Mental Illness During the Holidays

This is the first in a series of posts I want to write this year, about dealing with mental illness during the holidays. We can’t talk about this enough, everyone. It can be really hard to maintain a cheery mood or help in all the ways I want to help, even with cooking or keeping the baby occupied. That’s ok. This day is about gratitude for what we HAVE, not what wish wish we had. My husband and our son love me just as I am, and I’m not going to spend today imagining a “better” wife and mom for them. They don’t want anything but me. I don’t want anything but the family I have. That includes the nuclear family that was “the family” before Nathan and I started our own.

I love every member of my family, just as they are, including every amazing talent, personality trait, flaw and decision (even the painful ones).

My dad has made some decisions that have left me at a loss. The details aren’t important. The point is that I just have no idea how to interact with him without participating in toxic behavior. Not just unhealthy, but toxic. This stuff will eat away at me, inside, if I let it. I wish with all my heart that I could protect my own mental health without hurting my father’s feelings. I don’t want him to feel pain, ever.

The thing to remember, when you are facing life with a mentally ill parent, is that you cannot “make” anyone happy. I can’t make my dad feel anything. I am not making him feel whatever he is feeling about the distance that’s growing between us, right now. I could not “make” him feel “better” if I tried. And I know this, because I have spent a lifetime trying to make my dad happy. We shared happy moments! I just didn’t use my willpower or “good” behavior to make them happen. They happened. We made them happen together. That’s what I want to celebrate today.

First, a shout out to my mom. She gets to host my sister, today, and of course, my awesome brother-in-law and my incredible niece and nephew. She has worked hard to make a welcoming home that we can always visit. I’m proud of you, mom! I have loved our Thanksgivings together, in my adulthood. I loved our Thanksgivings with your family.

I haven’t actually spent a holiday with my father since I was nineteen, but he had sole custody of me, ages fourteen through eighteen. Even after that, I felt close to my dad on holidays, even when it was hard to feel close to him at other times. He’s sick, and because I can’t begin to describe how his mental illness has changed the course of my family’s lives, I will do what I would do on the phone with him, if we could talk, today. I will talk about our successes. They weren’t that rare. A mentally-ill parent during the holidays really complicates an already tense time, but my dad received inadequate treatment, with no proper diagnosis. Honestly, I’m so impressed with what he pulled together during his years as a single parent, that I want to tell you about one of those Thanksgivings. Remembering all of it–the painful and the joyful–is important in how I cope with my own anxiety and depression during the holidays. But I can choose to sort of nod at the painful memories and retell the stories that help me remember joy.

When you’re cooking for two, on Thanksgiving, it’s really pretty comedic. I think that the day I’m remembering is the first Thanksgiving we did together, just the two of us. I really wanted the traditional foods we’d be having if we were spending the day with extended family, but even just a turkey breast is enough to feed quite a few people. I also asked for and helped make mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and I don’t really remember what else. I’m sure I made pie. I insisted on making cranberry sauce from scratch, but I didn’t time it right. When everything else was ready, it was still warm. If you’ve ever made cranberry sauce from cranberries, you know that when it’s warm, it’s soup. It really does need that time in the fridge! Who knew? We put it in the fridge and decided to get it later in the meal.

Then, we went to a movie. It seemed like a great tradition to start. We had seen so many movies together. There were a few days I remember eating mostly popcorn and chocolate (Hershey’s, with almonds) and watching, for example, all three of the Star Wars movies that existed at the time. There was a Star Trek movie day, once. I think that we went to see Anna and the King, which makes sense, because IMDb says that it came out in 1999, and that lines up. We ran into friends. The movie was ok. We left, smiling and happy. On the way home, I remember saying that I finally had room for dessert! I opened the fridge…

and there was the cranberry sauce.

I know, it’s not the funniest holiday story ever, but we laughed so hard. I had been so insistent on having that special cranberry sauce. Obviously, I ate some with a spoon, right out of the bowl I had stored it in. Then we had dessert. And watched another movie.

It was a really great day. Given the fact that my biggest fight ever with my mom was happening at the time, and that she had moved out only months before, although I learned latter that she hadn’t meant to leave that way. But I felt like my life was in shambles. My dad must have felt pretty awful, too, but he put on a smile that day. We happily at a lot of starch and no memorable vegetables. He did a great job fitting a huge turkey breast in a convection oven–we couldn’t fit a full-sized oven in that kitchen. I can’t believe how happy we were, on that day.

