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My triumph over post-partum trauma and a giveaway

I’ve mentioned a few times that this pregnancy with baby #2 has been emotionally challenging.

And sometime during the blur of activity since moving into our new house, the grip of fear and dread I had about this second baby all but vanished in a single day, and I’m left with a healthy sense that yes, this will be hard and also, that I can do it.

Here’s how that happened.

At a pre-natal appointment, I cried while telling one of my midwives about how hard it’s been to feel burdened and emotionally flat about being pregnant this time around. What did it mean about the baby? About me? About our future relationship? About whether this was a good decision in the first place.

My wise and wonderful midwife had this to say:

You might try connecting with and talking to the baby when you’re feeling that way. You could say, ‘I’m having a lot of difficult feelings right now. And you’re also welcome here.’

The reminder that both my crap feelings and the baby could co-exist and that they are separate entities was radically helpful, especially in battling my whole freak out about the fetal origins thing.

I also talked with my midwife about how afraid I was of those first few months with a baby—since they had been so difficult with J.

She recommended that I sign up for a post-partum/birth trauma workshop with Gena McCarthy, a local nurse and therapist who specializes in supporting women through the challenges of birth, post-partum and motherhood.

I signed myself up and a couple weeks later, spent 3 and a half hours in a room with 6 other women who had difficult birth or post-partum experiences that they wanted help working through.

I have to admit, during the workshop, I kept thinking there would be some sort of magical moment—some radical revelation that would swoop down and save me. The radical revelation never came, but I did feel relieved to know I wasn’t alone—other moms were still struggling with a difficult time in early motherhood that had long since passed.

It was helpful to hear Gena’s explanation of how these types of fears we have—the ones that feel deeply lodged and almost irrational in their strength and persistence—are often the result of trauma. And trauma lives in a part of our brain that is non-verbal. So rational and verbal approaches to healing trauma aren’t usually very effective. What is effective, she said, are approaches that tap into our limbic system—a region of our brain that we share with other mammals and reptiles that is largely concerned with things like emotion, memory and our instinctive fight or flight response.

Apparently, the workshop was supposed to help us tap into this part of our brains, where we could begin to move through some of the fears that were lodged there.

During the workshop, we talked, we did a guided visualization, we journaled, we made collages, and I walked away from the workshop thinking, “That was nice, but I doubt it helped much.”

Later that night, my partner, A asked me how it went. As I recounted what I had talked and thought about, I noticed that there was none of the background fear and anxiety lurking like it normally did. I was talking about how hard those first few months were with J, and I had this understanding of why, and this healthy compassion for myself, and I didn’t feel overcome with dread about what was coming. It was a simple and radical release.

That’s how it is now—I know I’m going to have to go through all of that post-partum time with a new baby again. And surely it will be lovely. And surely it will be hard. But I’m not irrationally afraid of it anymore. I hadn’t realized how much my fears were keeping me from settling into the whole idea of baby #2 and being pregnant, but since they lifted, I touched down. Here I am. 35 weeks pregnant. I’m tired and excited and hopeful and swollen and everything is going to be okay, except for when it’s not, and then we’ll just figure it out.

Naturally, I’ve become a big fan of Gena and her work, so I wanted to share it with you. And, ws luck would have it, she has another workshop just like the one I described coming up on April 28 in Berkeley. She also does private sessions in person or on the phone, so you can connect with her regardless of where you live.
Healing Birth Mother Renewal eFlyer_4-13
Now that you’ve read my story of post-partum trauma triumph, I’d like a drumroll please. Because today I’m joining the ranks of bloggers everywhere who offer tantalizing giveaways!

Gena has extended the generous offer to you, fabulous readers: $15 off of her upcoming workshop or $30 off a private session, which can be in person if you live in the Bay Area or over the phone if you live anywhere! The workshop is $75 and private sessions are $130, so you’ll get a good solid discount. If you’d like to enter the giveaway, just leave a comment below and be sure to include your email address in the section of the comment form that asks for it. And for those of you that are particularly keen to win, if you’re a subscriber to the blog (just enter your email address in the handy form in the upper right hand corner of this blog page) or if you “like” my Facebook page, those actions will enter you into the drawing a second or third time! I’ll select one lucky An Honest Mom reader at random next week and then email you with the good news.

