Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Dear Daughter

Dear Daughter,

You are growing so fast, nearing 6 months already. Every day you do something new and amazing to me. Your smile lights up my life and makes my heart full and aching.

We have our rough patches. You desperately want to stand and walk but your little body just isn't ready yet. You're not great at sleeping, you want to experience the world all the time. You cry and I want to gather you up and protect you from everything that will ever hurt you in any way, even when it's out of love because you just can't launch yourself off a lap or stick whatever comes into view in your ever questing mouth.

It must be so strange for you, daughter, this world and being alive in it. I hope I am helping you learn and grow, I hope you can feel how much I love you even when I'm tired and frustrated and wish you'd go down easy for your nap.

Your face is beyond beautiful to me, but more than that, it is fierce and sharp and determined. It is not superficial prettiness, but a strength of will even though you are barely past being born. I will do everything I can, everything that's in me, to make sure you never lose this utter sense of self.

As your hair grows from brown to a fair, white blond, I hope you stay as defiant as the curl you were born with, that refused to fall out, and always know that I love you with all I am and more.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

My Emotions, My Emotions

Like most of my posts lately, this one will be full of mom feels and probably way more information than you ever wanted about my personal bits. It's a blog, so, you know. This is what they're for.

It wasn't until about 6 weeks after having my daughter that I realized that I'd had pretty severe pregnancy depression. It's not that uncommon and it makes a lot of sense when you think about the crazy hormone cocktail going on in your system as you gestate a new human being. Not to mention the nutrient drain and physical effects. And there's the fact that pregnancy is kind of terrifying and emotionally difficult (or at least it was for me) due to body changes and the fact that your life will never, ever, be the same.

It reminded me of what I felt like, in some ways, when I was a teenager and had depression that was most severe around my period. In retrospect I may have had PMDD, but it was the 90's and I don't know that that was even a diagnosable thing yet. I don't generally self-diagnose, but from what I can remember, it was bad. Not quite suicidal bad, but that sort of depends on your definition. I certainly fantasized about being dead a lot. And since I also developed a restrictive eating disorder around age 16 or 17, you could argue that I was...just by slow degrees. Because what you're doing when you restrict your food is denying yourself what you need to live and it can be a slow (or fast) slide into starvation. In any case, it's certainly self-destructive behavior.

It wasn't until I was 30 that I was officially diagnosed with depression and anxiety, both mild to moderate, and treated. When I got pregnant my German doctor refused to let me come off my medication gradually even though it was safe to do so and instead I had to go cold turkey. It wasn't pleasant but I got through it. And all the old familiar symptoms came back with it. Obsessive thinking, constant negative thoughts, massive body dysmorphia which was not helped by being pregnant and actually becoming physically distorted, etc.

I worried a lot while I was pregnant that I would fall back into ED habits, but I didn't. I ate when I was hungry, I ate mostly healthily (I'm not sure but I think I may have eaten all the cantaloupe ever grown in NY), and I actually gained a totally reasonable amount of weight although I wasn't thin to begin with. My pregnancy was extremely healthy but I felt like utter shit the entire time. I had all day sickness the first trimester and I never got the 2nd trimester "boost" of energy or hormonal "bliss" other women got. I just felt tired and achey and frankly, pretty miserable. The last trimester, however, was the worst.

I tried to talk to my various doctors about this but even the good ones sort of just nodded and said that's how it is, even with my history of depression. In retrospect I should have been more assertive that this was NOT okay and that I was really struggling. Should maybe have gone back into therapy. Because in the last trimester my hormones made me mentally foggy, extremely tired, and at a certain point pretty much unable to think clearly or coherently. My emotions were a complete mess, I felt weirdly numb one minute, sad and angry the next.

After I gave birth it was like a switch had been flipped. My brain no longer felt like something heavy and fuzzy was sitting on it. I was tired, but not exhausted in the same way, like I'd been drugged. I had the terror of a new baby to deal with and my body was a sore wreck for over a month, but mentally I felt like a different person.