Good job, Dad, on Thanksgiving, in 1999. It was a rough year, but a great day. I’m feeling All The Feelings today, but I choose to focus on my dad as I remember him on that day. I sincerely hope that he is having a happy day. I hope that he knows that none of my decisions have been made in anger. I hope he knows that there is nothing but love in my heart.

I am thankful for the good days I had with my dad. I am thankful that I do get to talk to my mom, stepfather, sister, brother-in-law, nephew and niece, not to mention the AMAZING family I married into. My life is full of kindness and warmth. My heart is full. I will cry a little, today, because I miss my dad, and don’t know what to do to help that relationship move forward. But mostly, I will feel warmth and joy.

Here’s some joy for you–the thirteen-month-old Walter wearing the AMAZING hat that his Grandma Teri made for him (Nathan’s stepmother–lucky kid has so many grandparents).

 

The hat that IS a turkey. Nicely done, Grandma!

The hat that IS a turkey. Nicely done, Grandma!

The HerStories Project: Published Author Countdown!

Hi everyone! Where have I been? Staring at a new design I made all by myself and learning the code that makes it work (or NOT work, as they case may be). I hope to launch it after next week, my last class in my online web design course. In the meantime, do you know what will launch first? The title may have given it away…

The HerStories Project book! In which my essay will be officially published on DECEMBER 2nd! See?

Isn’t it gorgeous? I’m so proud! In case you’re confused, I’m going to be published twice over, and this is the first title. The amazing Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger have published this one themselves (as opposed to the other anthology I’m going to be in, which went through a small press) and their work is amazing. Please buy many copies (the holidays are here! you need gifts!) via that link, because the only way I make any money this time around is through a special affiliate link. More importantly, this book means a lot to me because it celebrates what this blog is all about: women telling stories for an audience of everyone. I’m not saying that men don’t benefit from telling each other their personal stories, but I can’t speak to that, since I have no experience as a man, nor have I done any research on the topic. What I do know is that what blog has taught me:

Women learn SO much by telling each other our stories. I am doing it twice, in this very public way, to say YES, this MATTERS. Thank you to everyone who has written to me to tell me that my stories in this space have meant something to you. It means the world to me, to hear that. Thank you to everyone who has shared something with me. If you have your own space to share your story, thank you. Talk! No whispering. We matter too much to tell our stories in a whisper.

Guess what’s not news? My kid is a terrible sleeper. Nope, not news. But waking up every 3-4 hours all night long is still really bad for the brain and clear thinking. I need clear-ish thinking to write coherently, so this is all I can manage for now. But I promise that I was well-rested when I edited the essay! I edited it a few times!

A Year of Motherhood: How I Found Peace and Calm

I haven’t lost my mind, folks; this peace and calm is INNER. Well, our home is a more peaceful, calm place than the home we lived in last year, but there is a lot more noise happening in here with a thirteen-month-old moving around and playing with thirteen-month-toys. But somehow, I came through this first year as a mother a calmer, more peaceful person. I’d like to celebrate that. I’d also like to share a few things I’ve learned about how I did it, in the hopes that that helps anyone who might be reading.

I didn’t write much around Walt’s first birthday, because I hosted a party. It was a celebration of his birth, but I wanted to celebrate the anniversary of my birthing day as well as the day Walter arrived, Earthside. I decided to throw a grown up party, and I think I played the hostess rather well. I made jokes about feeling like Clarissa Dalloway, who goes out to buy flowers for her party on the first page of Mrs. Dalloway. It took time and energy. I’m also learning how to design a better space for Do Not Faint, which feels a bit different from a blog, now. People come here looking for different things, and I’ve got quite an archive on a few topics. I’d like to see what I can do with that, and I love learning this language where I type code and get to change things, myself. I digress, however.

I’m writing today, because there is more to this fundamental shift that happens after the first year of parenthood than we seem willing to talk about. I needed some time after the one-year mark to process All The Feelings. The most remarkable realization has occurred to me while processing those feelings–I have more calm, and less anxiety, in my life. I feel more calm. More importantly, my family made conscious choices to make a peaceful home for ourselves. We moved (utter chaos–September was just awful) into a lovely apartment that feels like a home in part because it’s the first floor of the house. When the upstairs neighbors aren’t home, it kind of feels like it’s just us. There’s a yard and a porch out front and out back. Only three families. Less rent, and more room in the budget. More room in the house. The building’s owner is neither loud nor deeply involved in any tenant’s personal lives, like the last one was. But how on earth do I have more peace and calm with an almost-toddler in the house?

