In case you missed it, here’s the recording of me on KVEC yesterday. Thank you, Dave Congalton, for allowing me to speak on your show, and for your support of local efforts and organizations.
Faithful friends, readers, ladies and gentleman, boys and girls,
It’s been such a long time since I wrote on HHLL. Let me first say that it’s not you; it’s me. Since Seabass began kindergarten last year, I’ve been writing, writing, writing…just not here. My freelance writing biz has really taken off, which makes me very, very happy.
But I’ve missed you. Oh so much!
About six months ago, Jake ran into a longtime acquaintance and asked after the guy’s new baby. “The baby’s great,” he said. “My wife, however, is a mess.”
It turned out the baby’s mother – a well-adjusted, normal and otherwise healthy person – was in the depths of extreme postpartum depression. It came out of nowhere, and the family was very scared.
When Jake told me about them, he asked if he could give my number to his acquaintance, for obvious reasons. I said yes, of course, and fifteen minutes after he forwarded my contact information, I received a call from this desperately ill woman.
From her voice I could tell she was heavily medicated. She shared that her parents were in town to help with the baby, whom she hadn’t spent much time with. When I asked if she might want to meet at my home, she hesitated. “I don’t think I want to be seen in public,” she said. And then I remembered myself: isolated, lethargic, and numb. She asked if there was any hope for her, and I saw that hope was more potent than any medicine. “Yes,” I said. “There is so much hope for you.”
I wish I could say that our conversation magically sparked some kind of healing that brought this precious woman back to life. The truth is, yes, we connected on a deep level, but she eventually had the courage to allow herself to be hospitalized. And thank goodness! She finally received the specialized care she and her family needed.
Perinatal mood disorders are on the rise in San Luis Obispo County. According to a Maternal and Infant Health Assessment (MIHA) survey from 2012, SLO women report postpartum depressive symptoms at a rate of nearly 20 percent – that’s one in five women, a rate that’s four percent higher than the rest of California. Simultaneously, services to help these women are seeping away, sometimes gradually and other times all at once. And this, all in the town named “Happiest In North America.”
In my own life, I can finally see my old self emerging from the fray of early motherhood. My six-year-old Seabass is going into first grade next year (!!!) and almost-four-year-old Sweet Chuck is embarking on her final year of preschool. They are still a buttload of work, but they’re typically a lot of fun, too. Nothing beats riding bikes to the farmers’ market, playing games together or dropping them off for school, seeing their own lives and choices unfold.
With my gradually-gained freedom, I’ve decided to stand up for the women, men, and children who suffer at the hands of PPD. I hope you’ll join me this Saturday, June 18th, at 9am, for a hike up Cerro San Luis in honor of Climb Out Of The Darkness, a fund- and awareness-raiser for Postpartum Progress. Survivors, sufferers, and supporters of those affected by PPD from hundreds of cities in five countries across the world will climb together that day – the longest of the year – to bring awareness and support to the PPD community. To find a climb near you, please click here. And if you’re in San Luis Obispo, please be sure to register for this first annual event in our area! It’s completely free.
Why should you support Postpartum Progress and Climb Out Of The Darkness?
- Because more women will suffer from postpartum depression and related illnesses in a year than the combined number of new cases for men and women of tuberculosis, leukemia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, lupus, and epilepsy.
- Because only 15% of the nearly 1 million women who get these illnesses in the US alone each year ever get treated.
- Because suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in the first year postpartum.
- Because there’s very little funding to raise awareness and reduce stigma of maternal mental illness.
Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you at the mountain…
At the suggestion of two different friends, I started reading a lot of Brené Brown, the scientist who has a gift for getting to the heart of the matter. And, lately, that matter is Women and Shame. For a fantastic primer on what I mean, please set aside 20 minutes to watch her TED talk from 2010, if you haven’t already.
In a nutshell, Brown describes how shame unravels relationships, how insidious it is, and what keeps it fueling so many broken lives. On the flip side, she talks about the antidote to shame, which is the courage to be vulnerable. I love her definition of courage: “To tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.”