Right up until the post partum hit like a vomitous club of hot mental garbage.

I wrote up a thing about the specifcs of my PPD that I still can't look at. It's too ugly and raw and awful. I know a lot of other mom's who have had a similar experience. I had been waiting for it to happen because of my history so I thought I'd be "prepared". Which is laughable now. Like pretty much everything involved in pregnancy and parenthood there is no way to be "prepared" for some things. You just have to experience them to understand.

For me, post partum was like taking my obsessive, negative thinking and ratcheting it up into some kind of new and horrible stratosphere. I had a lot of "What if I...?" thoughts that terrified me so much I didn't leave the apartment or even open a window. I had to ask my husband to come home early from work one day, I couldn't stop crying, and it was upsetting the baby. I kept looking at her and these awful thoughts would just ooze up, things I would never do, but that my brain had even come up with them was too much for me. I love her so much, those kinds of thoughts were like being stabbed and then having it twisted again and again.

I didn't let this go on for long, I called the doc within two weeks and got on medication. Which made me feel like I was at least doing something even though it takes about a month for meds to fully kick in. It gave me a bit of a placebo effect, where I thought I was doing better than I was. It also allowed me to regain a sense of control over my emotions and at least start using the techniques I'd learned years ago again to break the cyclical thinking problems more consistently.

Like the pregnancy depression, I look back on the post partum now and it feels like I'm looking at a different person. The things I thought are not the "me" that I know.

In the middle of that I got my first real period since giving birth. So I ended up with PPD and PMS at the same time! What fun! Not since my teen years have I felt so emotionally weird. And I didn't realize what was happening until I actually got my period and suddenly didn't feel quite so intensely about a lot of things that had previously seemed Very Fucking Important. That whole switch being flipped thing again.

These days I feel better but I'm still wary. Post partum can last more than a few months and I'll be honest, I'm not sure how long it will take me to get over a bunch of the things that happened during it. Especially the kinds of thoughts I had. I feel very betrayed by own brain.

A lot of people will tell to look on the bright side of things and I get that, I really do. And it's sort like, yes, being stabbed in the eye IS worse than being punched in the eye. But a punch in the eye still leaves a bruise that lasts awhile. That's a bit like how this feels.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

My Daughter's Eyes

When she first wakes up my daughter’s eyes, a deep, dark, bottomless blue, search for me. They don’t have to look far. When they find me she smiles a smile that, if it had a voice, would say “Oh, it’s you! I like you!”

We play a little waking up game, then. I bring the covers up over us to make it darker, then bring them down. Up, down, up. She reaches for them like she reaches for everything these days and tries to bring it to her mouth. I let the blanket stroke over her face so she can feel the softness of it. She loves that.

I put her down on her back and then come in to shower her little face with kisses. She squeals and touches my face with her long, expressive, ever-moving fingers. I’m looking forward to the day she can kiss me back.

My daughter’s eyes have a singular intensity. They focus on a thing and it becomes her whole world. Sometimes that’s her toy, Fat Chicken. She likes to yell at him a lot. Sometimes it’s her own fingers, a blanket, one of the cats. It’s a kind of pure concentration, a single-minded intent. I’ve never seen anything like it.

When she was born her hair was medium brown with a perfect mohawk. Her hair, at 17 weeks, is now growing in white blonde. She still has the dark mohawk, only now it spirals into three perfect curls that keep growing longer and wispier.

She sleeps on me during the day and those changeling eyes are shuttered for a while. Her sleeping face is peaceful, she giggles sometimes and I wonder what she's dreaming about. She blinks awake, looks for me, and smiles that humbling smile. We play, we talk, I sing to her. Sometimes she cries. She eats. A lot.

When it’s bedtime we have a routine. We say goodnight to all the art on the walls and her dad. We sing a little song, "Good night ladies on the wall, good night ladies, one and all! Good night daddy, he's so great, Good night daddy it's getting late!"

