crying at commercials about puppies. Hormones! Ha! I both did and did not want to blame hormones. I wanted to be able to explain to Nick that he really had done nothing wrong, and that in the light of most days, I could see how irrational my panicked, lonely tears really were. But, the emotions were as real to me as any others I’d experienced, and so, it seemed unfair to dismiss them as a side effect of pregnancy hormones.

I’ve tried to think of all the rational reasons I might have felt so lonely while pregnant. I do not have many friends, at least not friends from before motherhood, with kids. Although Nick and I were going to become parents together, I was the one who was pregnant. With daylight savings, the nights came early and those exhausted hours between the end of the work day and bed felt bleak.

There was some voice in my brain telling me that I should not feel so alone. That pregnancy connected me, not only to my own mother, but to women everywhere, and for generations before and to come, who have carried and borne children. All these women on babycenter.com, even the ones who named their children something I found tacky or who posted pictures of baby shower cakes with a doll’s head crowing from a frosting vagina, had something fundamental in common with me.

***

The last time during pregnancy that I cried, I cried about fear of labor. Much of what I tried to explain was the same feeling of alone-ness, of being alienated from myself, that I’d tried to explain on past nights. On a logical level, all I could explain was that I was worried about complications. Somewhere, floating far from my space craft, I mumbled aloud that I was scared I might die.

That fall, one or both of my parents began attending my team’s cross country meets. At first, I thought they were just really getting into the team’s success. Then, somewhere around the third week in a row when my dad made a ninety minute drive one-way to watch my girls race across a field in Manchester, CT, I realized that they were worried something might happen to me. Not necessarily that I might die, but that I might go into labor while far from the hospital where I planned to deliver, far from my husband and his car with its infant car seat carefully installed, that it might take longer than it needed to, or be more uncomfortable than it could have been for me, their daughter, to have her daughter.

I grew up with the unquestioned understanding that it’s bad luck to even mention early symptoms of a cold outloud, and that denial is a powerful tool of self-preservation. I feel immense guilt that I allowed myself to vocalize my fear of dying. And even now, pregnant with my son, that I might have courted disaster by articulating the unspeakable fears of my first pregnancy. I’d like to think that I meant “dying” metaphorically. That I was afraid the self I’d always been would be replaced by a new, unfamiliar self, and that the process would be one of death and rebirth rather than of transformation. I was reading a lot of Joseph Campbell then, so that may have been a part of it. But, I’d also been reading all those labor stories, many of them natural childbirth testimonials (meant to be empowering, but often quite the opposite), and that fear I articulated was at least on some level literal. Childish, wimpy, selfish… everything other than what I believe myself, or an ideal mother to be.

***

Some of the posts are marked “*trigger,*” the warning women use to label threads about seriously ill babies or domestic violence, and it was here, not in the news that I first learned this term. One of the most common pieces of advice I received while pregnant was to shield myself from negative thoughts. That I should avoid the sensationalist, violent news coverage, cut out obligations that drained me, sever ties with the kind of friends who would judge me if my house was dirty in the months after my baby was born. I took this advice seriously.

But what about darkness–triggers–that are of my own making, sprung from within? I like to think of myself as positive, kind, hopeful, optimistic, energetic. It wasn’t just the life I’d always known, or the friends I’ve always had that I feared I might be floating away from on those rough nights (though of course I was), but that in facing the darkest parts of myself, I feel I’d found something in myself that was meant to remain locked away and banished. Maybe I was lonely from myself because I’d come face to face with a part of myself I never wanted to acknowledge existed, a part of myself I don’t want Nick or any of the people he so gently suggested I reach out to to know about.

“Maybe you should call Laura,” Nick suggested an hour into my sobbing. I was curled embarrassedly into the corner of our brand new couch (I picked it out imagining our little family of three snuggling here). And, because I was worried that all these lonely nights were taking a toll on Nick before the sleepless nights of the baby even began, I did.