I haven’t been as busy on Higher Highs, Lower Lows for the past year due to several circumstances, most notably a higher work load both in and out of the home. But after a recent incident, I realized how desperately I needed to tell the story of who I am with my whole heart. And this blog is the best place for that medicine.
I took a yoga class last Saturday in which just one other female and two other males comprised the class, along with me and the teacher. To set the scene, the room was about 12 feet square and I was – clearly – older than everyone else by about 10 years.
I truly love yoga. Before the birth of Seabass four and a half years ago and Sweet Chuck two years ago, I practiced nearly every day and even considered becoming a yoga teacher on the side. Nowadays I’m lucky to do it once a week, but I might love it more than ever now because it’s so precious.
I knew before I even walked into the class that I was fragile; my fuse a little shorter than usual, tears a little closer to the surface. In short, hormonal. But I was thrilled to have an hour in which to care for myself and wanted to make the most of it. As we entered our first pose, the teacher asked us to close our eyes and….I immediately started to weep. This is not uncommon since I had kids. When I take the time to settle down and look inward, tears often start to flow. No big whoop.
The tears soon subsided and we moved through a handful of standard sequences. The teacher was pretty hands-off – no touching or adjusting or calling people out on their form – until about 20 minutes into the class, when she walked over to me in the middle of a twist and whisper-shouted,
“ARE YOU PREGNANT?”
No joke. The mind reels.
“ARE YOU PREGNANT?” she repeated.
“NO,” I replied, aghast, looking down at my mat. Was I bleeding or something? “GOD, DO I LOOK PREGNANT?!?”
“NO, I JUST WANT TO MAKE SURE YOU’RE NOT PREGNANT BECAUSE SOME OF THESE POSES WOULDN’T BE SAFE FOR YOU. YOU KNOW, IF YOU WERE.” And she proceeded to return to her station at the front of the room, cool as a freaking cucumber. The rest of the class blushed. I wanted to dissolve into the floor.
My yoga experience that morning was blown. There was no joy, there was no peace, there was no rest. When I wasn’t scrambling to give her the benefit of the doubt (i.e. maybe she thinks I’m someone else?), I was batting away tears at the thought that I actually resemble a pregnant person.
Brené Brown says that, according to her research, body image is the number one shame trigger in American women. Is anyone really shocked to learn that? I wasn’t. Just this morning during a workout with a friend, I ran uphill holding weights and, surprise surprise, I couldn’t get comfortable with them in my hands. And it hit me: this is how it feels to live with the burden of a warped body image. The picture had never been so clear or visceral to me before.
Yes, it’s magazines and the media. Yes, it’s celebrities. Yes, it’s mixed messages. But I would also argue that we, as women, are a little too aware of each other’s bods. We compare, scrutinize and log an awful lot of data about each other that focuses on appearances.
Anyway, God knows I’ve said some pretty stupid things in my life. For whole years I’ve lived with my foot lodged securely inside my mouth, vacillating between soul-crushing arrogance and soul-crushing self-hatred. But at least I’ve never asked someone if they were pregnant.
That’s not the point, of course. The point is, I was thrown into doubt and shame, which followed me as I packed up my things and scrambled out the door with my teeth clenched. And would you believe it, the teacher actually yelled as I left, “SORRY FOR ASKING IF YOU WERE PREGNANT!”
Old Me would have smiled and just skittered out the door. New Me turned around and said, “If you suspect someone of being pregnant, keep it to yourself. It’s not your problem. Don’t ask.”
To which she replied, shocked, “Are you offended? Oh God, did I offend you?” She may have said something else, but I didn’t hear it. I was long gone.
I hopped on my bike thinking Everyone’s looking at me wondering what the pregnant woman is doing riding a bike in heavy traffic. And then I started to cry. Hard.
Not wanting to die in a collision, I pulled over and let myself have a good sob. And then I called a friend.