Then we rock with a bottle as she plays with the fingers on my right hand with her left. She likes to grab my pinky, pull it back, let go, then back again. Then she likes to run her fingertips over the back of my hand. Her skin is softer than anything I have ever felt.

My face is the last thing she sees before she finally drifts off, holding my hand.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Feeling A Lot of Feels

Woke up wanting to blog because it’s been a weird few weeks and I have a lot on my mind.

Baby is good but going through this massive cognitive leap that means she’s really mood swingy and tough to get to sleep even though she needs it. She’s also discovered a kind of whining noise that I wish she hadn’t. But then she smiles at me and cuddles, grabs my hand or laughs, and I remember this is temporary and I’d better enjoy it while it’s here.

I feel like I’m starting to come out of the post partum depression cloud, though thoughts still come up I have to set fire to because awful. It’s difficult to describe and anyone who hasn’t been through it wouldn’t really understand why it’s so shitty. It’s not like regular depression, which I have, and it’s compounded by the intense mothering protective instincts. So the horror you feel when it happens is basically amplified by 1000000x. It also ratchets up my anxiety, so it’s a perfect storm of suckage and raw nerves.

It’s made me especially sensitive to different issues online lately, too.

I’ve been watching this really unpleasant situation with author John Green, Tumblr, and discussions about internet mobs unfold and I find it concerning on a lot of levels. There’s a willingness to dismiss the situation as “just” a minor Tumblr fiasco that Green overreacted to. And that, because the original post was likely by a teenager, no one should have responded to it or the shitstorm that came after where people were tagging him by the thousands and demanding he address the implication that he writes YA and does his Youtube stuff to basically groom and molest young girls. It was really ugly.

Now, if the original poster was a teen and did “just” find him creepy that’s one thing. It’s tough to know because it’s from an anonymous screenname and no identity, which is definitely for the best for their safety. But the reality is anyone can say anything online under anonymity and yet it can disseminate like wild fire in a drought.

I personally disagree with Huffpo and The Mary Sue that the original post is harmless. To me, it is suggesting grooming behavior (whether it meant to or not) and putting out publicly a personal feeling a person has about someone else based on no interactions or evidence. Are people entitled to that? Yes. But the internet isn’t private. When we put things out there we have to consider that people can and will see it. And that it may have consequences beyond what we intend. And while teenagers don’t always consider that, I don’t think they learn anything if people just shrug off anything they do as no big deal. There are plenty of examples of situations we wouldn’t do that in. Like when teens have been bullied into suicide. And we're often quick to talk about how serious online threats and rumors are in other situations, which I think it's important to bear in mind here, too.

Now, of course, Green is a prominent author, white, male, and certainly has more power and privilege. That’s not a debatable point. And it’s not one he’d argue with either. But I don’t think that means it’s a free for all when it comes to something like this and I think implications that a person is creeping on young girls is more serious than “just” a mild hit to a reputation.

Maybe I’m more sensitive about this because 1. I’m also a writer and write for a YA audience with some of my work. 2. Someone could easily get the impression that I’m “creepy” at a con or online and come to a similar conclusion. 3. But it’s less likely because I’m female and would not be seen as a threat the same way. 4. It’s been implied that unless you agree with the Huffpo take you are not supporting teen girls, advocating rape culture, and unfeminist 5. Green is a father with two young kids and this seems to be left out of pretty much all the conversations.

A digression that relates, I swear: Recently my husband and I went through a really rough patch with some now ex-friends. Some of it had to do with their opinion that he and I are “too negative” and that we are “toxic” to their well-being. To say that hurts would be an understatement. They’re entitled to those feelings and I won’t try and say they can’t or shouldn’t feel that way. And it just so happened to coincide with a combination post partum/pms, sleep deprived mistake that I made and regret. I have to own and accept the consequences of that. Sometimes we say things we can’t take back and that’s it.

