Bitter Sweet

I never wanted another baby. I didn’t desire to hold one. I didn’t get the ‘aww’s and the itch when I’d see someone else’s. I wouldn’t wistfully remember packing them into footies when I saw someone with toddlers preparing to leave a late-night party.

I would bless my lucky stars it wasn’t me.

The very thought of returning to that period rife with anxiety and stress, dark anger and overwhelming feelings made me a bitter, sarcastic person. I was most certainly the old crone in the corner who said, better you than me.

raindrops

Jennifer Butler Basile

In fact, just this last summer, a friend and I attended an outdoor concert on the grounds of a winery. As we toasted each other in the camp chairs we’d squeezed into the back end of the event tent to avoid the rain, I thought how lovely it was to get away. We ate our cheese and crackers, we laughed, we reveled in our unfettered evening. As the clouds broke just before sunset, some people ventured onto the surrounding lawn and set up blankets. A stylish young mother in a flowing skirt with dark hair to match, swaddled her baby and rocked to the music. Though we hadn’t said a word to each other, both my friend and I watched the scene; for as soon as I opened my mouth, she knew exactly of whom I spoke.

“Good for her,” I said, in a tone that unmistakably meant – better her than me; taking an infant to an outdoor evening concert, contending with rain; controlling wine intake if he needs to breastfeed; leaving early if he gets cranky.

My friend laughed and, in effect, toasted that sentiment.

The very sight of a mother and child, lovely as it was, brought my back up in disdain, for fear of the anxiety that wasn’t far behind. I was here to escape; I wanted no such reminder of that part of my life I was trying to escape.

And yet, though feelings like this were very authentic, they didn’t sit well with me.

I loved my girls. I welcomed them willingly into my life. I may not have liked or gracefully handled every aspect of my days with them, but I was dedicated to the role and importance of family in the world.

And so, to scorn other people doing the same thing – it did not compute. I knew exactly how hard it was and should have been supportive rather than snarky. And I suppose I wasn’t overtly snarky, but my attitude toward life had changed. I think the snark helped me build a shell around my wounded psyche. I’d returned to real life, but I hadn’t healed. I needed some fail safe so my wounds didn’t weep everywhere while I went about my business.

In September, I got pregnant.

I had referred to number three as a surprise; what a poor example that was compared to this! Six years out from our youngest. All three kids: potty-trained and self-feeding; able to run around without a bodyguard; play dates with friends and some quiet time for us adults.

What!?

I felt really silly when I thought back to that scene at the concert. I’d served myself up a huge slice of humble pie. How could I have made such a remark and then go and do it to myself? But there was no way I could’ve held my tongue in preparation for what was to come. I never imagined it would be so.

In the days following the birth of our third, I slept fitfully while the baby dozed nearby. I awoke at one point in a cold sweat, having dreamt I was in labor, contracting forcefully. When I realized it was a dream, I thanked God it was over and prayed I’d never have to do it again. It was almost a PTSD reaction. (side note: my postpartum depression was swiftly developing and I’d had a traumatic recovery from labor)

Yet, here we were. Preparing to do it all over again. With a strange sense of calm. I’d had a spiritual epiphany of sorts at the start of my pregnancy that set me off on a good foot. But I also had already faced nearly everything of which I was afraid. I’d seen how shitty it could be – and how I’d survived.

Obviously not unscathed, given my snarky attitude, but I think that’s precisely why I find myself in this lovely predicament. This baby is a chance to wipe away all my negative associations with expecting and bringing a child into this world. Does that mean I’ll push out roses and sunshine? Hell, no. It’s going to be a hard road, but I feel this experience will also rebirth my wonder in life. My ability to see love and light in little faces and the tired faces of mothers. To once again give a shit, to stand and support myself and other mothers around me. To say, not only will you survive, but you will enter a place of peace – at some point.

light

Jennifer Butler Basile

Bonus Day

Yesterday, the first day of spring, my children had a snow day from school.

No, the irony does not escape me. Yes, I realize our region of New England does not preclude such occurrences (one blizzard happening several years ago on April Fools’ Day – apparently Mother Nature has a healthy sense of humor every year). Alas, the snow totals fell drastically short of the predictions and the sun shone and snow melted by what would have been dismissal time.

