27 April, 2011

Therapy and Grief

An old friend sent a message via Facebook the other day, having read my last post on this blog, and asked if I’d tried therapy to recover from my c-section. At first I replied back saying something like, oh yeah, I’ve tried two different therapists, and they helped some, but I live far away from plausible therapy since I was once a social worker in my small town and know all the therapists here on some sort of professional level, so don’t feel comfortable seeing anyone locally and the commute to the city is too long and so on and so on. And then, later in the night, I thought – what the hell? Is she implying I’m depressed? Do I sound that bad? Maybe my friend meant something else entirely, but still, I read the blog again and thought, maybe I do sound depressed.
I think therapy is extremely useful and a great way to practice self-care – I mean, I get to talk about myself for an hour, what’s better than that? (Writing that makes me realize therapy is like blogging, but with more instant commentary.)
For four years when I was a social worker, I went to a therapist as part of my professional responsibility. A lot of personal growth happened for me during that time, the end result of which was a determination that, though I might have been a good social worker, really what I wanted to do was write and teach people how to write. So I quit my cushy job and went back to work as an underpaid teacher, thusly ending my health insurance and the therapy.
After the birth, when I knew I needed help for my delayed post-partum depression, I sought help from two different therapists, neither of who lived up to the work I did with my former therapist. With one, for example, I just couldn’t quite wrap my head around paying her two hundred bucks to guide me through a personal visualization, even if I did process some feelings. I stopped seeing each of them after only a few sessions. Nowadays, I still don’t have insurance and I’m not teaching at all; there’s just not a lot of money in our house for perks like therapy.
But if I did have the money or insurance coverage, would I go? Actually, yes, I would. Because I think therapy allows for personal growth – it helped me quit a job that was ultimately bringing me down – and helped me discover and uncover myself so that I could be in better service to my community and family by being more content. But I’m sure if I went to therapy, the c-section wouldn’t be all that I had to process about. There’s so much more in my life that’s important – like my desire to actually make a useful amount of money with my writing, in order to show my daughter dreams are possible if we work for them. Or to improve the relationship I have with my husband, which while pretty great, isn’t perfect, like any marriage. I’d probably still have something to say about my parents and what I garnered from them. And certainly I’d talk about being a mother, especially now, being a stay at home mom not earning income for the first time in her adult life.
There are other options for personal growth and healing besides therapy, and I’ve done many of them since my child was born: exercise, massage, eating well, meditation, sleeping, talking honestly with friends and family, and even that woo-woo energy stuff I’ve done with my healer friend. All of it is helpful and the more, the better in order that I can feel serenity and peace when, say, my daughter wakes up at four in the morning, or wakes up before I’m done working, like she might be doing right now as I listen to the rustling noises in the monitor. My point here is even after all that self-care, sometimes I have to cry about having had a c-section. I don’t know if I’m depressed, but I know I grieve. And grieving, contrary to the sound of the “five stages of grief,” doesn’t come neatly or clearly or on schedule.
When I was a social worker, I helped teenagers, “at-risk” teens, whose lives at home were difficult at best, and, more likely, abusive and violent. I remember one time a tough-ass girl stared me down in our group, her hair black, her eyes darkly lined. She said to me with a growl in her voice, “All of this processing stuff is stupid, because we just have to go back home again where everything is the same.” I looked at her dark, sad eyes and said something I learned to say more often: “You have the right to grieve the loss of the childhood you wanted.” She didn’t break down crying nor have a great catharsis but I could see surprise in her face, her eye widened and her tensed lips softened. She also turned quite quiet. She may have been taken aback by hearing she had the right to anything at all.
And that’s how I feel about grief from c-sections: we have a right to it. In our own time, in whatever messy way grief comes. I’m a Pisces by birth and I’ve been a walking nerve ending my whole life; I’m used to crying and feeling feelings even at the silliest of moments, like lately every time I hear India Arie sing the ABC’s with Elmo. But I’m glad I’m sensitive, because feeling my feelings, I think, fends off serious depression, which would be easy to fall into with all the crazy shit happening in this world. I want to be the kind of mother who teaches my girl to know she has the right to feel all the tough stuff – the grief, the sadness, the anger – and if she has to go to therapy to feel all that, fine. Just as long as she gets to experience what waits on the other side: joy.

