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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!

Confessions of a mostly stay at home mom

I’m primarily a stay at home mom. And sometimes people pay me to work as a doula and as a freelance video producer and editor. When I have a project or a client or both, I trade time I normally spend cleaning and cooking for the opportunity to dive into a creative project and relationship. I make money. And I feel like I’m doing something.

It’s a strange distinction, since when I’m not working for money, I’m still doing something. A lot of things, in fact. Managing our house, its cleanliness, food stores, our finances, and attending to the myriad of needs and whims of our 3 and a half year old, J. Also, for the last 7-ish months, I’ve been gestating another human.

When I write it all down like that, it sounds pretty impressive.

My lived experience: not so much.

Last week, I caught myself saying, “Work? Well, I delivered my last video project, and my last doula client give birth last week, so I’m done working until I pick things up after this baby is born.”

Totally.

By “done working” I mean this:

I wake up every other morning when J does, at or before 7am (thank you A, for taking every other morning so I can sleep till after 8:30), we cuddle in bed, then make breakfast. I read J books, get him dressed (we’re down to one of 2 outfits these days that he wants to wear—both are pajamas), tote him along for whatever projects I need to get done that day (gardening—easy to accommodate his boisterous, physical self; grocery shopping—less so), go to a park or meet up with a friend of his at some point, dole out snacks, make and eat lunch. We pay for childcare 3 mornings a week, so on those mornings I get time to wash dishes, clean and cook uninterrupted. Or pay bills, or sleep or blog or get my hair cut or go to therapy. In the afternoons, I shepherd J through an hour of “quiet time” which often results in numerous trips upstairs to help him poop, make sure he’s not pilfering the Tums he discovered on my bedside table or coloring his walls with crayon. Sometimes I manage to sneak in a nap. Then it’s more errands, maybe playing trains or orange jellyfish or poisonous space triceratops. Then onwards to interrupted dishwashing and dinner preparation. A usually gets home at 6:15, we eat, then the bedtime ritual begins and A usually takes him up to his room to play songs sometime after 7.

“I’m done working.”

How is it that I fall for this: the chronic and devastating under-valuation of managing a home and raising children?!

Yet I do. At first glance, I only consider or talk about paid work as work. When I lay on the couch while J is at childcare or during “quiet time,” I often feel guilty for watching Project Runway.

It’s hard for me to admit this because I know how I would like to feel. I’d like to be highly aware of the kick ass work that I’m doing.  I’d like to feel the weightiness of the contribution I’m making to the world every day. I’m nourishing people’s bodies, I’m helping 2 new people to emerge into the world. I’m tending the soil out of which my family grows.

My lived experience, though, is that many moments of every day, I feel somehow diminished by the work that I do at home.

Since becoming a mother, I feel like my value in the world has decreased.

So why the disconnect? Why do these judgments lurk in the dusty, dark corners of my mind, even while I “know” that the work I’m doing is extremely important?

I’m sure the repetition of things said and not said during my childhood has something to do with it. There was the recognition I got, even as a kindergartener for being “gifted and talented,” and I was regularly told that I could do or be anything under the sun—a scientist, a lawyer, a doctor, or president. I believed it. I wanted to be an archaeologist, a geologist, a dancer and an artist. But I can’t remember one time as a child that I imagined, or was encouraged to think about how motherhood or contributing to a family was a pursuit worth aiming towards. That is not to say that anyone ever looked at me and said “Being a mother is worthless work.” But somehow, here I am, washing dishes and loving my son and feeling less relevant somehow.

I’ve thought many times that I always have the choice to go out and get a full-time job. And I don’t want that. What I want is, to some degree, what I have—flexibility to spend time with my children and regular opportunities to make money in ways that I find engaging.

The other thing I want is to consistently feel that the mothering work I do is a valuable contribution. Dare I say just as valuable as the work that my partner does at his office everyday.

Here’s a novel idea–my sister mentioned recently that she knows a couple who organized their budget to pay the stay at home parent for the time she spends with their child. At first, I hated how reductive this sounded. This whole problem isn’t just about money.

But it’s definitely a factor.

What if our monthly budget spreadsheet actually listed the monetary value of the work I’m doing every month?  We have a line item for childcare—but that’s just when we pay other people to do it.

What if we found some way to account for the fact that every hour I spend with J is an hour that A can spend making money at his office job?

What if we started talking about the parenting I’m doing everyday as my work or stopped referring to A’s time he spends doing city planning as his?

I don’t know the answer, but I’m off to do some more work.

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

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:

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.

The revolution begins: your not-so-perfect moment photos!

I had to share a few of the great photos that you, dear readers, have been sharing on my Facebook page this week in response to my photographic challenge. The challenge, in short, was to take a picture of one of the not-so-perfect moments in your life–feeling bored in traffic, scrubbing dirty diapers late at night, celebrating the end of a big day in the midst of a messy living room. The only real constraint: you can’t clean it up all perfect and squeaky clean. No tidying beforehand or fixing hair or making things look any different than they just are.

Without further ado:

Here is a nice photo of my daughter mid-fit
I took this trying to stop a crying fit with the power of the iPhone.
My photo revolution. It’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon. I am still in my pajamas. D would rather be doing something else.
Here’s “I don’t know what’s on the counter or if I’d even like it, but I’m gonna stand here and scream till you give it to me” (aka “why didn’t you put me to bed 15 minutes ago?”)
Here is a neither good nor bad moment that occurs many times a day every day.

I have been overjoyed from the tips of my dirty toes to the top of my frizzy head by all of your photos. Thank you. Thank you.

p.s. I’ll keep collecting and posting these, so keep sharing away over on the old Facebook.

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.

My faceless photo tribute to wedding season

I’ve been AWOL for the last few weeks because my sister got married. Again. She’s the one who went and had a wedding in Sudan back in November.

Photo by Terri Jirousek

So this was wedding #2. The California version. It was a super-glam, international peace fest.

This was in stark contrast to A’s and my wedding, nearly 7 years ago–a high mountain desert, home-grown affair, made even more complete by some serious weather drama.

My dear sister and I are both married off. Check and check. And now that I’m on the other side of all of the wedding dress fittings and family drama, I’ve been feeling relieved and a bit empty. Why do weddings engulf so completely and then wash away without a trace? It’s too much and then not enough. I miss having long-lost friends in town and events to dress up for at night. I miss thinking and talking about love too much and laughing over greasy pub food when I’m tipsy. But it’s also nice to be sitting on the couch in my goats t-shirt (I’m really into goats) and watching crappy tv. I needed a break from having heart-to-heart conversations with people I love every 5 minutes.

Happy wedding season, everyone.  They can lift us up, let us down, push us around, and then they are simply over.

p.s. Isn’t it kind of awesome how when you crop the faces out of photos they become more universal? Wanna add yours to the mix? Find a favorite wedding photo, crop the heads out and share it on my facebook page!

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?