Here’s what I know: I’m a good-looking gal. A healthy, normal-sized mother whose husband thinks she is smokin’ and has no interest in trading her in. I’ve birthed two 9-lb+ babies in rapid succession. I’m strong, I’m smart, I’m fun, I’m impulsive, I’m a homebody, I’m selfish, I’m kind, I’m fearful, I’m real, and I also tend toward being depressive. These are true statements about the person I am.
Being asked if I was pregnant would have sent the Old Me into lockdown for well over 24 hours, petting and caressing a grudge until paper-thin. But New Me (the Me who acknowledges her weaknesses and is devoted to what Anne Lamott calls “radical self-care”) knows how to puncture shame: with storytelling, with truth-telling, and with a whole lot of laughter. Having a network of “shame puncturers” is my key to peace these days. Bringing my crazy to someone who loves me and sees me is the swiftest and most effective way to joy. Thank God for the many women and men who surround and support me and whom I am privileged to surround and support.
To Old Me, this would have been a destroyer. To New Me, this was a kerfluffle…and a great story. After 20 minutes and a couple conversations, I was good. When I told Jake about it, he asked if I would ever return to that class, sure that I would be too ashamed.
“No way!” I said. “I’m gonna plague that girl the rest of her yoga-teaching career. ‘It’s me!’ I’ll yell whenever I see her. ‘Still not pregnant!'”
It’s been almost 37 years that I’ve lived on this planet, and for not one of those years have I managed to coordinate a Christmas card. I’ve gotten close; one year I actually purchased cards, wrote them out, enveloped them, addressed them, STAMPED THEM, and….just as swiftly lost my mojo. The cards languished in a basket by the front door until the heat of July caused the stamps to peel off, at which point I took a cue from the universe and finally chucked them in the trash. Such is my dedication to Christmas card-ery.
In this day and age, what with the Facebook and the Instagram and the Twitters, etc., is a lengthy Christmas card even necessary? I think I’m not the only one asking this question because, of the Christmas cards I’ve received this season, not one has included a “here’s how we’ve been” piece. Mostly they’ve just been glamour shots of mom, dad, kids, and occasionally a somewhat forlorn looking pet (that is, when the pet doesn’t take center stage, begrudgingly wearing an ugly sweater, santa hat, jingle bells, etc).
I wrote a post a couple years ago about how I felt a little guilty for never having had Seabass photographed professionally. Eventually, my mom generously coughed up quite a hefty amount for the most beautiful pro photos of our little guy, but we never revisited the idea for precious Sweet Chuck. That girl, God bless her, has no clue what she’s missing, but will one day come to see the discrepancies between documentation of her older brother’s childhood and her own. I figure she’ll be stronger for it. Right?
So, in lieu of a pretty printed Christmas card this year (and, ahem, every year), I’m posting these shots of my kids on our front stoop, where we always take pictures. This is the best I could manage. And as for the “how we’ve been” piece, life is good. I have the big smile, the gorgeous husband, the healthy kids, the rad neighborhood, and the big fat therapist’s bill to prove it! But really, all joking aside, all is calm, all is bright.
May this season’s greatest joys – laughter, togetherness, peace and beauty – be yours throughout the year. Merry Christmas!
So I usually put together a little video for Seabass every time he has a birthday, and my intention was totally to do the same for Sweet Chuck. Only…it never really happened. How is a mother supposed to wipe two noses, two behinds (more on this another time), make enough money to send her kids to the fancy preschool that emphasizes emotional intelligence, wash her hair, train for a half marathon, answer a barrage of kid questions about spiders/space/homeless people, put a healthy dinner on the table every night AND make a birthday video for each child, each year? She’s not. Hence, my tardiness.
Still, I finally managed to pump one out for Sweet Chuck. While she’s been pretty miserable lately with molars emerging, an ear infection, and some classic two-year-old defiance, she’s still my precious little dumpling of love, which shows in every frame. It’s my pleasure to present Sweet Chuck: Year Two. Enjoy!