23 April, 2011

When the Healing Has Begun

Two days ago, on my husband’s birthday, a well-known blogger and advocate for natural birth, breastfeeding, and women’s rights, whose blog is called The Feminist Breeder, had a live homebirth on the Internet to a big baby. I am excited for her and thrilled her homebirth was successful because it shows women in many places across the globe, but mostly in this over c-sectioned United Sates, that homebirth can be done, that women have a right to do it, and that natural birth can be a lot simpler and healthier for baby and mama than interventions.
I’m a horrible blogger, in terms of the “business” end of things – I have only commented on a few (by which I mean less than a handful) other blogs, I don’t network, I rarely “follow” anyone, etc. But I did check in every few days with The Feminist Breeder to see what was up with the birth. The baby was overdue and that made me feel nervous in remembrance of my own birth circumstances, so I checked in periodically, like a lurker in the shadows.
That night, I put my child to bed, which even though she insists she’s a “big girl,” still entails me laying down next to her while I read many stories, usually while she’s nursing, and, when she’s done with “boob,” she’ll “lay on my arm,” at which point I turn off the light and sing her lullabies until I am drifting off to sleep and then I know she finally is, too. I wake up with a kink in my neck around two hours later.
So it was; I woke a little after midnight, rubbed my neck, tucked my child under her covers, and inexplicably, checked my Facebook status updates to see that indeed TFB had given birth. Not live, but a few hours after the fact, I read all the posts from the live birth and watched the few second video of the little (big) baby being born. And then I cried. I bawled, actually. Bawled and bawled, mostly in the bathroom so as not to wake up my husband. Until two in the morning I cried and I woke up with a giant migraine from the stuffed up-ness of my sinuses.
Why all the crying? Because I’m still so damn sad, every once in a while, that my child didn’t come through my body like that. I wasn’t even trying to share my homebirth with the world, and thank god, because I didn’t get it. But sometimes, like the other night, I wonder if I’ll ever really heal from the loss.
I recently finished a book called Poser, My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses, which a friend sweetly and unexpectedly sent in the mail. I liked the book, even though it reminded me of how I used to be able to do a lot of the poses mentioned, and how I used to have a pretty regular yoga practice before my child was born, and how yoga is another thing I’ve lost (but hope someday to regain) while becoming a mother. The book describes all sorts of truths about yoga and marriage and motherhood and the effects of Pacific Northwest weather. But one reality I felt the author never addressed was her feelings about having two c-sectioned births. True, in her case, the two babies she birthed had more complications than her own body, and I’m sure the emotion and fear about their survival and wellbeing overshadowed any sense of the sadness from the c-sections. A few times the author mentions the weakness in her “core” from the operations in relation to doing yoga, but otherwise, she kind of glosses over the fact that the c-sections even happened and, more relevantly, how they might have been related to the baby’s complications. I don’t fault or judge this author for not analyzing the c-sections; as I said the babies’ lives at their birth were more emotionally exacting. And the fact that I do analyze my birth experience is probably a product of my own “core” weakness. But while reading, I just wondered how women who have had a c-section can gloss over it. Or ignore it.
The day after bawling about TFB’s homebirth, I received a copy of an email from a friend that she’d sent to our local ICAN chapter about her VBAC story. I read that story with joy, though I pretty much knew the details since I see this mama regularly, but, still, I was glad to read it all in writing. She mentioned at the end of the story how her second child’s birth was such a healing experience for her first and this sentence made me cry all over again because that kind of healing isn’t available to me. My husband and I are not planning on a second child (I’ve learned to never say never) because of our advanced age, lack of space in our house, and the fact that my body would probably completely fall apart with another pregnancy and, moreover, I’d be hard pressed to find a midwife in the world who would allow me to try again with a natural birth after the hemorrhage I had, and I am quite sure I couldn’t go through another c-section. Thus, a VBAC healing isn’t an option for me and while I have, of course, healed a lot from my experience, the fact that I still cry and bawl, and feel such envy and “why me?” feelings about not having a natural birth makes me know there’s still more, after almost two and a half years, much more to be done.
Before I started this blog, I’d done quite a bit of writing about my birth story and my feelings about the outcome, and that writing helped me heal some, but I knew I needed to do more. So when I decided to publicly put some of that writing up on a blog, my intention was to help other women who wonder why they still have feelings, sad and difficult feelings, about having a c-section, especially when those feelings seemingly come out of the blue. And so, two and a half years later, when I still feel those difficult kind of feelings, I write about it in order to tell someone else who’s out there crying, you’re not alone.

