Traveling as a Journey

Summer is full of traveling.  On the days we aren’t currently adventuring, memories of traveling seem to figure prominently. Oh how those memories rush up. They bubble up and they ebb in my brain, only to intensify in my soul. Of those memories, so many are water activities in the summer, and just how that water flows and equates with life is a marvel. Along with thoughts about the significance of water, I wanted to make sense and significance of the memories that have been flowing recently, including those concerning motherhood. This week has been particularly emotional. August 19th is the one year anniversary of my strong, beloved grandmother’s death. Two years ago I was in Europe, pregnant. Ten years ago on August 11th we were married, and then on our honeymoon. Eight years ago after we bought our house, two loving stray kittens made me their mother. Six years ago I was in Europe. (Ahh, as I type those numbers I am thinking of my daughter, who can now count and say them, hehe.) The years in between those included traveling throughout the United States and Canada.  I’ve been to all of the contiguous 48 states, and 6 provinces of our northern neighbor. This year we went to Cape Cod with my in-laws, staying in a cottage they had stayed in when my husband was a baby. We stayed at one Massachusetts hotel 10 years to the day after we had stayed there on the first night of our honeymoon to New Hampshire and Maine. The small signs and connections I notice have all been hitting me more this week. There are certainly so many travel memories from other points in the summer, or times further back — beach trips as a child — but this week has reminded me of the miraculous mix of emotions we get when we think about our journeys.  When I see family, friends, acquaintances, or anyone else post pictures or discuss their travels, my ears and eyes perk up and I love to see what they are up to. It brings back memories of when I was there, or where I would like to go, or just what I love about traveling. There is the massive excitement for them and what they are seeing, the awe at the marvelous location itself, the twinge of envy, the desire to escape and leave the woes of life behind. I currently have a lot I want to run away from. Some days, I want to run from most things and people, other than my daughter. Perhaps some music, some mindless scrolling, or a meaningful outing could be welcomed. I know that traveling does not solve problems. Time to relax, time to bond with loved ones, the creation of memories are all extremely important. Yet nothing erases our struggles. We hope for clarity and new perspectives and a renewed sense of energy and agency.

My 18 month old daughter loves adventure. Considering her age, she really enjoys being out and traveling and museums and seeing interesting sights.  I got her started early and I do some pretty wild, unique things with her.  I learned before I got pregnant, when I felt a little stuck in my life, that experiencing a little more of life on the regular made me feel better, more alive. As a mother, I feel I can find more teachable moments and focus more on her when I feel free and alive and open to adventure. My goal is to always put her needs at the top, while being flexible with her, while also trying to fulfill my own needs as an individual so that I am happier and a better person to be a better mommy. I love to think some of the things we did while she was in utero added to her spirit.  My travels, our journey two years ago, were to welcome new life.  A brief summary, but maybe another entry someday will focus on this:  I had some summer plans made for 2015 in an effort to just live it up since I wasn’t pregnant yet.  Then I got pregnant.  So we actually altered plans a bit but truthfully kinda made them even crazier.  I drove across the USA solo, seeing friends along the way, and doing a day in Canada.  I drove to Colorado, met up with my husband who was already there visiting his parents, and we went on a hiking and meditation retreat in the Rocky Mountains.  I flew back, went to my obgyn appointment, and flew to Europe.  My first stop was Sweden, where I participated in an international swimming competition (IGLA) with a dear friend. Try swimming a 400IM while pregnant.  I did it and no one can ever take that feat away from me.  My doubts were shattered and it brought me to tears, and it was one of the coolest accomplishments of my life. I spent a week traveling in Italy alone (well, with baby!) visiting family, sightseeing, and visiting the town where my grandparents grew up.  I spent Ferragosto, a major Italian holiday, following la Madonna in a procession, walking in the footsteps of my ancestors through the rough, hilly streets in our small southern Italian mountain village. I had done it 4 years prior to that with my Nonna. To feel those footsteps with my child inside me was indescribable; it is a memory that I think could singlehandedly make my heart beat for the rest of my life.  We visited the cemetery there — many relatives and my great-grandparents. I cried, screamed, bawled my eyes out telling them my news, asking for their help with my grandparents; I scared the man who worked at the cemetery.  I put it all into her, my whole heart, everywhere I went. After Italy I met my husband, and we visited France (Normandy Beach to honor my grandfather — we did that one year to the day before my grandmother died), Belgium, the Netherlands, and Norway (to honor his family). I went to 9 countries on that month long trip. Thank goodness I didn’t have bad morning sickness, though there were things about pregnancy that made it challenging.  I ended my first trimester just before coming back to go to my next appointment (and return to work, ha!).  The sense of freedom, life, exploration, and doing things with a purpose and with appreciation — that is what I tried to breathe and feel and let flow to my child.  I think she got it.

Fast forward one year. My Nonna has been in and out of hospitals for dementia with psychosis, and now for a recurring infection. Again, the infection has come back after a lengthy hospital stay. She won’t eat to build up her strength. She told me she didn’t want to die. She loves more than anything seeing her great-granddaughter. She tears up when she sees her — those manuccie — little hands, bring her heart joy. Hers was the first heart a part of me ever knew. My maternal grandmother, my first home. Our maternal grandmothers are very special, as half of each of us have lived within her as she carried our mothers and our mothers’ eggs.  As a new mother, I knew this. I was afraid to leave her. My little family and I went away for a few short days when she seemed to be doing better. The night we returned, she had just been brought back to the hospital. I saw her in the morning; the staff would not let me bring in the baby. Friends from out of state were visiting for the day. Late in the evening, I got the message we needed to rush back. I had paresthesia; my lower legs had been going numb and tingling every time the phone rang for weeks, afraid of the news a doctor on the other end might tell me. My grandmother did not die that day. My whole family stayed all night.  She was strong, she was tough, and she did not want to leave us. She held on for 6 days. For 6 days we spent most of our hours – day and night – in a hospital hospice room and waiting room. I slept in a chair covered in plastic next to my dying grandmother with my nearly 6 month old baby strapped to my chest. Some nurses let us, some nurses were more rude about it. Some nights my Mom and I went to the lobby, played and sang with the baby, watched some of the Olympics, and dozed off there. Some mornings we would go home to sleep for a few hours while another family member stayed close. We had to wear rubber gloves to even hold my grandmother’s hand because of her infection. This was the journey to say goodbye to life, a year after I had been on the journey to welcome a new one.  My grandmother immigrated to this country with my grandfather when she was 3 months pregnant with my mother. I, being my crazy self, calculated that I left Europe at nearly the same point in my pregnancy that she did in hers (I actually calculated to the day but I don’t have the number right here at the moment, hehe). Obviously very different circumstances, vacation versus immigration, but the idea, the similarity, enriched so much for me.  And now my grandmother was dying, one year later.  When my daughter wasn’t allowed in to see her at first, I became so upset.  They needed to say goodbye.  My grandfather had been able to say goodbye to us. I needed to say goodbye to her.  That happened. Though she was unaware for most of that time, the night of the 14th when she was moved into hospice, she was aware. And she saw the baby. That is a reaction I will never, ever forget. Her joy, her excitement, her praise and gratitude. We asked if that was what she was waiting for, and she said yes.  That was the last time she spoke to us. To see my daughter. Five days later she passed away, after we told her we would be okay, after we reassured her her father and mother and my grandfather and her sisters were there, while I held her hand, while my daughter was held in the doorway. To watch breathing slow, for a week, slower and slower, more and more shallow, day by day, for that long.  We were so tense. So much happened for us. I cannot imagine how much happened for her, between those breaths.  I am comparing them to the breathing I hear right now from the child sleeping on my chest; the slowness those breaths share, but how deep, satisfied, calm, and hopeful are those of my beautiful baby. And how I am thankful for being able to hear and experience them all. Those journeys, one year apart, at completely opposite ends of the spectrum.  

The day she went in for her final hospital stay was the 9 year anniversary of the start of our honeymoon, one of the journeys that my husband and I started on to set the stage for our travels.  While there have always been difficulties, we do travel well together. Our marriage and its unique timeline, for better or for worse, led to our daughter  The day my Nonna went into the hospital was the 1 year anniversary of my day in Florence, one of my very favorite cities, a place I had spent time with my grandparents.  A memory my Nonna never forgot was when we left my sweater (really a flannel shirt) at the market when paying for an item, and I led her back through half the city to go back and get it.  It was my first time there, I probably didn’t have a map (no electronic devices FOR SURE in 2000), I was 17, but I just KNEW how to get back.  Florence, the 3 times I have been there, has always been that way for me. I felt my way around it like I knew it.  It always felt very familiar to me. Doing that this past time while pregnant was another miraculous feeling: I found my way into the Arno River, in the water, connecting with the new flow of life through my changing body, watching the fluorescent sun setting from Ponte Vecchio, knowing my life was changing but unaware of how that bright sunset was foretelling so much of the change to come — the spectacular, the calm, the finality, the shift, the cyclical. While there, I took a baby bump selfie (though not really a bump yet at that time) with a work of art by an artist who helped inspire my daughter’s name.  Everything in those days just..connected.  The changes, the highs and lows of life, they connect.  And that is my take away message from all these stories about traveling and motherhood.

My goal in being out — traveling locally or far away – is connecting. My daughter’s joy in it encourages me and reminds me that it brings me more joy as well. I want my inward journey and my outward journey to run concurrently. They need to be parallel and head in the same direction, and they need to intersect as often as possible, with the goal being constant points of connection.  Constant infusion of meaning into every mundane thing I do or breath we take.  These are all the journeys of life, these are the feelings I want to pass down.

