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Guest post: On Passing as a Single Mom

A few months ago, a friend sent me this practical account of how a woman got rid of a placenta she never wanted in the first place. It casually flew in the face of the false dichotomy between crunchy, placenta-eating home birthers and epidural princesses. On a whim, I sent an admiring email to the author. Any woman willing to reveal her own complexity in an embarrassing tale of human waste disposal is a friend of mine. I invited her to write a guest post here, and hot damn, she wrote one.
Enjoy.

My boyfriend, Scott, was in Arizona with his dying father and I was at a diner with our two sons. My older son was rolling creamers across the table for the younger one to fling on the ground. I overheard our waitress say to an older couple who had just walked in, “Someone is in your booth.”

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Photo by Ben Husmann

She nodded in our direction. Unknowingly we had occupied “their” booth. Aware of how territorial old people can be about booths, I stiffened. The couple sat down near us, and then the husband began to silently watch us.

“Whatever,” I said to myself and then became distracted with the blue crayon my youngest was chewing.

The old folks ate swiftly and left. My children were covered in syrup, so I asked for the check.

“It’s been taken care of,” the waitress said and nodded to the booth where the couple had been sitting. I had spent the better part of my twenties—a time before back flab and pregnancy-induced skin tags—in Mission District bars and no stranger had ever picked up my tab. I asked the waitress to mind my sons while I ran into the rain to thank the Samaritans, but they were gone.

“What was that all about?” I asked her when I returned. She smiled in a certain way. Like the way you smile when you assume you’re in the company of your own kind.

It was really early; I was alone with my kids; I don’t have a wedding ring. Of course the couple—and the waitress—thought I was a single mom, which I’m not.

At this point, I became aware that silence was a form of deception and what I should say was, “What a goddamn nice gesture. It’s been a rough week because my boyfriend (super strong emphasis) is away with his sick father.”

Why did I lie by omission? Because there was something shamefully thrilling about passing as a single mom, who as everyone knows is society’s toughest of the tough.

I asked about her life. Her shift had started at 6 a.m., so she had to wake both her kids at 5:30. Then they went back to sleep on the babysitter’s couch. “Not so bad,” she said.

She had parted ways with her kids at the crack of dawn, and the suspenders on her diner uniform were pushing her boobs out to either side. But she wasn’t complaining.

I complain. For what? Not only do I have a partner, but he’s of the best stock, scooping baby poop out of the bath drain, telling me he wants me, working his ass off. I have my mom who not only watches our baby once a week but also lugs the recycling to the curb. I have the hardest working nanny in the North Bay. The list goes on.

After our first son was born, neither for the love of Christ nor money could Scott and I stop playing the who-has-it-harder game. Thankfully we’ve let that go.

But in my mind, I’m still a contestant with other moms. Why? Because Scott works nights? Because I have two boys? Because my kids are less than two years apart in age? Because all my friends live at least an hour away?

It’s not sympathy I’m after. Just acknowledgement: What you’re doing is hard. But does anything I’m doing even qualify as hard? Some people handle hard better than others. I’m ashamed that I’m not one of them.

I left the restaurant with the waitress still under the impression that we were in the good fight together.

Several months later, I returned to the diner with my family. Scott and the boys were there, as was my dad and his wife. I was telling them the story and getting close to the climax – “they picked up our bill” – when the same waitress came to take our order.

She acknowledged me. And then she scanned the full table, took in my reality, pursed her lips, and poured the coffee.

***

Jennifer Liss enjoys writing about life in the great parched state of California. She lives in Napa with her boyfriend and two young sons. She makes her living as an education and curriculum writer.

It's not about winning or losing

One of the hardest things about the dance I’ve been doing with my depression over the last month is that I feel like I came out the loser in some sort of competition I didn’t even know I entered.

I was so hoping that this time I’d be able to set things up in just the right way to not have to experience this. Enough meals in the freezer, connections with friends, supplements in their little day of the week cubes–enough preparation and I could just avoid having to feel the feelings that are hardest for me.

zoloft

What happened to land me here? Things were going so well. I was sleeping (and still am!). Baby C is still so much easier than J was. I’m still taking all the fish oil and vitamin d and placenta pills.