18 April, 2011

Karma One

In my spiritual belief system, I go with the theory that before birth, in the soul-realm, children choose the parents with whom to incarnate. Whatever they are on earth to learn, they choose their families for those experiences. I know this notion can be considered a white, privileged United States point of view, and even I ask how can I have this belief when there are all those kids in other countries like Haiti and Afganistan and now Japan whose parents have extremely hard lives or were killed at the moment of their birth? I don’t know the answer to that question. I’m not saying anyone deserves a hard life or comes into this world choosing poverty, war, destruction, abandonment, neglect, or abuse. I’m saying I believe in karma, and I think it’s possible our souls have lessons to learn we can’t quite know about but which are, nonetheless, real.
So, our daughter was conceived in one try. I know exactly the day because I had said to my husband, “You know, if we do this, we really could have a baby.” He smiled at me and said, “Let’s do it.” That moment was our only attempt at conception of a child in our sixteen years of intimate relationship.
(And, I apologize here, and not exactly parenthetically, because I know the above information isn’t helpful to those who had to try and try again, maybe even losing a child in the process, or to those who had to test and be needle-pricked and squirt and pay lots of money for conception, and especially to those who just can’t conceive regardless of their parental desire. I am also sorry about the time my husband, who was so proud of his sperm, bragged to our friends, who’d just paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to get their first child, about our luck. For what it’s worth, that couple, five months after their first son was born, conceived their second with no outside help, sort of a two-for-one special.)
Anyhow, my point is, with the quickness and ease of her conception it just seems highly likely our daughter was waiting around for us to become her parents. When I started telling people I was pregnant, most of whom were shocked and thought we’d never have a child, my standard line was “yeah, this baby has been waiting sixteen years for us to get on it.”
My healer friend believes in past lives and karma and, in fact, wants to do a past life healing on me. I’m open to this kind of work, even though her talking about energetically removing from some of her clients “daggers” and “bullets” and things like that challenges the outer realms of my brain. Still, I’ve been on this earth long enough to sense that some of my experiences are not entirely of my own making but, rather, some sort of karmic puzzle trying to work itself out. More importantly, as my healer friend says, the exact details of karmic experience are not nearly as important as feeling the stuck or difficult feelings that go along with them.
The belief that my daughter has been here before seemed obvious the minute my husband set her down near my face after she was finally born because when I said, “Hello, baby,” she turned her head, her little face filled with recognition of my voice and her big gray eyes startled but so alert I was sure she recognized more than just me. I thought right then she was recognizing she still had lessons to learn.
Of course, I wonder about her lessons. Some day I’ll get to the lessons she’s going to have to deal with just by having me as her mother and my husband as her father. Oy. But, I also get there’s more for her to deal with than just us. For example, I remember one day, when she was probably nine months old and we were driving home after being somewhere pleasant like the beach. I had made sure she was fed, warm, dry, and all that before putting her in the car for the twenty-minute ride home. But for the last five minutes of the drive, my daughter started a screaming fit that would not quit – a loud piercing shriek of serious discomfort that, instinctively, I felt had nothing to do with needing something material. She cried and cried and screamed. I breathed in deep the helpless feeling of not being able to help my own child, and said, “Oh honey, what’s coming up for you right now?” I envisioned demons and past life memories or, maybe, even, the painful feelings of being stuck inside me and being yanked out with such violence into bright, unwelcoming light. I felt terrible for her, yet knew her feelings were her own.
Some might say, I’m torturing myself or, worse yet, putting feelings on to my child that are not real. I certainly don’t intend to imprint a needless sense of trauma onto her, and only she will decide if, for example, the difficulty of the birth is something she’ll need to work through, or for that matter the hardship of past life experiences. I’m just saying I’m open to exploration. I want to be here to help her grow in her soul, to allow her spirit to be healed and free, and I can’t do that if I’m rigidly sure there’s no work to do from previous lives.
Besides, my intuitions about my daughter’s karma come from a place inside me that I love and don’t always pay attention to – the place of wonder at the unknowable hugeness of the universe. That wonder, while mysterious and for the most part completely unanswered, is a feeling I’d love to pass on because I think the sense stems from the connected parts of all of us. The parts that say, there is more than meets the eye, so perhaps we can step softly and allow each other to cry and feel our feelings, thereby creating compassion and space for those difficult karmic experiences and hard lessons. What if we did all believed in karma and allowed each other to heal and transform old hardships into something lovely, like beauty and light and love?

