Monday, July 28, 2014

No, Really, Everyone has it.

At about this time last year I was on the verge of just totally losing my mind. I had a 6 month old who just WOULD. NOT. STOP. CRYING. The only thing that could make her stop was to have my boob in her mouth and I was pretty much breastfeeding her around the clock, even at night, to the point where she just started sleeping in my bed suckling all night, which is like, the absolute biggest safety no-no in modern-mama land. When I wasn't completely immobilized by the Very Hungry Caterpillar in human form, her sensitive older brother, smack dab in the middle of the his "terrible twos" spent his time demanding my attention/making me feel totally guilty by systematically destroying the house in a quest for personal development that I felt like I should be providing.

About a million (non-doctor) people told me me that I should give the baby formula because my milk wasn't "good enough" for her and that I must be leaving her hungry, implying that I was starving my (very healthy) child and torturing myself in some self-righteous hippie-love-natural-mammalian quest to advocate breastfeeding. Against my better instincts I gave in and gave her formula, which made her vomit profusely and subsequently she began refusing all bottles from that point on, including ones of my own milk, which meant that I couldn't be away from her for more than an hour at a time without her having a complete hunger meltdown/sleep strike/hour long screaming session. I tried to leave her with my mom so I could go see a friend play music at a coffee shop, my mom called me, sobbing, asking could I please come get the baby? She won't stop stop screaming. 

On top of all of this my husband's job started going downhill in a bad, bad way. His hours were slashed to almost nothing, and it was clear that a lay-off was imminent. Did I mention that I left a very good job, where I was doing relatively well, working my way up through management, and making enough money to provide nicely for the family, just so that I could stay home with the kids? 

All of this lead me to be permanently encamped on the couch, baby at the boob, Daniel Tiger booming in the background, furiously focused on my iPhone, obsessing over breastfeeding/2-year-old development/hydro-geology jobs/everyone on facebook is happier than me. 

I was plagued by a constant narrative loop in my head: "I can't do this. We have no money. What if I am starving her? Why did I leave my job? I will never work again. I thought I was supposed to be smart? I'm never ever going to do anything important with my life.  I am bored. This is the best time my life, I'm an asshole for being bored. The first three years of life are the most important. The first three years of life are the most important. I only have three years. There's only half a year left for Luke. Is half a  year enough time to undo all the damage I've already done? I AM DOING SOMETHING WRONG. I am doing everything wrong. What is that smell? This house is a disaster. I need to weigh the baby right now. Nobody understands me. Nobody supports me. Everyone thinks I'm an idiot. I am an idiot. I need to be more engaged. I need to be more friendly. How did I get so fat?  If someone comes to check out this house right now I'd have the kids taken away. I have to be a better housekeeper. I have to be a better mom. I can't do this. I need to stop looking at my phone. I need to get into shape. Oh god, I am bored. There is so much laundry. I am so bad at this. I have no friends. I am bored because I am boring. He shouldn't be eating so much sugar. Why am I so addicted to sugar? I am a terrible example. I'm messing them up, eating sugar in front of them. I only have three years to get it right. I am a horrible mother." And repeat. 

While a lot of people tip-toed around the issue nobody came out and just said it, I had figure out for myself that I was seriously, dangerously depressed. I finally decided to get help when I was sobbing in the the kitchen, binge eating a block of cheese and a loaf of bread, wanting to just run away from all of it, trying to figure out if I had enough money in my bank account to do so, and I knew that I just couldn't keep living that way. 

The thing about depression is that it doesn't exactly look like how you think it would look.  I remember in the 90's when Zoloft first started advertising heavily and the commercials featured a sad little egg, going around the with a permanent raincloud over his head, hiding in a cave, until someone gave him some Zoloft and the sun just came out.

Maybe, for some people, it really is just a matter of being gloomy in the need of a little sunshine, but for me it was so so much more.  I had a very predictable cycle: self-hatred led to binge eating which led to guilt which lead to anger which lead to tears which led to more guilt and more self-hatred, and I was completely immobilized by the crushing amount of guilt. I didn't want to leave the house because I was so ashamed of, well just everything. I was constantly angry. I was glued to my phone. I was so lost. I was so hurt. I hated myself so much, and I was sure that I was deserving of all the misery because I was a terrible person. I felt trapped. In prison: in my head, in my living room, in my body.

