Claiming Stay-at-Home-Momhood

I went to my therapist a few weeks ago for a check in. I had scheduled the appointment after my emergency session following my termination thinking I would need additional tuning up a few weeks later. Turns out I had managed to emerge from the hole relatively well and was in less acute crisis.

One thing came out of our conversation that I think is worth sharing.

I called myself a Stay at Home Mom for the first time.

In our country, being a Stay at Home Mom is a wildly polarizing thing. Women write whole treatises defending their Stay at Home Momness. They describe how tough of a job it is, how thankless it is, how people assume they sit all day at home watching TV and have no fucking clue what happens in the day-to-day life of raising children. And all of that is true.

Unless you are a mother, you do not understand the profound loneliness of motherhood. You have a little person with you all day, but you never have a real conversation, never get to be fully who you are, and are constantly keeping tabs on this other being to the point that even when you are asleep and they are asleep you sort of have one eye open waiting for a cry to tell you to spring into action.

I quit being a stage manager largely because of this constant vigilance. You have to be on always and even in the moments of down time, you are not truly down. You’re always at a low hum. Mothers are exhausted because of how they are always having to monitor, run a program in the background, taking up CPU and RAM. I call it the iMommy app refreshing in the background.

One thing I can say with confidence is that when I go to work, I don’t have this program running in the background. When my baby is with my in-laws or my husband, iMommy turns off and I feel palpable relief at not having to track Ronan.

Work for me is about 9 hours a week over Wednesday-Friday while he’s at Grandparent Daycare.

As a Stay at Home Mom, I am always tracking him, always monitoring his mood, his reactions, his feelings, his hunger, his diaper, his everything. Everything. I am the subject matter expert on my son and he is a constant equation of input (food, stimulation, sleep) and output (poop, temperament, health). I know all if it always and adjust the equation every day to fine tune how to keep his output as pleasant and palatable to the rest of the world as possible.

Some people have a predisposition to doing this well and with relatively low impact on their CPU and RAM. I do not have this predisposition. Or maybe I did at some point, but it was used up when I had to track the mood/temperament/input/output of my parents and their own pathology. So not only do I not particularly like this constant tracking, but it’s also a little psychologically triggering for certain parts of me.

I resisted the title of Stay at Home Mom until this point because, in our country, these women are patronized in the worst way. On a thread about equal pay for equal work, a man went off on a tangent to explain how being a mom is The Most Important Job in the World. It’s a common refrain I hear from women defending their Stay at Home Momness or from men or women trying make Stay at Home Moms feel better about staying at home.

Parenting is viewed as inherently feminine work. It’s something that is undervalued as evidenced by the fact that we don’t have standard paid parental leave and women take financial and career hits when we have families.

Of course, I also keep hearing we “choose” this, as if for everyone it is an option. For our family, we can’t afford traditional daycare or a nanny with my business still in the early phases of growing. So I stay with our son instead of paying for daycare. You can be damn sure if I could afford daycare he would be there. I don’t believe in the nonsense about how daycare is outsourcing parenting or any other ridiculous reason people cite for why children should not be in daycare. Fuck that. As if working parents need another reason to be shamed for their choices.

And again, as if it’s a choice! Parents who work mostly do it because they HAVE to. But also, so what if they want to? I love to work. If I could have Andy and I work part or three-quarter time we would do it in an instant. But that’s not how the world, and particularly the theatre world, works.

So saying I’m a Stay at Home Mom felt big because I was taking on all the crap that people throw at women who are staying home with their children. The stereotypes include that I’m lazy and poor and have no skills I can work with and, thus, will have to join the legions of women who rigorously defend themselves about staying home.

And.

This one feels the biggest.

Am I living up to my full potential?

My mother was a flipping rocket scientist at NASA and worked in the male dominated field of software engineering. With a legacy like that, how can I stay home and not take advantage of the work she did to pave that pathway for me?

I know my mom would never agree with this assessment. She would say that being a parent was the best part of her life and that working was a means to the end of providing for her children.

But as the end of that, it feels like I am too smart, too resourceful, too sensitive, too educated to let my Master’s degree collect dust while I plan naps and make baby food and take walks and clean up poopy diapers and do a lot of laundry.

Which is why I was resistant to claiming the role I’m already living.

I recognize that I am part of a newer type of woman. The one who is a work from home/stay at home mom. Some of us are part of those Multi-level Marketing companies that sell you essential oils and shakes and supplements. Some of us are professionals like lawyers, accountants, and consultants.

I think that being a stay at home/work from home mom is no more or less crazy-making than any other type of mothering. Of course, I will never live another lifetime like this and therefore have no way to compare it to something else. All moms are struggling in whatever their circumstances are. I am grateful that my circumstances mean I get to wear yoga pants more often than not, but I wish it didn’t come with societal stigma that tells me I should be grateful. But, as I have learned, all moms are told they should be grateful, regardless of their level of satisfaction with their circumstances. Which is a topic for another day.