09 April, 2011

Taking Stock

Last fall, in a serious several-day patch of Ann Lamott-ish wanting to throw my child down the stairs (luckily, we don’t have stairs in our house), I begged a local friend of mine to watch my child for several hours and arranged with my husband to pick her up after he was done with work so I could venture into the city to go to a bookfair, called Wordstock, for the heft of the day.
I knew my Ambitious Writer was running amok inside of me, and had been for several days, hindering me from being a Good Mother by making me daydream about “being a writer” rather than “being in the moment” while I actually was “being a mother” and thusly getting frustrated with all the ways my two year old was “being a toddler.” I needed to appease that pesky Ambitious Writer and get her to settle down so Good Mother could come out to play.
Initially, I thought I would just drive my daughter into the city with me and have my one city friend look after her for an hour or two. But while that friend was willing, her family’s schedule made dropping my kid off quite complicated.
“I probably just won’t go, then,” I said over the phone, as victim-y as could be. “I mean what’s the point, I have no writing career anyhow.”
“You can’t hide,” my friend said. “Just because you’re not producing doesn’t mean you’re not a writer. This kind of thing is the worst thing stay-at-home moms can do – hide and be embarrassed about doing this great thing of raising a child.”
“Yeah, but that’s my point,” I said, starting to cry, “I should just stay home and not pretend I have some sort of writing career.”
“This is just a phase,” my friend said, “You’ll be back at it in a few years. She’ll be in school, and you’ll be writing again, producing. Go to Wordstock and be a part of what you’re a part of.”
I hung up the phone and cried more. The struggle of wanting a writing career, a ridiculous career-choice to want in a time of the “impossible to get published” yet “self-publishing is not really publishing” tug of war, some days is overwhelming. Plus, once again, I felt so terrible about not being able to handle my one and only child and about wanting a break. I love being a stay-at-home mom, and yet, I love writing just as much. Plus, I’ve been a writer for a lot longer than I’ve been a mother and though I’m bound to be a mother for the rest of my days, that role will change in terms of the hands-on factor, whereas my love for writing every day, my Rilke’s “must write” answer, won’t change too much.
To top off all the torment in the days leading up to Wordstock, I had another problem: I also wanted to take my daughter to this cool harvest festival held on the exact same day. The harvest festival is a fundraiser in the woods for a sweet little primary school, and the place is full of children who prance about in fairy costumes or in bug antennae headbands. Local vendors sell their groovy wares, apples are pressed into cider, the sun sparkles on thigh-high, dry grasses and the little creek burbles and runs freely. Good Mother fought hard with Ambitious Writer all week long about what to do. It’s hard to believe the torment that goes on inside my head.
But the morning of the book fair and harvest festival, I pulled the curtains open to see coastal rains pounding in such a manner as to make one believe the rain will never stop. I thought, or Ambitious Writer thought, the harvest festival won’t be that fun, so call your friend for child care and go. As I arranged my day, I rationalized I could go to the book fair to hear the author Mary Rechner read from her book, Nine Simple Patterns for Complicated Women, an author whom Portland writer Karen Karbo called “the Mary Gaitskill of motherhood.” Since many of Rechner’s stories had to do with being a mom, going to the book fair could be a “stay-at-home-mother work trip.”