And please, share this post with anyone who you think might benefit from Gena’s stellar work. Here’s to unburdening moms of birth and post-partum trauma everywhere!

Two big announcements

You may have already connected the dots: the exhaustion, the infrequent posts, the hamburger eating and overwhelm.

I’m pregnant.

This was a deliberate impregnation of the lightning fast variety.

I got the news after 10 days of systematic pregnancy tests. Every day I got a negative, I would mentally scream “Liar!” at the benign looking single-striped stick and drop it in the trash. I had been exhausted in that basement-floor-dropping-out-from-below-you kind of way, and I had also intuited that if we opened the door to this second baby, that he or she would come rushing in.

Confirmation of my pregnancy came right on the heels of a night out I had with the doula who supported us through J’s birth. I asked her at the bar over our beers, “If I’m 37 days after the first day of my period and I’m still getting negative pregnancy tests, I’m probably not pregnant, right?” She said that no, I probably wasn’t and so we proceeded, among other things, to go outside and share a cigarette. Two days later, I was chatting with A about this and was saying something to the effect of, “Now that we know I’m probably not pregnant, let’s talk about this whole idea again. After this first month, and thinking that I was pregnant, it kinda freaked me out to have it happen so soon, and I’m wondering if we should delay things a bit. How do you feel about the whole baby #2 thing?” As I was saying these words, I was somewhat absent-mindedly taking a pregnancy test, since doing so had become as routine as brushing my teeth.

While A was answering me with his typical response in times like these (and at most times, really) the “I feel pretty much the same way I have for quite a while” response, I saw that second purple line fill in.

I felt vindicated. I laughed. I was terrified. I swore a lot. And after A left for work, quite dazed and twitter-painted, I sat and stared into space with something between an elated and crazed look on my face. And I kept swearing. A lot.

That was week 4. I’m now 11 weeks. The swearing has lessened. The complex array of feelings has not. It’s been really hard for me to share the feelings I’ve been having around this pregnancy both because they’re socially unpopular and because I’m uncomfortable with some of them. But a couple of weeks ago, I felt some clarity during a post-toddler-bedtime online chat with a friend from childhood, JS.

JS: does J know he’s getting a baby yet?

Me: J does know.
he thinks its a girl and he doesn’t want a baby in the house.
somewhat representative of my thoughts too.

JS: ha!

Me: its been hard.
i’ve just felt sort of passionless about it.
which makes me feel sad.
and we all know how much it sucks to feel bad about your own feelings.

JS: but that’s legit too.

Me: and then sometimes i get scared.

JS: lots to feel all at once!

Me: it can feel like this big lid clamping down on my life.

JS: oh shit that’s heavy

Me: to be quite real about it, i’ve felt more negative emotions than positive thus far.
and that’s just the truth.

JS: amen

Me: and here i am. still pregnant. moving forward.
thanks for being a gal who digs the truth.
i haven’t really said that to anyone.

JS: hang in there, friend. at least you’re not trying to pretend it’s otherwise right now.

Me: RIGHT NOW i’m not.

JS: honored!

Me: but its hard when i tell people the news and its all CONGRATULATIONS blah blah

JS: yeah, feels out of sync, right?

Me: totally. just on some other plane.

JS: I hear you, lady. and it’s all the right way to feel. all of itMe: nice.
thanks yo.
that is the hardest part.
oh lord…J is in his room saying “hush little baby don’t you cry”

JS: awwww
look out!

Me: hardest part: judging my feelings for being wrong.
i think i just didn’t expect to feel this way.
and it worries me that the feelings mean that i shouldn’t have done/do it.

JS: hmmm…I could see that. you guys didn’t have much time to get used to the idea of trying again before it happened…could still be catching up with all that processing, yeah?

Me: yeah. i think so.
and just saying it out loud, i know that the feelings don’t mean that i shouldn’t do it.
they’re kinda separate.
i want to do it. i’m inspired by it AND i’m also scared and overwhelmed and tired.