The feeling I wanted to leave with my grandmother, and my grandfather before her, was the idea that everything would be all right. That they were loved, that they had done wonderful things, that the deep sense of family they had throughout their lives — first with their parents, then with their children, then with their grandchildren, was treasured so deeply in our hearts. In dying, in growing a new life, in living our own lives, we travel, we connect, we find at least a single thread of inspiration, an idea that binds, to hold to as we journey through it all.  I want to leave those who die with me, those who are born through me, and those who share and live my days, with that enriching, belonging, connected feeling that your life is worthy, satisfying, and possessing a deep sense of community and perfected love to reassure and soothe the panic and pain and fear of a dying heart, and enliven and enrich and bring hope to the heart of someone still learning about the world. And then there is me, in the middle. I am a mommy now.  I am an adult, I do all these things.  I connect to this life so that my peace will allow me to accept death, to be calm through struggles, to give my best to a small someone who is making new connections herself each and every day.  I wish I could say I was good at it, but it is a constant struggle. So we will continue to travel, across the world, across the state, or just down the block, so that we can experience the freeing feeling a journey gives and touch the Lady Liberty in our hearts. We continue that journey so that we can learn more about ourselves, our world, and the cycle of our lives.   We do not get away from our problems, but perhaps we sew the lessons and appreciation in our hearts that can help us build the courage to not run away from, but deal with those problems. Find a way into that water. Let your body and your soul be hungry and allow them to find their meals through your travels. The hot sun in the summer sky, the water flowing over our feet, they are the signs from this bustling and busy time of year: in any direction we look, the flow of warmth can journey forward and continue.

When I knew

In May, I wrote about the time period in which I became pregnant.  In June, I write about the period in which I found out.  I guess we really don’t know what is going on in those weeks before we find out.  We don’t know exactly when it happened, why conditions were right.  At some point we discover the extremely tiny, but exceedingly powerful, little secret that has burrowed into our bodies.  This burgeoning little human then begins the journey of burrowing into our souls, as we further undertake the process of allowing them and accepting them into our lives. We may be hoping for it, we may be elated, we may be confident, we may be worried, we may be shocked, we may be disappointed, we may be upset, we may be angry, we may be confused, we may be thankful.  We may be emotional or too blown away to tap into our emotions.  It truly may be all of these things at once.  Yet it is always significant.

It was two years ago: June 27, 2015. I was shocked.  I don’t know how much else there was, initially.  I realized after several days of discussing baby-making with another friend who had just started trying to conceive, that it had been a while since my last period.  I think I went back and counted over 40 days. I had been swimming more those last few weeks, preparing for a summer competition abroad, so it didn’t strike me as odd.  There had been a couple times in my life where I hadn’t menstruated due to intense physical exercise.  Yet in the spirit of curiosity, I decided to test on a Saturday morning.  Why not?  I hadn’t tested in a long time. I had kinda given up. I woke up early, went to the bathroom, and tested. Yay for peepee. It was positive. I didn’t really react.  I don’t even know how long I waited, but I know I tested again once my husband had woken up. It was again positive. (Dollar store pregnancy tests work, by the way!) He had gone down, so I called him upstairs.  He called back, “What is it? Why?” “Just come upstairs.” He thought maybe I had blocked the toilet or something, ha.  I think my first words were HOLY SHIT. “Oh my god.” “Oh my god is right.” Hugs, smiles, pictures.  My heart was…happy? Definitely some happy. Disappointed? Definitely. Shocked. You see, after trying for a while, after not having it happen, after having other aspects of my life in disarray, um, this threw it off course again.  I had found my new course. I thought I had. I found my meaning without motherhood.  I was trying to come to terms with it. I still hoped to be a mother one day, but it wasn’t going to be then. I would be traveling, domestically and internationally, all summer long.  I wanted to do that.  I couldn’t do that now.  I was going to plan another big trip the following year.  That wasn’t going to happen.  Oh, short-sightedness.  There was shock, happiness, disappointment, uncertainty, hope, suspicion, fear.  But then I had to leave. I was headed out that day to a swim practice.  Walking down the sidewalk, I quietly spoke out loud to myself, and to my child; I giggled and teared up at the same time.  “You’re coming with me.  You can come with me.” Maybe he or she could be my travel companion. I’m not going to go alone. You’re coming with me.

It was Pride weekend. The day before, Friday the 26th, the Supreme Court had ruled to guarantee the right to marry to same-sex couples. I was with a client when I heard the news, so I couldn’t express exactly how hopeful it made me feel.  It was an issue I had grown to feel was more and more important to the future of our society in terms of equality.  It filled so many people with emotion, and my husband and I went out to dinner together that night, decked out in rainbow heart stickers.  I just happened to have bought a pack of rainbow heart stickers a bit before that day to use in making cards.  Oh the timing. I still use those stickers. It just struck me how so many hearts were now able to feel more peace and express more pride in the love they felt, validated by our society.  When love is kind it is beautiful. When we woke up on the 27th and learned our more personal, surprising, and very emotional news, one of the first things I said to my husband was “He or she can marry whoever he or she wants!” The concepts of freedom, equality, love, hope, acceptance, and diversity were at the forefront of my mind. Waking up and going to the Pride parade the next day helped me feel more excited about the baby; feeding off of the energy around me helped dissipate the shock, and started to bring joy and gratitude to the forefront. Every day since then, for two whole years, I have been able to wake up each new day knowing more and more about her, our surprise, and that has been the greatest source of pride I could ever have imagined. I know the term ‘rainbow baby’ has a very specific meaning.  That meaning does not apply to my daughter.  Thankfully so, as a rainbow baby is a child you have given birth to after the loss of another baby, from miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant loss.  I did not have that. I did not go through the heartache some women go through.  I had trouble, but it could have been so much worse.  I cannot take that away from those who really do cherish their rainbow babies. But for me, in my heart, it was still a wait. It was still a trial. And for that she will always be my rainbow after the storm. Our journey has not been easy in many ways, and everywhere I looked in the days surrounding our discovery, I saw those rainbows for Pride. Rainbows and celebration and hope for a better world everywhere. For me it will always be something inextricably tied to her. I’ve recently read about the concept of a sunshine baby, a baby born before some type of loss or hardship, and that fits her better, but she will always, always be my rainbow. She will always be my hope for intangible joy and light and color and amazing experiences and treating people and the world more lovingly for the future, even through the storms we all experience.

Once my husband and I knew, it was time to slowly extend the gift.  Waiting until Monday to call my doctor was excruciating.  I was so nervous I begged them for an appointment earlier than their ‘first available.’  I waited until after that appointment, on Wednesday, July 1st, to tell my family.  Blood work confirmed the pregnancy the following day but I told them before that anyway. I read that the baby was at that point the size of a poppy seed, so I distributed poppy seeds to everyone, along with notes from the baby asking if the person would be his or her Nonna, Aunt, etc.  Telling people and seeing the looks of happiness on their faces was a truly moving experience.  We told friends and waited until a special visit to tell my in-laws in person.

I also tried to piece together the previous month.  The fact was I had had more alcohol than usual (oh that Father’s Day wine tasting festival), more caffeine than usual (one of my clients loved a couple cups of afternoon tea), more ibuprofen than usual (sore from hard workouts). What a mess.  What did I do? I also had had a cold the week prior, ahh my immune system was weaker. I had just started feeling like maybe it was turning into a sinus infection. Turns out, I was starting to feel dizzy from low blood pressure (normal at that stage) and just getting a glimpse at the weird feelings to come.  I had definitely even noted I had to pee more, and that I was a little more easy to upset.  I had also noticed that I suddenly gained a few pounds at a doctor’s appointment. My body was already retaining what it needed. It all made sense. All the things I did, good and bad, without knowing. But now I knew.

My way of honoring some of these anniversaries has been to sort of recreate some of the activities and experiences of that time period. As I discussed in my entry about becoming pregnant, I was really on a path of self-discovery and soul-searching at that time, so there were a number of things going on that I felt added to that or reflected it.  So I did things.  This year more than last, as certain adventures have been easier in some ways with a 16 month old as opposed to a 4 month old, I tried to take her along to experience some excitement.  There was National Donut Day, where I ate a ridiculous number of free donuts and stayed up late going to pop up art galleries in my city.  (Somehow that combined with wine gave baby a great start to life? HA!) I did that again this year.  There were museum visits and shows. One audio guide to an exhibit even made mention of pregnancy, a beautiful description, at that — I would love to get a transcript of that. There was strawberry picking. There was the ferry ride I took with a friend to the Statue of Liberty, not knowing that I was taking along with me another, much smaller, lady liberty. I wanted to show her the beautiful views she could not yet see two years ago, so we took a ride on the Staten Island Ferry on that anniversary. There was the Pride parade. There was swimming. I bought new rainbow goggles to celebrate this year. There were ice cream shop visits. I haven’t done everything, but I did what I was able to with the determination and mindfulness that I needed to to harken back to a time period that meant a lot to me, and to honor how everything pieced itself together. Now that I know she is here, I can express to her how grateful I am for the pride she instills in us each day, and have her experience these outings and enjoy them in the beautiful way she always does.