I have become more observant, and less critical. I watch and listen more, and I try to lighten up on looking for meaning in any patterns I see.

I manage my anxiety in part by looking ahead and what’s coming up in my life and thinking about how it might make me feel, so that I’m not surprised. I don’t do well with big surprises. But too much thinking about the future leads to “What if [insert scary thing] happens?” and, having a good imagination, I can work myself into quite a panic that way. This is one reason I need to see a therapist so often: if I don’t talk about my fears or have someone suggest that I focus on the present moment, my mind and my anxiety disorder run off with my thoughts. I learned to parent my child using some of the tools I use to manage those thoughts, by observing some patterns and trusting my own judgment where I feel comfortable, while asking a more objective or more expert mind to help me out when I feel that I’m out of my depth.

I have been around enough babies to trust my own judgment about Walt’s physical and cognitive development, so I stay away from lists of milestones, even if they are well-meaning. (My only sibling is a tenured professor of developmental psychology–I definitely believe that “around such and such an age” really leaves a lot of room for deviation from the average.) I make a conscious effort to compare him with other children only to enjoy how different they are, even as tiny babies.

When I start to worry, I figure out what the question is, and I ask someone who can give me as definitive an answer as possible. In other words, I find an expert who is willing to answer my questions, and I defer to that expert. We interviewed our pediatrician before our son’s birth, and he had really thoughtful answers to most of our questions, great explanations as to why he couldn’t answer or great ideas about how to find an answer. Sure enough, he’s still like that. It looked to me like tiny Walter’s left eye was sometimes a bit crossed. The pediatrician looked at the skin on either side of the baby’s nose, used that tiny light they shine in babies’ eyes, and said that it looked that way because there was a teeny bit more skin between the baby’s left eye and nose. That would never have occurred to me!

I loved working with infants and toddlers, when I worked in childcare, and one thing about early motherhood that excited me the most, when I was pregnant, was that I would get to see my child’s ability to express his unique personality better, using the limited tools available to him. In other words, I have been in this from the start to get to know who my son is and am not particularly interested in shaping his personality. I want to model behavior that I believe to be good and important. I want to influence his beliefs, when it comes to feeling optimistic about people and the world. I do not feel a particular desire for him to be introverted, extroverted, intrepid, timid, and I enjoy seeing differences between his personality and mine.

Please understand that I don’t think it’s better or worse to engage a child in activities that you prefer, or wait for the child to initiate an activity, and parenting obviously includes both.

My point is, quite simply, that my mind gets more rest if I wait and watch, rather than hope for a particular outcome.

Here’s my best example of that: if I had read all sorts of books on sleep and planned on Walter sleeping in a crib for reasons x, y and z, I would have had a lot less sleep this year. Knowing that I had had to be (gently) kicked out of my parents bed, long after it was a comfy fit, I accepted my mother’s generous offer to bring a gorgeous, solid-wood co-sleeper/little crib. My plan was that newborn Walter would sleep in that, and then we’d see if he needed a crib or to share the king-sized bed we bought when I was pregnant and thinking about sharing a bed with a squirmy child. (I was, I am told, a very squirmy sleeper.) It’s a good thing we didn’t buy a crib; even the co-sleeper ended up being used as a laundry hamper. The child simply sleeps longer and more deeply if he is within reaching distance of another human. He used to refuse to sleep longer than a few minutes on his own, and now it’s about two hours, maximum. It doesn’t need to be me, near him. He has just always slept better “on” someone or next to someone (this was pretty awesome for visitors, especially grandparents). We have the cutest little rocker/napper/chair that I did want him to take naps in. The truly adorable mobile would entertain him long enough for me to go to the bathroom, sometimes. Other times, it just kept him safe while I tried to listen to the fan instead of his cries. Now, I can think of a specific family we know that needed and still needs a crib and some planning and a few (good) sleep books, because every baby does not just let you know, the way ours did, that “Hey, everyone will get lots of sleep if we share this bed!” Some babies send more mixed signals along the lines of, “Hey, nobody is getting sleep, tonight, no matter what you do! Good luck with this!” But when I saw a cartoon, recently, that depicted a very-awake toddler standing, holding the rail of a crib and looking down at exhausted parents, asleep on the floor of the nursery, I thought about how that would have been us, had we not been open to the idea of letting our “Tiny Overlord,” as my husband likes to call him, sleep in our bed.