There are a whole bunch of stories I could tell, theories that I have for why I started feeling depressed in the first place. In the end, though, it doesn’t really matter. Because about a month ago, right when I wrote this post, the flat, heaviness that is my depression started to roll in.

After a week of feeling its ebb and flow, I opted to go back on my Zoloft. That was a hard day–not unlike this day, before baby C was born when I had to let go of having him at home and pack for the hospital. My decision to go the pharmaceutical route again was another moment of surrendering to reality. I cried to my dear friend M on the phone, saying, “I hate feeling this way.” And she said, “Well, you don’t have to for long.” The truth of that statement was sobering. There is something I can take that helps this feeling go away and helps me perform the myriad duties that my children and life require of me. So why was I feeling so resistant to filling my prescription?

Some time since I stopped taking the Zoloft that helped me cope with J’s infancy, my brain decided that if I didn’t need the Zoloft this time that I would win.

After turning that thought over a few times and recognizing it as a complete piece of crap, I started accepting reality. I needed and wanted help.

So my little green pills are back. And they’re helping. And I feel really good about making that decision to help myself and, in effect, the people I love, so that I don’t get so stuck in my weepy, catatonic, existential place. It’s a relief all around.

Today also happens to be Jo’s 4th birthday, and the marker of the day I became a mother. Happy birthday, little weasel. And happy birthday to me.

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!

From the mom of a kid who hits

Dear Mom of the kid who my kid just hit, kicked, pushed, scratched or grabbed,

I’m sorry. It is horrifying to watch my child hurt another. It’s like putting on by best outfit, going out and trying to be the good person I know I am and suddenly having a surprise third arm lurch out from under my coat and start flipping everyone off.

I worry now that you’ll think less of me, even though I’m a good woman.

Is your kid okay? I’m sorry. And if it’ll make you feel better, I’ll try to get J to tell your child that he’s sorry. I read somewhere that it matters less to a toddler to make them say they’re sorry, and that it impacts them more to show them the face and body language of the child they hurt, so they understand how their actions affected the other child. So I tend to do that instead of angling for an apology.

I’m ashamed to admit that this has been a problem for a while. I’ve been working with J on this for a year and a half, and it grieves me when this happens—it makes me doubt myself as a mother.

At multiple stages, some approach I’ve taken has worked, so I think that we we’re past this. And I heave a huge sigh and take the opportunity not to shadow him at every moment when there are other children around. So lately, I’ve gotten more relaxed when I’m in public. And now he’s doing it again. I don’t know why. I don’t hit him at home. And I try to use forms of discipline that will be effective but not prey on his fears or break his will.

It’s times like this when I wish that I could break his will, but I’m not sure if that would work with this particular child. And after thinking about it for more than a few seconds, I don’t want to break his will. Because I believe in him.

This picture helps remind me of why I believe in him.

I also believe that he will grow out of this and that it’s my responsibility to minimize damages in the mean time.

If you feel empathetic towards me, I’d love to hear any ideas you might have for how to handle this, particularly if you’ve struggled with this yourself. And if you have struggled with this yourself, PLEASE tell me. It’ll make me feel less like a social pariah, and more like a woman who is trying her best. And I’ll admit. Sometimes I get lazy, or I just need to believe that today will be better. Because I want to be able to sit at the park and zone out for 5 minutes. Or I want to be able to talk to you and enjoy our conversation instead of lurking 3 feet behind my son trying to anticipate his frustration, fear or anger.

And if you feel extra, super empathetic, and if you know us, please remind me that you know J is a good kid and that you care about him even when stuff like this happens.

Sincerely,

A mom of a kid who physically hurts other kids sometimes

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.

I become a three-year-old mom today

Three years ago today, this happened:

photo by our doula, Candace Palmerlee

The marking of this day feels more significant than any other, which has surprised me. It looms over my own birthday or wedding anniversary. I anticipate its arrival as the walnuts ripen and with the little showers of shell crunching down from the squirrels that frequent our tree. I can smell its approach in the dry autumn air. And then, starting on September 8, the day I went into labor, I follow my birth log that our doula wrote for us.