Laura and I got lunch, but there was only so much I could say. We sat at Panera, where I picked at a slimy turkey sandwich (many women on babycenter.com don’t eat cold cuts during pregnancy; I ate any protein I could stomach, but always felt guilty to be seen eating turkey in public). Laura is a woman who’s opened up to me about her own postpartum depression. We’ve been friends since before she got divorced from her first husband, before she got remarried. She introduced me to Nick. But, when she asked how I was feeling, although I managed to tell her that I’d been having some hard nights, I couldn’t help myself: I steered our conversation away from the places my mind goes untethered, and we talked about work, about running, about our sandwiches.

I’ve heard some women say that labor is less frightening the second time around because they know what to expect. But, I felt so keenly aware of death’s proximity during labor, which is something I had tried to stop myself from realizing beforehand–and I know that now. I was a healthy, thirty-two year old woman with no history of complications or serious medical issues. But perhaps it was something I had considered. Or, if not considered, known. Perhaps that’s what I was looking for–an acknowledgement of this dark side, a validation of the fear I felt, not just of labor’s pain and unpredictability but, for all of medicine’s advances, the extent to which the life of my child, even from the very beginning would depend on me. And not in the passive way of pregnancy, but on my work–my labor. Instead, I read the confessions of women hundreds of miles away, I kept track of my weekly running mileage, tried to find new ways to wear the few pieces of clothing that still fit and I said that I missed being able to put myself in pain.

Next week, when I’ll be 28 weeks pregnant with my son, I’ll go for the one-hour gestational diabetes screening. I haven’t had any cravings this pregnancy, either, and I’ve still been running. Is it different this time?  I haven’t been on Babycenter much–just every few weeks to check in on the physiological changes my baby and I are experiencing. Motherhood has undeniably separated me from decade-long friendships, and at the same time precluded forming new friendships of the intensity I once took for granted. In the mom’s group or at preschool drop-off, women ask my due date, how I’m feeling, if I know the baby’s gender. Sometimes we even talk about why our toddlers are crying, but in these stolen moments of adult conversation between women who are not exactly friends but part of the community of mothers, we don’t talk about shame or guilt or fear or where the word delivery really comes from.

 

Amanda Parrish Morgan taught high school English in Connecticut for seven years. Currently, she is raising her young daughter, coaching the local cross country and track teams, and working on a collection of essays. Her short story “Teratoma” was named a finalist in Glimmer Train’s Short Story Contest for New Writers. Her essays have also appeared in N+1 and The Rumpus and The Millions.

 

Join The Manifestation Retreat: Manifesting Under The Tuscan Sun. Sep 30-October 7, 2017.. Email retreats@jenniferpastiloff.com or click the picture above.

 

Join Jen Pastiloff at her signature workshop in Atlanta at Form Yoga on Aug 26 by clicking the picture.

 

Donate to the Aleksander Fund today. Click the photo read about Julia, who lost her baby, and what the fund is.

Guest Posts, motherhood, No Bullshit Motherhood

Making it to the Other Side

July 2, 2017
daughter

By Heidi Fettig Parton

“I’m too old to camp at a festival,” I told my twenty-two year old daughter, Hannah, when she asked me to join her at the Eaux Claires music festival in Wisconsin. Besides, it wasn’t good timing. My six-year old, Josh, was recovering from his third, and most extensive, middle ear surgery. Since Josh had entered the world in 2009, I’d been declining or canceling invitations on account of his health issues, which stemmed from middle ear disease to sensory processing disorder. But here was Hannah, romantically unattached and career-focused, eager to spend time with me, the mother who’d fostered her love of music festivals.

After surviving the wreckage of my 2002 divorce, I’d decided to expose my children of that marriage, Hannah and Ethan, to experiences instead of things. We lived far differently than we had during my marriage to my ex-husband: we lived in a simple house; we read books instead of watching TV; we ate bulk legumes and rice from the food co-op. During the seven years between my first and second marriage, I spent any extra money on adventures. Hannah learned well. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, parenting

When Mommy Hurts

June 23, 2017
pain

By Carrie Kempisty

I sit draped in a thin, blue sheet. Waiting. Chill bumps cover my bare legs and feet dangling from the crinkle-papered exam table. The tests have been run; I’ve been poked and prodded. My brain spins in circles of anticipation, like an airplane without clearance to land. The sudden, mysterious, physical pain that has been slowly crippling my body may, after today, have a name. Up to now, I’d mentally escaped inside a self-protecting, impenetrable bubble that’s been relentlessly bombarded on all sides. Fears, potential disaster, over reaction, denial, and sadness have all threatened to burst through the protective barrier.

