motherhood

  • Putting the Pieces Together

    By Lindsey Goldstein

    I stood in the shower, warm water cascading over my shoulders and relaxing me enough to cause my eyes to close. My husband and daughter had left the day before to go skiing, leaving me with my toddler son and dog. Suddenly, my eyes snapped open. What if I have a brain aneurysm in the middle of the night and die? What will my son do? He can’t dial a phone to seek help or even get something to eat without assistance. He’d be stuck in this house with a dead mother and a dog. I shook my head. No, no, no. I took a deep breath and refocused.

    A few weeks prior, my therapist, whom I will call T, and I spent an entire session discussing my tendency to worry. I told her I can relate to a Shel Silverstein poem I’d read as a child about the “what if’s” crawling into my ear. When the news bombarded me with reminders that this year’s flu epidemic was something to fear, I’d begun the worry discussion with T, telling her I had become compulsive about hand washing, scouring my children’s hands when they walked into the house from school or foregoing play dates if a parent mentioned his/her kid had a sniffle. She listened, then leaned in.

    “What would be the worst thing that could happen if one of your children got the flu?” she asked.

    “Well, one of them could die,” I’d practically whispered not wanting to tempt fate. She nodded.

    “But the chance of that happening is very slim, right?” I had to admit that was true.

    Therapy isn’t something I’d ever thought I needed, but several months ago, I told my husband I had decided I wanted to try it. His initial reaction was concern, assuming something was terribly wrong. I assured him that no, there was nothing I could pinpoint, but in general, I just felt an overarching feeling of dissatisfaction. He was hurt to hear this, but I encouraged him to listen and try to understand.

    I told him, “It’s not that I hate my life. Not at all. I just feel like my days and weeks blur together, that I do whatever I need to do to get through my days rather than actually enjoy them.” As much as I didn’t want to sound like a cliché, I explained that I felt out of balance, felt a lack of presence in whatever I was doing, and my biggest concern was that I’d wake up one day a very old woman with a million regrets about how I chose to spend my time.

    I was reminded of a quandary a friend posed to me: What would you do if someone said you only had ten minutes left to live? I remembered searching for an answer but feeling lost and desperate to come up with anything.

    My first session of therapy started awkwardly. I squirmed, unsure of how to begin. So, I just started talking, nervously at first and later with more assertion.

    “I just feel as though I’m unsatisfied. That maybe I do a lot of things with my day, but that none of them get enough of my attention. I worry that one day, I will lie on my deathbed and be regretful that I didn’t accomplish anything.” She nodded but didn’t say anything. I kept talking. I told her about my marriage in a nutshell, about my two kids, about my job as a physical therapist, and about my writing hobby. I watched as the minutes ticked by on the clock, very aware that the express train of an hour was whooshing by in what seemed like a minute. She didn’t say much, but the sympathetic expression on her face told me she’d been in my shoes before, that the dissatisfied ground upon which I tread had been traversed by others.

    Since the birth of my second child, I’ve opted to treat patients who are not able to leave their homes. The vast majority of my patients are in the final moments of their lives. My favorite part of my job is to hear each patient’s life story, to hear what made them happy, to hear what still makes them happy, and to understand what each person would like to continue to do so long as they have breath in their body.

    I wish I could say I’ve met people without regret, but sadly, I haven’t. The overwhelming response I get from these people is to enjoy my youth, my children, my husband, and my body.

    Though I’ve thought about their recommendations before, I’ve never dwelled on the fact that everyday obligations and routines sometimes get in the way of what’s really important. Or that sometimes these same obligations get in the way of even thinking about what’s important.

    During my second visit, my therapist clearly had been listening because she asked me how I feel when I’m writing. I don’t normally discuss feelings. I tell stories, I make dry jokes, but to actually say how something makes me feel isn’t within my comfort zone.

    “When I’m writing, two hours passes by in what seems like two minutes,” I said. It was the best I could muster. She smiled.

    “That is an amazing feeling. To be so engrossed by something that you lose track of time.” I agreed. She wondered how I could incorporate more of that into my routine. And so we dissected my inability to say no to work that actually pays (my patients) and commit more time to something that I love. I explained to her that that seemed frivolous, almost irresponsible. That I should be as productive with my time as I can be in order to help support my family. Then I decided to stop arguing and remember why I’d sought her help in the first place.

