Dear New Mom

Dear New Mom,

Look at you! You did it! You survived the birth process! Or the adoption process, in which case holy crap, look at you. Just as painful, more drawn out, and they don’t give you any drugs. Go you.

In any case, you did the thing and now you have a child. I could tell you this time with a new baby will be the most exquisite and rewarding time in your life. But you did not come here for me to straight up lie to your beautiful, tired face.

The shit is about to get real and I am about to tell you all the things I wish someone had told me. Or, quite frankly, the things they DID tell me and I didn’t listen.

  • You have to eat food. More than once a day. Actual food, not just whatever was within reach when the baby latched on or finally fell asleep on you. You might think this is the most obvious thing in the world. In a normal universe, this would be true. This, however, is Sparta, and when you are twelve hours deep into your day and your vision starts to swim because the last thing you ate was a handful of Ritz crackers yesterday, you will wish you had taken this advice. If you can’t remember to eat, designate someone to remind you.
  • You’re probably going to bonk the baby’s head on a doorframe at least once. You’re probably going to cut them with the nailclippers at least twice. Everyone’s done it, even if they won’t admit to it. They’ll be fine. There’s a reason they don’t remember the first year. It’s either nature or head injury but in either case, it works in your favour.
  • I don’t care how much you adore your partner, there will come a point in time where you look at them and truly, madly, deeply loathe them with every fibre of your being. It will probably go away. Don’t make any permanent decisions in the first year. Divorce is expensive and you are too tired to cover up a murder without getting caught. If you find it’s not going away, there is no shame in talking it out, either with your partner or a counselor. It will get easier. You will even have sex again! (Caution: this occasionally leads to more babies.)
  • Memorize the phrase “This is what works for us.” A new parent draws more unwanted and shitty opinions than the average internet comments section. No matter how well-meant, you are about to be faced with a barrage of advice that may or may not have merit. It is okay to shut it down. “Thanks, but this is what works for us.” End of conversation. Done. You can figure this out yourself, just like people have been doing since the dawn of time. That said…
  • Accept the help. Oh my god, I cannot stress this enough. If someone you trust offers to watch the baby for an hour so you can sleep or shower or go scream into the void for a bit, do it. It will probably save your sanity. You are going to need your sanity.
  • Post-partum anxiety and depression are no fucking joke. I mean it. If you even start to think you are heading to the bad place, seek help. You are not alone.
  • Breastfeeding is amazing. Formula is amazing. Any combination of the two is amazing. Feed that kid. Anyone who tells you that you’re doing it wrong can go choke.
  • You may have held your baby for the first time and felt that incredible rush of maternal love everyone talks about. And… you may not have. For a while, it might feel like your home has been invaded by a tiny stranger. You might even look at this squalling loaf of infant and resent it for disrupting every single bloody thing in your life. You might feel this and then feel impossibly guilty. Don’t. It doesn’t make you a bad parent. It makes you a human being who is in the depths of the kind of change you can’t comprehend until you’re in it. Eventually, you will love that child more than you ever thought possible.
  • You are perfectly within your legal rights to punch anyone who asks you if your baby is sleeping through the night yet. (Okay, you are within your rights to imagine it in vivid detail.)

You’re gonna do just great. You really are. You can stop reading and go take a deep breath now.

Love,
A mom who survived to toddlerhood

********

Dear Moms of Older Children,

HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEELP I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING HEEEEEEEEEEEELP

 

 

 

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Grace

When I was a little girl, I spent most Sundays in a hard wooden pew near the front of the Bethel Pentecostal Church. The sermons always ran long and I was always short on patience. I still remember the taste of the Certs my grandmother would feed me to keep me from squirming and talking. After I got a little older, I was content to flip through the hymn book and the Bible. Even a child can be awed by beautiful language.

Religion was not a comfort to me in those times. What the Bible told me and what the congregation told me were two entirely different things. My parents did not attend church. They smoked. They drank. They had me out of wedlock. My father had the absolute temerity to be a rock and roll musician, which seems like a laughably quaint term now but at that time, to those people, it was deadly serious. Imagine being so young that you still believe in Santa and someone tells you that your parents, the people who cannot yet do wrong in your eyes, will burn forever in a lake of fire. It didn’t matter how good they were. They would be lost to me for all eternity once the Judgment came, and it was coming soon.