Nighttime Shuffle

Ronan goes down for bed.

Goes to the kitchen to clean up until he falls asleep.

After he’s asleep, showers.

Rewards herself by sitting down for 5 minutes of internet surfing before promising to work on laundry.

20 minutes later thinks, “Well, at least I could pump while I’m on my computer.”

Pumps for 20 minutes, still surfing internet.

Thinks a few times, “Maybe I should do some of the work I need to do like writing contracts, blog posts, or proposals for clients.”

Goes back to Facebook.

Pumping ends, brings pumping stuff to kitchen.

“Ok, now I’ll work on laundry.”

“But first I need to see how my post is doing on Facebook.”

Opens computer.

Continues to surf the internet. Mostly refreshing Facebook.

30 minutes later, “I should fold the laundry.”

Immediately goes back to computer.

20 minutes later, “Phew! It’s bedtime. I’ll get the laundry tomorrow.”

Brushes teeth.

Gets in bed.

“I should go to bed earlier tomorrow.”

“I should have folded the laundry.”

“I should have done something production on my computer.”

Reads for 2 minutes.

Passes the fuck out.

 

A couple-a questions

A Facebook friend posted these in honor of Valentine’s Day. I love talking about Andy and our relationship and our family, so any excuse to talk more about it, I’ll take.

Who’s older? Andy, by 15 1/2 years.
How long have you been together? 8 years on March 1st.
Who was interested first? I think it was pretty mutual. We warmed up to each other at the same pace, but once we were official we fell hard.
More sarcastic? Both of us. It’s one of our many compatible qualities.
Who makes the most mess? Both of us…he leaves more laying around, but when I make a mess I make a MESS.
Who has more tattoos? Me. I have one to his zero.
Who’s the better singer? Me. Though he makes it funnier.
Hogs the remote? Neither of us.
Better driver? He drives us around more. I think we’re both good drivers.
Spends the most money? Me. I buy all the necessities, pay the bills, etc, and make sure we get the occasional fancy coffee and clean clothes.
Smarter? Me on humans and their behavior. Him on everything else.
Whose siblings do you see the most? His. Though mine live 3000 miles away. I have a feeling if my brother lived closer we’d see him, his wife, and his daughter a whole bunch more.
Do you have any children together? Yes! Perfect little Nugget.
Did you go to the same school? Nope.
Who is the most sensitive? I am sensitive about a lot of things. When you hit his threshold on the few things he takes personally, it’s pretty intense.
Where do you eat out most as a couple? Burger places: Red Robin, The Ram, Elliot Bay Brewhouse. Also we enjoy a good fancy coffee and pastry.
Where is the furthest you two have traveled together as a couple? Austria.
Who has the worst temper? I slowly simmer about more. He’s explosive about less.
Who does the cooking? Me. Man has no sense of smell, but he makes a mean scrambled egg.
Who is more social? Me. Though he sees his friends every day at work so work is like social time.
Who is the neat freak? Me. We both like a clean house but since I work from home and stay at home with Nugget, I want it more clean.
Who is the most stubborn? Him. We had a whole pre-baby conversation where he admitted to his intense stubbornness. Though if I present a pragmatic, fact-based argument, I can sway him. It’s like being in debate club, but it keeps me checking to make sure, A. it’s a fight I want to have and, B. I actually have good reasons.
Who hogs the bed? Neither. It’s why we got a big bed and separate comforters.
Who wakes up earlier? Me always. Pre-baby, post-baby, I’ve always gotten up earlier.
Where was your first date? Officially? His apartment.
Who has the bigger family? Our immediate families were the same size, but now his family is bigger due to divorce/remarriage/step-siblings/nieces and nephews.
Who does the laundry? Me mostly.
Who’s better with the computer? Him. I mean I can type and deal with HTML, but he knows his way around electronics better than almost anyone I know.
Who drives when you are together? Him. I love it when he drives and so does he.
Who picks where you go to dinner? I usually offer suggestions and he picks. Sometimes my suggestion list only includes one place.
Who wears the pants in the relationship? Both for different things. Though I resent the premise of this question.
Who eats more sweets? Me while I’m breastfeeding. We both have pretty raging sweet tooths and giving each other treats is one of the main ways we show love!

Sunday Fun 2.12.17

Things that I was into this week!

Fun gifts for your feminist friend/girlfriend/wife.

This article has all sorts of resources about the general approach I am taking to food now.

“…it is very convenient for us.” I am dying.

How I respond to people who talk to me in a crowded party when I can’t hear them.

Great. Because regular alligators weren’t creepy enough.

Literally Just 100 Funny Tweets That Sum Up Parenting

This Baby Will Win Your Heart With Her Cute Transformations

How to create community in 793 easy steps

In the last couple of weeks I’ve realized how much I need to be around people every day. I’m by no means an extrovert, but I didn’t realize how much of a social creature I am.