Anyway, my point is that my husband is a new father contending with all kinds of challenges and difficult changes. We had some really rough things the past few months since she was born. She was in the NICU, he developed an eye-palsy that put him in a patch for over a month and he couldn’t drive or do a lot of the “dad” type helping he wanted to. I ended up with this nasty post partum. Hospital bills really stressed me out and ramped up my anxiety to some kind of level Defcon 300. So the reality is we probably have been negative.

And that’s something a few people in our lives could not accept. Which is their right. However. Other people we know don’t view us that way and there’s an element of subjectivity to anything we “feel” about other people. It doesn’t mean you should ignore those feelings or dismiss them, and it doesn’t mean they aren’t valid. But I don’t think they mean that another person is necessarily defined by that, either. I guess what I’m getting at is that feelings are nebulous and not objective “truths” universally. And sometimes they’re only really relevant to us, personally.

How this relates to Green, for me, is that I don’t think that original poster or Huffpo or The Mary Sue considered the full picture here. In a rush to defend a teen girl’s right to her feelings, which she is definitely entitled to, and a discussion about how women and girls concerns are dismissed (which is valid), they’re ignoring the larger context of Green as a human being for the sake of an issue that he didn’t actually create nor in my opinion is perpetuating. He didn’t gaslight this person. He addressed accusations made by others. Should he have is a whole other conversation. I disagree that adults shouldn’t respond to this kind of thing that might have been posted by a teen because 1. Teens have to learn consequences, too 2. It went viral and wasn’t really in the category of “small” incident anymore.

For me, it’s the humanity problem that gets to me. He’s a dad. Implying someone with kids would molest children can have huge repercussions irl. It really isn’t something to be taken lightly. If that kind of thing snowballs it can have awful consequences.

Further,  I don’t find Green creepy. I’ve watched a lot of his Youtube stuff and read TFIOS. I think he’s sincere and imperfect, like a lot of people. I don’t think my opinion is any more or less relevant than the OP who feels he’s “creepy”. But it's being suggested that only the vague impression of "creepiness" is relevant and I have issues with that on a lot of levels. I think it's clouding a complicated conversation and making it difficult to discuss the full pantheon of problems at play.

That doesn’t mean anyone should attack the original poster. They are also a person who, I suspect, didn’t really know what they were implying exactly. But the truth is just trying to work out our feelings online can have consequences well beyond our little piece of it. We can say things in a moment that have lasting repercussions. The unfortunate thing is that online that can come with angry mobs which this situation definitely didn’t deserve. I think both Green and the original poster got a majorly raw and ugly piece of the internet on this one.

I support teen girls. They get a really shit deal in the world a lot of the time. But supporting them doesn’t mean never criticizing anything they do or discussing the consequences of all our actions. It’s something we should all keep in mind.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Baby Buys and Hacks

When I started on this baby journey I did a lot of research into the "essential" baby products out there and got what I thought would be the most useful, knowing I'd have to adjust for whatever my daughter actually ended up being into. One thing that's true of all babies: you cannot predict a damn thing about what they will like. Some kids love bassinets and sleep in them right away, others act like they are being set down in acid. Some kids want to be bundled up with hats and blankets, others will pull that shit off in the delivery room. You can't really predict it all but some things will be more useful than others.

Some things I didn't know about until after my daughter was born because for whatever reason they aren't necessarily on the "essential" lists you find unless you're scouring every blog out there. I moved from Europe back to the states, then one side of the country to the other, while pregnant. I didn't get a lot of prep time. So quite a few things I discovered through trial and error and later than other people. Live and learn!

1. Baby wraps. There are a ton to choose from so try and find a shop that will let you test them out first. Most babies want to be close to you the first few months so a wrap of some kid is, I think, a good bet. I have a Boba and a Moby.

The difference: The Boba is thicker and stretchy so it accommodates a variety of body types, you can adjust as your baby grows, and it's easy to bounce them in it which my daughter loves.