I prayed to God, but my prayers were fearful. They were mostly just begging.

Hell followed me as a spectre into my teen years, when out of a misguided sense of wanting to be part of something I dove headfirst into being born again. I attended youth group once a week and services three times on Sundays. This was the time of the ever-present WWJD bracelets and t-shirts and I asked myself that question a lot. I wondered what Jesus would tell me, a teenager beginning to question why there were a million ways into the pit in this cosmic game of Snakes and Ladders but I could only be saved by a grace I never felt. I wondered how he would explain why God was everywhere but he felt so much further away than the people looking at me to make sure my skirt fell below the knee and my modest blouse didn’t show any hint of the body I hadn’t asked for. I wanted to ask why he thought the people who shouted at the top of their lungs about how they’d been washed in the blood of the lamb spent the rest of their time stage whispering about people who weren’t there.

At thirteen, with what felt like all the seven deadly sins upon me at once, the flames of hellfire were licking at my heels every time I went through those doors. So I closed them and didn’t look back for many years. But when I moved away, and I brought that well-worn Bible with me. It has followed me to different towns and provinces. It’s often been dusty, but it’s always on my bookshelf. In times of hopelessness and despair, I open it and it comforts me.

There is no dust on it these days.

I stood at the front of a church two years ago and held my baby daughter tight as I promised to show her what the promise of God’s love meant. It’s a promise I should never have made, because I can’t presume to know what it means. But I have tried to show her the things that have always made me feel close to the idea of God. Never in my life has that meant church. Not once have I ever sat in my safe, sheltered bubble of people just like me and felt like I was living out whatever purpose I have been given. Just like I don’t believe, never have believed that the circumstances of my birth meant I deserved hell, I can’t allow myself to become complacent with the idea that my privilege means I deserve paradise. As the old parable says, “To whomever much is given, of him will much be required; and to whom much was entrusted, of him more will be asked.”

We have been asked to welcome the stranger, to comfort the grieving, to feed and clothe the hungry. We have been asked to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. And we have been asked to fear not, even in the valley of the shadow of death. I cannot ask to be granted grace. I can only go out and try to find it.

A Marriage as Told Through Text Messages, Part II

They didn’t have kosher salt
No worries, I’ll use the regular if it comes down to it
I remember reading something about different kinds of salt and when to use them
I remember watching a video once about how to fold napkins into swans but I don’t fuck around with that either
there’s a specific task for each kind of salt!
as opposed to swan napkins, which have but one thankless, unappreciated task
You ate ramen last night, don’t step to me talking about how you a salt connoisseur all of a sudden
Not ramen! Noodles!
What’s the difference?
Like 60 cents
Oh WELL THEN

Supper plans?
I am mostly just planning to hide in the bathroom until death comes
Has death given you an ETA?
Like, do we have a big enough window to order a pizza?

Man, watching the World Series
Can you imagine being in a sports bar in either city right now?
It’s a good day to own a sports bar in either city! Nobody’s going home early tonight!
Somewhere a waitress just steeled herself to bring another pitcher of shitty beer to drunkards
Hope they get tipped well
“Guys, we’ve been out of beer since the 7th. This is just Cleveland tap water.”
Probably a higher alcohol content than Budweiser tbh
Probably more flammable, at least
OH MAN
Almost had a home run …. juuuuuuuuuuust foul.
CALL ME BASIC AND HAND ME A FUCKING LATTE BECAUSE I JUST CAN’T EVEN
I will never be happy in this life until you start a sports podcast

I may have made a big mistake
I told your mom there was such a thing as the Hallmark Channel
So whoever answers the phone tomorrow from their cable company is probably going to wind up having a strong drink if that’s not something they can offer her
Oh dear
Apparently they have Christmas movies every day leading up to December 25
So now she has a mission in life
I’m so sorry
As though the same dozen off-brand direct-to-dvd Christmas movies wasn’t bad enough
Lori Loughlin can only be in so many places at once