This depressive episode made it very clear that time I spend alone is not helpful. I started reaching out to new people to try and build some more community so I had lots of options if I needed a sudden infusion of support.

  1. PEPS– I joined my local PEPS group in August after a fellow mom did her due diligence to get one started. There are 9 of us in the group with babies who were born between mid-May and early August. For 12 weeks we met every Tuesday from 1030a-1230p. Our babies started out as lumps and now have teeth, sit up, crawl, babble, and have personalities. This group saved me. After my husband, they were the first ones I told about my PPD diagnosis. I still see a few of them every week on Tuesday mornings. One key piece to helping us gel was a Facebook group I started for us within the first couple of weeks. It started slowly, with people asking for clear advice, making recommendations, or trying to arrange playdates. Now, we post about lots of things. After I was fired, I told my staff about what happened and then I told my PEPS group (my husband was in the room when it happened, so he already knew). I knew kids caused a lot of camaraderie, but I didn’t really get it until this group. We all have different approaches to life and work and family, but we are all bound by a similar need to do what is best for our children and are sometimes at a total loss for what that looks like. I think all of us have cried at this point and we have all shared food, the two things I think bind humans the quickest. Without my PEPS ladies, I would be in much worse shape.
  2. Online Book Clubs– After President Obama had an interview in the NY Times about the books he read while in office, I put a call out on Facebook asking if anyone else wanted to read them with me. Almost 30 people joined and we are reading one book every two months with discussion online about what we have read. I also joined a book club aimed at literature about intersectional feminism. This one is largely going to be in-person or call in for those of us who aren’t local, but whether I get to participate in the actual discussion or not, reading intersectional feminist literature and non-fiction sounds wonderful. I also joined the local moms book club, which mostly focuses on fiction. This group also meets in person and though I can never make the meeting times (they’re always on Friday nights), I still read the books along with the group. I’m also constantly reviewing my reading list from graduate school and taking on books my fellow graduates reading. So at any given time I’m reading up to 4 books, but since they are all for different purposes it’s easy to keep track of their plots or central messages without confusion.
  3. Stroller Strides– This group is still newish to me. I go to a Stroller Strides class 1-3 times a week and am still figuring out how I fit into this larger group. Most of the parents have kids who are toddlers or preschoolers and class always falls right during nap time, so I don’t really stick around much after class is over to socialize. That said, the day of the inauguration we did a Michelle Obama inspired workout and when I started tearing up over the loss of the Obamas I was encouraged to “let it out.” I also told them about my termination and I get asked every class about the state of my employment.
  4. Witchy women in general– I have gotten really close with a lot of what I call “witchy women.” These are the women who are deeply affected by and in tune with the world around them. Most of them are in disparate social circles, but on the day of the Womxn’s March, they were all out protesting or actively tracking in and talking about it on social media. Some I see very regularly in person, and some I only communicate with via Facebook. Either way the energy of the feminine is strong in this group and shows up in many different areas of communication and community.
  5. My consulting collective– After graduate school, one of my teachers started a group where graduates could come together to figure out how to spread our skills more broadly. We meet once a month and talk about everything from very in-depth case studies to new theories to social problems and how to address them. I’ve had some very challenging conversations with this group on a personal level and some very fruitful ones. I get to bring the nugget with me and he is passed around from person to person so I can get a break and he can be held by people who already adore him.

In order to get community going, I’ve found that we obviously need a common call to action, but the follow up after forming the initial group is what’s hard. Online, I have to post comments and questions regularly to get the lurkers to come out and engage. In person, I often throw out initial instances of vulnerability to break the ice. I’m sure if I didn’t, someone else would, but I’m usually game to cast the first line.

What makes it hard and why some of them peter out is that this needs to happen over and over and over again. Groups I have been a part of where I wasn’t actively cultivating them have fallen by the wayside despite everyone’s good intentions. There are some people who propose that a group needs a certain number of people to keep it going. I have seen groups of hundreds stagnate because the moderator and/or creator didn’t give it enough juice from day to day.

I have a new group for mompreneurs and work from home moms I started. There are about 50 of us and this one is having a harder time getting going. I think I need to ask some different questions, but I haven’t quite cracked the code on this one yet. In any case, some more attention and effort and I think it will be awesome. Mompreneurs and work from home moms spend a LOT of time on the computer, so I know other group members will be more engaged soon.

 

Our adventures with Croup

The Willhelms have had it rough for the last month. Right around the time I got fired,  Andy had his first Crohn’s flare in 8 years plus a ridiculously aggressive cold. I was down mentally and he was down physically. We tag-teamed on the whole parenting thing and it became even more clear just what an amazing baby we have. He was smiley and happy, relatively clear with his needs, totally willing to bounce in his Jumperoo while Mommy and Papa tended to our own hurts.

