365 Ways to Get Pregnant

InfertilityWhen Fiona was conceived, we didn’t. even. try.

In fact, we didn’t do much of anything.  We didn’t understand each other the way we do now, we didn’t communicate well, we didn’t take care of our bodies the way we do now…we weren’t even engaged.  We were like two toddlers, equal parts whiny and silent, stumbling into this love thing, wanting to do it, with no clue how to.

And yet…it was so easy.

She came bursting into life, without a plan.  When I was eight weeks pregnant, I was driving down Rt. 16 in Revere, and I knew, all of a sudden – she would be strong.

Flash forward 6 years. Flash forward through lots of hard emotional work.  Flash forward through couples therapy, individual therapy, AA, Alanon, messes of our own making, and losses that somehow made our sharp edges smoother.   We were ready.

And then…nothing.

********

The first 6 months weren’t hard.  It would take awhile, we knew, as I was 35.  I was over that invisible line that rendered me less than those mothers who had done everything right and gotten knocked up in their twenties.  Or had they?  I knew plenty of mothers who had borne multiple children early on and weren’t happy with their lives.  ‘I wish I had gone back to school’, they would muse.  But they had three kids.  And I had one.

Our failed pregnancy last year sent me to darker depths than I had imagined possible.  It’s a strange, strange thing to have life cease to exist inside of you.  It was a failure of growth, on so many levels.  It was akin to losing my Dad.  But, akin to losing my Dad, the first three months were hard, and after that, I stopped feeling like the world was ending.  I secretly named her Annabelle, from the Poe poem.  She was a soul, fuck you, I would scream silently.  Just because she was a mass of cells to you  doesn’t mean she was nothing.  Just because you had seven miscarriages and I had one doesn’t give you the right to laugh at my minute suffering.  Science, science, science is your God as much as the one you detest.

We kept trying.  A year passed, and nothing.  We decided to get help around November of 2016, and our blood was tested.  Our insurance didn’t cover certain tests, so we were limited in what we could do.  I was told my thyroid was low, and so I took extra thyroid.  They put me on Letrozole, which was supposed to stimulate something in my body.  We did four rounds of that.  Nothing.

We called our out-of-state insurance company to see if they covered IUI’s and IVF’s.  No dice.  We then found out that the average IUI cost 865$ without insurance, and the average IVF?  7 grand.  We don’t have that kind of immediate money.  So my desperation grew.

I had heard good things about acupuncture, so I pursued a referral for that.  I soon found out that our delightful out-of-state insurance didn’t cover that, either, so I began to pay 67$ two times a week to have needles stuck in me.  Along with this, were the following recommendations from my acupuncturist:

I stopped running, because running is “hard” on the nervous system.  Running, may I add, i one of my favorite coping skills for depression and my body image issues.

I started eating congee every day.  It’s basically brown rice boiled slowly, and it’s pretty goddamn bland.

I started taking two disgusting droppersful of herbs, three times a day.  The tinctures contained scant amounts of alcohol (which is OK for someone in recovery if it’s prescribed by a doctor, but you better believe it gets the mind going with cravings).

I learned how my body was “too hot”.  That I was “too stressed”.  That I didn’t handle stress the right way.

And so, when Letrozole and extra thryoid and needles and herbs and stopping running and eating rice everyday for breakfast didn’t work, I started to beat up on myself.

That should work, right?

Maybe if I wasn’t so ambitious, I could get pregnant.  Maybe if I could just calm down, like all those emotional idiots say, it would happen.  Maybe if I wasn’t an alcoholic and depressed in my twenties, my life would have been seamless and perfect  and “look right” and I’d have three kids, playing with each other now.  Maybe it was because of my eating disorder.  Maybe starving myself earlier on had made me barren.  Yeah, it was definitely my fault.  I screwed up the timeline, and now I’m paying for it.  Either that, or it’s some kind of sick karma for all the wrongdoing I caused others.

You see, my mind works so fast, I start to think about how maybe “my kind” isn’t meant to reproduce.  That “my kind” doesn’t have what it takes to survive and is too needy and too emotional and doesn’t fit in with the rest of this world.

Long story short?  Infertility can take you to some dark places.  And John and I feel all these feelings whenever we see a pregnancy announcement or when you deliver your baby.  And it’s not something you need to feel guilty about.  But as much as you need to show off pictures of your new baby, we need to talk about this.

*******

The irony of having children later and having difficulty is nothing new; we realize this is an age-old story. As people become more educated, and wait longer, childbearing is just more difficult.  At the end of the day, I know there isn’t any wacky karma shit involved.  It’s just age.