Another example, even more controversial: my husband, Nathan, and I did what I consider to be satisfactory research into the vaccine controversy, and we went to our interview with our pediatrician wondering whether we would choose to vaccinate our son on a delayed schedule or the schedule recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. We wanted him vaccinated and were not convinced by any of the arguments against it. I understand some of the fears, and I’m really glad that everyone is now paying a lot more attention to what goes into vaccines. (Less mercury? Yes, please!) All the same, the question was when, not if. The pediatrician we chose had a compelling argument, and we agreed on a schedule. I now defer to him, and no longer research the vaccines my son has already received. It’s done. It’s over. We all did the best we could with the information we had. I took my questions to a pediatrician with higher-than-average expertise (that was rather accidental on our part–he just turned out to have specialized knowledge), felt satisfied with the answers, observed the satisfactory results and stopped asking the same questions.

“There is no risk-free pregnancy.” Those words from the perinatal mental health expert I saw, preconception, were so important to me and my husband. I still carry them in my heart. There is no risk-free life. I cannot protect my family from so many scary things. I do what I can, and then I find somewhere else to focus my mind. That is my advice for parents, everywhere, having put a whole year of experience under my belt: address your fears, but focus on what’s in front of you, right now. It’ll change in a minute.

Happy Birthday, Walter! My homemade honey cake (using a cake mold) with handmade (from Etsy) beeswax letter/number candles, and my growing-up boy in his big kid chair.

Happy Birthday, Walter! My homemade honey cake (using a cake mold) with handmade (from Etsy) beeswax letter/number candles, and my growing-up boy in his big kid chair.

Falling Behind with the Basics

I didn’t post yesterday; I went to bed, exhausted, before I had the chance. In the past few weeks, I’ve been forgetting the basics, more often. I will go do some task and put off eating, or taking my meds, or going to bed. I always pay for these things. I felt scattered some days, a little panicky other days. The more I talk about it, the better I am at getting back to basic self-care. Nothing is ever more important than sleep, food and meds. I even have a little graphic for it, one that I’ve used before. I’m taking this migraine (the obvious result of yesterday’s minimal food intake and terrible sleep) back to bed, now.

anxiety coping basics

Why Lullabies Calm Babies and Parents

While we were moving and closer to his first birthday, Walt had a really hard time getting to sleep, and I found myself singing a lot. I also found that I had no idea how much time had gone by, when I came out of that dark bedroom. It took me a little while to figure out why this feeling was really familiar, but I figured it out while finishing my HypnoBirthing paperwork–it’s a lot like self hypnosis. I use the song I am repeating (I tend to pick one that I don’t have to “think” about and can repeat endlessly) when I really feel like I might lose my mind to put myself in a sort of zone, where I pat the baby to the slow beat of the lullaby, focus on the love in the words, and let it all go.

I have used music to stay sane through many difficult parenting moments; I even hummed during surges [contractions for you non-HypnoBirthers] to help me release tension. My family is a musical one, so I grew up singing and love to do it. But there’s plenty of research that suggests that you can stay sane through lullabies, regardless of your ability to carry a tune. There’s even more research to prove that your baby LOVES to hear your voice, much more than the most gorgeous recording of the most beautiful voice you have ever heard. In fact, researchers recently found that singing lullabies to sick kids actually decreased the pain they experienced in a London hospital! For infants and toddlers, a song they associate with an activity can help them make the transition, like going to sleep. Babies respond to the human voice like nothing else, and infants pay special attention to voices for emotional cues.