    When I was much younger, I shied away from anything I feared. Following dreams or passions wasn’t in my nature, but rather practical choices were. Then I turned forty.

    Friends who were younger asked me what that was like. Some wondered if forty was terrifying. I wasn’t scared but suddenly was very aware of how fleeting my time is. I looked back at the years behind me and the details of so many experiences, of so many relationships with people, of loves and hurt and joy. It was as though they had been placed in a food processor and blended together to make a blurry collage of snapshots of my life.

    There is no slowing time down, but by going to therapy week after week, I realized I had gotten into a habit of being half-present in my life, of multi-tasking so I can get everything done in favor of committing myself fully to each moment of my life.

    At the last visit I had with T, she probed further into my relationship with my seven-year-old daughter. She and I have very different personalities, but I want to understand her and also have a healthy relationship with her. Her greatest need since we had our son is for me to be affectionate with her. She sees me carry him places or hug him and though I try to give her the same level of affection, she has voiced her feelings that it isn’t enough.

    “Mommy, will you lie in bed with me and cuddle?” she has asked on numerous occasions. Normally I put my son to bed, read with my daughter and then try to get her to bed in an effort to preserve one hour of alone time before I too need to go to bed. I told T how many times I’ve used the fact that it’s late and my daughter needs to go to sleep in lieu of cuddling with me. Or if I do sit with her on her bed, my mind goes to everything I still have left to get done in the paltry number of minutes I have before bedtime.

    “Do you think you could forego any of the things you have to do at night in order to lie with her and cuddle for five minutes?” T asked me. And then of course, I blushed because I felt like a selfish and terrible mother. “What would happen, for example, if you didn’t get the dishes done at night?” she asked.

    “Nothing,” I’d mumbled. Then I’d looked T in the eye and made a heart-wrenching confession. “The real issue is . . . I don’t like to cuddle. With anyone.” I explained how it had been a problem with my husband when we first dated because he enjoyed cuddling, while it made me feel suffocated. I compromised with him a bit, but I know it’s not what he really wanted. I explained to T that as awful as it sounded, I just wanted to be transparently honest. She applauded my honesty. We discussed ways in which I could meet my daughter halfway, to give her what she needs without compromising my comfort. And I believe these suggestions have helped.

    As I understand it, there isn’t a finish line in therapy. I won’t cross a line and be handed a medal. But I feel myself unfolding.

    Most importantly, I feel myself allowing truths to emerge. I have nothing to hide or lose by telling all to T. And only by admitting the deepest, ugliest, most wounded aspects of myself can I take myself apart and put myself back together.

     

    Lindsey Goldstein lives in Los Angeles with her husband, two kids and dog. In addition to writing, she works part-time as a physical therapist. She has published essays in the The New York Times, Modern Love column, in Kveller, and in Parent.co. Lindsey is currently working on her first novel.

     

    **NEW CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS**

    The founders and editors of The HerStories Project — a writing community for Gen-X women and publisher of four previous anthologies for women — are seeking submissions for a new essay collection.

    A Fury of Her Own: Midlife Women on Embracing Anger and Changing the World will examine the reasons for women’s anger at this current moment and celebrate the ways (big and small) they are using their rage to create lasting change.

    See full submission details and guidelines here.

    **JOIN OUR COMMUNITY FOR MIDLIFE WOMEN WRITERS**

    Our new writing community, HerStories Writers, features ongoing mini-courses, live chats and co-writing sessions, weekly writing prompts, and more! Come interact and find support, learn about topics that interest you (personal essay writing, building a platform, balancing writing and life), and get feedback on your work in a community outside of Facebook! Learn more here.

  • After the Urgency

    By Elizabeth Neumann Fuller

     Every other week, an early morning bell sends me racing from my classroom out to the elementary school parking lot, donning my whistle and zipping up my reflective vest en route. I stride boldly into the white stripes of a crosswalk to face three lanes of cars that stretch the hundred yards of the lot and snake out to block traffic on the road beyond. I shiver, or sweat, depending on the season. And I squint into the sun, not daring to shade my eyes with a hand that is needed to either wave a car on, or make it stop.

     Often, I nod and smile in return to a parent’s friendly wave or good morning greeting. But just as often I have to wag a finger at parents for cutting another car off, or for driving over pylons to change lanes illegally. No doubt they justify these behaviors because they are in a hurry—to get to work, to go grocery shopping, to get an older sibling to middle school.