We (I think I, more than John) have arrived at the point where adoption is an OK, accepted thing in our mind.  But as much as I know there are many children out there that need to be taken care of, it is a loss to accept that you might not be able to have another of your own.  Not as much of a loss as the woman who may never have a child, but a loss.  Because we worked hard.  And we were ready.

I will end with this:  Yes, I write selfishly.  I write so I keep my identity and myself sane.  But more importantly, I write about infertility and the not-so-fun things because YOU deserve to talk about them too.  We have been taught to sweep these things behind closed doors and focus on the POSITIVE and that is a lie.  The person who can reveal their vulnerabilities will inevitably be someone you connect to, because yeah, you struggle with that too.

Thanks for bearing with me.

(Image provided by Scientific American Blog Network)

 

 

 

Being Mentally Ill In The Trump Era

IMG_7157“Mentally ill”.  Now there’s a heavy label.

A part of me, the high-functioning counselor/writer/runner/Mom part of me, wants to forget that part of me, and exist as that picture you see of me on Facebook, the silly one of me and my husband dangling my daughter upside down.  The “everything’s fine” me.  The “I have a warrior high-feeling family who soars through their ups and downs” me.

But the truth is, I have had three, count em three, mental health diagnoses.  I have depression, and I’m in recovery from alcoholism AND an eating disorder.  All three of which have made me realize I have to tell the truth about who I am in order to survive.  And even more importantly, I have to surround myself with other truth-tellers who don’t pretend everything’s fine and that feelings are for wussies.

So when you are striding along confidently in recovery, and all of a sudden you are hit with a political environment that reduces half our country to “snowflakes” because they care about their fellow man, how do you think that affects those of us with invisible illnesses?

*****

When I watched Donald Trump mock a developmentally disabled person, I felt sick.  It was at that moment I could not understand how anyone could support this man.  Someone who mocked those with less privilege than him.  I don’t support him for a host of other reasons, but that stuck with me.  As his supporters grew louder with choruses of “Aww, shut up you wussy snowflake, I hope you get cornered in a dark alley by a Muslim” (read: real comment to me on social media), I quickly realized I was living in a world that did not condone experiences outside of the patriarchal norm.  And that patriarchal norm included not talking about feelings.  Making feelings into a moral issue, when in fact they’re simply instinctual responses from our brain that guide us.  Science. Who’d of thunk?

So I stopped asserting my opinions on certain social media boards.  Who might see them, and utilize them to their own advantage?  And I stopped going to family functions where I knew that patriarchal norm was supported.  Because my mental health wasn’t going to get any better there.  I even began to be more aware of the patriarchal structure that existed within self-help groups I attended, and decreased my attendance there.  Because they made fun of “special snowflakes” at some of those meetings.  And it reminded me of the conservative right.  Those phrases made me feel stupid for having such strong feelings.

And I became more isolated.

And we all know how good isolation is for depression.  And alcoholism.

I am very aware I cannot blame the severity of my mental illness on Trump.  But I also believe you cannot underestimate the effect the current political climate may be having on yours.  We are currently run by a very dysfunctional family, one made up of Trump and Spicer and Sessions and Conway, whose supporters believe everyone just needs to “pull themselves up by the bootstraps and be a real man/woman”.  Tell that to the bipolar individual whose depression renders them catatonic.  Tell that to the anxiety-ridden kid who can’t breathe in class.

One thing I know from being a counselor is that dysfunctional families will revolt against you if you drink lemonade instead of the kool-aid they drink.  They will do anything, ANYTHING to hurt you, knock you down, or stop you from shattering the status quo that they’ve been surviving on for ages.  A system will always try to flush out the truth-teller, even if that means retaining the current, hurtful, dysfunctional system.

Remind you of the current leaders in power any?  Of Twitter rants that we’ve been seeing?

For better or worse, we’re all one big American family.  And it’s really dysfunctional right now.  There’s a bunch of people in power that think “since I could do it, you should be able to”, and simply put, that’s damn arrogant and ignorant.   And it’s time for the truth-tellers to start shattering the unhealthy family patterns, but it’s really hard, because when we tell our truth, we get hurt.  People make fun of us and affect our mental health.  And we isolate further.

So that’s what it’s like being mentally ill in the Trump era.

It kind of sucks.  It kind of feels like I should hunker down low and not trust anyone.  Silenced.  At the risk of being persecuted.

But, I was raised by a parent who repeatedly taught me to “Give em hell”.  So here I am.  Telling you that feelings are chemicals in our brain and that science backs it up.  That it’s not just me but your neighbor too who’s been to a counselor before.  That Trumpcare will not require Medicaid to cover addiction and mental health services.  That the mentally ill isn’t just that alcoholic bum you see on the street, something you can shield your eyes from.  It’s your brother, it’s your kid, and the quicker we start integrating emotions into health, the richer we will be as a society.