Lullabies in particular have a calming effect, obviously, but think about why this is true. (I have had lots of time to ponder this, lately.) familiar lullabies have nice associations, at least the ones you might think to sing to your own baby. But they all have several things in common: repetition, soothing sounds, easy melodies, soft moods. I am not always super psyched to spend who knows how long soothing my baby to sleep, but he will only go to sleep while nursing. Here we are. If I sing a calm, soothing song, I find myself feeling more calm. If I really focus on sweet, loving words, I feel more loving. It’s a fake-it-til-you-make-it tool when my list of stuff to do threatens to make me upset about spending time waiting for the tiny human to detach himself from my chest. (After a certain point, I really start to wonder if Mama matters at all, or if he just needs a Mama-Pacifier, but that’s just not a helpful line of thinking.)

If you’re not a melody person, use words. My husband has “sung” Biggie Smalls to our baby, in a nice, soft voice, and the kid loves it. Whatever you can recite, repeat it. When I was sick and couldn’t sing, I would list the people in our lives. “I love you, and Daddy loves you, and Gram loves you, and Grandpa loves you, and Nana loves you…” and on and on.

If you’re not a words person, hum or use your kid’s name. I learned that second trick from a mama I babysat for; she teaches this to parents in her Music Together classes. Replace the lyrics of a lullaby with your child’s name, and everyone is happy! Babies love hearing their names, and you don’t have to remember the words. I have spent a long, long (I don’t know how long) time singing “Walter James” to the tune of “All the Pretty Little Horses” or even “Twinkle, Twinkle” (which is, by the way, a Mozart melody).

One of the best hand me downs from all the hundreds we’ve been blessed with (5 older cousins, 18 months-6 years) is a CD of lullabies from around the world, called Close Your Eyes. My sister must have gotten this when they lived in Australia, because the only links I can find are to shops in Australia and New Zealand. But, I’ve been putting it on a lot, and I can confirm that China, India, Russia, and other cultures with languages and music unfamiliar to American ears, all have lullabies with repetition, soothing sounds, (comparatively) easy melodies, and soft moods. I won’t be singing along to the Indian lullaby, even though it is beautiful, but I have learned the Irish, French and Mexican ones–and you could, too. Easily. Maybe not all the verses, with perfect pronunciation, but the chorus is always simple, sweet and repetitive.

My favorites coming into motherhood were in English: All the Pretty Little Horses, Sing (from Sesame Street) and the Beatles song I Will. Having heard my sister lovingly sing the three I just mentioned in Irish/English, French & Spanish, I was excited to add those. From late pregnancy, when we watched The Muppet Movie (2008?) and discovered Walter the Muppet, we have all enjoyed singing Jim Hensen’s The Rainbow Connection, to the belly and then the baby. It has become His Song.

These are just my favorites and some ideas, if you need them. Here’s what they do: let me lose track of time. I have no clock in our bedroom (Walt will not sleep if he has realized that another human is not within 12″ of him) because knowing that it is early, late, I’ve been here for ten minutes, an hour, has always made me itchy. I start thinking about getting stuff done, and it’s harder for me to survive the times when it takes forever to put him to sleep!

This is my favorite, lately:

Arrorró mi niño, [ah-roh-roh mee knee-gnoo]
arrorró mi sol,     [ah-roh-roh mee sol]
arrorró pedazo,   [ah-roh-roh pay-dah-zoh]
de mi corazón.    [day mee coh-rah-zohn]

And it supposedly means something like this:

Hush-a-bye my baby
Hush-a-bye my sun
Hush-a-bye oh piece
of my heart.

Just try and be cranky while saying that, especially if you can roll your “r” sounds. “Arrorró” is used like “hush” for a reason. Lean on your lullabies, my sleep-deprived, long-bed-time-routine-suffering, parents.

The best lullaby CD ever. Sadly, not available in the US at the moment. If you find a copy, let me know where, so I can get it for every family I know!

The best lullaby CD ever. Sadly, not available in the US at the moment. If you find a copy, let me know where, so I can get it for every family I know!

Make Way [a poem]

I wrote this for Walter’s first birthday. I never got around to getting it nicely printed and framed, but I shared it with his dad. I’ll share it with you, today. It’s not finished, so I’d love feedback from any other poetry geeks. It’s been a long time since I wrote poetry. But here you are:

Make Way

 

Never–until I became

a mother–did I imagine

a poem about ducklings.

 

I collect images,

phrases while he sleeps, still

needs me next to him. (Why?) Ducks:

fuzz   yellow   squawk

 

My one-day-soon to

talk, walk,

yellow-haired boy, a year

ago arrived with nowhere

but my arms to be.