     I can see them drumming the steering wheel with impatience while they wait in the approach to the drop-off zone. Their hands fly up in frustration when the little girl in the vehicle in front of them struggles to open the back door of an SUV. She pushes her slight weight against it, and it pushes back, like a reverse tug-of-war, until her mom has to take the time to unbuckle, and get out and walk around to assist. I can lip read parents’ curses through their windshields when a little boy hustles out of the car in the drop-off zone, only to lose his grasp on his lunch bag and have his grapes scatter as if hit by a cue ball, and his water bottle roll and then rest under the exact center of his family’s car, where everyone behind them in line must wait while it is retrieved.

    Oddly though, for all this impatience, this rush, this PG rated road rage, there is—more often than not—a period in the coveted drop-off zone where time is suspended.

    After the urgency to get to the front of the line, to drop their charge and get on with their day, parents will wait for the slam of the car door, and then pause. They will rest a foot heavy on the brake, and swivel in the driver’s seat to watch their child walking away.

    They are suddenly reluctant to separate. They crane their necks to keep their child in sight.

    They slide the passenger-side window down and lean towards it, waving or blowing a kiss, or yelling a final “Have a good day” or “Remember to eat your snack” or “I love you.” I can see them willing their child to look back before disappearing into the school’s inner sanctum.                       

     I confess that as the teacher on duty, this delay in the drop-off zone has always annoyed me. For twenty years, I have had to do parking lot duty, and I have been in a hurry just like everyone else. I have started my day rushing, to get my own children dressed, to pack their lunches, to grade a few more papers. I have been antsy to get back to my classroom before the final bell rings and the onslaught begins. Before my students burst into the room and jockey for position to tell me that they forgot their homework, or their cat had kittens, or they ran out of lunch money but can they still buy a corndog? So in the parking lot, I wave with extra vigor and a hint of irritation at the drivers causing delay in the drop-off zone. I beckon them to move forward faster. “Keep the line moving,” I mutter. “They’ll be back out here again at 2:30.”

     But then this fall, I myself was the parent in a different drop-off lane. I drove my youngest child to college. We got up in the wee hours, and loaded her school backpack, along with Hefty trash bags full of clothes into my Subaru. We drove six hours down the I-5 to a cinder block dorm set back behind a well-manicured lawn. We found her room, put sheets on her bunk bed, laid a shag rug on the floor, and hung her clothes in the closet. We attended an orientation where we sat apart, then went out to dinner where I asked about her classes. She had registered for a Kafka class, and linear algebra, and there wasn’t much I knew or could say about those subjects.

     When we pulled back up in front of the dorm after dinner, dusk was settling over the front lawn, tingeing it a grayish-green. I kept the engine running at the curb, and we leaned awkwardly into a hug between our bucket seats. As she climbed out of the car and walked away, my foot was like lead on the brake. I thought about how she wouldn’t be waiting outside the Taco Bell for my ride home from high school the next afternoon. How I wouldn’t be studying her face as I drove toward her, discerning how her day had gone from her expression. How I wouldn’t ask, “How was school?” and she wouldn’t shrug and answer, “Fine.”  I craned my neck to watch her walk across the grass, squinting to keep sight of her in the deepening dusk. She turned slightly, and I’m pretty sure she blew me a kiss, before she pulled her key card out of her back pocket and disappeared through the dorm door.

     The next Monday morning, my house was quiet, allowing me plenty of time to read the paper and drink my coffee before work. Back on parking lot duty, I wore my whistle and my neon vest, and waved my hands and wagged my finger. But when parents paused in the drop-off zone to watch their children, I turned to watch them too. I saw the little girls with hair tightly braided and the boys with defiant cowlicks headed into classrooms where they would learn about action verbs, and explorers, and Harriet Tubman, and the planet Mars. They would collaborate with classmates to solve 2-part story problems, and swap celery sticks for Doritos at lunch. And they would emerge at the end of the school day with hair tousled and sweaty from the effort of learning. They would know the product of 9×9, or how to tie their shoes, or how to read a compass rose, or the meaning of the vocabulary word chasm.

    They would be that much closer to making their own way in the world. 

    Because it happens that fast, under the watch of a teacher, or a lunchroom supervisor, from 8:00-2:30. I can see that now. So I decided that for the time it takes for a child to walk, under the weight of a backpack, from the parking lot to the inside of the school, I will lower my hands and I will let the parents linger.