Why Taking a Walk in the Woods Won’t Cure Depression

sadmandaI was a weird, weird kid.

I used to sit on the bus and stare at the back of the seat in front of me.  It was dark green and had lines running through it.  I remember the light filtering through the window, passing above my knees in a streak. I was five, and I was newly aware of mindfulness.  “Now is now”, I repeated to myself.  My mind was blown – almost to a dissociative level – time seemed to stand still when I thought that now was truly now, and there would never be another moment like it.

I wasn’t really aware of my uniqueness until I grew older, and realized all of my friends watched shows I never did, and did sports, and were just KIDS.  Most of my teenage years were spent going to stores with my mother and Nana, checking out in my head, living in a fantasy world, perhaps because reality was too hard.  Who knows.  All I knew growing up is that gratitude didn’t help me – it made me feel guilty, because I knew I had privilege and had some nice things but it just didn’t register.

As I got older and went to college and grad school and self-medicated with alcohol and restriction of food, I wasn’t aware that I was wearing a different pair of glasses than everyone else.  I wore dark, shaded sunglasses, while the rest of you wore regular near-sighted glasses.  You could see things as they were, the good and the bad.  But I could only see the bad.  Everything had a dark shade to it.  And the thing is, I thought this was completely normal.  I thought everyone laid in bed for hours on end and cried everyday and had fights with their friends because of it. So when I saw peers moving on and having successful relationships and having confidence I began to be bewildered.  Why couldn’t I get it?  In fact, a friend in grad school once remarked, “Amanda, I will be so happy the day that you say things are just “good”.”

10 years later, with 7 years of sobriety, individual and couples therapy, self-help groups, and medication, things still seem darker than I believe they do for most.  And let it be known I’m not negating “regular” people’s troubles or moods.  Everything everyone feels is valid.  However, I’m a sensitive soul, in all meanings of the word.  If I don’t get the right amount of sleep, my depression is triggered.  If I don’t exercise (which is a natural antidepressant), I run the risk of having a worse day.  This can get tricky when it comes to the eating disorder, because I also can’t get into repetitive, joyless exercise that I only do for my waistline.

When I have normal events in my life happen, I only see the bad.  For example, when my daughter was born, everything seemed tortuous, because I wasn’t sleeping which triggered my depression which also made it impossible to exercise because who can  or should exercise on 2 hours of sleep anyway?  I could see she was beautiful, but couldn’t enjoy it.  When it comes to being married, my dark sunglasses show me only the fights, the unnaturalness of staying with one person the rest of your life.

And when Robin Williams committed suicide?  I got it.  I wouldn’t ever do it, because I have a beautiful daughter to take care of, but I got it.  When life’s stress piles up over those dark sunglasses, it can seem like too much to stay here.

Do you see how it is chronic?  Well-managed but still chronic.  Easily affected by any little change.  And isn’t simply cured by a walk in the woods.

Don’t get me wrong – things are WAY better.  I get to help people with the same problems every day at my job, and I consider myself to be somewhat of an emotions ninja, someone who can, on a good day, utilize my drive to master any shots depression takes at me. And I’m a really good interpreter.  When my daughter asks me questions about emotions, I know what to say.  I know what to say in a current world full of people who call emotional souls “snowflakes”.  Which is sad, because emotions are directly connected to our medical health.  Why do you think married couples die so close together, so often?

Here’s how I try to live my life.  I don’t know what it’s like to be a person of color, super poor, or LGBTQ.  So I don’t try to tell those people what their perspective should be.  Because I’m not them, and I simply don’t know.  But I do know something about mental health, and eating disorders, and alcoholism.  So listen up.  This shit can’t be cured by just a walk in the woods.

 

“Mama, Do You Want A Bikini Body?”

My five year old and I were lounging on the couch after school one day, snacking and snuggling.  An ad promoting a new fitness guru’s workout routine popped up in between her regular animated favorite.

Fiona, knowing my penchant for exercise, eyed the ad cautiously, like a liberal might eye any of Donald Trump’s cabinet picks.  “Mama?” she said, “Do you want to do that?”

Oh, baby girl, I thought to myself.  That’s a loaded question.

*****

I have wanted a bikini body before just to have a bikini body…I will admit to that.  I wanted once to have chiseled abs and a super low BMI.  Because when you look at someone like that, you look at someone who has no perceived flaws.  Someone who is perfect and probably has no problems and thinks everything is great.  So if I had that, I would be happy then, when I got to that perfectly chiseled point, just like that perfect woman on the television.

OK, I still want that on some days.