See, it’s not just my pride in motherhood itself. It isn’t just being proud to be the mother of another person, or being proud of what an incredible little human she is.  It was the fact that many of the best things I have ever done in my life were done with her present, with her inspiration permeating me, flowing through my veins.  It was that she gave me the joy and the companionship to fulfill even more of my potential as an individual.  Because that is what this blog is about:  Allowing the people and experiences in your life, whatever they are, whether they include motherhood or not, to shape you into being the best, most enlightened person you have the capacity to be, and then shining that out and using it to make life better for everyone else around you.  So it isn’t just defining myself as a mother. It is finding myself both as an individual and as a faceless fraction, an insignificant member of the human family. It is about making my child my first priority, but not by losing my own sense of worth to that task.  The happier we are in our relationship, the happier each of us can be individually, and vice versa.  Looking back, my meaning has returned, I was still able to travel across the United States and Europe with my little travel buddy, and pregnancy empowered me to make other significant changes to my life.  And that slight disappointment I mentioned? I was at work one day in July 2015, lamenting my trip to India that would have to wait until well past the following year. It hit me that 2016 would be the year I would become a mother, and that I would be giving birth around the time I had wanted to travel. The realization was intense, the kind that nearly brings you to tears wherever you happen to be standing. The baby was my India! I was in a bathroom. “YOU are my India,” I shrieked to myself in my head, maybe even floating the words on my lips. You are the place I dreamed of going, the intricacy I wanted to explore, the experience I wanted to have, the fulfillment I had longed for, the love and music and movement I wanted to pour out into the world from my heart. The disappointment faded. The pride grew. The happiness and meaning were found, and are still being discovered.  I don’t really believe in fate, but how strongly I have continued to feel that she happened just when she was supposed to happen.  I cannot deny that she colored every experience I have had for the last 2 years, as the hope of a future child colors so much for the life of any woman hoping to be a mother someday. This is an entry to celebrate when I knew that I was pregnant, but the greater gift has been celebrating the knowledge of living with another person in your heart. It was when I knew. Life was changing.  My dreams were not dying. Life was incredible, and just beginning.

Postpartum…Mood?

It’s a freaking miracle I didn’t get postpartum depression. I had so many risk factors. Silently, throughout my pregnancy, I worried.  I tried to strengthen my resolve. Through the disquiet I focused on a future of hope, remaining keenly aware of my feelings. My mood is one of those things I keep careful tabs on. To say I am an introspective person might at times be an understatement. In my life, I’ve always needed to be conscious of how I’ve felt in order to gauge how I was faring in terms of mental health and my ability to function. The funny thing is, in reality, I have often kept track of those feelings because they are very hard to ignore anyway.  With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, I wanted to explore a mental health issue: the postpartum mood.

I have a long history of severe depression and anxiety, things like that. Since I was 12, and I am now 34. I haven’t had a major episode since my early 20s. I have been off of medication for over 3 years; I slowly weaned off when we started trying to conceive. Not being on medication makes my introspection a little more vivid, powerful, and all-consuming. We all have our internal dialogue, thoughts, but I’m led to believe some of us are more easily pulled into the web of our own minds. We feel the weight and intricacies of the world around us just a little more, and it is difficult. But I really, over the years, grew, and I really managed to keep myself away from the brink once I was no longer on medication, despite dealing with life’s difficulties — such as worrying about getting pregnant. Some of the other circumstances of my life while pregnant and postpartum were risk factors. My paternal grandmother had what seemed to be postpartum depression; her ‘treatment’ was horrific electroconvulsive therapy.  My beloved maternal grandfather passed away during my pregnancy, and my maternal grandmother’s dementia worsened. There were other losses and disappointments I faced. My own history of mental illness, my family history of mental illness, and some of the situations I was dealing with at the time, and even now, were risk factors. Thank goodness I had a smooth pregnancy, delivery, and journey into motherhood itself.  Breastfeeding was excruciating at first, but it generally went very well. Sleeping was decent, then on and off, but usually manageable, and when it wasn’t manageable we started breastsleeping and all ills were cured and we slept wonderfully (and still do).  I think I was a bit shocked after realizing that I received no ‘shock’ — no major change in mood from my usual status — months after my daughter was born.  And now it is nearly 15.5 months later.  I’ve been having some more thoughts on it lately because of some difficult things I am going through, along with some societal events.

I think I came out mildly depressed on my PPD screening test at the hospital. Nothing major though. I had a social worker call me, but I never returned the call.  My 6 week postpartum OB/GYN visit I think had me scoring a little better, but she did want to make sure I had mental health support, which I did, since she knew I had a history of depression.  That’s been my life though. For years, especially since I stopped medication, my moods have gone along with my life.  What I mean is that how I felt was a result of what was happening in my life.  It made sense, and I remained content through it all with my sense of self intact.  I wasn’t sad for no reason like I had been in my teens. (Not that sadness is ever truly without reason, but I mean a sadness caused by a major precipitating factor as opposed to a constant state.) My reactions, while still emotional, were more in line with happy and sad occurrences.  And really, I’m still actually kind of a bright, happy person much of the time. With a bit of a dark side. The last 3 years or so I certainly had periods of manageable mild depression when times were trying; they held some sadness, lack of motivation.   But the happy times were always present, and I even found myself in an almost hypomanic state for a bit while off medication and before becoming pregnant.  It was all related to what was going on, but I managed to learn how to keep myself content and functioning at my core. That was one thing that I felt proud to realize, even if simply functioning never feels truly good enough for me. I believe that is how I’ve continued to be. I have residual symptoms that frustrate me more than anyone knows; I fear that they are insurmountable and woven into the fabric of my being. They make certain tasks much more difficult for me.  Sometimes they affect the way I eat or sleep. Yet every time I start to feel frustrated with myself and hopeless at not being able to win against my demons, I gradually find light.  When I feel alone, I know I will soon find someone reaching out.  And most of all, I find my child.  So what if my faults are a part of me? We cannot always have complete control over certain things, and coming to terms with that is challenging. You are a great mother. You are not doing something wrong because you became depressed. Brain chemistry and emotional pain are complicated things. You have been through a lot. You are not a statistic. I am not a statistic; I am not just a collection of risk factors. We are constantly changing complex individuals who love, grow, and mother.

I loved pregnancy. I hope to write an entry about that someday. In the context of the current topic, however, I was nervous that after I had given birth, I would melt into sadness because of that love of pregnancy. I was certain that a regretful longing could easily and very likely overwhelm me once I no longer felt that astonishing life, that baby, moving inside my body, so connected to me. I felt sad thinking about losing that when my daughter was born. I already missed the connection before it was even severed; I thrive on deep connection. But after she was born, I was busy, I was tired, I was recovering, I was emotional about other things, and I was keeping track of her feedings. I was thinking about my sore nipples and body.  I was bonding with her, with my husband and my mom and my sister and my grandmother and my family and friends and caretakers. And she was adorable, and I loved her more and more as time went on.  It was, in so many ways, better than being pregnant. I feared change. A lot. I still do. I often avoid changes, put off action, and dread. Things often go well, but it has never been easy for me to get over that hump of inaction.  Well, labor forced me into action and forced one of the biggest changes of my life. I didn’t end up sinking into depression because I missed being pregnant.  I recall pregnancy so fondly, and would be so blessed to do it again someday, but I have thankfully been able to see it for the stepping stone that it is, and prize my daughter and myself for our accomplishment.  I now feel like that development from zygote to toddler is so timely; the detachment is so quick but somehow perfectly gradual.  After birth, I still fed her with only my body; she needed my hugs to feel safe.  I think one of the most moving moments was something that happened after seeing that she would very often only sleep on my chest from early on.  I know there’s that beautiful meme that goes around about the relationship between a mother and her children, “No one else will ever know the strength of my love for you. After all, you are the only one who knows what my heart sounds like from the inside.”  It’s a beautiful sentiment and let me tell you, an even more beautiful emotion. I certainly knew I would miss the feeling that my very life was also keeping her alive, and the very special bond that fostered.  Then, one afternoon, she had been sleeping on me for a while, quite deeply, and I had dozed off as well. When she started to wake and move her head, I saw an imprint of her ear on my bare chest. It was perfect; every curve was defined on my skin. And it was directly over my heart.  I could feel it. She had migrated ever so slightly to her perfect spot after she was done suckling.  To see that imprint was one of the most tender and warming sights I could imagine. It was the most beautiful feeling.  She was so content and safe in my arms, on my chest; she still needed me. My body was still her guardian, her life, her steady, rhythmic comfort, teaching her how to be.  They sell pillows that imitate a mother’s breathing and heartbeat.  I wasn’t able to put my daughter down very much as a small baby, or even now at times, as I have learned she very much needs and thrives on human contact. It woulda been great if a pillow could have calmed her when I needed to go do something, right? I know we can’t always be there, we need breaks, but I really think so many of these types of experiences saved me from falling into too much anxiety or depression during the postpartum period. I am very thankful for allowing myself to value these interactions with my daughter, including breastfeeding and breastsleeping, interactions which have made the transition from pregnancy to increasing independence a lot easier thus far on a mom who feared it.  I think maybe the oxytocin has helped. I still fear that continued transition: eventual weaning, school, separating from one another, facing problems that the sound of my heartbeat or the taste of my breast can’t solve. And as much as I know they will come slowly, I can’t help but still fear it at times.  I do have anxiety about the future and making peace with it, anxiety about my ability to parent her, about our ability to thrive, about the state of her family, her friends, her society, and her world.  Maybe there will never again be that peaceful interplay our bodies had when she lived inside me. And I am afraid, anxious, and sad in fearing the future, just as I was before I got pregnant, when I found out I was pregnant, and when I feared no longer being pregnant.  That is my personality that must be worked on. On a side note, I saw someone in one of the breastfeeding groups I am in on facebook recently get an ear mark tattooed on her, so I know I am not the only one who loved that.  May we all have so much oxytocin that our hearts explode….