As I lay in bed Sunday night, after receiving the robo-call from the school department, I was more relaxed than usual knowing I wouldn’t have to rush the kids out the door the next morning. I did say to my husband, however, that I wasn’t looking forward to a whole day inside with the kids. He agreed with me that my comment didn’t exactly sound nice, but I’ve gotten used to some quiet school days as a respite. Plus, I’ve been having iPad battles with the oldest (see previous post), all the girls have been having battles with each other, and I just end up yelling.

It made me laugh, then, when a friend called in the morning, saying I had a ‘bonus day’ with the kids. None of us were dressed. I’d been on my phone all day. They’d bounced between their rooms, the Wii, iPad, and computers. Her use of ‘bonus’ implied unexpected and appreciated quality time. I think I was on vegetation/survival mode.

I finally got my butt in gear enough to strip all three of their beds, a task – believe it or not – they’d been bugging me to do. My very particular middle wanted tightly tucked sheets. My little wanted new blankets. The oldest sleeps with such reckless abandon her bed was just torn to shreds. I figured with them home, perhaps they could help me. I also hoped I’d find my middle’s long-lost library book shoved under her mattress. Ha ha!

When I pulled the bunk beds out to sweep for books and animals lost to the abyss, I made the mistake of leaving the room for a bit afterwards. We all know what empty spaces and crevices and unexpected configurations are for, right? For me, it meant extra room to tuck in those pesky sheets on the far side of the bunks. For them, it meant fill with stuffed animals and baskets and blankets!

'Sure I know what would solve this problem. More floor space.'

Or personal space . . .

 

Suddenly, awash in piles of bedding flooding the hallway, random crap scattered everywhere on the bedroom floors, another step added to an already unwelcome task – I was transported back to days when all three were pre-school. When it was one step forward, two steps back. When it was literally shoveling shit against the tide. When keeping them happy and/or entertained and a house with the least order of squalor attainable and some semblance of sanity was a nearly impossible balance.

And I was scared.

I was reminded what life was like with a house full of littles. As the sole caregiver, comforter, cheerleader, coach, craft guru . . . I am well aware that I need not be all these things at all – and certainly not all at once. But my anxiety treats any deviation from a perceived plan or expectation as a misstep, a notch closer to irritation, panic, anger. It makes me hide in a corner of my couch, balled up in my pjs, content to try nothing rather than get frustrated with things not going according to plan. Or overwhelmed by the enormity of a whole day with all these people – when it should be about the moments.

Even when summer vacation starts and I have not only the new infant, but the older three, it will not be the same as those insular days when they bounced off the walls like ping-pong balls. They are not all toddler and preschool age. They can have some independent and alone time. Even while I tend to the baby, they can play on their own or swing outside. Hopefully they will understand that I won’t be able to – nor should I – entertain them all day. Hopefully I’ll remember that, too.

And to take each moment one at a time for what it’s worth – not worrying the whole day away before it’s even started.

 

Not PPMADetermined

Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PPMADs) rob mothers of so many things, but perhaps the cruelest thing they take is the joy. The joy – which makes the overwhelming job of motherhood worth it – is replaced by fear.

Fear that you’ve made a terrible choice in having a child
Fear that you don’t deserve this child
Fear that someone may take this child from you
Fear that you may do something to hurt this child
Fear that you won’t survive another day without hurting yourself

The fears of the early days will pass – through time, gentle care, therapy, medical intervention. You will be able to envision a bright future for you and your child

Even still, there are some things PPMADs may steal that can never be replaced. The memory of the pain and anguish, the trauma linger on. There is no peace to ever be associated with that time in a mother’s life. So much so, that she will never, ever attempt it again. Women who dreamed of large families stop at one child, not because they are bad mothers or lack the desire, but because their pospartum experience was so bad.

There are the women who achieve pregnancy fully armed with the warning signs and therapeutic tools available to them, should PPMAD strike again, yet are paralyzed by the anxiety that it could happen again.

There are women who must face the scrutiny of others who deem them crazy for even attempting pregnancy after their previous experience. They second-guess their own intuition and self-knowledge and the fact that they’ve come out the other side beat-up, but stronger – all because of the well-meaning souls who give critical advisories for mothers’ own good. Well-meaning souls who have never inhabited the dark spaces of these mothers’ individual hells, who have not fought the daily internal battles it takes to stay out of them, and who don’t realize that every negative comment saps one more drop of the mothers’ resolve.