Then on Wednesday morning the little nugget woke up crying. Normally, he greets the day with a few coos and will spend the first 20-30 minutes of the day talking to himself in his crib while I pump, so a crying babe was really unusual.

The day before before he hadn’t eaten nearly as much as he normally does, so I thought he was hungry. I went into his room and poor guy was completely stuffed up and his little cry was hoarse. I brought him into bed with me hoping the elevation on my arm would help him sleep. He fell back asleep for a hot second, but then when Andy was getting ready for the day, the movement woke him up and he started crying his hoarse cry all over again. I called the consulting nurse line for his pediatrician and she listened to him over the phone and said that it sounded like croup. Sure enough, the characteristic barking cough started about an hour after that.

Croup is a viral infection of the upper respiratory system and specifically hits the area around the pharynx, often swelling the vocal chords, which is why babies’ cough sounds like barking. This also usually comes with a fever or runny nose and the only thing you can really do is wait it out. To help relax the airways, the traditional treatment is to go into a steamy bathroom and just hold your babe while they breathe the air. Some doctors will suggest going outside in cold weather since the temperature reduces the swelling. If it gets really bad, you can get steroids to help reduce inflammation, but typically you just wait it out like a cold. We were told to look out for “oxygen starvation.” This is when a baby has a very hard time breathing and starts to have very low levels of oxygen in their blood. Signs that he was experiencing oxygen starvation would have been flaring of the nostrils, sucking in around the ribs, and his lips or nail beds turning blue. Fortunately, we haven’t seen any of those signs, just lots of snot and coughing.

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(We got rid of his swing just last week, so this was our makeshift snuggle nook to keep him elevated and comfortable.)

Andy decided to stay home on Wednesday, which was great since it was just like the early days again. The nugget would eat very little, 2-3 ounces of breast milk at a time, and then sleep for 20-30 minutes. He got one, 60 minute nap in, but otherwise would wake up enough to eat a bit and then cry and then fall back asleep. Andy and I each were in the bathroom with the shower running on hot, trying to help his breathing.

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It never got scary enough that we had to take him to the hospital. We just had a very unhappy baby on our hands. He went down fine at bed time with the help of some Tylenol and managed to stay asleep for the most part. No middle of the night wakings for us. **Fingers crossed**

Thursday morning we had an appointment with Ronan’s pediatrician just to double check that he was doing ok. He didn’t have a fever and after a thorough listen to his lungs and a check in his ears, she said to just keep doing what we’re doing. Apparently the little guy’s weakened immune system can mean that another bug comes on the heels of the croup, so she said to keep an eye out for new symptoms that could indicate something else creeping in.

Andy went to work that day for a bit and came home early to help me. Ronan was doing a little better, but it was so helpful to have another set of hands to pass him off to. Like the early days, I couldn’t really get anything done, including making food or using the bathroom. Since we had both of us home for the first 10 weeks, we never had much of the experience of not showering, etc. We would just pass him back and forth while each of us tended to our various bodily functions. We were also zombies because of the lack of sleep, but at least I could pee without a lot of problems.

Friday was a little tougher. Andy was at work all day and Ronan seemed to take a little dip down. Still no fever, but recovery from croup, we were told, isn’t really linear but instead has some valleys along the way. Oof. I kept Ronan home from Grandparent daycare and we met a good friend to go for a walk, hoping the cold air would help him breathe easier. Unfortunately, it started to rain just as we arrived, so we holed up in Starbucks until Nugget was done with all the stimulus and drove home. It got us out of the house for a hot minute, which was nice.

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He was like this for all of 20 minutes in the morning for a little photo shoot. The rest of the day the smiles were few and far between.

Today, Saturday, I’m writing this on my computer in the parking lot of a local state park. Ronan slept a solid 12 hours last night (normally he does about 10 1/2), but was having a very hard time going down for a nap, despite falling asleep on me for a few minutes at a time. So I loaded us up into the car and used the 20 minute drive to knock him out. Now we’re partying in the car, him in the back sleeping, me in the front, journaling, typing, working on proposals…ok, really scrolling through Facebook a lot. I have ambitions to go grocery shopping, but you can be damn sure I’m not waking this sleeping baby a minute before he wants to.

7 months!

 

This little nugget turned 7 months old yesterday!

Some things worth noting.

Loves:

Jumping. All the time. We went over to a friend’s house a few weeks ago and she had a Jumperoo for her son. I put Ronan in there to see what would happen, and he just jumped and jumped for a solid 40 minutes. And he wasn’t laughing or smiling the whole time. It was serious business, y’all. As I type this, he’s happily jumping in the Jumperoo we got secondhand from another mama. It’s a great way to burn off some energy and keep him occupied for a long time.