To make a long story endless, finally, I dropped my kid off at my other friend’s house, which took so long due to my inner struggle that I just barely made it to hear Rechner’s reading. But I heard Rechner read a story from her book and I liked it a lot. I bought her book from her publisher and then talked to the author for a bit, mostly about motherhood, and she was kind.
At Wordstock, I happened to meet up with three other writer friends from my small town, whom, even though they live close to me, I rarely see, because I’m a mother more than I am a writer. The four of us took a break from all the books and readings and signings and stood at a tall counter eating overly-priced, greasy Chinese food. We discussed the state of publishing and how it’s changed so much in the past five years with all the virtual and desktop publishing programs, ebooks, closing of major booksellers, Internet opportunities, etc. The changes are both exciting and exhausting and I was glad to commiserate with these other writers, even though all of them, to my eye, were doing more to advance their careers amidst these changes far more than I was.
Over our paper plates of leftover grease, I told the story about how two years ago, before my daughter was born, when I was still trying to sell my novel, I got a rejection letter from an agent, an older agent who’d been in the business forever, the kind of agent who knew everyone, had done everything, and had her own agency. The agent wrote: “This is the type of manuscript which drives literary agents to distraction. The writing is strong, the sense of place and theme fully realized...In another time I could have sold this manuscript mid-list and started a career. But today, for a solid novel like this, I have no place to go to sell it…” No place to go. I thought that comment was amazing, with all the publishers that exist, not one of them is the right place? My writer friends nodded knowingly.
The agent also said later in that same letter “Good writing isn’t enough.” To me, what she meant was that a novel, even a good novel, cannot be sold on its own anymore. The book has to have an entire platform on which to stand, and that platform is constructed by the writer with a solid web of social networks, blog followers, listserves, marketing plans, projected outcomes, and literary connections, connections, and more connections. But for a stay-at-home mother whose husband works five jobs to get us by (I’m not exaggerating), with only a modicum of child care during any given week, writing anything creative (and good) is a daunting task, much less finding time to blog, network, read other blogs, connect, post, tweet, “friend,” and email. I left the book fair feeling spent and very much missing my sweet little daughter.
This week, after reading one of the few blogs I do read, that of a woman and mother who does more in a given day than I can conceive, Ambitious Writer had me fretting over all of this “good writing is not enough” stuff again. Ambitious Writer wants me to “do, do, do more, more, more” while Good Mother says, “Pay attention to your child.” Instead of getting all sweaty and abandoning my kid again, this time I decided to simply breathe and do the next right thing.
An ancillary anecdote: some actor friends of mine, who’d moved to Hollywood after college, complained to my sister and me one afternoon about the rigmarole of auditions, headshots, managers and the “who you know” aspects of the acting industry. My sister lived in L.A. at the time and she said to them, “Look, this is Hollywood, either you embrace how the business works or get out.” The comment was well taken. I embrace the rigmarole of the ever-changing publishing industry – and I’m a stay at home mother with a daughter growing in leaps and bounds. I’ve decided to accept that I can do what I can do for my writing career and that’s enough because my city friend is right, these years with my girl are short and quick. And while good writing may not be enough anymore, hopefully, good writing is still the best place to start.