I hated everything but I want to be clear that I didn't hate my children. No, my love for them was, is and always will be infinite. What I did hate was myself, for not being good enough, for not deserving these beautiful creatures. The sure one thing about  having kids, for me, was the the knowledge the I was truly the only person in the world who could raise them correctly. The only thing holding them back from absolute perfection was me, the lazy asshole who couldn't access the power within, couldn't find the motivation, didn't have the resources, to be what they needed. There was nobody in the world good enough to to raise my children except my most perfect version of myself, and because I was unable to produce that perfection I was failing them in the worst way.

I'm feeling very vulnerable even writing this blog now. I'm doing my very best to resist the urge to delete everything I've just written. I don't want people to think I'm crazy. I don't want people to laugh at me. I didn't want to admit that I was depressed, I don't want to admit that I am capable of depression. 

The one thing that is motivating me to go ahead and publish this is the knowledge that, depression, especially postpartum depression, often goes unnoticed and he people who do seek help are stigmatized for it. The thing is, a lot of people have it. Like really, a lot.  My doctor said that ALL women get it after having a baby, as there is a literal depression in the hormones in your body. He said that pregnancy is like puberty and breastfeeding is like menopause, and so having a baby is like going from one extreme to the other - in a matter of hours. 

Seeking help was not easy. I seriously procrastinated. I canceled doctor's appointments for stupid reasons. Eventually I made it  the half-mile to my doctor's office and my treatment plan included going on Zoloft (ha ha) and seeing a therapist. I approached therapy with a kind of ironic half-assedness trying to convince myself that I really didn't need it. I wasn't crazy. I was just tired...

I started to casually mention my therapist to people and often I'd see a look of relief cross their faces and they'd confess that they too, were in therapy. We're a secret society of pretty much everybody, unified in the fact that sometimes, we just cant do it on our own.

And things started to get better. I got back on track eating healthily and working out. I stopped wearing the same dirty pair of yoga pants everyday. It was a slow, painful journey, and it had it's many setbacks. I'm still on it. 

So here I am, trying to be brave. Trying to put it all out there so that maybe somebody else, who was suffering like I was won't feel so bad, that I can take a little of the shame away. Because there is nothing to be ashamed of. More people are depressed than you will ever know. Being a mom is hard. Being HUMAN is hard. There are so many THINGS and PRESSURE in our society. It's ok. It happens. We can't do it all. And there is hope.

I know, because I can look back a year ago and I can see how dark things were, if only because they are in such stark contrast to how they are now. I am so grateful that I got help. I can't say that I'm a perpetually sunny zoloft egg, because I'm still human, things still happen, life is still stressful, but at least now, I am ok with the fact that I am indeed, just a human, it makes all the difference. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

On Fat Girls in Bikinis

I follow a local morning radio show, Jackie, Tony and Donnie on Facebook because I genuinely enjoy their banter and I can tolerate the music they play most of the time. They do a weekly write-in, called "Dear Donnie," in which listeners can write in with their concerns and the internet can collectively comment and offer advice, etc. I get that they pick the most ire-inciting emails each week because, hey you gotta drive traffic somehow. Anyway, last week's "Dear Donnie" was a doozy and I can't stop thinking about it. Basically, the author was upset because she works very hard to stay in shape and she is horrified that people who do not work out the way that she does have the audacity to wear "revealing" swimming suits in public places and she doesn't think it’s fair that she has to look at their "nasty bodies" when she works so hard for hers. The anonymity of the author afforded her the ability to say exactly what was on her mind without the repercussions of everyone knowing that she's a total a-hole, but it really bugs me that she even had a platform (and numerous supporters) for her messed up body ideals and sadly, this is not the first time I've this argument. I don't know when and where we came up with this loosely defined set of rules which women can show what parts of their bodies and when and why we think we have any control over it whatsoever but it is becoming seriously outrageous. I kept thinking about if someone wrote in and saying how they were so tired of seeing "fat dudes" mowing their lawns shirtless every single Saturday morning. I have a feeling that people would say things like "well, it's hot" and "mowing the lawn is tough work," or probably some junk about how men’s bellies and nipples are evolutionarily non-offensive because they are men and that is the way that it is. Rather than the slew of comments about how these "whales and hippos" don't belong at the pool because "fatties" don't deserve the right to cool down until they drop the chubs. Double standards aside, the irony of comparing women to aquatic mammals when denying them the right to cool off in a body of water is beyond comprehension. 