But on my healthy days, I know I looked like this when I wanted a bikini body:

skinnyamanda

And when I use exercise and food for the right reasons, I look like this:

img_6475

So, it’s reversed for me.  When I’m doing well and healthy, I don’t get compliments for “looking great”.  My stomach bulges a bit, and my pants fit more snug than they did before.  But I can also run 4 miles with no fatigue, do 30 minutes straight of lunges and squats, and I can lift whole couches by myself.  And typically, I’m doing better in my career, and accomplishing internal goals rather than external ones.

So do I love exercise and all the reps that foster a bikini body?  Absolutely.  But more often these days, I move for the powerful feeling I get after a run; that feeling can carry me through eight tough client sessions.  I do it to wake my thirty-something muscles up so I can be a good enough mother to my energetic, unstoppable daughter.  And I do it to remind her and myself that woman’s bodies are capable of very strong things, and that they are not just to be looked at.

So yes, I enjoy being fit.  I want to be fit.  But I want so much more than that these days.

I want to make sure my daughter is fulfilled and does things that make her happy.  I want to enjoy and develop my relationship with my husband.  I want to make sure my mother, who lives with us, has what she needs and I want to thrive in my career.  I want to be connected. I want to have hobbies and hang out with friends and do things I believe in, and sometimes, all those things that I want don’t leave time for perfectly chiseled abs or arms.  They leave time for a fit, happy woman…a woman who doesn’t necessarily have men gawking at her or a thousand facebook likes.  And that’s totally OK.

*****

I turned to Fiona and smiled.  “Yeah, that’d be ok!  As long as it made me happy.  Mama works out to stay happy.”

Fiona nodded, continued munching on her snack, and turned her attention back to her show.

And may you always seek what makes you happy, I echoed to her in my head.

amandabikini

 

 

When You Say “Butthurt”, I Hear “Lazy”

Butthurt.

Have you heard that word overused lately?  I sure have.  In particular, it’s been used most recently to describe American voters who are unhappy with the outcome of the past election, and are exercising their right to speak about it.  A couple of weeks ago, I was chastised by men and women on a self-help Facebook group for asserting that using the word “butthurt” to describe others’ feelings might be invalidating, unfair, and lazy.

In addition, I was on a friend’s social media page, where I saw this video.

In the friend’s comment section, someone described this and anyone who expressed these sentiments as “butthurt”.

YOU LISTEN TO ME.  NOW. 

That is not “butthurt”, those comments endorse sexual assault.  And sexual assault is against the law.

This is not the left being dramatic, or “too millennial”, we are seeing things AS IS.  We are supporting laws.  If you choose to use the word “butthurt” to describe those who decry statements such as the ones Trump has made, I firmly believe you are making a statement against the law.

And if you’re turning a blind eye because sexual assault has never happened to you, you’re part of the problem too.  What about your sisters?  Your fiance?  Your mother?  All of these women at some point have probably experienced either rape or some form of an unwanted sexual advance.

So when you dismiss our free speech, our grave concerns about the rights of women and minorities and the LBGTQ community, as “butthurt” –

We see you as lazy.  

Too lazy to consider to someone else’s feelings because they inconvenience your privileged, white, Trump-winning, victorious world.

Too lazy to put themselves in the shoes of a woman who was taken advantage of when she was drunk.

Too lazy to imagine what it’s like for a black girl who’s everyone’s token black friend and is treated like a pariah.

Too lazy to consider the feelings of the families of the Pulse victims, whose son or daughter was gunned down because of who they were attracted to.

(By the way: the first example happened to me, the second has happened to my best friend repeatedly, and the third…well, we saw that on the news, didn’t we?)

I mean, do you really want to stand on that side of justice?  Dismissing others’ feelings about death and sexual assault as “butthurt”?

What would be much more law-abiding, more understanding, and mature would be the act of listening.  And believing someone’s perception of life, simply because it’s theirs.  And not getting defensive on a facebook comment thread, because actually looking at the history of sexual assault and hate crimes and taking responsibility for it is too painful for you to acknowledge.

Maybe it’s you who’s “butthurt”.

So yes, if speaking up about rape culture and sexual assault and hate crimes makes us butthurt, then we are butthurt.  If supporting laws that forbid these crimes make us butthurt, then you can call a spade a spade.

But we know the truth.

You are lazy.

And it’s sick to dismiss those who have had to endure rape kits and physical assault as “butthurt”, when they’ve had real live wounds to attend to.

 

How Moana Can Remind Us of Who We Are

amandaupMy husband was crying uncontrollably.