     

    Elizabeth Fuller is a teacher and writer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her essays have appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, The Denver Post, The San Francisco Examiner, and other publications. She loves a good coffee shop, and hiking in the East Bay hills.

  • Mouths of Babes

    By Jennifer Golden

     

    Children, especially our own, seem especially competent at guilelessly pointing out our flaws and insecurities. “From the mouths of babes,” is, after all, a proverb for a reason.

    For a few months not long ago, my four-year-old took to drawing portrait after portrait of her loved ones—stick-figured, crazy-haired, one giant black eye staring right at you and one slightly smaller eye staring off the page, a demonic Cookie Monster of sorts. And always, always: a purple dog, a red ice cream cone, and a brown blob of poop floating between the person’s legs. I once asked my daughter why she insisted on the poop. “I need to use the brown marker,” she informed me matter-of-factly.

    She papered the walls of her room, floor-to-ceiling, with these pictures—an unsettling gallery that will surely be recalled by friends and family should she ever end up on the wrong end of of a 20/20 investigation. And, although each picture looked almost exactly the same as the one on either side, she could tell you at first glance which one was Mommy, which was Daddy, Uncle Matt, a bear, a unicorn, whomever. As long as my portrait had me also looking like Uncle Matt or a bear or a unicorn, I took no offense. I was, like any mom, proud to accept my child’s artwork and display it for all the world to see, future psychological profiling be damned.

    Then she got more sophisticated. The poop, mercifully, went away. The images started to have distinct characteristics. “What is that?” I asked one day, pointing to the large, wobbly oval bisecting the trunk of my latest stick-figure likeness.

    Her: Those are your hips.

    Me (gulping): And what about those little circles sitting on top of the hips?

    Her: Those are your boobies.

    Me (voice pitched an octave or two above normal): Shouldn’t they go up a little higher, closer to my head?

    Her (irritated, as if I’m crazy): No.

    My eight-year-old’s artistic abilities are more advanced, but she is nonetheless similarly skilled at innocently highlighting one’s insecurities. This morning, eating breakfast, I noticed my eldest staring intently at my face.

    “Did you have stitches? You look like you have a scar here,” she asked, gingerly pointing to the corner of my right eye.

    She is stitches-and-scar-obsessed these days, coming off a deep gash in her knee that resulted in a trip to the emergency room and an army of stitches marching like ants across her puckered skin. I see her sometimes, fingering the purple line that now bisects her kneecap. “Will I always have it?” she asks me, but not with trepidation. With hope. I think I understand such wistful attachment. Her body is unleashed, bones stretching seemingly overnight, so that a pair of pants that fit last week don’t cover her knobby ankles today. Her tiny, pearlesque baby teeth have been pushed out by aggressively serrated permanent teeth that shift around in her mouth, searching for a place to settle.

    And vaguely, she seems to sense what is just around the corner, a body curving into womanhood, adhering like some ancient mystic to the rhythms of the moon. It must be a confounding state of impermanence, constant flux for which she is just along for the ride. I can understand, then, this affection for something that is enduring and singularly hers.

    Or maybe she just thinks it makes her look bad-ass, like a Ninja Warrior.

    No, no stitches, I informed my daughter, with a dose of defensiveness her question didn’t really deserve. Fortunately, the Soduku on the back of the cereal box had captured her attention in a way my not-scar failed to do.

    Later, just out of the shower, I wipe away a square of mist from the mirror to study my reflection. The crease isn’t hard to miss. It’s not a scar, it’s a Grand Canyon-esque wrinkle. I have always thought of myself as someone who would “grow old gracefully” as the Olay ads of my youth encouraged.

    I think I, more than most people my age, understand the great gift of old age, the harsh reality of the alternative. I knew only one grandparent. My father passed away when I was in my early twenties, my roommate died in hers. My son celebrated a single birthday.

    I will embrace this wrinkle, I silently command myself. It is a physical badge of honor, a laugh line that marks the joy I have had in my life. I arrange my face into a smile, but the wrinkle is untouched, not activated even a tiny bit by my deranged grin.

    Well…I’ve had a lot of sadness, too. I pantomime a frown, then full-on crying. Nothing.

    Standing before the mirror, I run through a panoply of emotions: surprise, fear, anger, consternation, befuddlement. The wrinkle is stoic, unstirred. I am, however, deeply impressed by the acrobatic abilities of my eyebrows.