My impulse is to say, "If you don't like it, don't look at it and move on," but that doesn't really address the concept of just accepting people for who they are. If these ladies are happy splashing around in a two-piece then why can't we just be happy for them? What difference does it make how they look? Since when does "not perfect" necessitate invisibility? Historically, deciding that people are unworthy simply based on a certain group being "offended" by their physical appearance has led to some pretty dark places in humanity. Of course, this issue gets easily dismissed as a concern for a random stranger's “health”. And it's not that I'm not an advocate for health and personal well-being.  Over the last year I have lost well over 60 lbs through diet and exercise. I was unhealthy, depressed, my joints were killing me, my family has a strong history of type 2 diabetes plus it's REALLY hard to chase two toddlers around with the equivalent of 3 cinder blocks on your back so I decided to make a change in my life. I've tried a million times to lose weight but it stuck this time because I did it for myself, not anyone else, and definitely not to ‘earn’ the right to wear any particular article of clothing. And you know what, I still wear THE EXACT SAME SWIMSUIT I was wearing 60 lbs ago. Not because I have earned the right to wear it, just because I really like that swimsuit.

I can think of five weekly publications off the top of my head that make their bread and butter simply by photographing celebrities and subsequently bashing them for the fabric that they have decided to drape over their bodies on any particular day.  And it goes beyond celebrities, if you go to any event in which there are more than 2 women it’s inevitable that they will spend a generous amount of time appraising and discussing each other’s clothing and deciding if it is appropriate for a particular venue. If middle school had a restrictive dress code, then the real world is just an amplification, rather than freedom from it. While nobody has to sign a contract at the beginning of the year to promising not to be textilely offensive, the consequences of wearing the “wrong thing” tend to be much harsher than getting sent home for the rest of the day. The gossip and judgment is absolutely brutal. It’s a terrible, terrible habit that I am most definitely guilty of too. I recently went to a wedding where I noticed a non-bride wearing a white dress.  I spent 15 minutes judging this woman, almost to the point of anger, “Doesn't she know better? WHO does she think she is?” Then I realized, Did I actually confuse her with the bride? No. Does what she is wearing have any effect on my physical well being in  anyway whatsoever? No. Does anyone else seem to care? No.  It was none of my darn business what this woman was wearing. She was happy in her dress and having a good time and nobody died, and all and all it was a pretty good wedding.  Why on earth did I have such a response her darn dress? Why is this so ingrained in our psyche that we allow what somebody else is wearing to affect us to the point of not enjoying an open bar to its fullest extent?

And the funny thing about dresses is that I wear them almost exclusively, which leads me to be asked constantly why I am so “dressed up” when I wear things like a cotton sundress to a barbecue.  I’m not trying to be more proper or dressed up than anyone else; I just really really hate pants. Like really. I feel like they are too constrictive, I hate the way the fabric clings to my legs, the way the seams dig in, and the complete and utter lack of ventilation, the non functional-pockets.  I have no idea why anyone would ever wear anything but dresses whenever possible, including men. I currently own 3 pairs of jeans and I will begrudgingly put on a pair if there is a thunderstorm or a blizzard, and maybe if I ever go horseback riding, but they feel like pure torture to me. Going sans pants is my choice based entirely on my comfort level, so what does it matter to anyone else? And on the other side of it, I know women who are the most comfortable wearing mens’ jeans, and subsequently they wear them almost exclusively. And that’s their thing. If they want to show up to a funeral in a pair of jeans, well damn, funerals suck so you might as well wear something that doesn't make you feel like you’d rather be the corpse.

I don’t know if I’m a feminist because definition of the term is constantly changing to involve allowing judgment for whatever group of women is being stigmatized at any given moment, but I do know that I am a mother of a daughter, and I don’t want her to grow up in like this, constantly feeling like her worth is earned solely on appearance. I know that I need to first break my own judgmental behavior and then work on helping her have an open, confident outlook on life and I’m doing the best I can in a society that demands the opposite, and I encourage everyone else to do the same, because I really think we will all be happier that way.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

My urge to helicopter parent is only trumped by my fear of heights.

I think that the last thing that anyone would ever describe me as is "laid back".  I've spent my entire life wound tighter than an LA facelift and promising myself that eventually I will try yoga or something to help me relax but I've never really gotten around to it.  That is why it is so surprising that when I decided to gift myself to the gene pool I learned just how crazy the parenting world can be.  Don't get me wrong, my priorities are to keep my children safe and healthy and happy and hope that they grow up to be semi-adjusted adults with just enough quirk to make them interesting, but I also refuse to keep them in a bubble. I want them to learn and explore and make mistakes and get dirty, and I find that this approach is extremely disturbing to people who are not the sole keepers of my babies' development. It really scares the hell out of people that I let my kids be kids, and I really can't understand why.