Breast milk. To the exclusion of solid foods. We’re trying the solid foods game and we are losing. So far he’s tried applesauce, avocado, butternut squash, egg, oatmeal, zucchini, and baby rice crackers. Now I’m taking a different approach from my first attempts with the spoon and putting purees on my finger to shove into his face. He gets about 4 bites this way and then I stop trying. Since he’s still eating breast milk just fine, we’re not pushing solid foods, but just give him something to try every day.

Activity cube. Specifically he likes holding on to the bead maze on top and is just starting to figure out how to move the beads.

Dr Brown’s pacifiers. I mean he’s been into these for months now, but still worth mentioning because they are lifesavers.

Akeekah pacifier leashes. The kid basically has a pacifier tethered to him all day. This way when he spits them out then don’t go too far.

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Creeper picture from baby monitor

Not loves:

Rolling over. He did it a few times at 3 months and basically hasn’t done it since. I’ll put him on his belly and he’ll just cry until someone else rolls him over. Fun.

Sitting up. “I’d rather be standing.”- My son to me every time I try to get him to sit.

Car seat. I mean he doesn’t hate it, but he’s far less enthused about it than he used to be. Still naps in it about once a day, but he’d rather be jumping. All the jumping.

Shit I absolutely love:

Boogie wipes. Kid had a runny nose and these kept me from rubbing his nose raw.

Tula carrier. When Ronan was first born we tried to wear him a few times and he was NOT. HAVING. IT. Now we’re warming up to it and he will happily hang out for a couple of hours against me. This carrier was recommended by friends who baby wear a lot, and they were absolutely right. It’s comfortable and supportive and relatively easy to put on by myself.

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PEPS group at Halloween (above) and Jan 28th (below)

He’s so damn cute.

When your world implodes

Two weeks ago I was fired from my position as Managing Director for The Seagull Project.

I had only been back in the job for less than 3 months and came back in early October to a very stressed staff on the verge of quitting. I spent most of the first few weeks back just having conversations trying to convince people to stay. I had a killer team and didn’t want to lose an ounce of the talent I had procured. After I patched those holes, convincing people of the potential we had ahead and how we just had to power through to February when we could rebuild, I had to cancel our major fundraiser. Attention had been paid to another fundraising effort against the strategy I had created before I left. Then, my first board meeting was canceled because most of the board was suddenly unavailable 48 hours before the meeting, so we had no container to discuss the implications and plans for what to do next with this fundraising hole.

The first meeting I finally had with the board was in early December and it involved giving some hard news about the state of our finances. In that meeting, we did some serious reconnoitering of the budget, readjusted revenue goals, and walked out with a plan for how to fundraise with major donors and secure loans for our revenue shortfall.

The rest of December passed with a lot of other fires to put out. Prior to my coming on board, decisions were made that turned out to have serious ramifications for us. No one had adequately researched how to actually carry out some of these things, so when time came to implement them, we were lacking in some major pieces. These pieces affected our negotiations with the actors’ union and how we dealt with payroll. I had to talk another staff member off a ledge after delivering some hard news because without them we would have come to a complete standstill. We started rehearsals behind the eight ball, but everyone was getting paid and we had patched yet more holes. I was so proud of my team for continuing to plod forward solve all the crazy problems we were encountering.

Next we had some problems with our fiscal sponsor around instructions that they admit were unclear. It resulted in a delay in a funds transfer and we ended up having some bounced checks. Calling someone to tell them not to deposit a check is about the least fun thing to do. It’s even worse when they say the already have and we all hang out in limbo to see what happens next.

All of this came to a head the weekend of Christmas when no one was available and everything was delayed because of office closures and holiday gatherings.

I came to the January board meeting and outlined all the problems we had experienced and how we had solved them and what we needed next to move forward. It was a chaotic meeting where we were missing a board member for the whole meeting (who no one had spoken to in a while) and another for half the meeting. The meeting was contentious. We didn’t have board meeting minutes to reference previous decisions, we were all stressed with all the operational things that landed, plus we had the usual chaos of the holidays. I left feeling tense but like we had tangible steps to try and solve some problems.

The next evening I was fired. The exact details of the day are not important. The bottom line is I was fired without warning and without an opportunity to correct behavior, behavior that I don’t even know about since no specifics were given to me about what I did wrong. This was counter to the culture I had created among the staff where everyone was given many chances to find the job that worked for them. We were all learning and volunteers, so what good would it have done to berate someone and maybe lose a willing team member in the process?

I was sad about being fired, but also relieved. I told my staff and the conversations over the next 4 days went something like this:

Staff: What the fuck?

Me: Yes.

Staff: I am so angry I don’t have words.

Me: I understand.

Staff: I’m leaving.

Me: Ok.

Two staff members resigned immediately, one resigned effective the end of January, and as of this writing six are not planning to continue after this production. Of the 14 person staff, that leaves five people.