My two young children used to ask me if I could play. Now they ask if I hurt, which I vehemently deny. This seemingly overnight change in my physical well-being has been frightening for all of us. I am an active, fit, energetic stay-at-home mom. I don’t often skip days of going to the gym to lift weights, run, or swim laps. In recent years, I’ve enjoyed a healthy dose of competition in running, biking, and swimming events. I was a personal fitness trainer for over ten years before I became a mother. It was hard enough to admit my pain to my athletic husband. How can I admit to my children that their mother has suddenly become less than the energized, non-stop, cheer and activity leader they’ve always known? Where’s the line between protecting them from witnessing my pain and outright lying to them? Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood

Keeping It Real

May 3, 2017
nursery

By Amy Howard

Let me start off by saying I don’t begrudge anybody their opinions or issues. If you are posting, writing about, and living your truth, then amen. No matter what you’re going through, you shouldn’t compare it to anyone else’s. Your shit is your shit. I’m no hater. Peace be with you.

Now.

I know you don’t know what you know until you know. And granted, I’m not a “new” mom, so I might be a little more piss and vinegar than I am sugar and spice. But I have to say that lately, so much of what I read regarding parenting is teetering on the edge of being the written version of stock photography. It’s all cookie cutter subjects, white-washed to capture a large readership. Maybe I’m reading the wrong headlines (point me to better blogs!) but there seems to be a craze around grabbing a trending topic and writing about it. Like: What I Learned At Mom’s Night Out. Tantrums and Fussy Eaters and Potty Training…Oh My! Yoga Moms vs Running Moms: Who’s Winning The Race? How To Raise A Vegan-ager. What Nobody Tells You About Having A Three-Year-Old.

Really? Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Mental Health, No Bullshit Motherhood

This Cross I Bear

March 10, 2017
sunshine

By Leslie Wibberley

I should have seen the signs, long before she fell so far and so hard. Instead, I just kept pushing. “You can do this, sweetie, just focus and try harder.” Seemingly innocuous words, I thought. Encouraging words, right?

Wrong.

I should have known better. After all, I’d grown up with a mother who suffered from clinical depression and had attempted suicide on more than one occasion. With that kind of family history, you would have thought I’d have seen this coming.

Well, I didn’t.

I grew up with a mother who lived in perpetual darkness, but also with a father who epitomized sunshine. For every storm cloud that gathered and dumped its torrents of rain across my mother’s sorrow filled shoulders, there came a gentle breeze filled with warmth, sunshine, and the music of song birds; my dad.

I like to think I take after him. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, parenting

A Visit From My Retired Parents Helped Reset My Anxiety Clock

February 23, 2017

By Marilyn Maloney

I’ve been riding a knife edge for too long. I have always worried, mostly about nothing, death, being alone when I’m old, some odd pain that could be a blood clot. Or not.

My daughter has been having more seizures lately. She is nine and lives with Leukodystrophy, causing her cerebral palsy, seizures, impaired swallowing, and overall low muscle tone. Researchers suspect they have found the genetic cause, and will tell us as soon as they prove their suspicions. Four long years have gone by since their discovery, and Maddy has developed daily seizures that can last up to a minute. Lately they have increased in intensity. Instead of a barely noticeable eye flutter, they come with a grimace and outstretched arm.

My son wakes up sniffling, followed by the telltale cough. His eczema puts his IgE levels 50 times higher than they should be, so the blood tests say he’s allergic to everything except cocoa. This year he developed asthma. The ER had a teddy bear on his bed when he was admitted, and “Jack” the bear sleeps with him now.