 

We laughed at combs for

you. The fuzz laughs, grows

out, up, forward,

never down,

short in back, flat only

when sleep works

you hard, the sweat beads

under, darkens, holds

such fine hair, the comb

still does nothing

without water.

 

“It is not,” I told

your dad “a song

about dead ducks,

they grow up, that’s why.”

 

But Mama Duck

haunts me, calling her

babies, ten, five,

until not one–my one, only:

squawk, walk, over

the hills and far away.

 

My poetry will

“make way for ducklings”

when McCloskey and you

ask, and songs, noise-making

toys, I swore–Never!–

to see flapping

hands, arms, joy

bursting around

me in waves.

 

Your squawks will make

way for words; your crawling

with flapping, loud hands

on the floor, fast

knees, will turn until you

run (not fast, if genes

predict), until you need

shoes for those fat,

splayed, long, delicious feet.

 

Thanks to the blog Let the Tide Pull Your Dreams Ashore for this photo of the Boston Public Garden Ducklings, inspired by Robert McCloskey's classic children's book, Make Way for Ducklings.

Thanks to the blog Let the Tide Pull Your Dreams Ashore for this photo of the Boston Public Garden Ducklings, inspired by Robert McCloskey’s classic children’s book, Make Way for Ducklings.

 

My Pajama Anxiety, Relieved At Last! or, Why are my kid’s clothes toxic?!

Yes, I have anxiety about baby pajamas. How could I possibly have anxiety about the cutest thing in the entire world, besides an actual baby? It’s pretty weird. Consumer reports explains that, “To protect children from burns, CPSC regulations dictate that children’s sleepwear sizes 9 months to size 14 must either be made of flame-resistant fabric, which doesn’t ignite easily and must self-extinguish quickly when removed from a flame, or the clothing must fit snugly because loose garments are more likely to catch fire.” Why does it start at 9 months? Because a chemical called chlorinated Tris was proven to cause cancer in tiny babies, and it was banned from baby pajamas in the 1970s. I’m still not clear on why the chemicals that are carcinogenic to a 6-month-old baby are considered safe for a 9-month-old. Prepared for this transition, I bought Walt some NOT-pajama matching tops and bottoms from the Swedish company Polarn O. Pyret, whose “eco” line is able to meet high European safety standards by simply not calling itself sleepwear, thus outsmarting US flame retardant laws that would destroy that status with toxins. Another company that makes a conscious effort to give parents this option is Hannah Andersson, but until very recently, I thought that this was an American company that only made expensive dresses. Nope! Not only do they make clothes that are not dresses (much of their stock is actually labeled “baby” or “kid” because it is entirely gender neutral) but they also make “long johns” that are both organic and toxin-free. This is because they have big bright yellow tags on them that warn parents to make sure the clothes fit “snugly” to protect from fire. Even more exciting (for me) is the fact that there is an outlet about 25 minutes from my house! Full-price, PO.P and “hannah” pjs can set you back over $40. And I can’t do it. Nope. No way. But I caught a sale and snagged some PO.P clothes for Walter and this outlet near me is pretty darn awesome! In fact, I did a good deed and bought “long johns” for no more than five parents today; they were marked down to $18 (from $40ish) at the outlet. We are all in a Facebook group together where the clothes get resold and traded when kids outgrow them. I am so dedicated to the toxin-free pajama cause that Walt and I shopped for two hours, selflessly spending other peoples’ money on adorable strips and Christmas patterns (with some dresses, leggings, tees and cute accessories thrown in there) and purchasing just one set for ourselves. It is white with blue trim and has big, brightly-colored trucks on it. Best of all? It is one piece and opens and closes with a zipper! All the cute with none of the cancer!

This garment is NOT flame resistant! (Wait. What? Why should it be?)

This garment is NOT flame resistant! (Wait. What? Why should it be?)

We don’t need more than one pair at the moment, because Walt often sleeps in wool pants or leggings that act as cloth diaper covers. That is the subject for another post–and I have had one planned for months. Oh, how I love the wool/cloth combination! Oh, how I love the all-natural-ness of it all! Here’s the thing: it’s not because I’m a snob about labels. I just feel a teeny bit lighter, knowing that nothing on his little body is made from anything linked to the word “cancer” in my reading. You may scoff and call me neurotic. I don’t actually believe that I am protecting my child from cancer, full stop. But feel better when I can pronounce the ingredients in his “sleepwear.”