03 April, 2011

Fierce and Spirited

Off and on I’ve been reading a book called Raising Your Spirited Child, in which the author argues that “spirited” kids are more of everything – more persistent, more energetic, more intense, more, more, more. I don’t know for sure if my daughter is one of these spirited kids, exactly, or if kids can be boxed in and so clearly defined as that author suggests. But I do know she definitely has a big spirit.
A few months ago, while volunteering as the guinea pig for that friend of mine who is in school to become a healer, she debriefed our session by telling me my womb was full of layers of mucus (no surprise there), but also that my daughter had been energetically in the room and her energy was “fierce.” The healer friend doesn’t know my daughter hardly at all, but yet, I thought that word seemed apropos, in fact, more than apropos, but right on the mark and perhaps more accurate that the word “spirited.”
Fierce has taken on new meaning in the past several years, probably due to Tyra Banks’ use of the word on her show America’s Next Top Supermodel. That pop-culture usage has to do with being all one can be, while simultaneously looking pretty and sexy (ostensibly for men’s benefit) while smiling with your eyes and being half-naked, yet also appearing confident and strong and aloof all at the same time. Mostly, I find this concept of the word fierce ridiculous and offensive to women, but sometimes, when my daughter is about to do something she shouldn’t do, like finger paint on the kitchen table with her spilled yogurt, her eyes look a little bit of that kind of fierce, (and, yes, usually she is half-naked, her favorite way of living it up in the house). She’s got a sly, smiling gleen in her hazelnut eyes and a half-twisted upper lip, both sinister and sweetly smiling.
My definition of fierce and/or spirited is: SHE’S UP! Seriously, when I started writing that previous sentence the first time, my daughter woke up at dawn, too early, too-tired, yet somehow raring to go. That moment was and is a true, real-time example of the kind of “more energetic” energy she has all the time, even when she’s sick or teething, which she has been now with her last set of molars for several weeks. In these special times, the fierce or spirited energy is accompanied by a horrid, nearly constant whine. Specifically, she’s whining this word, “Moooommmmy,” with no other words behind that one, even when I say, over and over and over again, “Yes, honey, I’m right here,” or “Can you use some words for mama to tell me what you need?” Her reply? “Mooooommmmmy….” and then two little pattering feet and a gripping bear hug (bear trap?) around my leg.
The old Latin of the word fierce comes from ferus, which gives us words like feral and ferocious, meaning “wild beast.” My daughter is completely cute and, most of the time, very sweet; she’s more like a bear cub than a boar. But when her fierce energy is riled, she can be unpredictable. Will she meltdown or won’t she? Will she whine all day and need me to pick her up, especially while trying to cook dinner with splattering oil in a hot pan, or won’t she? I never know for sure. It’s kind of like living with an alcoholic.
That all said, when we do make it out through the slanting rain and howling winds to get her some teething tablets at the store – does the homeopathic stuff even work? – she has no trouble at all being so independent as to dart out into the middle of the parking lot with cars and their disoriented-by-all-the-rain drivers coming right at her. My daughter is a paradox of need and independence – and that’s what makes her energy fierce. She loves to explore the wilderness but needs the safety and security of the mama sow and our den. She can rollick and play with other kids for quite some time before she lifts her head up from the tundra and sniffs out her mother’s presence. She needs the nourishment of her mama’s milk but wants to dig around in the dirt to find her own sustenance, which includes playing with her food, as baby cubs are known to do, by say, torturing a ground squirrel between their paws before they really eat them.
For my part, I’d be better off acting like a mama bear and honing in on my own wild beast self. With trepidation of alluding to a certain female politician/pop icon’s metaphor which argues mama bears are protective of their young, which I am, I offer another scenario: sow bears can be pretty darn blasé about their cubs’ antics. If you’ve ever seen wild bears in their natural habitat, the cubs go rolling down the hill into a muddle puddle and their mama couldn’t give two shakes. When my daughter’s acting fierce, when she wakes up without enough sleep and subsequently whines “mama” all day long, I need to be more blasé. I need to say, “yes dear,” without really listening; I need to allow her to climb on my back while I continue to root around in the dirt looking for my own grub. I need to play with her for a while, then bite her neck and tell her to find something else to do. I need to watch out for my daughter with my own fierce energy, my eyes smiling and aloof all at the same time so she knows I am there for her but also that she can explore her world – her wilderness – and be free in her own big, wonderful spirit.