    As I turn to leave, a final possibility seizes me…I sandwich my face between my hands, recreating the effects of lying on my side in bed, right cheek smashed against the pillow.  The wrinkle deepens like the San Andreas fault. No, it’s not a laugh line, or a cry line, or any other emotionally-earned line. It’s a pillow smush line.

    The foggy mirror has started to clear, revealing a clearer and regrettably more troubling view of the landscape of my body.

    Oh, God, I think. I’m getting jowly. Like Churchill, but without a World War to my credit.

    I note a stomach gone soft and doughy from carrying three babies, the three skin tags lined up like soldiers at the crease of my arm,  a wiry hair that springs from my chin. (“Are you a billy goat,” my brother exclaimed once, in front of all our friends, as he reached across a table to pluck a rogue whisker.)

    I am, it seems, slowly ceding parts of my body to the passage of time.

    My bravado withers. I reach under the sink for the free-gift Clinique bag filled with free-gift moisturizing creams of varying shapes, sizes, and potencies. I select a tiny glass tub of “Moisture Surge” and apply it more than generously to the wrinkle and its brethren, all of whom have churlishly carved themselves into my face sometime while I wasn’t looking in the past eight years.

    A knock on the door stops me just as I am circling the drain of self pity.

    “Mommy?” calls a tiny voice from the other side.

    “Whaaaattt?” I answer in the breathy growl my kids are no doubt used to hearing when they disturb me in the bathroom.

    “I want to show you something.”

    I throw open the door, my face glistening like a madman’s under a desperate sheen of Clinique-branded hope. My daughter is holding an orange piece of construction paper, another drawing scrawled in crayon on the back.

    “It’s you!” she cries with glee. And there I am: one huge, gaping black eye, one slightly smaller, googly eye. A mohawk of orange hair, hands that look like catchers’ mitts. But no poop and—here I breathe a sigh of relief—no boobies.

    “Isn’t it beautiful?” she sings as she twirls round and round, holding the picture to her chest. Then she stops suddenly, walks over and wraps her arms around my leg. “A beautiful picture of my beautiful mommy.”

    I feel her curled around me, cheek pressed into my soft belly. Can you believe that you once lived in my tummy? I have whispered to her time and again, watching the wonder bloom in her eyes. My body grew you.

    I think of her birth, laughing and crying as I pushed her into this world, the doctors and nurses laughing and crying, too, for they knew that I had buried my son not eight months before. This child, the one I never thought I’d have, this great gift bestowed on me during the darkest hour of my life, she thinks I am beautiful. I will choose to believe her…From the mouths of babes, after all.

    But I’m holding on to that moisturizer.

    +++

     

    Jennifer Golden is a mother of two daughters and a late son. Her writing has appeared in The Washington PostScary Mommy, and The Best Women’s Travel Writing, among others. Find more of Jennifer’s writing on mommibomb.com.

  • Conscious Unhovering

    unconscious hovering

     

     

    By Lizbeth Meredith

    “Don’t ever do this again, Mom,” came the angry text from my youngest daughter. “It’s so inappropriate. . . I don’t need your help.”

    Home for a college break, she was texting from her post at a coffee shop, waiting for the blind date I’d set her up with. And getting more anxious by the minute.

    She rarely meets young men on her own. Of course she needed my help. True, my only marriage ended in divorce and my publication of a misery memoir, but I’ve got good instincts about my kids.

    “Where did you meet him?” my daughter had asked when I first gave her my pitch. I spared no details in the retelling.

    Our eyes had locked from across the room. I was on a date, but as soon as I saw him, this tall, dimpled, olive-skinned young man, I knew he was the one. For my daughter, that is. I left my bewildered date in the dust, practically lunging to meet this young man. I introduced myself, hoping I wasn’t being too obvious. He told me he was from New York. He was Jewish, something I’ve long equated as synonymous for higher intelligence. And he was here in Alaska, volunteering in a theater camp.

    So perfect, I thought. My youngest daughter loves volunteering.

    I wasted no time asking about his dating status.

    When it comes to my own dating life, I’d sooner jump out of a moving car than to be that forward. But there was something exhilarating about the potential of presenting my daughter with her soul mate.