10:25am Contractions every 2-3 minutes.
11:00am Long lull in contractions, perhaps 25 minutes without one, contractions resume ever 5-10 minutes apart when laying flat on side.
11:45am Nurse changes to Jacki, the “radical natural birth nurse.”
12:00pm Vaginal exam, 7cms, 0 station
12:40pm Walk on roof garden

I love marking the time, reading these facts and remembering what it felt like in my body that day. The quality of the sunlight, the anger that possessed me when we had to wait and wait in triage at the hospital, the sound of our yoga ball squelching around and around on our hardwood floor in the middle of the night. I’ve never *sensed* an experience more than this one. And I savor the details that my body remembers.

I live in such a brainiac world that there are few experiences that require me to be deeply feeling inside my body. That is why I love birth so much. It eventually demands everything–every pre-historic moan, every trickling bead of sweat, every deepest-darkest thing you didn’t even know you had. And there’s a joy in that animal darkness. And there’s fear in the joy. It just tunnels in like that to the place where everything is all mixed in with everything else.

I often tell people that having a child has expanded my emotional territory in all directions. There are moments of quiet happiness beyond knowing, and despair that can sweep me out to the furthest reaches of myself. I never knew I was so big until I started becoming a mother. And that bigness and depth and expansion all crescendo-ed at birth.

No wonder I make so much room in my life to remember it.

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.

Toddler sleep update

Well, thanks to all of your helpful comments responding to my cry for help, things are going a bit better on the sleep front.

Your suggestions reminded me of something that I knew deep down in my heart–J is getting bigger all the time, and I will probably always be a few steps behind, thinking he still might need his crib or only drink 4oz of milk at one sitting or that he’ll want to sleep swaddled until his mid 40s.

So I did it. Thanks to my trusty IKEA-supplied Allen wrench, I turned his crib into a toddler bed.

J explores the joys of toddler-bed-dom.

I was definitely terrified of what chaos might ensue, and also just clinging lazily to old routines. It just takes so much damned energy to construct a whole new set of bed time procedures. But it seems that we’ve done it.

Naps are still the real challenge–we’ve gotten him to fall asleep in there on his own for nap time once. I was so giddy with excitement that I had to take a picture:

All other times, he has either fallen asleep nursing (which I must say, I think I am finally ready to give up at this point) or he has never fallen asleep and thus had “quiet time” which consists of bursts of quiet or loud play alone in his room, punctuated by opening his door and having chats with me. I have yet to find a way of enforcing quiet time that feels right to me. The one thing I haven’t tried that I might is turning on an album and saying that he has to stay in his room until the music ends. I welcome any other tips you might have.

Nighttime is much simpler. My friend B sent me this very applicable quote from this website, which seems quite helpful especially for the 0-1 set.

I want to be clear that we are talking about BEDTIME. This is the time you put your child to bed. The only rule is that they stay in bed. You can’t make an older child sleep (nor can you make them eat or poop FYI). This is why we don’t call it SLEEPTIME. As a parent your job is to give them an age-appropriate bedtime, a soothing consistent bedtime routine, establish the limits (primarily that they stay in bed), and then leave. What they do at that point is up to them.

Does that mean it’s OK for your 2 YO to sit in their bed awake and talking to themselves for 45 minutes? It sure does!

Is this a form of torture? No it isn’t! Learning to entertain themselves, care for their bodies, or (*gasp*) spend a moment of the day without constant stimulation is actually really healthy! As adults, what do you do when you can’t fall asleep? You lie there and think quiet thoughts until you DO fall asleep. Your child is learning to do this too.

I found this particularly helpful and found the extra added reinforcement of a Goodnight Moon pop-up book that J and I found on the street corner the other day. Granted, many of the pop-ups had been torn off, which is probably why this book had been jettisoned by its former owner, but one function that remained delightfully intact was the pop up of the little bunny who goes to bed in the great green room. There’s a little tab that you pull and the little bunny sits up, and if you push it, she lies down. But she doesn’t get out of bed. Because she knows it’s BEDTIME. I explained all of this enthusiastically to J and really put some ooomph behind it. I’ve been reminded of the power of ooomph by this post about intention that my blogging friend Turned on Mama wrote. (And she also happens to give great sex advice to boot.)

Anyhoo. He bought it. He stayed in his little bed and fell asleep. And he’s done that a few nights now. Of course, it’s not always perfect. Sometimes he clucks around in there for what seems like forever. Other times he gets out of the bed and winds up falling asleep like this:

I mean, he did technically fall asleep in his bedroom. Though maybe his nose didn’t…

But I can handle that.