PPMADs are an insidious band of thieves. They take without provocation, without discrimination, without consideration. They come under cover of dark; they aren’t cloaked because they’re faceless. But with help and support, mothers can choose to face them. And take back what is rightfully theirs: their own vision of motherhood.

You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

A new mother, five week old strapped to her abdomen, stood nearby as I spoke to another returning preschool mother as we all three watched our little ones play.

My anxious hackles were actually down, since my daughter had had a few play dates with this other mother’s daughter between the end of last school year and the beginning of this one. I knew her well enough that conversation seemed to come easily – a small miracle for me with nearly anyone other than family or close friends.

Seeing this new mother navigate a newbie preschooler with infant in tow brought me back to my own first experience with preschool – a time otherwise known as the year that shall not be named.

What a difference between the easy, breezy tenor of today and the hell on earth that nearly every morning was as I unwittingly struggled with postpartum and getting three children out of the house each morning.

Forgive me as I recite the Virginia Slims cigarette commercial catch phrase.

from a t-shirt of the same name

from a t-shirt of the same name

I try to tell myself that as I ease my muscles down from the twitchy edge.

I try to remember that time – only to make any morning issue seem that much easier now.

I try to recall just enough to vindicate my survival – not send me down the path of PTSD.

And I try to share the short version of my story, not to scare young mothers or one up them, but to provide a sympathetic show of support. Even if it’s just a knowing smile to show them they are not alone, that they are not the only one who struggles with such pedestrian endeavors.

And to remind myself that yes, I have come a long way.

Four Years a Fourth Trimester

The baby of the family wanted to look at her baby book yesterday. She always wants to look at her baby book. It has become a chore. Dragging the behemoth book off the shelf, finding a place where it can lay supported across our laps, turning the pages for her so they don’t get bent. Like so many things in life lately, it’s a task I don’t want my child/children to do because I have to do it with them. I don’t have the energy or desire to do so. I have other things I’d like to be doing. I have other things I should be doing.

We sat yesterday, wedged side to side in the rocking chair I used to nurse her in, with the book stretched between us. I flipped through the pages with her as I usually did: answering random questions with half my attention. I’d seen all this a hundred times. I’d lived it, though it seemed like an alternate reality, eons ago in a fog.

There was a time, a long time, I couldn’t bring myself to create this baby book of hers. I couldn’t peer into the thin nylon parting gift of a bag from the hospital that held all the paperwork and memorabilia. Perhaps opening it up would release the demons I’d stuffed deep inside. Or that I’d carried home from the hospital.

I remember that bag as a turning point. It taunted me as it hung listless from the closet doorknob of the nursery. It twisted and banged against the door as we opened and closed it. It loomed in my eyesight as I sat in that rocker and nursed.

I think I finally emptied the bag because I was so sick of looking at it and its reminders.

Now all those reminders are bound up in that baby book.

That she forced me to look at yesterday.

I maintained psychic distance until I looked closely at the pages of her actual birth. I still search her face for signs of sibling similarity. I still try to pinpoint the moment between the pictures where they lost her bracelets in the nursery. From that point on, is there still sibling similarity?

It’s a tired routine. It’s not as fresh and real as the anguished feelings that drove it in the first place. But I still look. When I force myself to really see, I still look.

I never want to look at the pictures again. I want to box them up and send them with her when she’s grown and going out on her own. I love her as she is. I don’t want to become the person I was when she was born. Looking at pictures of her from that time, brings that me back.

Ironically enough, I bonded with this baby of mine. We share the most loveable, profound moments. I never wanted to hurt her or give her away or wish her out of existence. But somewhere in that hospital room, I split in two. Thankfully, one half was the loving mother who was able to give her what she needed. The other half? That’s not so easy to define. That’s me. Inside out, soft underbelly exposed to the harsh world. Quivering. Questioning. Knowing that she was screwed as the first labor pains hit because, even at the end of nine months of burgeoning, she still hadn’t prepared herself for this birth.

And as much I liked to think it was behind me, it came crawling back in as I looked at those pictures.  Maybe that’s why it’s such a chore to drag that book out.

Will I always cringe to remember that time? Will it always elicit the same feelings, years, decades, lifetimes passed?

chap4-headerFour years is far too long for a fourth trimester.

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