Continuing on the topic of pregnancy, I think anyone who has been pregnant can attest to the emotional craziness of that time.  I actually remember having a couple very major freak outs before I even found out I was pregnant; I got way more upset than I normally might have and after I found out I was pregnant it hit me that hormones might have been getting crazy already even early on. I could cry again while I was pregnant.  I’ve had a hard time crying, like, really, truly sobbing my eyes out, for many years. Initially it was a side effect of medications but I never really regained the ability after I stopped taking the medicine  Even now, and ever since being a few months postpartum, I can’t really bawl my eyes out for 20 minutes like I would sometimes want to.  Perhaps it sounds weird, but I miss being able to cry like that.  Even when my incredible grandmother passed away when I was 6 months postpartum, it was hard to cry. Though I was very strong through her illness and death, I think. During pregnancy and very shortly thereafter, I could, and did, end up bawling on the floor if I got really upset, so the difference is so apparent. I had one major panic attack while I was pregnant that scared me. I cannot say it enough that pregnancy just does the strangest, most incredible things to you.  I feel like so much of pregnancy is just praying that others will understand that they are not to piss you off in any way, because the magnitude of heart-wrenching drama they might induce could be enough to send you away.  I think, in some ways, breastfeeding continues that boundless emotional energy.  The negative along with the positive.

I have always had a problem with anger. It doesn’t suit me well. I know, even most people who know me probably rarely see this side of me.  I think, looking back, I always just had really strong emotions. They were hard to control. Anger was one of them. I feel that, as a woman in today’s world, you aren’t ‘nice’ if you feel anger. Heaven help your soul if you actually go so far as to express it.  As a child, growing up in a home where there was at times very angry male energy, I was afraid of it. It was bad.  I feared it.  But I dehumanized myself by stuffing my own emotions in and not expressing something like anger because it was bad, until of course it came out in unhealthy ways. I think anger became my destruction.  I don’t get furious often, but when I do, a lot of what I have kept inside, for want of peace or for want of being ‘nice,’ gets expressed in what is sometimes a harsh manner.  Crying, screaming, begging, cursing, name-calling. Especially in the first few months, nursing made me into a mother bear. Do not anger me. Do not threaten my relationship with my child in any way. My child will have what is best, and if you ruin my view of perfection for her, I will NOT be happy. Slights stick with me.  I’m a little quicker to snap, a little quicker to not be patient with you.  A little quicker to overflow with sadness and despair and tears when I am hurt, and to then blame you in my fury for your part in hurting me, and furthermore, hurting my child. However, I know that I have a high standard for myself. I don’t feel like my anger ever got to a pathological level, but I believe nursing has lowered my threshold a bit; I have less tolerance.  I am angry. Maybe the oxytocin again….

Every so often I scare myself. I feel sad, I feel hopeless. The thing is, it passes. It is almost always consistent with a difficult event arising in my life. Whether or not past or current mental illness affects how I react to those stressors is another issue. Depression isolates, so when I feel that way I have learned to try to connect more with the people around me, with my own self, with my surroundings, and of course, with my daughter.  Having a history of depression has a way of programming certain thoughts as your go-to calming agents.  Most people don’t find disturbing thoughts or images to be comforting, but, sometimes they are the first things to pop into your mind. They provide an escape, a long dreamed-of way out of strife.  When you work through recovery, it initially feels like you need to erase these ‘bad’ thoughts.  They are intrusive, painful, not well-suited to coping in the world.  Yet the more I thought and read, I realized the real work was not to simply eradicate them, but to give them less power over me.  Let them pass, for they are only thoughts.  I do not have to act on them or dwell on them. They are a part of me; they do not make me bad or sick or unworthy of being loved. To hate myself for thinking them is to go to war with myself and create more distress within me.  Medication eases the pounding strength of those thoughts to make that process more manageable. For that, I will always be eternally grateful; in moments of very severe illness I don’t know I would have ever had enough clarity to find that path had it not been for medication.  Now, my troubles are different.  I have more perspective.  The issues are more complex, involving more facets of life than I had to grapple with as a younger adult. And that is really, really hard.  I try to find it worth the challenge.

I had scary thoughts a few times that passed quickly without really upsetting me beyond a momentary jolt. I think the increased awareness about PP depression, anxiety, rage, psychosis, and other disorders has led me to be more aware of what is normal postpartum struggle, what is a sign of something bigger, and what you can do about it, and when not to panic. How common it is. Thinking about that makes me feel grateful for knowledge.

I know I struggled wondering if I was parenting right.  Then I realized that they must make those mommy heartbeat pillows for a reason. Kids suck pacifiers for years for a reason. It thank heavens dawned on me that she wasn’t using my breast as a pacifier; society created pacifiers to mimic breasts. She, and I, were doing just what we needed to be doing.  The ‘is this normal’ questions about everything your baby does can drive you batty. I understand. Couple that with your responses — am I loving enough, do I have to be more strict, am I reading to her enough, did I not keep good watch over her, she keeps hitting her head while learning to become mobile — am I awful for not being able to stop this?  She sees me in moments when I am grumpy, sad, angry; am I shameful?  I don’t want to be a bad example, or not be able to respond to her needs. Sometimes that is hard. You mind is always stuck on that baby, but it is a mind, and body, that is only human.

I felt guilty for zoning out and doing nothing.  I always feel connected to my daughter, but sometimes I wondered if I was calm around her because I didn’t care enough.  I wasn’t attentive enough.  I get too easily distracted.  I should be able to play with her for hours on end and delight in every single smile and not just hope someone else will play with her or she will entertain herself while I go chat with friends. That’s a symptom of postpartum depression that I think doesn’t get discussed as much. It makes us feel like we could be bad mothers. We can aim for perfect, sure. But don’t take my perfect moments as signs that something is wrong with you; the comparisons and expectations can be dangerous.  You get so much advice, you wonder if you just screwed everything up for your child with some small mistake, or even with a well thought-out plan.  You worry about something happening to them.  We are anxious.

I have felt hopeless about other areas of my life, but she makes me feel better.  That is how I know I will be okay.  That is why I feel that I was lucky to stave off major postpartum depression; it helps me to realize what my priority is.  I won’t go on medication again especially while I am breastfeeding, which may be for years to come, who knows. That has given me so many reasons to continue on.  I know we don’t all have that luxury. I want to say that it isn’t anyone’s fault. We need to do what is best to keep ourselves and our babies healthy and taken care of.  

I have strong emotions.  I have emotions that, if, just by name, could put me into a category of some kind of postpartum disorder.  But I know myself. No one else knows how I feel now or how I have felt for the years of my life.  I know I will be okay.  I know that my emotions can be powerful — some are stronger than they used to be and some are less so.  Sometimes I am a little numb. I think other mothers understand how things can be that way after having a baby. I know I need help to deal effectively with my life and the way I function.  I always have. I am starting to realize that, especially now, that is more important than ever. I won’t be able to parent her as well if I slip and fall downward. But I have to forgive myself and accept that I am not perfect either.  

I’m writing this to remind myself of how far I have come, and how far you have come. I’m writing this in solidarity with every mother suffering, whether she is diagnosed with a postpartum mood disorder or not. I’m writing to convince myself that I am not depressed, that I am so very lucky. I’m writing to let every mother know, to even let every person know, that they are not alone in struggling, whether or not there is a diagnosis of postpartum mental health problem, whether life has got you down and having a child is one more thing on your plate, or whether your child is the light in an otherwise dark life.  I am writing, not just this entry, but this whole blog, in an attempt to make sense of and organize the things that overwhelm my mind and heart, to make sense out of my life and my role as a mother.  I cannot let anything kill me. I try to stay active, exercise, eat well, meditate, do enjoyable things, take care of those I love, be somewhat productive and responsible. But really, I am confessing. My confession is that I am mildly depressed.  I have been off and on for years. I don’t want to admit that I have a hard time sometimes, but it can be obvious. I have some really stressful situations in my life that are wearing me thin, but motherhood has been my saving grace. I have the same problems that I always did.  I have new problems. I have found release from old problems.  But, miraculously, I did not have a postpartum dip.  For that I am eternally grateful.  I have a strange postpartum mood — it’s a mix of the sadness and happiness that always filled my heart to the brim, both continually tempered or kindled by new motherhood, some moments of grumpiness and growling if I feel you might be a threat to my cub, and the best one: the post-partum-I-have-a-new-person-in-my-life-who-has-made-a-part-of-my-heart-happier-than-it-has-ever-ever-been. Thank heavens.  Diagnoses are arbitrary and we all fall somewhere on the spectrum. Most of all, my heart still beats for my child, and depression or any other postpartum mood will not steal that steady comfort from us. Say it with me, pained, but loved, mamas. Let’s get help for whatever ails us.

Once upon a Pregnancy Anniversary

Sometimes dates mean a lot to me. I love to take note of anniversaries of special events, whether happy or sad. Thanks to day planners, digital photography, and even Facebook with its ‘On this Day’ memories feature, this has been made ever easier! Often these special dates can get me feeling emotional or sentimental, and usually very pensive. I may just casually mention to someone that a certain date is a little anniversary of some sort, but inside, it churns and churns until I can connect with it in a bigger way that satisfies me in all my existential needs.