Why I take my brain out for dinner. And what we talk about. And what we eat.

Over the past few years, I’ve developed an increasingly intimate relationship with my brain.

Thanks to my friend D, who introduces me to at least half of the things I love the most in the world, I started going to meditation and dharma talks led by this guy. The practice of just sitting with my often frenetic brain for 40 minutes every Thursday was sometimes a refuge and sometimes completely infuriating, but it served the function of sitting down over a nice, lingering dinner with my brain on a weekly basis.

A dinner my brain and I enjoyed recently: Cuban Chicken Salad w/ Garbanzos. Brains really like protein.
More about that later.

We’ve gotten to know each other pretty well. And I now understand that my brain does what all brains do. It thinks. A lot. Unceasingly at times. Just like hearts are completely obsessive compulsive about pumping blood, brains are like hyper OCD versions of that one friend you have who needs to discuss everything, all the time.

My weekly meditation pretty much went the way of the dodo as soon as J was born. Much like my relationship with my partner A, my brain and I had a nice solid foundation to draw on in those first soaring and, well, shocking post-partum months. And, much like my relationship with A, the groovy connection I’d developed with my brain started to flail and falter pretty quickly after J was born. And ever since, we’ve been scrambling towards recovery.

The Zoloft certainly helped, as did J growing into a person who sleeps more and has more predictable, human-like behaviors. And, as I’ve discussed, I’ve been trying in the last year to reach a nice, steady, and dare I say optimistic place with my post-partum brain.

Enter: Brain books.

They’ve taught me that I didn’t know my brain as well as I thought I did.

One of them was tucked in the bed side table of the house where we stayed while on vacation in my Colorado hometown. (We managed to sort out a house swap during our time there, which was awesome.)

I’d been meaning to read the book ever since I heard Taylor’s TED talk (which is, coincidentally, the second most-viewed TED talk of all time) and BOOM, there it was, begging to be read. Taylor describes her experience of a massive stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain, and her stroke of insight, as it were, is that once her left brain shuts down, her right brain floats into a sort of timeless, peaceful bliss.

So I’ve developed this image of my left brain, all numbers and science and words–a stern accountant sitting at a perfectly organized desk, making sure every ‘i’ is dotted and ‘t’ is crossed. And right hemisphere, a buddha-like child, giddy with the sensory input of the present moment and happy to sit dangling her toes in the stream and feeling the warmth of the sun. Maybe it’s not necessarily a matter of seeking peace, but rather tapping into that right brain that’s already there (and perhaps tying up and gagging my left brain).

Since we got home from Colorado, I’ve been reading this:

It’s been a game changer for sure. The biggest revelation so far: there are a lot of other mood issues other than depression that are associated with having low amounts of serotonin in your brain.

  • low self esteem
  • obsessive behaviors
  • controlling behaviors
  • false fear in the form of shyness, anxiety or panic
  • perfectionism

Reading that list, while an unnerving indictment of my life for the last 6 months, has been deeply liberating. So maybe it’s not just that I’m one of those perfectionist types, but this could actually have something to do with my brain chemistry. And more than just feeling liberated by an idea, I’ve been actually feeling better. My mood is improved.

As the book recommends, I’ve been paying more attention to my diet, and focusing more on good mood foods–fish, poultry, eggs, lamb, beef, pork, Pippa milk, veggies, fruits, legumes, whole grains, butter, coconut milk, olive oil. And having less of a love affair with bad mood food: sugar, white flour, wheat, and soy. I’ve also been paying more attention to my daily mood cycles. Ross says that it’s very common to have a serotonin dip in the afternoon, which is why we often crave sweet snacks and caffeine and alcohol in the afternoon–to prop up our mood.  So I started taking my Zoloft around noon–instead of before bed as I had been doing.

And shazzam. My mood is improved. My brain seems to like this new turn of events. And it’s better company during those long, get-to-know-you dinners.

Before this starts to sound like some hopped up infomercial, let me please just say that my main motivation in writing this is:

  1. To celebrate.
  2. To share–in the hopes that you’ll find it helpful for you or some anxious, OCD perfectionist you love.

I just honestly never knew so much about my brain before. And I feel a lot more fondness, interest, and compassion. And less like wanting to exchange mine for a new one.