As we sat watching Moana in the darkened movie theater, my heart ached for my husband, who feels so much.  There’s this beautiful scene where the spirit of Moana’s grandmother comes back to remind her of who she is so she can accomplish a task.  And my husband was feeling a whole lot because he’s in the middle of a powerful personal transformation, one I’ve been through.  We listened to Lin Manuel Miranda’s percussion move the story along brilliantly.  I cried, too, when Moana broke years of patriarchal tradition.  We watched Moana remember who she was.  We watched Moana heal years of destructiveness with peace.

******

It’s a big thing, to be accused of unethical practices, by family whose company you enjoy.

I’d always heard about other bloggers getting attacked by family members for posting painful material about their family, or for writing about raw feelings.  I didn’t think it would happen to me.  I tend to be pretty naive about thinking others will treat feelings with the same tenderness and carefulness that I do.  So when a family member unjustly accused me of snooping through my company files after I disagreed with another family member online (I tend to be naive also about thinking everyone wants to, and can be engaged in healthy debate, and f*&% that election anyway), I was shaken to the core.  Did everyone think I was a fraud?  Did people think I was unethical?  Did everyone resent me?  Did people think I just wanted attention?  Did they think I was prideful?  Was this whole blog just a big reason people used to laugh at me?

With the help of a compassionate mother who has typically put feelings first, and a husband who can see the beautiful in me despite the tornado I’ve been, I got over it.  But a lot of the words stayed with me.  Trying to resolve the conflict, I called the family member who believed I had done some very horrible wrongs.  During the phone call, I was criticized for putting my feelings online.  I was laughed at for recovering from alcoholism and an eating disorder and being out about it.  I was ridiculed, in essence, for being vulnerable.

Which is what it is.  I’m fine, and usually will be.  But it got me to thinking about why it’s still so goddamn crucial that we talk about feelings.

Someone who makes fun of another’s vulnerability – they can’t be comfortable with it.  They can’t be comfortable with feelings.  They have to have learned early on to hide that raw, vulnerable bodhichitta, as Pema Chodron refers to it; they have to have tucked it early on and donned a mask so they survived.  I get it.  So did I.  It was called alcoholism, an eating disorder, emotional affairs, and argumentativeness.

And although I can never pretend to know what it’s like to be one of seven in a Massachusetts family with very limited resources, I’m guessing there’s hurt there.  I’m guessing people had to be tough just to get by.  I’m guessing they had to, at times, be someone they weren’t.  Not the carefree, jovial, loud, horse-riding spirit that they were, but something else…safer.

When I got sober, I was fortunate enough to be introduced to a sponsor who told me the most important thing was that “I found my truth”.  Until that point, I thought I was a dependent, shy, unintelligent, Sex-and-the-City-wannabe.  And with meetings, and step work, and the company of women who chased spirituality, I peeled away layers.  I found out I was anything but dumb.  I discovered I loved to be by myself.  I realized that I actually didn’t give a shit about trends.  I learned that I loved to use my body because it was useful, not because it was pretty.

And most importantly, I learned I was put on this earth to be vulnerable and human and to talk about feelings with others.  No matter how messy and embarrassing they were.

I learned who I was.  Who I am.

The unfortunate thing about this alcoholic is that if I don’t live my truth, I tend to act out.  I look for an escape.  And although it seems impossible the same little girl who clung to her mother at family gatherings is capable of destruction, trust me.  And the ten other people I can contact from my present and past who can attest to this.

So I can’t stop speaking and writing.  I won’t.

And that’s me.

And I resent a world in which little girls and boys are instinctively taught to “stop crying”.  To be less feminine or masculine.  To exhibit less joy because it embarrasses their family.  To “not be a pussy”.  To be reactive on a facebook comment thread instead of sitting with their own feelings.  To be so scared of being judged for being a new parent, they grow terse with others.  A world in which someone can take advantage of someone’s vulnerability and scar someone indefinitely.

Feelings are not something silly, or even something serious. There’s no morality attached to them.  They’re simply glorious visitors that tell us where to go.

******

At the end of the movie, Moana approached the fiery monster who had tried to kill her and her island and walked straight up to her.  She stood right in front of her, touched her and told the monster,

“I know this is not who you are.”

I’ve learned a lot from this wise character.

So to the family who survived: I stand in awe.  To come from very little and create the best construction company around –  I bow down.  To lose a brother and still be the most compassionate woman around – I am not worthy.  To come out of the closet in a time where it wasn’t accepted – I am genuinely humbled.  To adopt two beautiful children in a racially charged world – I cannot imagine the challenges you might face.  To the gymnastics star – I’d break my back.  I am amazed by your talent.

And to be the fiercest, most energetic, most loyal grandmother, sister, mother, and aunt despite the challenges you’ve faced – I know that the words uttered to me is not who you are.