Well, everyone. We all have those anniversaries. Once upon a time, our stories were just beginning. For each and every one of us there was a day, one just as important as our birthdays, when we first got started. It was a day when Mom and Dad spent some time together. That would be our conception date! Ah, that magical three-month age. A year is 12 months: you spend approximately 9 months pregnant, have your baby, then three months later, oh my, a year has passed since you became pregnant! It’s magic! A fairy tale! How many Mamas out there know, or have an idea, of when their little one was conceived? I know I do. My daughter’s most likely conception date anniversary was a few days ago, at least the date that directly led to her conception. Hence this entry. I know many of the dates, events, and feelings that led up to and surrounded it.

Last year, my first pregnancy anniversary was extremely emotional.  This year, I’m writing this with my seemingly huge 31.5 inch tall, nearly 25 pound, 15 month old sprawled out sleeping on my lap. I am a mother. I’m used to it and I am used to her. The memories of desperately wanting to be pregnant, of surprise at becoming pregnant, are just slightly less consuming. Yet I have still taken note of so many of them, in different ways than I did last year. Mother’s Day this year fell on the first day of my last period 2 years ago. Bingo, instant reason to mentally commemorate that bizarre date that they use to determine the start, and thus the end, of your pregnancy. Last year I took my daughter to visit my paternal grandparents’ grave to honor that day. Mother’s Day two years ago was one of a series of events that led to me feeling that the conception that took place just over a couple weeks later was a kind of grand culmination, a happy ending.  I took note of the day a college acquaintance shared an article giving hope to women waiting to be mothers. I took note of conversations I had had with friends in those few weeks, serious or silly, medical or crass, about the prospect of trying to become pregnant.  I know what days they happened and I can picture where we were sitting or standing or walking. I thought of meaningful conversations and interactions with family, or even strangers, that had made me feel something during that time. I thought sipping leftover homemade sangria I made for Mother’s Day did the trick. I thought meditating like crazy did the trick. I shared a recent story about the significance of a particular meditation class on my personal facebook page. (Last month I took my daughter into the room where I took a meditation class a couple days before I got pregnant. It was an old mansion with an ornate fireplace flanked by female figures in togas. She put her hand on the statue’s belly and said ‘Mama.’ I lost my breath. She has a sense.) I believed forgiving myself for my mistakes was the key. I thought eating some more snacks maybe kicked my ovaries into gear.  I thought that feeling like my heart was open to life was something I could pinpoint in retrospect; I was striving to embrace the past, the present, and the future, and welcome them all to join me, shape me, and allow me to simply be.  I felt gratitude fill me. It had been a long time coming, something I had been working on for a while. I needed to forgive myself for a number of things: a car accident, losing photo data and files, personal relationships. I had just gotten to a point where I could say I forgave myself. I could say I not only overcame my stressors, but learned to live through them, and look forward to the future and adventures to come knowing that I was, in some ways, powerless to change, but not hopeless.  I still felt the extreme discomfort I sometimes feel in myself, but paired with renewed strength. I remember outings I went on, parties I attended, the freedom I was trying to attain. I can feel it now. I’m so thankful I can still feel it and relive it. I don’t know if it is natural for us to feel like attitudes and actions and breaths of release and heartbeats of gratitude enrich us for this, for any type of motherhood or caretaking.  I believe in science, but I also believe in feelings; for me, their strength forces me to listen to them.

Maybe the day my daughter was conceived wasn’t anything special.  It was a weekday. I went to work. I went to the store. I went to an exercise class. Who knows what other mundane things I did or didn’t do. But, before that day, things were different. As a result of that day, unbeknownst to me at the time, an entirely new combination of DNA would now exist. My X would join with another X and the makeup of another completely distinctive human being would quickly start to form. There was a new genetic code virtually identical to every other person ever to live but still unique enough to never have existed before. That little doll face that I look at a billion times a day was coded and destined to look just how it looks now. It’s unbelievable. It’s unreal. It is a beautiful story able to be retold as long as time. How could you not feel like it’s a special date? It was the start of a huge process of physical and emotional changes. To think, two whole years ago I was pregnant; it doesn’t seem so far in the past.  Also, realizing all the things you did before you knew you were pregnant is another interesting topic to cover!  Thinking of what happened in my body two years ago just makes me think what chance luck I had. It happened the way it did and it has worked out so perfectly in so many ways.  I just can never think of my body the same way again. I was riding that cusp between never having been pregnant to becoming a vessel for the growth of another person.  But I didn’t know. There was a miracle that occurred that we were so unaware of.  A miracle for us, a gift. A chance occurrence that made absolutely all the difference for her! What chance. Incredible.  She would not be otherwise.  It was something so completely ordinary that has happened as long as history. But it’s beautiful how it happens. There is so much love and every other emotion that can go into it. It’s amazing to think of being pregnant two years ago, since at times pregnancy feels like something so far off.  It’s nice to be reminded how recent it was and how much I still recall and feel connected to it, and how I have adjusted to having my baby here.  I recorded a video for my daughter last year around this time to explain some of this to her: what she means to me, how much I loved being pregnant with her, my hopes for her, and those feeling I tried to instill. I don’t think I said everything I needed to, but I am so glad I got some of those emotions out so soon after her birth. It was another way to celebrate and acknowledge the anniversary.

Last year I also realized it happens to be the birthday of my favorite female singer. The strength and power of the day coupled with how completely ordinary it is, has been undeniable; I try to allow days like that to push me. They force a kind of willingness to find my own meaning in the random, sometimes forgettable details of life. This year, a celebrity death that very much affected me connected as well; his funeral was on that date. I think it added to the extreme emotions, and to the feeling of heaviness of memories. Loss and gain go hand in hand. I felt a lot on that day. This year, my in-laws were visiting from across the country, and we were traveling to a family wedding.  There were a lot of emotions in every direction. I planned a big day out the day before. We did a couple things that reminded me of the time I was newly pregnant — going into the city, getting ice cream. Mainly, being active and finding happiness and peace in the midst of a stressful time. Finding the continued flow in life. I’m still remembering that time and what I was doing — events, feelings, people — and remaining in awe of life. Valuing that treasure called life can save me and allow me to pass on wisdom to my daughter and her generation of how precious life truly is, and why something like a pregnancy anniversary is something to hold in your heart forever. I’m glad we kept track of it, even if it might seem a little weird.  There’s more to acknowledge than meets the eye, and there is always something more to come.

Happy 2nd Mother’s Day to me: Why I am not disappointed by motherhood.

My husband once said to me that he was so glad that motherhood was living up to my expectations. He was happy to see that I was not disappointed by it. It felt good to have someone say that to me. It meant my joy in motherhood had radiated out. Others could see it. That’s kind of my thing, you know, that I want — for my joy to up the spirits of those around me. And it was true!  I’m really not disappointed by motherhood. I’m not saying it is all easy, or that it doesn’t make a lot of tasks more complex or stressful (topic for another entry), but, especially as time has gone by, I feel it has met and exceeded so many expectations. Let me start a bit earlier, though…  

I have always wanted to be a mother.  When I was little I loved my dolls and built up complex familial relationships between my Barbies. Thanks to that I’m still actually pretty good at keeping track of that kind of stuff, haha. Growing up, my mother spoke very highly of motherhood; I felt how much she enjoyed being with my sister and me. I knew it was something I wanted. My husband and I knew we would wait a bit to have children, but, even when you get to the point of being ‘ready’ and thinking about your future child almost every single day, life may not cooperate, for a variety of reasons!  The indescribable longing of thinking of my future child all the time, but simultaneously reaching a point where I truly had to come to terms with the idea that I might not ever meet that child, was heart-wrenching.  Then, two years ago, May became very lucky for me. I became pregnant.

I had a lot of hopes riding on getting pregnant. I have very high, lofty ideals in many areas of life. My hopes and ideals were riding on one little female fetus. The little girl she has become hasn’t disappointed in the slightest.  But why? Why do I feel that way? I know most every mother thinks her kids are wonderful and perfect and is so happy to have them in her life. But sometimes motherhood disappoints. I know some days we all reach points of feeling that way, and it is OKAY. Maybe I’m doing a disservice to say that motherhood lives up to the hype, and more.  I know that’s a source of disappointment, and even depression, for many new moms.  We are humans, and we are complex people who have many other identities, interests, people, activities, and things that fulfill us other than our children. But, for now, I wanted to reflect on why it has, for me, at this time, indeed lived up to my hopes.

First of all, in my job, I cleaned poopy diapers for 300 pound elderly bed-bound people. For years. It doesn’t quite prepare you for the breastmilk projectile poop at every single diaper change (but hey, at least baby poop doesn’t smell and the diapers aren’t as big!). However, it sure got me to learn to appreciate the joy in the simple task of cleaning up after someone’s most basic, basic needs.  In fact, I learned to love that kind of work so much I never sought to really advance my career beyond that, to my own detriment in many ways.  But it made me so very happy.  Not necessarily the poop part, but I hope you catch my drift. I think my happiest is connecting with people in very basic,  very emotional, very genuine ways. I really, truly believe that working for over 10 years in health care, caring for ill and elderly patients at their most vulnerable times, taking care of their most basic physical and social needs, and learning to find meaning in those daily activities, was crucial. It was crucial to my happiness during those years, but also crucial to finding a way of appreciating life in all its most beautiful and harsh realities, at every stage of health and existence. It gave me the mental and physical skills and knowledge to take care of another person, to keep things clean, and to take care of my own life in certain ways.  All that has helped me to more fully appreciate the dirty tasks of motherhood and, not only not dread them, but sometimes enjoy them!  A clean butt after a huge poop might be your biggest accomplishment for the day! Relish it!

