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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!

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

The revolution continues: more of your honest photos

Well, fabulous readers, you definitely stepped up to my recent photographic challenge. Here are more regular, everyday, un-gussied-up moments from your lives. Thank you, thank you for sharing them.

can’t decide if i love the pose or the soft vignette more…
“What is the torture we’re applying to the young lady? We’re washing her hair – oh no!!!”

Laura Turbow shared these next three photos. She’s an honest mom who happens to also be an awesome photographer.

“For just a second, i wish you could press a button and hear the sound of this photo, but maybe it is not necessary.”
“This photo is part of a series that i took of my champion vomit child.”
“Here is one more ‘grab the camera before I grab a towel shot'”
“Too tired from two jobs to even move the belt off the bed. i just had to lay down and stare into space for awhile.”
Life is so hard for redheads.

If you’d like to see more revolutionary photos like these, here’s the first batch I posted. And if you’re inspired, I would be tickled pink if you’d share your photo with me and my fabulous readers at my facebook page.

Leading ladies in children's picture books: Mrs. Armitage

Way back when, I posed this lament and request for good children’s picture books with girl and women main characters. Thanks to all of your amazing comments, I’ve had a hold-list a mile long at our library. We’ve been reading like fiends in these parts and have found some real stand-outs. Three books that stick in my mind and that we have gone back to the library for again and again are the Mrs. Armitage books by Quentin Blake.

It all started with Mrs. Armitage on Wheels.

Don’t you love her already?

It’s basically a children’s book version of ‘pimp my ride,’ only the ride is a bike and the detail crew is Mrs. Armitage and her faithful dog Breakspear. And if you feel like Blake’s illustrations remind you of something, you’re right! Quentin Blake drew all of the pictures for Roald Dahl’s books. Blake is also a wonderful storyteller–these are books that you will genuinely enjoy reading out loud.

Then there’s Mrs. Armitage and the Big Wave.

Similar storyline–only this time, it’s a surfboard.

And Mrs. Armitage: Queen of the Road.

In this one, she un-pimps her ride and then winds up playing billiards and drinking cans of banana fizz with her Uncle Cosmo and his friends at the Crazy Duck Cafe.

Go forth. Read. Enjoy. And relax knowing that you’re reading a story to your kiddo that shows off a rad leading lady.

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 Father's Day to the two I know and love best

For Father’s day, I’d like to celebrate the two fathers I know and love best: the one who co-made me, and the one who I helped to make.

Here’s my dad the day I was born.

This man, as you can see, takes the fatherhood gig very seriously. And yet he can still chill out with the best of ’em.

I love his combination of seriousness and irreverence.

And then there’s this guy.
(the one on the left)

He impresses me on a regular basis with his ability to both meet his own needs and put in some serious dad time. I mean seriously, notice here how he’s totally getting into the New Yorker, has strategically placed candy on his belly for easy access and is still “actively parenting.” Since I’m descended from a long line of people who very naturally (and sometimes obsessively) focus on other people before themselves, this has been a revelation.

Also, when he’s doing projects around the house, he thinks to do cool things with J like this

And this

And I never worry when he does that kind of thing, because he has a much better natural sense of danger and safety than I do. For whatever reason, ever since J was born, I just assume that he’ll be fine. Even when he’s, say, playing with a *slightly* rusty cheese grater or when a huge, erratic dog is lumbering towards him on the beach. Thankfully, I’ve got this guy around.

Thank you, you two fathers I love. My life is better because of each of you.

How our relationship was swallowed whole by a baby

A and I just celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary this week.

(Yep. Still obsessed with faceless wedding photos.)

We have this little ritual on our anniversary of writing down our best and worst times from the past year and our goals for the coming months. While we were out to dinner (what a JOY it is to dine with no one other than your adult partner at 7pm on a balmy Monday evening) I plopped the little leather-bound journal where we’ve jotted this stuff onto the table, and we had a look at years gone by.

We really like creating abbreviated versions of words that don’t have any. Like “anny.” It’s just so exhausting and common to say anniversary. We are such hipsters.

Here are the pages for anny 5 and anny 6, our first two as parents.

Hello, salient metaphor for how having a child has changed our relationship.

If anything, these first years of parenthood have impressed upon me the finiteness of things. Time. Energy. Sleep. Patience. And I won’t lie—it’s definitely done a number on our relationship. I can confidently say now, 2 years in, that we’re finding more moments to connect in that lingering and nostalgic way we used to before J came on the scene. It feels like dusting off the words of a language we used to speak fluently—we have to work harder now to remember how to say certain things, but it’s sweet and confirming to feel our mouths form the words again.

As we lingered over our bottle of rosé, we couldn’t help but notice the goals we had listed for our 4th anniversary—when I was 6 months pregnant with J.

Such innocent ambition: social time, couple time, alone time, “not swallowed whole by baby.” Oh! and don’t forget exercise.

It really put those two blank years in the book into perspective. I think it’s taken us 2 years to get back to the place where those goals even make sense again.

Our hopes and dreams for this year?

“See 4th anniversary goals.”

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?

I have a crush on a blog: 6512 and growing

You know when you spot someone across a room and just desperately want to be their friend?

I feel that way about the blog 6512 and growing and the gal behind it. Everyone, meet Rachel. She lives in my hometown. I’ve known of her for quite some time, in that way that you know of most everyone in the small town where you’re raised. I watched over the years as she and her partner transformed a very “normal” looking house in our neighborhood into what most “upstanding” members of our community would call a hippie commune. With every top-heavy sunflower that sprang up in the front yard, I silently cheered. As if that wasn’t reason enough to be friends forever, she is a sensational writer, has refreshing things to say about parenting and relationships, can teach you an easy way to make yogurt, and writes magazine articles about fermentation that read like sonnets, driving J to such distraction that he forgets to eat breakfast. (You can read it too, flip to page 30 here.)

I took this picture with the hopes that Rachel’s kids will see it and decide they want to be friends with us, since J has the same taste in local food quarterlies as they do.

Here’s hoping.