The Moby is thinner and not stretchy so there's less margin of era. But it does mean they stay firmly in place and for summer the lighter fabric can be a good pick if you're going to be out and about.

Regardless of what you choose, get two because babies spit up, pee, poop, drool, and you're going to want a spare while you're washing the other one. Trust me, I've had the experience of a baby meltdown while the only wrap was being washed. Never again.

A lot of people swear by wraps for outings as substitutes for strollers. I think they're great but there's a big BUT coming. BUT: if you're wearing a wrap and you're by yourself with a baby you're going to have to figure out how to carry a diaper bag with you. When you're wearing your baby this is challenging because you can't exactly have anything else across your body or even on your shoulder. So I tend to think wraps work best for outings when you're with a partner who can carry all the necessary items.

2. Teether toys. My daughter isn't quite 4 months yet and while she doesn't seem to be sprouting any teeth, she does like to cram things into her mouth to chew on. Having some teethers she can nom on makes things easier because during this phase babies will often stuff their hands in their mouths when they're hungry/tired and work themselves up because they don't know what they're feeling and will refuse the thing they actually want/need. The teethers help get that out of their system so you don't go insane.

3. Tubs of Aquaphor. We have so far managed to avoid diaper rash by slathering this stuff on at every change. It doesn't irritate her and it keeps the moisture out. Bonus: you can use it on dry/irritated patches, your own lips, cradle cap, etc. It's also less messy than the zinc types which, at least with my squirmy girl, get EVERYWHERE and it's a desperate game of trying to keep her from immediately sticking zincy hands in her mouth.

4. Since my daughter is a very strong, active, and wiggly baby, we had to improvise when it came to changing time recently. While a changing pad on the floor is an often cited solution, if you or your partner have back issues, it can really strain things to be going up and down like that for changes a bunch of times a day. Not to mention if you forget something and have to put them back up, get the supply, get them back down, etc. We were using the changing pad on our Pack n Play but eventually she was too wriggly even for that. A dresser or set of shelves where the top is converted into a changing area might work for other people or very young infants, but again, my kid is just too strong.

So we turned the entire Pack n Play into a changing station. When on its highest position the "bassinet" has lots of room for her to wiggle but she can't roll off or out. So I can get a change done and, if I need to, step away for a minute without fear of her ending up on the floor. And it saves my back a lot of strain.

5. White noise. There are lots of products out there for this, some baby specific, some not. We have a white noise machine in the bedroom anyway but we also got a Shusher and it's worth its weight in gold. It makes an adjustable volume "shush" sound that chills out the crankiest baby and you don't have to worry about your mouth getting tired or hoarse (yes, really). It's also portable so you can have it in any room, the car, wherever. It's based on the Happiest Baby on the Block philosophy.

6. Yoga mat and shoes specifically for standing/walking for long periods of time. My daughter prefers to be up and in a wrap over any other way of being, awake or asleep. She has a weird baby sixth sense where she can ALWAYS tell when I've sat down and starts squirming and fussing. This means a lot of standing and walking for me and it takes a toll when your baby is 15+ pounds and strapped to you all day. I also work from home so I have to be able to get things done. So I bought a standing laptop desk (cheap from Amazon), a thick yoga mat, and shoes nurses wear for all day standing. These are the only things that will save your feet and lower back.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Little Things

Now that I’m up around 6-7am every day with a baby who is either eating, pooping, or both (something about that peristalsis action really gets her going) I think about this whole momming thing a lot.

It’s hard. It’s joyous. It sucks. It’s incredibly rewarding. It’s trying. It’s complicated.

One thing I’ve been mulling over a lot recently is how people who don’t have kids often wonder why parents care so much about “little” things their kids do that aren’t a big deal. And I’m not talking about the aforementioned pooping, which I agree isn’t exactly important unless they haven’t been doing it regularly. Parenting is a lot of maintenance work on things that you don’t have to look after adults for, so sometimes a poop IS a big deal. Though probably not one I’d share very often because, you know, poop.