Waiting to get pregnant was more difficult than I could have imagined, but somehow it really did leave me with gratitude when our miracle finally did happen.  I really appreciated it. I really meditated on it. I focused on what a miracle her life was as often as I could while I carried her.

I anticipated being a lot more nervous as a first time mother, since I tend to be a nervous person and grew up with an overprotective mother. Okay, those closest to me know I still freak out sometimes in regards to the baby, maybe more than sometimes. But generally I am amazed at how chill I am. I can’t handle a lot of other aspects of my life, but with her, hey, I can do! I can do it all. I can take care of all her needs, I can feed her with my body, everything, It’s a huge boost of confidence in myself and in her. She’s a champ! With confidence in her, and in us as a team, I have been less apt to feel disappointed or panicked or like I am failing, especially as we have gotten to know one another better and feel more secure in our routines.  

Having a close, supportive network of family and friends helped. Especially in times of strife, when I couldn’t really see my own value, I saw it in the people who continued to love me.  Slowly, I came to feel the pangs of realizing our importance as individuals and the unique beauty that each of us possesses. From before she was born until this very day, I look for those traits in my daughter.  I sensed her strength before she was born.  I know the things that make her smile.  I try to appreciate them.  I learned from my past how to value someone’s smallest assets, and I try to continue fostering that when I look at her. Having help and support from those family members and friends in giving advice and caring for my daughter were also huge factors in not being too overwhelmed by the demands of motherhood.  I don’t think that having help should be a privilege in child-raising; I think it’s necessary.

Mother’s Day 2015 was a very mixed day. I felt the sting of not yet being a mother, and a few stressful events were occurring. My dear maternal grandfather gave me a lesson that began with the question, ‘what is a miracle?’ I video recorded part of his lesson.  It was uplifting and it made me feel grateful and loved. It was a wonderful perspective on how the true joy in life is the privilege of helping and doing good deeds for those you care about. Those are things I value so highly, and he and I were very close. I later lost the file of him speaking, along with many other photos and videos. I was so angry with myself. I went through weeks of self-hatred, working tirelessly toward the goal of forgiving myself. And I finally did. And that was the week I got pregnant. It was the miracle my grandfather had just told me of, in a way. While I still wallow more often than I’d like to, this experience gave me the perspective to be a little bit gentler to myself in regard to blame. I feel that that has been an amazing asset in motherhood. The growth I worked toward has allowed me to be more calm and forgiving toward myself, in all my terrible mothering moments, and toward my daughter as well.  My incredible grandfather passed away when I was 5 months pregnant, with his hand on my growing belly. My daughter has a form of his name. That legacy and spirit, that true miracle, carried into the next generation, automatically fulfilled my expectations.

Just after Mother’s Day 2016, I made a video for my daughter about what her life meant to me. It was the middle of the night as I held her while she slept. To this day, I usually write and put my deepest thoughts about her and about life in general into words while she sleeps on me, off and on sucking her boobie.  I hope for more connection, and I hope that, like in the womb, she can sense some good loving vibes from me. There are enough not as good vibes at times so we need lots of positive physical and emotional contact.  She helped me put my thoughts into words, and she helped me put my very life into a new, perfectly formed human. It’s pretty not-disappointing if you ask me.

This Mother’s Day is the first without my maternal grandmother. She passed when my daughter was 6 months old.  I know it will be difficult for my mother.  Despite my grandmother’s dementia, she and my daughter were the best of friends; you could see it in the way they looked at one another with awe and admiration. My Nonna’s selflessness, hard work, and the values she instilled in my mother are so admirable. They make me feel inadequate. Yet it is the way both of these women flourished in motherhood that inspired me. I hope I’ve made them proud. In that hope, I find no disappointment.

I think part of being content in motherhood is to make sure you balance your needs with your child’s. I have to say I’m lucky.  I don’t feel like there are too many things that I can’t do with her. It’s about doing everything to make them happy, but still living your life — just altered and amended it to fit their needs in first. I try to do everything that I want to do — anything that she will enjoy. I tweak it to make it work for her, and we are both happy. I’m still living my own life, accompanied by a new little best friend, and she is having cool new enriching experiences. Examples include museums, music performances, cultural festivals, and nature outings. You can still do fun things! You can still go out to eat! You can still do adult things! Plus you can do kid things too!  I know not every baby is amenable to all this; I am very lucky to have had a fairly calm baby.  You can’t get your hopes up too high, but it is important to keep it as something to work at.

In difficulty, my daughter has been a loyal person to cling to. I use as much of my energy as I can to focus on reciprocating and giving her all the abundance that she has given me.  Even when my thoughts are elsewhere, lost in myself or something or someone else, I try. I never realized how much that little spirit would save me. I cannot express my gratitude. She is incredible and that feeling at certain tough times has been beyond what I expected.  Her company and companionship are just superb. Though, sometimes a tantrum during tough times is certainly not fun! Balance!

Motherhood has further hammered in a valuable lesson: being aware that happiness isn’t always immediate.  Your relationship with your child is unique and needs to be developed before you can really have more fun and enjoy it and also feel comfortable with how you are with one another. This realization is immense.  You fall more and more in love and feel more and more confident despite any initial feelings of fear or uncertainty.  I think I’ve finally understood this more recently.  In knowing that, I don’t feel as guilty or ‘bad’ for feelings or mistakes that aren’t up to what I think I should be as a mother.

I think realizing the reality versus the expectation has been a huge factor.  It is the BS of modern society and certain more mainstream baby book wisdom versus the more miraculous discovery of reality — feeling the feelings and experiences, following the latest fascinating research, looking to instinct to guide, and watching a helpless creature grow, thrive, and, in turn, teach you. The biology and emotion are overwhelmingly moving throughout pregnancy and the first year.

Motherhood has given me even more time and perspective to contemplate my favorite topics — the meaning (and lack thereof) of our lives and the developments we go through. I’m not ‘The Existential Mommy’ for nothin.  I am so grateful for this. Even the year that led up to my pregnancy taught me a lot.  It is a full-body, full-mind, full-life burst of amazingly meaningful processing. It fills me like nothing else when I think of her, and my mind is flooded with love and ideas.  That has far exceeded my expectations.

The camaraderie, companionship, and coming together that occur after you have a child is incredible and heartwarming. The gifts, the visits, the messages from fellow moms, the love and support from near and far, the tangible help, and the way the ones you love look at that new little one that is loved by all.  It’s great. People reach out and reconnect.

Attachment-y parenting. Breastfeeding on-demand. Bed-sharing. Cuddling. Near-constant contact.  That intimate physical connection surprisingly soothes you so much in the months after birth. I did not realize how much it would mean to me to see me adapt to her needs. I’ve fallen in love with her and fallen in love with the way she wanted me to parent her. I’ve fallen in love with the way I can do this for her, make her happy, and become who I am meant to be. I am proud and in love with the way I have accepted it, cast off doubt, and embraced it. And that has exceeded all my expectations more than I can say. I am so proud of her, and so happy she is who she is.

There is so much appreciation and awe, and pride in accomplishment. The more I learn about motherhood the more magical it seems to be. Things in development are so timely.  I feel like if you moderate expectations and go with it, there’s so much you can enjoy.  It’s not going to be perfect.  You will mess up. There are moments you won’t enjoy and wish you could get out of.  But knowing those things are normal, and that attachment is different for everyone and grows and changes, I think helps to keep it in perspective so that motherhood as a whole remains something positive and something you don’t feel disappointed about.  I think for all the build up I gave motherhood in my mind, I still kept that idea to keep me grounded.

You grew a new life in your body. It’s a person now! They develop slowly but they move!  First you get excited just for them to look at you, then before you know it they are walking and talking. It’s a miracle to experience.  And they are SO CUTE. From cute faces and expressions to cute feet, everything is cute.  I could not have expected any more out of my first almost 15 months of motherhood.

To conclude, I just wanted to say a couple things about my second Mother’s Day.  I spent the day itself with my mother and sister and the baby.  We lovingly refer to ourselves as my daughter’s ‘3 Mamas’ because the two of them have been so involved with her upbringing.  The next day I went out with my husband. I got some Korean food to go and we sat outside in a pedestrian plaza.  My daughter was being her fun, wild little self. She drank her milk and had a few pieces of my food, and then my husband took her for a walk.  First they just walked around the pedestrian area while I stuffed my face and snapped some pictures of them. Then, he put her in her carrier and took off down the block so he could get a slice of pizza. I sat there and ate. Alone. Happily eating my japchae noodles and Korean chicken wings, I just people-watched. It was absolutely GLORIOUS. He came back, and I told him how nice it was. So he went to circle the block a few more times. For a good 15 minutes or so I enjoyed just looking around and not reigning in and trying to feed a small toddler.  I’m not the kind of mom who likes to be away from my daughter very often. I know she’s a clingy baby and nurses so much she doesn’t like it either. I generally really don’t mind spending 24 hours a day with her; I want to.  We’re on the same schedule.  My ideal breaks from her are being nearby with someone else just kinda taking responsibility while I message with friends or take care of an errand. But we all need a break, from lots of things!  I was sitting there, looking around, loving being outdoors in a bustling area, as if it were just ME again.  But I gazed each way looking for them. I thought I heard a baby crying in the distance; was it her? My heart was beating just a little faster in anticipation. And I was all of a sudden back in Italy, in a piazza in Genoa. I was eating a very small gelato, very slowly. It was August 2015 and I was ending my first trimester soon.  Eating sweets had made me feel like I was going to pass out. But it was getting a little better, so I wanted to try a little gelato.  I knew that every time something I ate made me feel lightheaded, made my heart race, made me feel like I might faint, that my growing child was still alive inside of me causing me to have those sensations.  Even though that child was not THERE, he or she was still there with me, affecting me on such a deep level. That feeling came back to me on this Mother’s Day Monday celebration. My daughter was not right there with me, but she was, once again, still there with me, affecting me again, both physically and mentally.  It was an absolutely beautiful feeling to be brought back to. Both times, people-watching alone in a bustling square; both times, my body and mind governed by thoughts of my child. It made me realize again how what I have written here is true; her influence has not disappointed.