We pump Jimmy full of five different medications when the cough shows up, following his Asthma Action Plan from the Immunologist. Steroid inhaler each morning and night, steroid nasal spray and Zyrtec before school, albuterol before recess, and we pray we never need the Epi-pen. I label all his foods and send him “emergency snacks” in case he ever forgets his lunch. He has a pre-K crush on the school nurse. And the teachers like him, so he already ran out of emergency cookies. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood

A Parent Aims To Decipher A Teen’s Transgender Declaration

February 3, 2017
different

By Tina Traster

I remember the phone call from the boy’s mother. She told me my daughter and her son were dating. Didn’t I know? I didn’t. It was one of those moments when your brain cleaves in two. The stronger half said that can’t be possible. The dueling half said maybe it was, perhaps she was ready for intimacy?

With that, I began to pay closer attention. J leads a secret life. She does not share. She is not transparent in any way at all. I got on board and invited the young boy over and eagerly drove her to “dates” at his house and to spend time with his family. From what I could observe, I wasn’t seeing anything that seemed like a romantic foray. My daughter and her new “boy” friend existed in concentric circles, never showing an overt affection for one another, let alone showing an interest in each other’s interior life. They played video games. Watched movies. Went to the mall.

To my husband and I, the young man seemed gentle, effeminate, and possibly on the spectrum. Our daughter showed no sign of a hormonal teen in love. We knew we didn’t need to talk to her about experimenting sexually with this boy because it was so obvious neither once was showing the slightest inclination of sexual attraction for the other.

I figured the phase would pass. I’d deduced that she and the boy had been pushed together by their entirely-female alternative peer group. I thought it might hasten what I thought to be inevitable: that she would finally come out and declare her gayness.

Instead she told us she was transgender; she was a boy trapped inside a girl. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, postpartum depression

Mary’s Monologue

January 27, 2017
cried

By Bev Wilson

I know you fight back tears every time you hear the happy Christmas carols: Hark the Herald Angels Sing; Joy to the World; O Come Emmanuel.  And I know you are stabbed with shame as your eyes sting, because it’s Christmas, for God’s sake.  Everyone’s supposed to be happy, with lights and presents and cookies and candies and eggnog, and eager children with shining eyes, and everyone is a kid this time of year, aren’t they, flitting from gifts they want to get, to gifts they want to give, and rush and bustle, and you: are just tired.  You’re so tired, and you can’t tell anyone because you don’t want to bring them down, not this time of year of all times.  So you let them read what they want to read into the glisten in your own eyes.  Well, hide the tears if you want to, but please, please don’t feel ashamed.  You are no more tired than I was, and I cried every day.

The trip took forever.  Even with our one blanket as padding, the donkey’s spine pressed against my own tailbone, each hoofstep ricocheting the two bones off one another until I had to ask Joseph to stop and let me walk, but of course walking was agony after ten minutes, with my pelvis splayed in anticipation of delivery, and back I’d go on the donkey.  I stopped trying to hold in my urine after the first day, because it didn’t do any good; besides, it wasn’t like anyone was around to smell me, except Joseph, and we were both rank with sweat, anyway. Continue Reading…

Addiction, Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, Surviving

To The Girl Whose Mom Just Died From Drugs: It’s Not Your Fault

January 11, 2017
drugs

By Lisa Fogarty

Before you watched her unravel, bit by bit for all 17 years you’ve been on Earth; before she pulled the plugs on people and places until there was just an empty room and her in it; and long before she died from the complications of a debilitating drug addiction, your mother was a little girl with skinny legs and a laugh like a solar eclipse.

We were friends, but more like cousins. She’d sit on her twin bed cross-legged and stare into my eyes with feline expectation. She wasn’t another aloof victim of my generation’s casual contempt for everything. She was a mental vagabond who once got homesick after a weekend away, which should have been our first clue that this world would never give her what she needed. She was too thirsty to be happy, but had a fat laugh that stayed nourished throughout her life-long drought, a laugh independent of joy and one that made the entire room quake with the force of her freedom.