So, why do we care about all these “silly” little things, like playing with their first toy, or mouthing a new sound, having a good walk to the store or sitting up? Because in baby/parent world these are actually huge cognitive leaps. They signal that your baby is advancing towards “person” and all of these “little” things are enormous advancements for them and indicators that you’re doing a good job as a parent. They mean that brain development is happening, that physical strength is increasing, that all the little things you do every day are paying off.

Even if you don’t have kids it does actually matter that the next generation of people you’re going to have to deal with on some level have parents who care enough about them that they want to share all these “little” achievements. Eventually all these “little” things are going to add up to a grown human being who will have an impact on the world. Parents who give a shit about how they impact it are being responsible, however annoying their Facebook updates on Junior’s toe playing may be.

For instance, my 14 week old has just discovered that she can play with things like her little stuffed animal Hello Kitty/Ugly Doll. This means she is starting to understand objects in relation to herself and is noticing the world around her. She’ll now sit in her bouncer for upwards of 20 minutes entertaining her self by talking to it, looking at it, laughing at it, pulling on its feet and ears. This is huge. For me it means a little bit of time during the day where I don’t have to have her to strapped to me so I can wash bottles or write. For her it means discovering all sorts of new sensations and interactions that you and I do and take for granted every day. It’s actually pretty fucking amazing to watch.

It’s like when they start smiling at you instead of involuntarily. Emotionally it’s incredible because of what we associate with smiling. But it’s also cognitively significant, because a smile is a form of communication.

Look, babies start off as tiny, not yet formed humans, who have to learn everything about how to be a person from their parents. They are completely dependent on us and we’re fully responsible for not just their development, but their little, helpless, lives. That’s terrifying. So if we sometimes share what seems inconsequential with you, know that it’s not. And that we have some very good reasons for thinking whatever it is, is important.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Things I Have Learned in 6 Weeks of Parenting

1. Absolutely nothing will go the way you hope/plan/expect in both good and bad ways. In the 6 weeks since I became a parent my daughter had to spend a week in the NICU right after she was born due to a (minor) infection, I found out I couldn't breast feed, our new car's battery went to hell, my husband developed a temporary eye palsy and now has to wear a patch until it decides to go away. So good luck planning anything, basically.

2. Babies do not give even a single fuck about what they are "supposed" to do according to any parenting "guide".

3. All "guides" about things like making your baby sleep on their back, perfectly flat, only apply to ideal babies who don't have reflux or care about being close to you. I'm going to tell you right now that your baby will probably have reflux and want to be near you because most of them do. Adjust accordingly.

4. Your home will become a wasteland of baby paraphrenalia used and unused like some kind of infant version of Mad Max. Mostly it will be unused things you thought you "must" have but your kid hates with a fiery passion. Like, for instance, the bassinet.

5. Baby poop comes out at roughly the same velocity as a rocket shooting for the moon. It's pretty funny even when it's shooting at you.

6. After feedings babies get milk drunk. It's awesome.

6. Get a pediatrician you can call with all your stupid questions because you will have them and it's okay and they will make you feel better instead of stupid.

7. What's more terrifying than how much you love your kid is how much they need you and the sense of responsibility you now have for this tiny life. It can sometimes be paralyzing but you get through it and only check that they're breathing every 5 min instead of every 2.

8. Babies are pretty cute but they also make faces like Dick Tracy villains and it's pretty fucking weird.

9.  Make TV playlists of shows you can watch during 2am feedings so that you don't nod off on your baby. I recommend Community because it's A. awesome and B. the perfect length for keeping up a baby with reflux after a feeding so they don't yak everything back up.

10. Seriously, take care of yourself or you'll be useless to your kid. It's okay to put them down sometimes. Really.

11. I suspect in another 6 weeks I will have a new set of revelations because none of us know what we're doing. PARENTING.