Oh, and if you’re still confused about how some pajamas are going to do anyone a lot of good in a fire, especially on a baby in a crib–me, too! I’d rather take a chance on the big danger than expose my child, every single night, to a small amount of a chemical mixture that is definitely dangerous. Also: we do not smoke in the house or, you know, at all, and don’t really burn candles, let alone leave them burning while we sleep… I just don’t see the need for this law. If your kid is wearing polyester Disney sleepwear as I type this (it’s late) I don’t judge you–my niece has loved the same nightgown with The Princesses on it for years. It is absurdly small on her, now, and falling apart. She adores it. There are toxins everywhere. This one happens to have gotten under my skin, so to speak.

Sweet relief–I just have to wait for a sale at the outlet, and we’re good until he’s in junior high. But for the sake of my newly reduced anxiety, let’s not consider that future. Let’s just enjoy the sleeping babies everywhere. And ogle the cuteness:

A pile of pajamas! Ours are on top. The rest are going to other lucky kids.

A pile of pajamas! Ours are on top. The rest are going to other lucky kids.

What A Checkup Can Mean, With A Good Doctor

I love going to the doctor, because I have the most amazing doctor I have ever come across. He has white hair and grandchildren, and a more curious mind than any of the others in his practice. When I came in for a weird knee injury that wouldn’t go away, he asked about breastfeeding and medication with real curiosity. When I told him who had given me the information and where he could read more, he wrote it all down. He mumbled something about an argument with a fellow physician who remained convinced that women should take no medication while breastfeeding, and a patient who was very pregnant. I was so impressed when he was willing to come out to the waiting room to get my breastfeeding consultant/doctor’s card! He always asks about my life, as part of our conversation about my health, and this is the mark of a good doctor. If your doctor doesn’t want to know that you’re still breastfeeding your one-year-old because that baby just loves that milk so very much, but only knows that you are still breastfeeding, then you may have an alright physician. But not a great one. I have a great one. (His idea about how I might have hurt my knee helped me solve the mystery, which had to do with nursing, actually, and I would never have known, without him!)

Another reason to love him: he stocks his exam rooms with very good novels. For years, I’ve been meaning to bring this up, and during my annual physical today, I remembered to ask about the books. He told me, “I’m not really a doctor; I am actually a librarian.” I thought he was going to wink! He gifted me a copy of a book by Irène Némirovsky, because I noted that I didn’t realize another of her works had been translated into English after her book Suite Française. The exam room I most often occupy has an increasing number of books by a good detective novelist/writer of historical fiction whose novel about the Spanish Civil War I’ve been meaning to read for years. (Unfortunately, I can never remember the author or the title until I am in that room, staring at it, again.)

I forgot about how much I like my doctor, because all the while I was pregnant, I went to see my midwives about everything. But he follows up on everything. I wanted Imitrex, because my migraines are more frequent than they were, making caffeine and ibuprofen ineffective (they always are, if I use them too often). He doesn’t just write a prescription, though; he wants to see me in a few months. He has the hematologist check the levels of Effexor in my blood to make sure that they aren’t nearing levels of toxicity, which is rare but can happen. And he explains to me that that is what is happening. He offered to have my test results sent to my home, so that I could share them with my psychiatrist and midwives, just in case his administrative assistants don’t find fax numbers for them.

The longest part of my visit, today, though, was about my diet and appetite. It’s a routine question. But the number on the scale was lower than I had expected. I’ve been forgetting to eat. He genuinely wanted to know how I was going to go about ensuring that I was eating balanced meals. He mentioned my energy levels, a concern for my welfare, while also bringing up the energy it takes to breastfeed a baby and toddler. I didn’t feel like he was worried about my baby; he asked about our pediatrician, said we were in good hands, and moved on. He asked another routine question about a link between my attitude towards food and breastfeeding, but I explained that I can’t tell. I don’t know what’s related to my anxiety, or the relief thereof, and what isn’t. Having a baby has made me happier. Because I am now happier and less anxious than I was before my pregnancy, there have been fewer times when I forget to eat. It still happens. Is the infrequency related to nursing? I don’t know. But I did feel normal, again, when he mentioned a few close family members who become engrossed in their work and forget to eat. It was quite sweet of him, and made me want to be adopted into that family more than a little!