    “Are you single?” I asked without shame, quickly adding, “You seem around my daughter’s age. Maybe she could show you around town if you’d like.” I interpreted his stunned silence to be a green light to proceed.

    “She loves volunteering. She’s home on a college break, too. She likes hiking and biking and animals.”

    And before I knew it, I was pulling up my daughter’s Facebook account on my iPhone, thumbing through picture after picture, and singing her praises.

    I could see by the slow smile that spread across his face as he looked at her pictures that he was warming to the idea, so I kept talking.

    “She paddle- boards with the sea lions and tent camps among the buffalo in Kodiak. And she loves kids.”

    The last part was a lie, but I wanted it to be true. My daughter babysat once as a teen, and asked if insurance would cover a tubal ligation shortly afterward. But I wrote it off to her youth.

    “She’s beautiful,” he said, confirming my suspicions about his intellectual superiority. “I think I’m in love with your daughter.” Ha! I knew it! Matchmaking is in my genes. I may be a failure at love in the matter of romantic love myself, but I like to think I’m a carrier.

    As he entered his contact information into my phone, I couldn’t help but notice that his large head, his curls, and his prominent nose matched my daughter’s gorgeous Greek features. My grandchild might get stuck in the birth canal, but nothing a C-section couldn’t cure.

    My daughter’s initial reaction was less enthusiastic.

    “Mom, that’s weird,” she told me. “It’s creepy that you pulled up my Facebook page. Don’t do that again.”

    But her stance softened once I pulled up his Facebook page. And how could it not? With a deep dimple and sparkling eyes, he was positively adorable. Anyone could see that.

    “His name is Ian, just like the Greek girl’s love interest on My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” I told her, “It’s a sign, don’t you think? And he’s Jewish. You can raise our family’s stock with him since you’re from hillbillies on both sides of the family.”

    My family roots are from rural Kentucky. Her dad’s side are from a tiny map dot in Greece. With this winning swirl, I worry my future grandkids won’t find value education or a full set of teeth. I was only half-joking. She still wasn’t laughing. After more stony silence, she issued her verdict.

    “I’ll go to coffee with him this one time,” she told me. “You’ll have to pay me. But it’s still inappropriate.”

    There was that word again.

    Who decides what’s appropriate when parenting adult children? How did I miss that lesson?

    Here’s the thing: When our children are young, we parents are expected to manage every detail of our kids’ lives, even before they’re born. How are we supposed to flip that switch, just because the kids are grown?

    When it came to my own daughters, I nursed them, pushing past my need for personal space and giving up every tasty food I’d previously enjoyed so they wouldn’t be gassy. As they grew older, I blended their foods rather than buying baby food in jars. I was a single mom by the time they were both in diapers, and did the heavy lifting for choosing their schools, registering them for sports, weighing in on their choices of friends. All the stuff parents do.

    Back then, my friends described me as being active. Involved. Engaged. All glowing terms. But after the girls were 18, I was suddenly considered anxious. Inappropriate. Controlling. Or worst of all, enabling.

    Ugly words, if you ask me.

    Why is it that all the things that make a parent good as our child grows up are suddenly considered terrible after the child turns 18? And why isn’t there as step-down plan or some other curriculum for parents when their kids are nearing adulthood?

    Like maybe we could stop “helping” with their science homework by eleventh grade and let them select their own clothes for school by twelfth. Baby steps to get us parents ready for the hearbreaking journey ahead.   

    I’ve tried giving fewer opinions and less advice. But after so many years of offering it freely, the gems crop up in unexpected places like the little bits of blubber that pop up when I put on Spanx. When my mechanic mentioned he was filming a commercial for his business, I insisted he cut his hair. I spent a half hour lecturing my favorite barista on the importance of college, oblivious to the mile-long line behind me. I admonished my boss for not taking her mother on that once-in-a-lifetime cruise to Iceland that her mom had been wanting. I can’t help myself. This unspent input is just too great not to share.

    I’m working on finding that happy medium. And I’m open to advice.

    I’m also cutting down on the time I Facebook stalk Ian. Sure, I’ll admit to enjoying the videos he posts, and I’m warming to his girlfriend of the last three years. She seems nice.  Her comments under his pictures are always witty and kind. But of course, she can’t measure up to my daughter.

    It’s been eight years since Ian and my daughter had their one and only coffee date. I wish it had been more successful, but I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet. Both he and my daughter, though in long relationships, remain unmarried.