Before she saw too much, your mother was almost infuriatingly naive at times, hiding cigarette butts and cheap trinkets from boys in an Aldo’s shoebox beneath her bed. She stashed dollar bills in there, too, and no matter how desperate she was to split a $4 calzone from the pizzeria on Lefferts Boulevard, she’d let us both starve before touching the money she was saving to buy a Ferrari. On the weekends I slept over we watched Friday Night Videos and I made fun of her for shushing me when sappy songs came on. One Saturday afternoon in October we got caught in a rainstorm. She was 14 and failing math class. “Let’s stay out!” she shouted with a laugh that had grown threatening enough to challenge the sky. We roamed through the neighborhood like stray cats, sticking our heads under drainpipes. She had a way of making you feel like there was no better way to spend your last day on Earth than washing your hair in cold rain. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, parenting

Always

January 4, 2017
tantrums

By Kristi Rabe

I’m not your typical writer. I had a great childhood. Yes, I was odd and the entire school made sure I was keenly aware of that fact. I was ridiculed and bullied, but I had a great family. We weren’t well off, but every summer there were campouts and vacations. Every Christmas and birthday was made magical by my parents and every night we sat together as a family and ate dinner and talked. My parents taught me the importance of family, so that all I ever wanted as a little girl was to be a mom – not just any mom. I wanted ten kids. However, after my oldest son was born in 1995, I faced 7 years of infertility, an emergency hysterectomy, 3 failed adoptions, and a divorce. Life never really goes as planned.

My youngest son was born June 6, 2006. I’ve learned the importance of saying it this way. Like spelling my last name before saying it, stating the month, day, and year instead of abbreviating with 6/6/06 usually saves the awkward conversations of Satan and wide eyes of worry and fear. You’d think in this day and age, such a thing wouldn’t be so controversial, but it is and I admit at times I’ll say it short hand to fuck with someone. Continue Reading…

Adoption, Family, Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood

Living the Mother

December 28, 2016

By Anne Heffron

My mother asked for me to read Mary Oliver’s poem When Death Comes at her funeral. I cried when I got to the last stanzas, not because they rang true, but because I felt devastated that, even from the grave, my mother wasn’t telling the truth.

When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

 

This is the story I grew up with: after my mother had gone to Smith, she’d gone to New York and had gotten a job as a fact checker for Reader’s Digest. She listened to Kennedy give his “ask not what your country can do for you speech” and was inspired to do something she felt would help the world, and so she joined the Peace Corps and went to Nigeria. Shortly after arriving, she wrote a post card to a friend that described the conditions of Ibadan:

Dear Bobbo: Don’t be furious at getting a postcard. I promise a letter next time. I wanted you to see the incredible and fascinating city we were in. With all the training we had, we really were not prepared for the squalor and absolutely primitive living conditions rampant both in the city and in the bush. We had no idea what “underdeveloped” meant. It really is a revelation and after we got over the initial horrified shock, a very rewarding experience. Everyone except us lives in the streets, cooks in the streets, sells in the streets, and even goes to the bathroom in the streets. Please write. Marge. P.S. We are excessively cut off from the rest of the world.

 

The next day there was an uprising because my mother had dropped the card instead of getting it into the mailbox, and a Nigerian student had found it. The Nigerians protested the Americans and my young mother almost brought down her beloved President’s cherished organization.

My mother was sent into hiding and then flown home where my father met her at the airport and asked her to marry him. And so supposedly that was her happily ever after moment.

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, parenting

From The Quiet Corner

December 26, 2016

By Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

How many times when kids are young do parents essentially shake off their child’s upset? “You fell? You got up! You’re worried? You’re awesome!” We aim to bolster self-esteem; we keen toward reassurance.

The other day, my daughter asked why Trump won. We were walking to her gymnastics practice. “You know, our country really doesn’t agree about how to make things better,” I told her. “So, sometimes the great person wins and sometimes someone wins we don’t agree with. Everyone wants the world to be better,” I assured her.

“I was really looking forward to telling my kids that when I was eight turning nine in 2016, we elected our first girl President,” she said.

“I know, me too,” I replied. “I was looking forward to your kids hearing that. I do think we’re going to get a girl President.”

“Maybe I will be the first girl President!” Continue Reading…