 

Why It’s Hard To Be Happy For Your Pregnancy

img_6312I was sitting in my office, seeing clients, when I made the mistake of checking Facebook in between my 4:45 and 5:30.  I felt like a brick slammed into my gut as I saw yet another jubilant pregnancy announcement.  The woman in question looked joyous and glowing, full of life literally and metaphorically.   The post, albeit wonderful, reminded me of my inability to do the same thing.  I plugged in my phone, plastered a smile on my face, and opened the door to usher in another client.

*****

I am not supposed to talk about this.  I am supposed to be kind and inspiring and supportive of my fellow females.  “There’s a special place in hell for females who put down other females,” coarsely says the recent meme.  But what if talking about my pain doesn’t take away from my happiness for my pregnant sisters?  What if they exist at the same time?  What if the expectations we impose upon fellow females are inhuman?  Because God knows, I’m as human as they get.

My baby was supposed to be born in 5 days.  She was supposed to be a distraction from the current grotesque spectacle of an election.  “The baby will “make November great again,” I had quipped to my husband.  She would make November great again, because my Dad had passed away the same month and so had John’s Nana the past two years in a row.  But then, she decided not to come, and November remained the way it was, cold and foreboding of more cold.  And I watched other friends post sonogram pictures of their healthy, thriving babies.

My mind has brought me several ways to invalidate my feelings about my miscarriage.  One, is that I have a healthy child.  A child that is nothing but full of life.  So why should I be sad about something that wasn’t a child yet?  That was nothing but a clump of cells?  I have one.  Also, nags the voice, you know people that can’t even have one child.  You should be grateful.  It doesn’t help that this voice is backed up daily by well-meaning friends and family members.  But this voice and these well-meaning people make no sense, because we can’t put qualifiers on what can be grieved and what can’t.  Imagine if we had a cutoff for grief and anything that was above that line of awfulness couldn’t be grieved.  Would only starving children be afforded the right to grieve?  But a suburban mom couldn’t?  Where’s the sense in that?

The thing is, it’s as if life said, Hey.  Here is your chance to take care of another human soul.  Here is a chance at joy for your family.  Start to change your plans and take down the crib from the attic.  Stop eating feta and coffee and start to prepare your older child for a sibling.  But wait – 

Just kidding, it says cruelly.  Back up your car, you don’t get to go down that path anymore.  Unbecome a pregnant woman, physically and mentally.  Unprepare your child for a sibling.  The guest room will just be a guest room and the good news is, you can have as much coffee as you want.

*****

I was in Market Basket, shopping, and there she was.  Demeter herself.  A pregnant woman dressed in a beautiful flowered sundress.  She was stunning – she had that knowing look in her eye, and I swear she could smell my jealousy.  And here I was – half Persephone, half Demeter, strung out by no sleep, dressed in running clothes, hair a mess.  I felt less than, less of a woman, even though my rational mind knew I wasn’t.  My body remembered.  My body remembered.

I am well aware that the picture of that pregnant woman on Facebook may very well be the same face of a woman who, like me, cried on the cold slab of the doctor’s table one heartbroken day.  That she may have gone through numerous fertilization treatments.  That she may have been told as a child she never could have children.

But none of that stuff can take away from my imperfect humanity, the stuff that makes you squirm.  My humanity that feels less than and raw and yes, sometimes judges, even if she tries really hard not to.

And please don’t ask me to take it away.  Please don’t expect me to be inhuman.  Women are so much more than one-sided smiley-faced there-for-your-comfort holograms.  We are full people, full of the stuff you like and the stuff you may not want to hear.

My Daughter Called Someone Fat

It was a beautiful autumn Friday in New England.  My daughter had just completed two successful, confidence-inspiring hours of gymnastics at the Little Gym.  (In a blue shiny leotard we had just purchased, nonetheless!)  We walked back to the car, hand-in-hand; I was proud of this time.  She was a baby who had low muscle tone, and I had put her in gymnastics purposefully.  Now, she was doing flips over the bars.

As I unlocked the car, Fiona started to gaze off into the distance.  Stare, in fact.  I followed her gaze to her classmate and parents, who were walking together.

A slow smirk spread over her face, as her gaze focused on the obese father.

“Mama, he’s fat.” She continued smirking, and an implied sense of power washed over her as she realized she was NOT and he WAS.

Not my daughter.

******

For those of you who don’t know, I was a FAT kid.   I was mocked for it by classmates, I was deemed “disgusting”, I was even sexually assaulted by a classmate in music class “because I was fat.”  (Because I deserved it, because I was fat.)

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There are people who will view this who will argue with me and say that there’s no negative connotation with being fat.  They will tell me that I’m too sensitive and that I put too many expectations on my daughter and I say to them, I AM DONE WITH YOU.