I hope everyone and their mothers and children, all the important women of this world, mothers or not, and those with mothering hearts who are waiting, had a lovely Mother’s Day 2017.  🙂

How do we lose our happiness?

Sometimes I wonder when it all went wrong.  When did the child inside of me die?  When did I lose my first spark of innocence?  When did my eyes not only look outward and see darkness, but realize it reflected a pervasive darkness on the inside?  I have long privately and publicly pondered and discussed the heavy weight of pain, and great joy, in life.  In this blog, I wanted to connect all of that to motherhood in some way.  Shortly after I concluded watching a show about teen suicide, I made another connection.  The nightmare to come, a circle of hell I had not anticipated, was to watch it happen — to watch that loss of innocence firsthand.  I would see my child grow, and I’d be able to note when her life changed. This time from the outside. I would see when she grew out of her constant joy and wonderment.  I would notice it fade, slowly with time or piecemeal by event, the way I now so wholeheartedly love to watch it grow. The smiles that light up her face and the room around her are as bright and exuberant as the sun. Do I have to look into the eyes of a girl without that spark? Will I know her darkness?  Maybe I would have my answer to the question of how it all goes wrong in a person’s life.  That would be my punishment.  That would be my price to pay in motherhood, for my mistakes.  It would be an answer I never really wanted to know.

My worst fear is losing her. Even worse is that she would take away a life I’d dreamed of giving her and the love and love and love I poured into her creation and formation and growth.  That she came into this world so perfect.  That her heartbeat was the most beautiful and perfect thing I could imagine on such a deep level. That we all come into this world with someone thinking we are perfect and beautiful. You are just as worthy and loved as anyone else and you were loved even before your first single cell existed. What happens to us? Where do we become lost? I didn’t fully realize until now that the punishment didn’t have to be actually losing my child, or even unbearably witnessing her feel as if her precious life was not worthwhile, but that even watching her lose her faith in the fascinating world around her could be heartbreaking.  Her cries of uncertainty or fear or want have always hurt me and jostled my senses because I don’t want her to feel lost.  Someday though, she will cry. She will be struck realizing that she is crying because she doesn’t know why. She won’t know why life is the way it is.  I sympathize because I vividly saw my mother suffer when I suffered.  I’ve always dreaded that feeling, especially when the degree is extreme, when you fear losing the life of the person you live for. I suppose what I’m thinking of now is the difficult stages of life that we all face — the loss of innocence, the tears that reach beyond just wanting a toy that was taken away.  How do we as parents watch and react to those future cries? All cries, even baby ones, are about big things — what we feel can always be big in our minds and our hearts — but what happens as they develop, as they evolve into deeper pain.  What can we do about those tears? What can we do except look and see how it happens, how we become our flawed, beautiful human selves, and reassure them that we don’t lose all our battles, that life means just as much and as little for anyone else, and not falter in empowering them with our age and experience.  How, I don’t know exactly. We all get emotional in good ways and bad ways watching our babies grow up. I just needed to articulate one way I know I don’t anticipate, because I don’t want her to have to give me the answers to the questions that opened my entry.  We don’t want to lose our joyous, happy babies. Good luck, mommies.

It’s a lot on our bodies

Our hair is getting longer. Both of us. Sweaty curls, plastered against her head, and wispy, thin tree trunk strands, standing on end, reaching up and away. Some of each. And myself. Length wanting of explanation. Tangles I can’t get out.

Sweat is a lot on our bodies.

Knots are a lot on our bodies.

I hope my daughter’s fever has broken.  She has been sleeping on me for well over two hours, longer than her normal nap time. She is so, so sweaty.  

I’m proud of her. I’m really, really proud of her.  It was her first major fever, the highest she’d ever had before. It did not come with a cold or other symptoms, so I wasn’t panicking.  She was generally happy: playing, eating, eliminating, and sleeping well for the two days that I treated it.  Then, this morning, it was higher. Fuck. 104.4. Her eyes were glassy. I called the doctor. We went in. She’s fine, she doesn’t have any treatable infection, and we just have to wait out her normal, healthy immune reaction to a probable virus.  I looked at her as she suffered, and I look at her now as she rests to recover, and I see how much of a strain it was on her.

A fever is a lot on our bodies.

It worked. Her body worked. I mean, that’s what’s supposed to happen, right?  An invader comes in, and something kicks into gear to fight it off. She is draped so heavily on me, as if she just finished a long battle. In the doctor’s office, the comment was made that it looked like it finally got to her. Fighting for two days on a level you don’t even have control over will wear out a person, especially a small person still managing to keep up her energy and her spirits that whole time. I’m so proud of her. She handled it. She did something she had never done before. I tried to help. I did the usual: taking her temperature, giving her food, drink, medicine, and comfort. I held her skin to mine.. that little body was so hot.  I wanted my body to know she was fighting. I wanted my milk to respond to her. My body teaching her, working with her. And we won.  

Fighting an attack is a lot on our bodies.

That same skin is so cool now, it feels like a different baby is in my arms. I suspect she is different, because she is stronger.  If we keep trying, maybe experiences in life can keep us on a path of growth.

Persistence is a lot on our bodies.

I just wrote to a friend who is in her last weeks of pregnancy.  The aches, the discomfort, the mystery of the future all came back to me. The feeling of having a person kick you painfully from the inside of your body.  Truly, it was nothing short of wondrous. The wondrously tiring experience of having your body support two people at once. Experiencing it for the first time, we marvel at the unforgettable process. Our bodies taught their bodies how to be.

Pregnancy is a lot on our bodies.

After my daughter was born I was shaking. My arms and hands, my face, my legs, they all felt as if I were shivering, even though I wasn’t cold. Every so often all my muscles would jerk. I told the nurse. Her response was that my body had just been through a lot, more than I realized.  That statement has stuck with me. We begin the process of responding to another human.

Childbirth is a lot on our bodies.

Babies cry after they are born. Everything has just changed, They make faces, they kick and root, they try to suck; they’ve practiced the first essential skills, the basics, they need for living on the outside.  They’ve just transitioned to an unfamiliar place, and their senses long for what nature has programmed them to require.  A mother’s touch, her scent, her voice, her heart, her breast. They are immediate comfort to start what will be a long journey.

Coming into the world is a lot on our bodies.

I get really, really hungry as a nursing mother. The truth is, I have a huge appetite anyway, so it really brings me into a seemingly endless search-for-food mode.  Honestly, it is worse than pregnancy.  It’s hard to keep feeling like you want to eat. It’s hard to stop eating.  There’s emotion behind it.  Guilt, worry, enjoyment, satiation, body concerns.

Sustenance is a lot on our bodies.

I’m watching a television show, something which hasn’t happened in a while.  Discussing it with a friend, we touched on a central topic: body image.  I still judge myself, and I still judge others.  Revelations about accepting myself don’t always stick. Ideals about all of us being equal seem to fall away, like a Cheshire cat, when there is a more interesting comment to voice.  Concentrating on how our own bodies should look or work, and snarling when they don’t do so, is a way of fitting in, even when it hurts.

Judgement is a lot on our bodies.

The way our bodies change is hard.  Currently I have seen how a baby changes from birth through their first year.  In my professional life, I worked with elderly and disabled patients.  The metamorphosis our bodies go through is phenomenal.  At each stage, it becomes a reexamination of our abilities. With knowledge of our abilities comes the challenge of utilizing them.  Somehow, in all of that, lies a self-perceived identity.  Our worth to ourselves wavers in those identities, in those actions and abilities, and in those bodies.

Development is a lot on our bodies.

A lot of people push themselves physically.  We run, climb mountains, stay up all night, drink. We try to make ourselves perfect by doing everything right, or maybe we head the other way and fail to care for ourselves at all. We are beat up either way. Often absent from our daily lives is a focus on what is happening to us and what we are doing to ourselves. For years we may continue in this way.

We are a lot on our bodies.

At the end, there is you. I’ve had the valuable experience of being with two of the closest people in the world to me while they died. An adequate description of what that connection is would be tough to explain. It affects you both. Hearing is the last sense to go. I talked to them, I played music, I held their hands.  After a while, they could no longer respond; it became the last response to end what had begun at birth.  We cannot describe how we start to breathe as we cannot describe how we then struggle to breathe. What we experience as our skin mottles, as our organs shut down, or even as the morphine drips down into our veins, is a mystery.  It is something else that occurs on a level we do not control.  

Death is a lot on our bodies.