For example, the other day my mom and I took my kids to a backyard birthday party where there was plenty of grass and cake and a keg. My mom and I were enjoying a beer and watching the kids play in the grass when an older woman came up to me and said "Your baby is playing with rocks." To which I chuckled and said "Yeah, that's Lils for ya."  Clearly miffed, the woman said "Well, I just don't want her to choke on a rock."  Like I do? Of course not. I made a feeble attempt to explain to the lady that I didn't think she would put the rocks in her mouth - and if she did, well, her father is a geologist and I've seen him put more rocks and dirt in his mouth than I'd like to admit because apparently you can tell what a rock is if you taste it or something. I don't know, I majored in English.  I'll just trust that he's right and he doesn't have pica or something. Either way, I know my child, I know that rocks are a "thing" in our house, and I know that she's not going to start cramming them down her esophagus, mostly because they don't taste like cake. What she will do is take the rocks to me and expect me to identify them, and I will tell her that they are "volcano rocks" because I feel like all rocks come from volcanos at some point and so that way I am sort of right.  What I'm not going to do is freak out and cause a scene and scare the heck out of her by screaming "LILY NO ROCKS!!!! NO ROCKS LILY!!!!" Which is apparently what this woman expected me to do, as she walked off telling me "Well she looks petite for her age." I don't even know what that was supposed to imply but I guess I was supposed to be shamed.  That said, am I going to fill her crib with gravel and just let her have at it unsupervised for hours at a time? Of course not, I'm not an idiot.

For whatever reason, I'm part of a facebook group that is about 500 moms who all had babies in January of 2013.  Mostly it's just swapping advice about tantrums and diaper rash and coupon codes, but at least once a day there is a post like this:  "Look at this picture of a baby that my facebook friend posted, she can't be more than 18 months old and she is in a car seat FORWARD FACING." And this will be followed by a slew of comments about how CPS should come in and take the child away, and how just plain ignorant other parents are. These women are obsessed with with the forward/backward facing car seat issue, and are convinced that you should keep your kids rear facing until they are 18 or until they invent car in which everyone can sit rear facing. This picture is often used as an example as to how even older kids can sit comfortably in a rear-facing car seat:


Am I missing something here or is this totally ridiculous?  The thing is, I'm totally paranoid about driving around with my kids in the car. Last summer I was in a pretty terrible wreck in which I pulled out in front of an oncoming car and was t-boned. The force of the impact and the side airbags were actually enough that the baby's (rear-facing) car seat base actually dislodged and pushed her to the other side of the car. Although I had a full on meltdown in the middle of Main Street (I'm sure many of you Los Lunians remember) my kids were 100% ok. When the mechanic looked at the car all he could do is shake his head and tell me "This is why I love Subarus. Any other car and this would be a different situation but this car did exactly what it was supposed to do in a wreck - it performed beautifully." So ok, I'll never drive anything but a Subaru and I lose it every time I see the "They lived" commercial. Aside from the free advertising is at that point it didn't matter which direction my kid was facing, she would've been crushed in a different car. Driving is scary and unpredictable and anything can happen, so the need for precautions is not lost on me. And I get why tiny babies are need to face backwards and I don't have a problem with that.  But I'm also not going to cram my three-year-old into a rear facing car seat in an attempt to prevent the randomness of the universe from getting us. Plus, when he turned one, the recommendation was to turn him to the front, so in the 3 years that he's been alive maybe things have changed, but someone please tell me how you explain that kind of logic to a toddler? "I used to let you see out the window and sit like a big boy, but now the internet says I can't do that anymore so I'm gonna turn you around and if we get rear-ended the only risk is snapping both of your femurs." Things are safer now than they ever have been, we are long gone from the days of strapping and infant into a laundry basket in the back seat and hoping for the best,  and really, what's next, should I put my kids in motorcycle helmets every time we head to the grocery store?  

This doesn't even cover the things that I'm not supposed to give my kids to eat (heyyy high fructose corn syrup), the toys that they shouldn't be playing with (ok, no lawn darts), the TV they shouldn't be watching (but Breaking Bad was shot in New Mexico!), the iPads they shouldn't be looking at, the SPF 1000 swim shirts I'm supposed to force them to wear, the ever changing percent of fat in the milk that I'm supposed to be giving them, the hand sanitizer that they need to be slathered in after every human interaction, the dangerous flip-flops they shouldn't be wearing, and the myriad other things that I'm sure I'm doing wrong. I'm just going to continue doing the best that I can and hope to god that I don't end up a cautionary tale. And, oh god, yes, I am scared, but we just have to keep on living.