The exodus, overt or covert, was gratifying to parts of me. I spent a week just being numb, enjoying my new time with my baby. Before I was fired, my day would largely consist of  having to figure out how to feed Ronan and keep him entertained so I could get on the phone or answer emails or respond to texts all day. Did I mention this job was unpaid? Yeah. I was missing valuable time with my baby for an unpaid position.

Now I could spend time just making faces at him. The day after I was fired, we got home from an outing and after I changed his diaper, we just laid in bed together, talking to each other and snuggling.

I posted about it on Facebook the Friday after it happened. I received 5 job offers within 2 days. All were paid. It boosted my confidence that I had desirable skills and was a worthwhile person to work with. Because I don’t know why I was fired, I couldn’t do any productive self-reflection or even if the decision was justified.

Then about a week later I hit a major slump. My postpartum depression had been relatively well managed, but this pushed it from “mild and managed” to “major episode.” I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t thinking clearly. I was addressing Ronan’s needs but would start crying for no discernible reason.

I scheduled an emergency session with my therapist. We sorted some things out, largely that if this position had been paid I would have an easily winnable wrongful termination lawsuit on my hands.

Now all I’m left with is unanswered questions AND a sense of relief. This job was hard to do even before I was a new mom dealing with PPD. I was contacted multiple times while on maternity leave to return because of how things were falling apart. Given the outcry to my firing, I can see that decisions made by the board are largely based in emotion, not logic or what is actually best for the company or the people who work within it. Now my days are more loose and I can focus on things I enjoy, like my sweet, sweet baby boy.

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But open loops are tough for the human brain. It’s like having an itch you can’t quite scratch, but isn’t so awful you seek out a corner to wiggle against. The catalytic action of the firing and the subsequent depression episode just suck. I get indignant and wonder if this kind of suffering is what my boss wanted when he fired me.

For now, I work to keep my health on track. I’ve started and joined lots of online communities, I get out of the house every day, I’m back to working out almost every day, and I do my best to focus on what brings me joy and reduces my suffering. I’m lucky that this is the worst I have to deal with. The pending quality of all that is happening with our political system gives me a huge sense of unease, but at least, for now, I have a roof over my head, food in my belly, and a happy, healthy family that offers me home and hope when I need it.

PPD Check In

Yesterday the little nugget turned 6 months. Some moms would say, “Oh my goodness it went by so fast!” but to me it felt exactly like 6 months. Some days dragged by so slowly, and some just were over in a blink.

Given that I’m halfway through the first year I wanted to stop and take stock of how my PPD is doing.

The previous symptoms I experienced were anxiety attacks, trouble sleeping, my appetite being all over the place, a disinterest in activities I used to enjoy like working out, a hard time focusing, and anxiety about leaving the house.

My anxiety attacks have completely disappeared. My biggest anxiety producing moments are very specific, like how to manage a work phone call in the 20 minutes before nap time. Largely my co-workers are chill about the noise or realize that I may just have to go, or I just don’t time things then. Amazingly, the world turns.

I still have a very hard time sleeping. Work has been rough, y’all. There has been a lot of stress as my theatre company finally starts rehearsal for our upcoming production of The Cherry Orchard. We had several huge problems coalesce at once and I spent a lot of nights awake at 3am and having a hard time going back to sleep. I’ve started integrating meditation again, which really helps. I know whenever I read that I think something like, “Sure it does. Weirdo hippie pushing your meditation.” But the truth is IT DOES. I use the Calm app and do a 10 minute meditation right before bed. I realize in hindsight that while this would have been a smart piece of prevention early on, my brain was so gooey from having a baby and being so sleep-deprived that I didn’t think I could possibly find 10 minutes to meditate. I would plan to do it while pumping, but it’s hard for me to get to a zen state when my boobs are being tugged on. So now I do it right before bed and that tends to help.

My appetite is still all over the place, but I think that’s largely because of breastfeeding, not PPD. Some days I have “hollow leg days” where no food is enough. And some days I eat what is probably a normal amount for when I wasn’t breastfeeding. I’m now trying to focus on getting good, nutritious food into my body. I was relying too much on ice cream to get me through the longer days, but now I’m turning back to finding veggie-heavy meals so I can get better nutrition. The cycle is pretty clear that if I drink enough water, eat well, and move a little, I sleep better, which in turn allows me the brainspace and energy to eat well, drink enough water, and move a little.

I’ve joined Stroller Strides, which is just hilarious to me. I was a hardcore gym bunny before I got pregnant. I would workout 5-6 days a week and do a combo of strength training, dance, walking, yoga, and high intensity interval training. Now I aim to get to stroller strides once a week and consider it a cherry if I can get an extra walk or something else in.

I still have some anxiety about leaving the house, but for the most part once we’re out, we’re fine. It takes a lot of mental checklists to get us out the door. It’s a lot to hold in my head and I get a little overwhelmed with the prospect of what could happen if I forget bottles or diapers (both of which have happened…and we totally survived).