    I figure I’ll unfriend whichever of them marries the wrong person first. And my next book will be called Conscious Unhovering: Transitioning Appropriately for the Everyday Parent. Once I learn how to do it.

    Surely somebody out there will find my advice useful.

    Lizbeth MeredithLizbeth Meredith is a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska.
    Her memoir Pieces of Me: Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters is a 2017 silver medalist at the IPPY Awards. Her work has appeared in Sunlight Press and on Jane Friedman’s blog. You can find her at lameredith.com, on Twitter @LizbethMeredith, and on Facebook.
  • Mothering Through the Darkness: One Year Later

    It’s been just over a year since we published Mothering Through the Darkness: Women Open Up About the Postpartum Experience, an essay collection written by 35 women sharing their experiences with postpartum and post-adoption depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders.

    Since its publication last November, the Singapore Committee for UN Women endorsed the book, and it was one of Foreword Review’s IndieFab Book of the Year Finalists. We still believe the essays in this collection have a powerful message to share. Journalist Lisa Belkin wrote of the anthology:

    “Every one of these stories is about the descent into the depths, the belief that these mothers feel alone and at fault, and then their recovery. Each story has power on its own, but the essay collection as a whole really drives home to me how many women suffer, how similar their suffering is, and how it’s a tragedy that they think they are the only ones going through this and it is theirs alone to bear.”

    Our incredible contributors continue to be powerful advocates for spreading their messages to their community: you are not alone, ask for help, you can get through it.

    Recently, in my home state, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment launched an educational campaign to help women recognize the symptoms and get help. As part of Postpartum Support International, this organization shares resources for both mothers who are struggling as well as their family members and friends. It is a powerful campaign designed to spread awareness and make resources for seeking treatment more accessible to mothers.

    This campaign reiterates the important message the contributors of Mothering Through the Darkness conveyed so powerfully:

    800x800-moms2For women with pregnancy-related depression and anxiety, each day can be a struggle. Having a new baby is hard but we can help make it easier for you. You are not alone. You are not to blame. You can get help. http://www.postpartum.net/colorado #youarenotalone #Colorado #newmom #mentalhealth #PRD

    One of the campaign’s most important messages is how to support a loved one experiencing postpartum depression and other perinatal mood disorders. They remind us: 

    Pregnant and new mothers need empathy and support from loved ones. They may find it hard to be honest about their feelings and accept help in the beginning. Be patient and be available.

    • Encourage her to get help from a professional.
    • Help her find a support group and local resources.
    • Spend time listening without needing to offer solutions and advice.
    • Look after the baby or older children, or discuss other childcare options so she can have a break.
    • Take a simple action like cooking and cleaning without taking over these activities or expecting anything in return.
    • Encourage her to take care of herself by eating, resting, walking and limiting alcohol use.

    If you are suffering, please remember that you are not alone, you are not to blame, and help is available to you. If you have a loved one who needs help, please reach out. You can find more information on the campaign, including resources for families, here.

    For providers and others (bloggers, advocates) who want to spread awareness and provide resources, please use this fantastic toolkit. We encourage you to spread this message on social media, so please take advantage of the materials here!

    And to the brave and gifted writers who shared their words with us in Mothering Through the Darkness, one year later, we are still so grateful for your words, so moved by your stories, and so honored to have worked with you on this deeply important project. Thank you so much.

    ~Stephanie & Jessica

    **You can order a copy of Mothering Through the Darkness: Women Open Up About the Postpartum Experience here.

    **We recently announced our brand new online writing course, which will begin November 28th. Using Our Words to Change Our World is for anyone—professional writer, blogger, or not— who wants an opportunity to process our emotions after a difficult election, to understand better how to have an empathetic dialogue with those who may not agree with us, to practice self-care, and to learn from some incredible guest instructors about how to more effectively write opinion pieces. Please join us for a unique self-paced course unlike any we have ever offered– it will undoubtedly be a powerful experience within a supportive community. You can find out details and sign up here.

    **You can purchase our most recent essay collection, So Glad They Told Me: Women Get Real About Motherhood, right here. Like Mothering Through The Darkness, it aims to make motherhood less isolating and to shed light on those less-than-perfect moments and real life parenting challenges.motherhood-web1 (1)

  • HerStories Voices: The Miscarriage

    This week’s essay was written by one of our So Glad They Told Me anthology contributors, Hannah Harlow. It’s about how one of her friendships was affected by a miscarriage. – Allie

    HerStories Voices

    THE MISCARRIAGE

    “Tell me about your miscarriage,” Pia said.