I LIVED it and I continue to live it every time I lose 5 pounds and I am praised for it.  I continue to live it every time I gain weight and I notice people give me less compliments about my appearance.  You are bullshitting yourself if you think there is no negative connotation with being fat.  There is less today, but it still exists.

When Fiona uttered this sentence, I panicked.  Where did she pick this up?  I, for one, don’t use the word fat.  I use the word heavy and overweight, but not fat, because I know what it carries with it. We also refer to foods as being healthy, or having “vitamins to make you run fast”.  Had she picked it up from her friends?  Seen it on an ad?  I was a little stunned, and a little disgusted, even know the intellectual side of me knew she was four years old.  She reminded me of that blonde in my class on the playground who always made fun of my awkward body during Project Adventure.

“Fiona, we do not say that.  That is not nice.  Get in the car.”

I buckled her up, prayed, and said to myself – Do not be hard on her.  Do not project your experience on her and shame her.  Just be honest, factual, and tell her your experience.

“Fiona, I have to tell you a story.”

“What?”

“A long time ago, Mama was overweight when she was a kid.  A lot of people made fun of Mama and called her fat and it made Mama feel really, really bad.  So I know how it feels, and it doesn’t feel good.  That’s why we don’t call people fat.”

I don’t know if was blood memory, or a sudden lightbulb that went off in her head, but Fiona’s face turned ashen.  Her face crumpled, and she GOT IT.  Like, mourned for her mother got it.  Like, cried all the way home got it.  I immediately felt horrid, even know I know I maintained an even tone (isn’t this motherhood thing fucked?)

On the way home, she turned her face into the seat, ashamed.  I tried to reiterate my unconditional love for her. “Baby, Mama doesn’t think any differently of you – Mama would love you even if you punched somebody!  It’s just important we’re kind to people.”  It didn’t seem to help.  She whimpered and finally started to come around after I distracted her with a joke.

*****

Parenthood is brutal.  It’s even more brutal with a trauma history you have to dissect and not project onto your kids whilst maintaining some sort of a lesson for them when they’re unkind.  Childhood is brutal too – imagine not knowing you were being unkind, and then being told you were being unkind in a way that hurt your parent when they were kids?  Imagine being so innocent and then not, knowing your Mama was hurt for the way she looked?  And would that happen to you?

Yesterday, someone on my husband’s facebook feed disagreed with the meme that Donald Trump’s words about sexual assault leading to the actual crime did not matter, and that words are very different from actions.  I sit here enraged, thinking about that, because I know the effect of words.  Words that lead to sexual assault.  “FAT” leading to “less than” leading to “it’s ok to touch her in a sexual way because she’s less than”.

Not my daughter.

 

 

 

Please, Don’t Congratulate Me on My New House

newhouseIf you do one thing over the next couple of months, please, please don’t congratulate me on my new, shiny, sought-after house.  Don’t get me wrong – it’s gorgeous.  It has about 7 bedrooms.  It’s on a pond and has a gigantic porch with the perfect bench on it.  But something feels wrong about being congratulated for the fun stuff.

Here is a list, in no particular order, of things you are more than welcome to congratulate me for, however:

1.  That time I sat outside of my job at a residential eating disorder center, crying, because I knew I was just as sick as the women inside.  I had so much shame about being a sick helper, and I called Walden anyway.  I quit my job, and chose health.  I went to treatment.

2.  I fully accept Hallmark cards for the time I kicked the ball right into Steve Panish’s face in 10th grade gym class.  This came after months of taunting about my shitty athletic ability, and strange fake flirting that was meant to imply I was gross.  I’d had it.

3.  That time I woke up in my beautiful Somerville apartment with the worst hangover I’d ever had.  I picked myself up off the couch and walked straight to Watertown to find my car that I’d left at a friend’s in a drunken blackout.  As I walked down Mount Auburn street, I came to grips with the sickening realization that I could never drink – ever – again.  If I wanted to have some sort of life.

4.  How about the time I drove over the Tobin Bridge aimlessly at five months sober and felt feelings for the first time in years?  That it literally felt like my choices were be miserable, or die? That I wanted to leap but didn’t?  That I held on and made one of the best friends of my life through it?

5.  Or the time that infant Fiona screamed for hours on end and everyone told me “that’s what babies do”?  That after the 12th hour of screaming, and the 40th day of sleep deprivation, I put her down in her carseat, walked out of the room, and suppressed a scream?  That I didn’t do something worse, something we could never admit to thinking of because we all have to be perfect mothers and not talk about it?

6.  There’s also the countless times I’ve chosen to be respectful towards a man who pushed himself into me, drunk, because I can see the shame in his eyes when he looks at me sober?