I think I’m doing better. I’ll do other check ins as things develop, for better or worse. Hopefully better.

Sunday Fun 12.4.16

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A light smattering of delicious morsels this week.

I made a stovetop simmer of orange, cinnamon, cloves, and star anise. The house smelled delicious and it’s all thanks to this recipe.

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A video about actors’ dialects in movies. Some are super obvious that they’re terrible, but it was fun to learn what about them didn’t hit the ear in the right way.

My mom hates eggnog, so I assumed I hate eggnog. Truth is that I like it in small quantities and would love to see what this cake tastes like.

Love this Trump survival guide based on astrological signs. As a Virgo I felt mine was pretty accurate.

Hufflepuff PSA.

More HP: An essay about toxic masculinity and how Fantastic Beasts… showed us a new kind of male hero.

My husband and I constantly remind ourselves that everything is temporary with our nugget, both the good and the bad.

Sunday Fun 11.6.16

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Sunday is Friday in the theatre world. I use Sunday to read through all the articles I saved during the week. It’s my version of the Sunday Times. Here are some things I liked.

I grew up in a meticulously clean house. My dad had OCD and we would have epic battles over chores and sometimes would skip family outings because the house wasn’t clean by his standards. This drove home that a clean house can sometimes have unseen consequences.

I didn’t have pain medicine during my labor. I wonder how much the pain contributed to my own PPD?

For my fellow non-profit unicorns. Quotes by famous people if they had worked in nonprofit.

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I love these granola bars! I’ve made them 3 times now and love that they’re a sweet treat but doesn’t actually have any sugar in them.

I’ve been using this tip for falling back asleep after middle of the night feedings with Ro.

How well do you do in this Informed Voter Quiz?

A great summary on the parts of our culture that teach men to be unable to recognize sexual assault. Everyone should read this.

Want some help remembering that your life could be so much worse over nothing? Read this about the battles of vegan YouTubers. Whoa.

 

 

Photo credit

Mild PPD

When I first met with my doula, Kim, I told her that I wanted her to be on the lookout for signs of postpartum mood disorders after I gave birth. PPMDs include postpartum depression, made famous by celebrities like Brooke Shields, and postpartum anxiety, less discussed and diagnosed, but also frequently co-morbid with PPD.

I had never had a mood disorder, but I have a very long history of mental illness in my extended family. At one point my whole immediate family was on antidepressants. For me, it was because I had heard about its appetite-suppressing side effect and wanted to lose weight. I told my family’s psychiatrist about that and he wrote me a prescription, no questions asked. I took the pills for a year until I realized I wasn’t losing weight and any appetite suppression was me willing myself not to eat rather than true appetite suppression.

There was something about pregnancy that was making me feel a bit unhinged despite the lack of true mood disorder in my personal medical history.

Prior to getting pregnant, I underwent a seriously rigorous graduate program. I got my degree in Organizational Development, which had a big basis in humanistic and organizational psychology. I got this degree alongside a cohort getting a Master’s to become therapists, so there was a lot of internal “work” and soul-searching to find what events and situations would cause us to be triggered (getting inappropriately emotionally involved in a situation and losing the ability to help clients because of internal trauma).

As a result of all this internal work, I walked away feeling emotionally wrung out. I could process feelings quickly and went from crying all the damn time to crying only when digging deeply into childhood traumas with my therapist. I could identify what was problematic for me emotionally and quickly address it so I could stay present in the moment with clients or friends.

When I got pregnant, I felt like my ability to emotionally regulate got waylaid. I was still processing feelings well and swiftly, but I occasionally had outbursts of crying that didn’t have a root reason. Lots of people brushed this off as typical pregnant woman stuff, but I was unwilling to accept this as a justification for how I was feeling. I knew hormonal moodiness from my teenage years and this didn’t quite feel like that.

Giving birth to my son was very different than I had anticipated. There was a long hospital stay that ended in me being induced 5 weeks before my due date. The birth was not traumatic in the sense that I wasn’t listened to or had an experience largely different from what I wanted. It was traumatic in that we walked out the hospital without our son, as he had to be in the NICU for anther week and a half, and had to make the massive adjustments that come with parenthood a full month before we thought we would have to. I don’t know if that month would have actually changed how we dealt with parenthood, but it felt like a world of difference at the time.

We brought Ronan home when he was 10 days old, just over 5 1/2 lbs. The first few 6 weeks were totally typical of what you hear about parenting a newborn. Lots of funny sleep patterns, staying at home a lot while our little preterm baby’s immune system caught up to him, and doing all we could to keep him and us comfortable. It was a miserably hot summer and recovering from childbirth and pregnancy in a house that was 80* was not comfortable.

After 6 weeks, I had my first taste of a day at home without my husband’s help. I managed ok in that my son was still alive at the end of the day, but I was stressed and started to understand why a lot of moms need a glass of wine at the end of the day. My drug of choice was ice cream and so I ended the day with my husband, Andy, with a milkshake in one hand. “Ended the day” is a hysterical phrase to me because with a newborn there is no real end of the day. It’s all a constant cycle of eat, sleep, soothe, diapers, etc.