So, there you have it, big announcement number one, in all of its awkward glory. As for big announcement number two? I actually think I’m too tuckered out to go into that now. But after a night of out-like-she’s-dead, crazy-dream sleep and some uninspired snacks eaten over a foundation of nausea, I’ll shore up enough energy to let *that* cat out of the bag. It’s a good one, so stay tuned.

Why I'm tuckered out. And parenting lesson 287.

I don’t have a lot in me today. After a few weeks filled with video project deadlines, A. leaving town for a work trip, J’s 3rd birthday, friends in town, dance rehearsals for a street festival (more on my beloved dance class sometime), and then doula-ing for a radical momma over the course of her 78 hour birth experience (!), I’m completely knackered.

Here’s all I got:

A photographic challenge: capture and share a less-than-perfect moment

I’ve been thinking about this photo for a long time.

photo by Jessica Todd Harper

And this one too:

Another beauty from Jessica Todd Harper.

Both were part of this NYT article that a friend recommended after reading my first video blog post. I loved the article for the counterpoint it offered to the “Don’t you just love every minute?” comments that people kept flinging at me when I was out and about with my infant son.

I was so inspired by the photographs that I took one of my own.

It was such a relief to capture a moment simply as it was. It wasn’t begging to be captured, it didn’t show my son in all of his perfect, chubby glory. It didn’t make me look particularly competent or satisfied. I tried to show the moment how it was. From what I remember, I was tired. A little bit bored. And trying to pass the time.

Then last week my friend M sent me this blog post written by a mom of 2 who talks about all of the things you don’t see in the photos of her family life that she posts on Instagram. She tends not to post images of marital spats, colicky infants at 3 a.m. and the like. Of course she doesn’t post that stuff. Most of us don’t. After all, who would want to see that?

I would, for one. And I don’t think I’m alone.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t relish the idea of wading through a ton of photos of screaming children or exhausted parents in dimly lit bedrooms strewn with diapers. But something in me does tire, after a while, of seeing everyone’s perfect pictures of their lives with their children, and, for that matter, my own. The part of me that gets tired of all that perfection is the same part that wonders if everyone else’s life is just a little bit (or a lot) happier, tidier and more successful than mine. It’s the same part that breathes a huge sigh of relief when someone I know tells me about her depression or his failed marriage or her crippling jealousy. That part of me needs to connect with the realness in other people, the darker, messier reality that doesn’t make the cut for Facebook.

This ties into the reason I started blogging in the first place: I feel a responsibility to be honest about my actual, lived experience of parenthood, so that other parents and future parents might feel a little less alone and weird when they’re having a less-than-savory time. And this applies to any aspect of life, really, but I’ve found that our culture’s reverence for family life and unrealistic, filtered portrayals of it to be particularly isolating. The stories we hear and images we see of young families help us form our expectations of parenthood (that later come crashing down…or soar up, perhaps, but that wasn’t my experience) and drive the way we connect with other parents one we join the fold. They help to define what we talk with other people about and what we don’t. What we ask others about and what we think we shouldn’t.

And images, I think, are particularly powerful because they can sink in so quickly. Every one of us, if asked, can instantly bring a long string photos to mind when we think of the word parenthood. A mother lying in the grass, holding her smiling baby up into a perfectly blue sky. A father asleep, newborn baby curled up in his beefy arms. The latest, greatest photo-journalistic rendering of a family of four, wearing jeans, on a walk in a leaf-strewn park, laughing with each other. I like pictures like these. I have some. I want that photo-journalism one.

But I want the colicky infant too. And the sink full of dirty dishes. And the site of 2 frayed moms sitting on their couch, celebrating their son’s decent into a nap by watching crappy tv.

So, I’d like to invite you to take a picture in the next week when you normally wouldn’t take one. To capture a moment that isn’t perfect. See what it feels like to show it how it really is. Without checking your hair or wiping down the kitchen counter. Then, if you’re inspired, I’d be tickled pink if you would share your photo on my Facebook page. Maybe we can start a little photo revolution.

***

If you liked this post and are feeling bold and decisive, please subscribe. I’ve got more where this came from.