Finally, when I asked whether I needed a booster for my pertussis vaccine, he actually had a detailed discussion with me about the TDaP vaccine and the newly available pertussis-only vaccine, the availability of the shots and how little they actually know about the effectiveness of them.

Self-care is not just about getting a massage and going to therapy and having nice tea for rough days. By carefully selecting my primary care physician and making sure that he is someone who will happily speak with my psychiatrist, midwives and even my therapist, it saves me time, energy and boosts my mood. If something were really not going well, and I wasn’t really aware, they would put the pieces together for me. If my blood tests show that I am anemic, but I haven’t really noticed any dizzy spells, my doctor will prescribe iron and tell my psychiatrist to discuss the relationship between my anxiety and appetite. It’s a mark of how much more I value myself and my life that I even have a primary care physician, than I did in the past. I care about my life and health enough to risk being told that I’ve done something wrong (not enough sun, not enough meat–I often see low Vitamin D levels, low iron, as criticism). That anxiety is real. But I have a safety-net, now.

Today’s lesson: I care enough about myself to make sure that I can’t hide anything that’s wrong, mentally or physically. Having spent the first twenty plus years of my life keeping secrets from my parents and teachers about stomach aches, insomnia, sweating palms, nightmares–this is real progress.

My new book.

My new book.

Still Here

I am determined to keep trying to post for November’s “National Blog Posting Month” even if I did miss two days. I am determined to assert this part of myself, even though taking five minutes to put these few sentences up here feels exhausting, after a long day. I ate only one meal. I took none of my meds on time. I chose to sleep when the baby slept, but that meant giving up my break from being Mama (being touched drains me, sometimes, even if they are the sweetest hands that ever existed). I am not complaining, so much as I am describing what is happening, because that is what I have the energy to do. Onwards and upwards! There is so much to write.

Good Enough Girl: Finding Myself, As A Teen

I didn’t post yesterday! Shoot! But today’s post is worth the wait and more than makes up for not writing yesterday. Not because it’s awesome writing, although I hope that it’s not too shabby. Rather, today’s post is gold, because I get to respond to my younger self; I found a journal from high school, and I read every entry on Sunday. There aren’t that many entries, and it was a devotional journal, with prompts from church teachings. This fact just highlights the few themes that run through the entries that I wrote from Christmas 1999 through Summer 2003. Over and over, I beg God, pray for, plead for, desire with my entire soul, one thing: calm.

The word I used was “calm.” At age 14, what I wanted most in the world was to feel calm.

I may not have had the words “anxiety disorder,” but I knew what I was missing. I knew that my life was chaos, and that that was not ok. There are very few events mentioned in this journal, so I had to look at dates to think about what may have triggered a series of entries. The specifics that I do mention highlight one more theme, and it’s a theme that breaks my heart. I want to go back in time and hug my teenage self. Who doesn’t, right? But really, this teenage girl needed HUGS.

The entries that mention specific events all refer to tests and/or grades.

I believed that in order to be a Good Enough Girl, I had to have good enough grades, good enough test scores and get in to a good enough college. My father defines “good enough” throughout this entire journal. What my heart longs for is peace and calm. That is clear. It is also clear that I believed that the only way to live a Good life, a Godly life, was to do well in school. Now that I am a parent, I am enraged at the idea that anyone, anywhere has told any child that she must DO something in order to BE good enough.

Of course, he phrased it differently. He’s brilliant with language. But when I wrote in this journal, I begged God to make me better. I begged for discipline. I begged for power over my own emotions and desires. I begged to feel Divine Love, because I spelled out, as a teenager, that my father was the only source of Earthly love that I was likely to find. He taught me that. I know that he had to teach me to mistrust everyone else, because my natural tendency has always been to LOVE. I will bend over backwards to get you to like me. I want everyone, everywhere to be happy. I have always been a smiling, happy person. My father’s negativity appears in my journal. As he became more mentally ill, I took on more of his cynicism.

I’m still processing a lot of this. But I am so proud of my teenage self. She knew what to look for: love, peace and calm. I did her proud. I found that.

Reading Alice Walker poetry at my solo piano recital/high school graduation party.

Reading Alice Walker poetry at my solo piano recital/high school graduation party.