7.  Or how about the time I chose to stay with a man who loved me, instead of choosing addiction?  That I came to terms with the fact that I am an addict, one in particular who seeks emotional attachments outside of her relationship, because she is so afraid that he won’t love her ugly parts?  That I was willing to sit in couples therapy for hours on end to fix the trauma I created and still choose to not hurt myself and to feel ugly feelings and to be the bad guy and to yell at each other and do the hard work?  How about congratulating those beautiful people who were hurt by my actions?

8.  How about the time I reached into my mother’s freezer, wordlessly cracking ice cubes out of the ice tray, shoving them into a ziploc bag, knowing they would be placed around my father’s head in a few hours when he died?  That I made ice cube tray after ice cube tray because I knew donating his brain to science was so important to him? That I placed the ice around his head after he passed and apologized to his dead body about moving him?  How about that?

9.  Or the time I lost my baby, and had to tell Fiona that the baby got sick and couldn’t come?  That I watched as a tear rolled down her smooth cheek, and heard her say, “I think my heart is broken?”

You see, I’ve been on the other side of that shiny new house, a million times.  I’ve been that girl who truly believed she was just not entitled to a happy life with a husband and a beautiful home.  That I was just meant to be unhappy.  I still believe that, sometimes, and that’s when I make stupid choices that hurt people, because why not be one big self-fulfilling prophecy?  I have more respect for the girl who sat through numerous urges to do something, anything self-destructive, than the girl who made a lot of money so she could buy a house.  I have more respect for the girl who spoke out at a self-help meeting, for probably the third time in six years since she’d joined that program, than the girl who lost weight and bought a beautiful designer dress and made a beautiful bride.  That shit, was cake.

We get it all wrong – we are there for each other when things are good.  But when things hurt?  We don’t know what to say.  We shrink away.  We don’t know what to do because we are uncomfortable ourselves.  But if you know someone who is hurting right now, commend them.  Raise them up.  Because they are doing important, hard, gritty work right now.  Work that will be the basis of their character later on.

So please feel free to send me a Hallmark card for the next time I actually call you instead of isolating per usual or when I embarrassingly cry in front of others or when I choose to just breathe. one. more. time.

But please, please, don’t congratulate me on my new house.

 

(Disclaimer:  The author knows friends should both rejoice in each other’s accomplishments and support each other when facing adversity.  The author is also grateful for all the support in her community for things both good and bad.  The author is really just trying to make a point.)

Am I Too Much For You?

At what point did I become too much for you?

Was it when I stayed awake all night, crying like babies do?  When I sensed your presence the minute you walked in the room, and sprang to?  When I was afraid of him and hid under the table, crying, was I too much for him?  Was I the problem?

Was it when I repeated back those bad words about our bodies, that embarrassed you?  Was it when I couldn’t bear to be alone without you, and stood at the window crying?  Was it then, that I needed too much?

Or was it when you thought I was being dramatic because I was hungry and dizzy?

Or when I had a phobia of the shower at 7?  And you screamed at me?  Was it then?

Or was it when I ran out of the house screaming because he looked like he was going to hit you?

Or when I voiced my opinion, and you called me a man-hating bitch just like your mother?

I can’t quite pinpoint when I lost myself, my beautiful, truth-telling, brave self.

Was it when you all figured out I was fat?  That I took up too much physical space? When you became disgusted by the amount of fat on my body, the number of pimples you counted on my face?

Was it when you became so angered and astounded by my intelligence and fierceness that you refused to acknowledge my presence for weeks?

Or was it when you were jealous of my sixty pound weight drop and that was wrong, too?

Was it when I told you I wasn’t just someone to sleep with?

Or was it when I decided I didn’t want to be engaged to that guy anymore?

Did I not fit in your little box?

Was it when I dyed my hair and pierced my nose?

Was I not “pretty”, anymore?

Was it too much when I embraced my sexuality, and posted a picture of me in lingerie?  Was it “gross”?

Or when I breastfed my child in front of you.  Did I disturb you?

Was it when I deceived you, and I wasn’t your golden angel anymore?

Or was it when I expected more out of you than a fairweather friend?

Did that gravity push you away?

Or was it the fact that I could see the beauty in many people at the same time?

Do I write too much online?

Am I too expressive?

Am I too sensitive because I wouldn’t tolerate your rape jokes at the hibachi table?

Am I too politically correct for you?

Does it scare you when I speak to you passionately? Does it make me a demon?

Was I too much when I finally laid down my shackles, and was loud with my opinions?

Or that I cry openly?  And it’s not a shameful thing?

Was that too much woman?

 

Was it too much for you to feel better about your feelings as a result of my badass vulnerability?

 

Yeah, I didn’t think so.

 

(dedicated to FNR, who will never be silenced)