When Ronan was 10 weeks old, Andy went back to work. The week before he was scheduled to start I was reliably having a meltdown at 4p every day. It would usually come as I was tending to some menial task like a diaper change and I would start to  anticipate his return to work and the long stretch of hours ahead of me with just my son. I found I would stand in his nursery tears welling in my eyes, my heart rate picking up, and a feeling of hopelessness as I thought about my life being an endless cycle of bottles, diapers, and an inconsolable baby.

Ronan was prone to fits of crying. Not colic, just 15-30 minutes of eardrum-rattling wailing. Usually the poor kid was uncomfortable because of his immature digestive system no knowing how to pass gas or poop. This is when I would panic even more. Usually I could rock him for about 10 minutes before I would need to pass him off to Andy, who could hold him, despite the screaming, until it stopped.

I would troubleshoot about what I would do when he wasn’t around and had to acknowledge that sometimes I would just have to stomach my crying baby.

I had a session with my therapist around that time and told her about my daily crying jags and new ennui over the major shift in my life. I told her I was nervous about snapping one day. I didn’t know what that meant exactly, but whatever it was I didn’t want to do it. She told me to keep an eye on it and to schedule a follow up with her soon.

I got screened for PPD at each of my postpartum appointments, which were held at 1 week postpartum to assess my blood pressure, 5 weeks postpartum when I had some strange spotting, and 6 weeks postpartum for the normal 6-week follow up. Nothing was noteworthy to me, nurses, or my OB, but, again, something seemed up. I had a hard time finding the words to describe the feeling of off-ness I had without causing my concern to be brushed off as typical new mom stuff.

About a month ago I met with my therapist when Ronan was 14 weeks. I described the continued off-ness, the anxiety, and, a new symptom, being unable to go back to sleep after middle of the night feedings. Ronan was waking 2-4 times a night. My husband and I would alternate who would tend to him and I found that when it was my turn, despite being exhausted I would lay in bed, toss and turn, and think about nothing of great consequence, just couldn’t fall back asleep. I had a migraine at one point from the lack of sleep, which is tricky when you have an infant to care for at the same time.

“I think I have some sort of postpartum depression,” I said. “Though it’s not nearly as bad as what I read about. I don’t want to harm myself or Ronan. I just feel a little crazy all the time and really tired. More than what I should be feeling from lack of sleep.”

“I think you may be right,” she said. “I think you have some mild postpartum depression. Let’s figure it out.”

1 in 7 women experience PPD. These are the women who often have the more severe symptoms that don’t fit into the narrative of new mom anxiety or hormones.

How many have a milder form of PPD like I do but receive no acknowledgement for their suffering? We hear a lot of moms describe the feeling of losing themselves; their sense of self disappears as they reorient around this new being. It is the starkest shift that will ever happen in a woman’s life, and we think we have a sense of what “normal” looks like. “Normal” is feeling overwhelmed, undersupported, untethered, and anxious. But, I find it hard that despite these words describing what is “normal,” we don’t react to them with more mobilization. Have we normalized a woman’s sense of disconnect after childbirth? What sort of sexism would you call that where women’s experiences of overwhelm and anxiety is considered “normal” and ok? I feel that if any woman expresses these feelings (ever, not just postpartum) she should be met with resources for support and care, not a brush off as that being “normal.”

I’m a resilient and resourceful woman. I have a loving and supportive husband and a gracious and caring family and friends who are family. If I had these feelings even with all of this, what do women with less experience?

I also have an amazing amount of self-awareness, yet despite my description of feeling off, it wasn’t until I said out loud “I think I have postpartum depression” that someone finally took notice.

Since declaring that, I’ve made some adjustments. My diet and exercise habits have shifted and I routinely lay down for a cat nap every day while my son is sleeping. I wouldn’t do this before for fear I’d miss him waking up, but I lay down with the intention of closing my eyes for 20 minutes, often on the couch next to the swing in naps in, knowing that if he needs me he’ll let me know. I also meditate (almost) daily, even if just for 5 minutes. I make it a priority to take a shower. And, my personal favorite, I keep the sink clear of dishes. I think my mental state is appropriately reflected in my kitchen.

But it took a few weeks of concerted troubleshooting to figure this out. Troubleshooting with an infant sucks. There’s no space for self-reflection and with PPD I found that I felt I needed to do laundry more than sit and take a breath. Now, we affectionately call our laundry basket “the second closet” and I feel better, though not fully recovered.

I know that at some point I will feel fully in myself again, probably when a full night of sleep comes along again. Until then, I rely heavily on this new label to remind me that I can’t help my son unless I help myself and take extra permission to slow down even more than having a new baby requires.