Happy Mother's Day from a 2-and-a-half-year-old mom

Living things change. They adapt and grow and die. Trees leaf out, snakes molt, babies grow up into frat boys. It just happens.

Aren’t you glad I picked this picture instead of one of a frat boy?

So why is it I thought the moment I had a baby that I would be a full-grown mother?

It came to me a few months ago when I was talking with an adoptive mother at the park. She brought home her baby boy 4 months ago, and he was now a year and a half old. “It’s been hard to relate to the other moms with kids his age because we’re just hitting the 4 month mark of having a kid,” she said. Without even thinking, I said, “Yeah, I mean, he’s an 18-month-old baby and you’re a 4-month-old mom.”

That means I’m a 2-and-a-half-year-old mom. And back when I was wondering if I would ever feel like a “natural mother,” I was a 3-week-old mom. A newborn. I was 4 months old when I was white-knuckling through my exhaustion, anxiety and depression.

My maternal grandmother, who we called Dee Dee, was most definitely a full grown mother when I knew her. Since she had a son and a daughter who were 61 and 59 when she died, I’d say she grew to the ripe old mom age of 120.

Thinking about my mom age this way makes me feel better. It helps me have more compassion for myself in those first few disorienting months. Things often felt wobbly and strange. Am I doing this right? Is it supposed to feel this way? We don’t expect newborn babes to come out of the womb quoting Shakespeare. So why do we expect the equivalent of ourselves as mothers?

And here’s my dear friend E. Who will become a 2-year-old mom this August and give birth to kiddo #2, growing her mom age by leaps and bounds ahead of mine.

So for my Mother’s Day gift to myself and to all of you, I’d like to let us all be the mom age that we are.

For a mom in her toddler years, I feel like I’m doing okay. I don’t have everything down to a science, like my 7-year-old mom friends, but I’m starting to have fewer tantrums.

How old of a mom are you? Or if you’re not a mom yourself, how old of a mother is the mom that you’re closest to? Does thinking about mothers in terms of their mom age change how you feel or think about motherhood?

What becoming a mother looks like for T at 3 weeks post-partum

Remember the video I posted of my conversation with T when she was 38 weeks (roughly 9 months) pregnant? Well, here she is a month after we had that first talk–3 weeks after giving birth to her baby boy.

I love her willingness to share and how she captures that kind of floaty, coming-back-down-to-earth feeling that I remember from my first few weeks after J was born. Even at more than 2.5 years post-partum, I still feel the challenge that T talks about: to “connect my life before with this new life.”

How are you managing with that epic challenge?

The joy of crappy pictures

Ah, the sweet relief of humor about the trials and triumphs of parenting. There’s really nothing quite so confirming as having another witty mother accurately capture the daily drama of parenthood.  My latest love in this category is Parenting. Illustrated with Crappy Pictures. Is there anything quite so charming as the simplicity of the crappy drawing? First of all, it makes me feel better about my own artistic talents and it properly conveys the  “get ‘er done” mindset of the tired mama. As we all toil away in our little homes, slinging cheerios and wiping off grubby little hands, its nice to remember that WE are all doing very similar things–albeit in separate houses. [enter wish for communal living here].

It IS the longest shortest time!

In those newborn days, as I was beat about the head and shoulders with glassy-eyed smiles and it-all-goes-by-so-fast proclamations, I finally broke down and recorded my first video blog. I didn’t know what planet everyone else was living on, but it seemed like some of the slowest time I’d ever waded through in my life. I must admit that in the months since then, there are times when I’m looking at 3-month-old J pictures that my very own brain thinks it actually IS going by quickly. Here’s the shocker: BOTH things are true. Thanks to a link that was included in a comment on THIS VERY blog, I discovered The Longest Shortest Time. And with a title like that, I knew that this is my kind of gal.

My First Honest Mom Video Blog

My experience as a new mother has sometimes been how I expected it to be and more often alot grittier–which has led me to wonder, why don’t parents talk more about “the dark side” of having kids?

More food for thought:

http://nymag.com/news/features/67024/

http://www.twentytworeviews.bonniefortune.info/index.html