    “What about it?” We walked the bricked Cambridge sidewalks pushing my sleeping baby in a stroller. She already knew how shattered I had been after I miscarried my first pregnancy at 14 weeks—what sort of details did she want?

    “Like, what happened exactly?”

    Pia had always been my husband’s friend, really. They were best friends in college. Shortly after I met my husband, I needed a place to live and Pia had a room open for six months in her Brooklyn apartment. I was new to town, a little lonely, often lost, and Pia took me in. She took me to parties and watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer with me on the weekends as we ate cereal straight out of the box. Pia asked lots of questions, seemed genuinely interested in whatever I had to say. She introduced me to her parents. She made me laugh. Then the six months were up, I moved into a new place, and Pia gradually went back to being my husband’s friend. I didn’t know how to change that.

    But occasionally it would just be us again and it could almost feel like old times. Pia and her husband had just started trying for a baby. Nothing had happened yet, but Pia was convinced something would.

    “I want to be prepared,” she said.

    So, I cautiously explained what had happened during the D&C. As Pia leaned in her curly dark head in that familiar way, I went on less reluctantly, because Pia could draw out the joy of sharing things you rarely talk about. She made you feel special for your experiences just by wanting to know about them. She’s one of the best listeners I’ve ever met. So I told her how the doctor inserted seaweed in my vagina, how bad the cramps were. I explained how my husband missed all of it, because he was stuck in Ethiopia on business with no flights home for days and how sick we felt over it. How the doctor had given me the drug Versed, how he said it would make me forget, but I remembered everything. I remembered gripping my mother’s hand while I stared at the whites of the ceiling, and I remembered the pain. What I didn’t tell Pia was how I held it all in until the doctor walked out of the room and then I burst into tears in my mother’s arms. She held me tight and whispered, “You’re so strong.” I thought, what other way is there to be? Because isn’t every woman who has ever gone through this strong?

    “But now I have my son,” I told Pia. “So will you. Someday.” But I regretted it as soon as I said it. How could I know? What if it never happened for her?

    Pia miscarried. Then she failed to get pregnant again, through three years of trying, through years and multiple rounds of IVF, and probably more that I don’t know about. Because we stopped seeing each other. We stopped talking.

    During this same time I conceived and gave birth to our second beautiful, healthy son. We were grateful for everything we had, but that didn’t stop Pia from not wanting to come around anymore.

    I even helped facilitate our distance—I didn’t call or text or reach out in any way. I felt guilty for our good luck and guilty for abandoning her, but I thought it was for the best. I missed her. But I understood how she felt. If I were her, I wouldn’t want to hang out with me either.

    The day the doctor told me he couldn’t find a heartbeat, he handed me a prescription and I took it to CVS. The line at the pharmacy wound down the aisle of diapers and wipes and bottles and pacifiers. I thought, you can’t be serious. I stared at the baby things and tried not to weep. I wanted nothing to do with babies or their paraphernalia.

    This was the cosmic response to lost pregnancies, it seemed. Suddenly there were babies everywhere: when I showed up to receive a haircut from a new and very pregnant stylist; when friends announced their pregnancies; every time I took a swig of wine and thought about what that meant, or didn’t mean.

    As Pia struggled to conceive and I kept my distance, my husband continued to text and email and occasionally visit her. “I’m going to Pia’s, do you mind?” he’d say. “I think it’s hard for her to visit us.”

    What he didn’t say to me was, “You’re not invited.”

    I would say that I knew, that I understood, because I did. I knew Pia had shown strength in ways I couldn’t even imagine. I knew friendships don’t always travel in a straight line. But what I didn’t know or understand until then, as I cared for and loved our two utterly perfect children, was how much it can hurt to be so happy.

     

     

    hannah-harlowHannah Harlow has an MFA in fiction from Bennington College. She recently had an essay appear in the HerStories Anthology, So Glad They Told Me: Women Get Real About Motherhood. Her writing has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Day One, Synaesthesia Magazine, failbetter, and elsewhere. She promotes books for a living and lives outside of Boston with her husband and two sons. Find her online at http://www.hannahharlow.com or on Twitter: @hhharlow.