Today in our school district, thousands of kids are going back to school. My own two are starting preschool – Seabass in his second year, and Sweet Chuck her first – and we’ve all looked forward to a fresh start.
But while so many kids posed with a sign announcing their first day of ____grade, mine were doing this.
Hard to tell what’s going on there? Allow me to explain.
I was rushing off to work at 7am (my new start time, which gets me enough hours to pay for their rather expensive preschool, which is held only from 9-noon) and Jake was handling breakfast. Sweet Chuck had a leak in her overnight diaper so I made the split decision to change her into her first-day-of-school clothes and take a picture for posterity. You know, on the front porch, all Americana-like.
As anyone with two small children knows, however, whatever you do for one, you must also do for the other. So I tiptoed on eggshells to convince Seabass to change into school clothes in preparation for a photo. I tell ya: the amount of energy I spend on selecting the right words to a) not upset him and b) get what I want out of him could power an offshore oil rig.
It was all downhill from there.
“Pick out some shoes, please.”
“I DON’T WANT SHOES!” Weeping, moaning.
“You can wear whatever kind you want except flip-flops.”
“I WANT FLIP-FLOPS!” Gnashing of teeth. Flailing.
And that’s how this photo came to be. I told him I just wanted a picture to document his first day of the last year of preschool, and he threw himself on the threshold of our house, crying for who-knows-what reason. In a flash of inspiration, I took the shot anyway because, if we’re documenting reality, this more than captures life around our home at the moment.
Meanwhile, you’ll notice Sweet Chuck decked out in puffy piggies, jeggings, and pink cowboy boots. That girl was ready for action.
The moral of this story is three-fold:
1. Life ain’t clean. I’d love to have a cute chalkboard or sign announcing my kids’ first day of school for a picture in a scrapbook I actually end up making for them. And, by the by, I’d love it if they were smiling in that picture. But this is what’s up right now: crying, shoeless kids.
2. Smiles come and go. Look at this picture of Seabass from last year’s first day of school:
Maybe next year he’ll be smiling again. And who knows? Maybe Sweet Chuck will be a wreck.
3. There’s nothing wrong with walking away. For the first time since Seabass was born, thanks to preschool, I am now working three mornings a week. To some moms this might seem like a piddly-diddly amount of time away from kids, but for me it’s an awful lot. I’ve spent years nursing, wiping butts, and catering to the demands of young kids at home, but today is the first day that I’ll be doing less of it, three days a week. And THAT is why I gave up on a perfect first-day-of-school shot, grabbed my purse, kissed the kids’ crying heads (and Jake’s – yes, he was crying, too), and walked out the door.
Here’s to change, messy and complicated as it may be.
Jake took Seabass to the state fair tonight to ride the Ferris wheel, eat a corn dog, and watch the mutton bustin’. Sweet Chuck isn’t quite ready to stay up that late, so I kept her occupied at home with cooking dinner, picking blackberries in the yard, and reading some books before bedtime. We were just a couple of girls, enjoying one another’s company.
In the middle of our dinner preparations, Elliott Smith came on the stereo and everything suddenly became perfect – the music, the weather, the occasion – so I decided to document it. The results can be found here: http://youtu.be/0XiEqEYL554. Hopefully YouTube doesn’t put the kibosh on it because of our dearly departed friend who supplied the music.
I once heard that a man who endured horrible, terrible hardship in his life, when asked what he missed most from before tragedy struck, answered, “A quiet night at home.”
Spending the evening with Sweet Chuck may not have been the most obvious or monumental subject for a video, but there might come a day when I long for these wonderstruck July evenings when the kids are small and our biggest problem is getting them into bed by 8pm. This little movie will help me to remember.
Quick endorsement: I’m not usually one to pitch products, but I really like the results I’ve been getting from the Cinamatic app. It’s sort of like Instagram, only it helps users to create beautiful, meaningful videos quickly and share them via social channels like a Facebook, YouTube, etc. They didn’t pay me to say that, by the way. It’s really true.