A lot is hard on our bodies and our minds.  A lot of things add up to, well, a lot.  Maybe they aren’t even that hard, because our bodies are equipped to handle it all. They certainly aren’t impossible, they are simply a lot. From the cellular struggles we don’t notice, to the personal and interpersonal trials we mull over in our minds and lose sleep over, sometimes we do not fully comprehend how strained and stressed our physical matter has become.  We do not fully understand the complexity, or how incredible it all is.  

Life is a lot on our bodies. From sweaty hair to painful memories, from tough knots to sighs of relief, from birth all the way through death, may we get stronger and increase our immunity along the way, and realize at each step that existence signifies something for us. May we contribute whatever it is that we are able to bring to it.

Take care as your recover from life.  Time passes, our hair grows longer. The sweaty baby is still sleeping, but maybe not for long.

Knight Nursing: How the Plates of Armor on my Chest Saved my Life

I share a bed with my 14 month old daughter. When she stirs during her 10-12 or so hours of sleep, any time in the middle of the night or early morning, she will turn her body, searching. Sometimes she will glide toward me with a gentle roll, as if she were being carried or pulled in the natural flow of an ocean wave, or, at other times, she seems to lunge at me with a desperate flop.  A little sound of panic is emitted, somehow my shirt is pulled down, she latches, she sucks, she drinks, and she is saved. We both usually remain half-asleep through all of this.  It has been a miracle, one born of convenience and continued because of bonding. We both sleep well. It is just one example of our relationship; I nurse my child all the time, with virtually no restrictions. Though she has reached toddlerhood, she still seems to drink her milk as often as a newborn. The benefits to both of us have become astronomically apparent. It is a big, bold star in our night sky that guides, and saves, us.

When I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to breastfeed my baby, and I figured it would be a special bond.  With that in mind, I definitely did not quite understand the level of time, commitment, and love that a true, exclusive, breastfeeding-on-demand nursing relationship would entail. Once you fully flesh out that relationship (pun intended), all the myriad of needs that those mounds of flesh on your chest fulfill is astounding. They provide nourishment for the body, mind, and soul. They can save your child from hunger, from loneliness, from pain, from fear. With that soothing oxytocin release, they can calmly save you both from tears of frustration. They protect both mother and child from wants and hurts. They protect like armor. They make you feel invincible. When your baby is upset for any reason, those boobs swoop in like a superhero to solve the problem.  In private, you as a mother may have your own worries and tension as well. When the world attempts to stab you, and many are the jabs of life’s sword, and the sharp pangs of slings and arrows, these breasts serve to deflect the blow. There may yet be times when they can cause tears, themselves becoming as much of a double-edged sword as what has attacked you. Like armor, it may not breathe. You can feel trapped, enclosed, cut off from the freedom of the outside world. I guess such feelings arise when your body is taken over by your child in so many ways at different points in their development. Or when the female body is constantly ogled and labeled by society. No one truly understands that balance except for your own self, contained in that heart buried deeply under your fleshly mounds of armor. Yes, that isolation may take hold, but your safety remains.  

The past few years, in addition to gifting the joy of new motherhood, have held a lot of trauma for me. There was a lot of change, loss, and soul-searching, more than ever before in my adult life. It sometimes all seems too much. It has been life, not something necessarily like the major depressive episodes of my younger years, or even like postpartum depression, for I am actually happier in so many ways post-partum. Just life circumstances. I nurse and I feel content and safe and proud in my protective bond with my daughter, yet somehow, at times, alone in that very same armor.  Hours were hard. I imagined not being.  Not being can feel warm. In your mind, it can feel like a safe place to run when stress levels are high, even if it is something you would never want in reality. The line between darkness and security is blurred. It isn’t purely dark ideation; I also knew that, as a new parent, I would need to come up with a plan in the event something ever happened to me. I discussed it with others. The consensus was: Don’t Die. Thus brought forth more thinking.  I did imagine myself dead, or dying. What would happen? All I pictured was my daughter wanting me. I am not a doctor, but I am fairly certain my mammary glands would soon cease to function upon my death.  I would no longer be that warm comfort.  No longer that flesh. No longer that savior.  And my heart broke. It broke. The years of her life, raising her — that means so much to me and, considering how incredible of a person she is already, I just dream of knowing her in all her lovable quirks and perfect imperfections as she becomes who she is. But as a new first time mother, my initial instinct, the immediate need I thought of, was my baby’s need for my breasts. What would she do? How would she be comforted?  Nursing is our favorite; it makes her so happy and I just love it for that. She often loves keeping a hand on her boobies even when she isn’t nursing. Nothing else will ever quite do it for her, even her most favorite people. How cruel. Please, please, when you beg life to help smooth the way, let me stay. Let me nourish her.  I need to comfort her. She is my everything, my best friend, the one who has given me the opportunity to breastfeed, to bring more life into the world, and do those two most beautiful things perfectly. I don’t want to die. Let me live for her. And I analyzed my train of thought right there: I love my daughter so much and I need to be alive for her, but it comes down to my breasts. The reason I didn’t want to die was because of my breasts.  Again, I could not die because of my breasts. My breasts were all I had to offer this world. Was that all I could rely on? Then I questioned my stupidity, my egoism, and how this applied to others. What about women who struggle to breastfeed and are unable to do so? What about women who don’t want children or never have children to breastfeed? What about women whose breasts feel like enemies — alien appendages they don’t like, things that draw unwanted attention or aggression,  or reminders of a body that is sick or cancerous?  Hell, what about my own life once I am no longer breastfeeding? Where is our worth then?  Worth cannot be tied up in just our breasts! How superficial! Is this selfish of me, to use my breasts’ ability to justify my own self-worth?  To use my gift to another autonomous human being, one borne of my own flesh and blood, to piece together my own life’s purpose?  No. Our life’s journey is our own, and the connections and interactions with other people and the world around us enrich it.  Everyone’s armor is different. We move from one stage of life to another, gathering our strengths, our worth, our reasons along the way. At this moment, my breasts are my saving armor. Someday, that will change. Our priorities change. Yet their protection is currently an integral part of me. I am more than the sum of my parts, more than my breasts. I am even more than my status as a mother. I know I, and she, and you, have more to offer the world. It is not the only thing I value about myself, but in exceedingly difficult moments — seconds I cannot bear — it is the most poignant. You need to find your life, piece by piece, at every stage.  Build your arsenal, be a fighter – a knight!  Tally the reasons you can look back and be proud of who you are and what you did with your life.  Just because a stage is fleeting, different from others’ experiences, or just because it helps you in addition to helping another person, does not delegitimize its worth, nor your worth.  When I think of the heaviness of life, I might want to run.  When I think I cannot take another day’s insult, or I question whether I will rise to an occasion that has not yet arrived, I know I have to stay to meet those challenges. Because of my daughter. Because of my breasts.  Because I know when it is hard for me to do anything else, I am succeeding at feeding and comforting her. I cannot die because my breasts will die. If my breasts die, my daughter will be alone. Both our hearts will break, and she is still too young for me to leave. That thought has saved me. My breasts encourage me to stay. My breasts — my armor — have saved my life. For a moment in time, I fearlessly ride through, wearing their protection over my chest, like a knight. They cover my body; they protect my heart. With my heart protected I can be a better mother. They become our joint protection. They are small and imperfect, but they serve us well. They save my daughter from hunger. Her cries of pain or fear are met by her mama-knight in shining boobie-armor. Swooping in, I feed and comfort her. I’ve saved her with my breasts. The overwhelming sense of peace and pride and love arises. They save me from lingering on the thought of not being, of fleeing. Upon life’s next attempt to ram its sword into me, I think not of the bad, but of that gently rolling, loving baby, filling my heart with her ocean waves at night.  I am her night-nursing knight.  My breasts are there to meet her as she rolls to me. My breasts are strengthened. I’ve put on my plates. I am her knight. I am my own knight. My breasts are my armor. They protect me in life’s battles. Again. I am a knight, my breasts are my armor.  Day or night, I will nurse. Day or night, I will not give up.  Day or night, my armor remains: the thin shiny steel mounds of flesh, the plates upon my chest. That sword will not penetrate that armor.  It will not penetrate my chest. It will not penetrate my heart. Day or night, these breasts will save our lives.

 

Ciao from the Existential Mommy

Soo.. friends, family, acquaintances, strangers, fellow seekers, fellow parents, anyone who knows and likes my style of thinking and writing.. I decided to start a mommy blog.  It might not be a typical mommy blog about the typical mommy things.   I want to take those mommy things, extend their brilliance, and make them analogous to other major, meaningful life experiences, and hence hope for aspects of it to resonate with anyone.  My writing is extremely personal and heartfelt. I want even those dear to me who do not have children to find our common ground. My goal is to articulate how motherhood fits in and can add to our existence, our lives outside of our children, and the ongoing process of meaning-making that everyone faces.  I feel guilty doing this. I really don’t have time for a full time blog; the way my life is, I have so many other things on my to-do list that I’ve procrastinated on for too long that are more pressing. But sometimes, if you fail to express and let certain things out, it’s actually harder to do those more important things. Whatever I end up actually posting, this is really just a personal blog, minus certain details, of things I need to write about, if for no one else but myself.  If anyone else can gain something, it’s a wonderful bonus.  As a relatively new mother, I thought I would make it more public than private in order to get some more moms reading who might be able to relate.  For anyone who doesn’t know me, I’m an emotional, introspective, quirky, happy and proud stay-at-home mom to an amazing little girl born in February of 2016.  🙂