I’m stress eating my way through these election results
We have food?
“food”
Drinking all the soy sauce and eating all the cornstarch?
Glenn Beck has a shit ton to answer for, as far as I’m concerned
I hope he’s having a lot of dark nights of the soul.
I will give him credit for doing so, but in the same way as the heathen prostrates himself in the church when it’s pretty clear the four horsemen are rollin’ up

We’re out of toothpaste
Do you know how Osama Bin Laden brushed his teeth?
Water and a wicker stick
I have been staring at this for the better part of five minutes wondering exactly what I am supposed to take away from that

I’m sorry to become those people who text when we’re face to face but the girl behind you is INSUFFERABLE
RIGHT?!
No wonder he broke up with her
Her voice is like the auditory version of burnt hair
Oh shit she’s looking at us

What do you call children born in a whorehouse?
Brothel sprouts
You know, when I was a child I wanted nothing more than to meet Fozzie Bear
Sometimes our marriage feels like a genie heard me but didn’t really HEAR me, you know

(Part I)

The Worst Thing

The Worst Thing

One morning last week, I took Zee to the park. She set off at a dead run towards the swings, running through that uneven playground gravel that makes me feel like I’m tromping around on terraformed Mars. On the rare mornings we get to spend together, we usually get the park to ourselves. This day we were met by a small herd of kids and a pair of moms who were obviously old pals. I smiled politely at them and the toddlers they were pushing in the swings and urged Zee to say hello in that singsong voice you use with your kids when you’re acting as their publicist. They nodded at me and returned to their animated conversation.

“Yes, you knows her. Her boy is the age of yours.”
“Oh, yes, her! He’s the oldest one, is he?”
“He’s the only one she got.”

A significant look passed between them. A sigh. A tsk-tsk-tsk.

“Sin, isn’t it? My dear, that’s the worst thing you can do is only have one youngster.”

I froze, hand outstretched toward my one and only baby as she reached up to catch clouds.

They didn’t notice, since they weren’t talking to me or about me. I didn’t respond. Part of adulthood (the largest part, I’d argue) is knowing when to keep your mouth shut. Still, it rankled.

I can still see the faces of some of the children I met during my short student internship working in foster care. When I close my eyes I can remember babies, babies, with blue dotted arms and eyes as blank as a new sheet of paper. I wonder where the ones with fetal alcohol syndrome and attachment disorders wound up. It’s been ten years and I am still waiting for my mouth to form an answer to the plaintive wail of “But WHY can’t I see my mommy?”

I have listened to women cry as they lament another month’s failure in trying to conceive. I have heard the pain in the voices of friends who, when asked how many children they have, waver as they picture the ones they buried or never held. Truthfully, I have been the woman with a dull ache in her chest as she puts away yet another size of not-so-little clothing, wondering if it’s another baby she wants or just another chance to do it right instead of all the ways she messed it up the first time, and wondering if that’s a good enough reason to bring another life into the world.

There are worse things.

It’s unclear as to whether Zee will be an only child. If that comes to pass, whether it’s by chance or by choice, I hope she will always know how very enough she is for us. My god, this incredible blue-eyed girl, my only sunshine. She could never make us feel like we are lacking anything. She is not part of an incomplete set. Anyone else who comes along would only enrich something that’s already so wonderful. If this is the worst thing, we will be okay.

In Case You Needed to Hear It Today

“You are already doing a fucking amazing job.”

After Zee’s birth, I received so many congratulations and kind messages, but the one that I held closest to my heart was this one. I held it like a life preserver when I thought I was drowning. The wonderful woman who sent it may not have realized until this moment that it saved me on some of my darkest days.

The early years of motherhood have had their unique challenges in every era of humanity, I’m sure. When I try to cajole my toddler into eating chicken, I imagine some Paleolithic-era mom shrieking something that roughly translates to “I don’t give a shit if you don’t want woolly mammoth again, your choices are eat it or literally die.” My maternal grandmother went through over half of her twelve pregnancies without the aid of indoor plumbing. The part of my brain that remembers five months of morning (hahahaha jokes) sickness wants to curl up and die at the thought. By just about every metric you can come up with, this should be the easiest time in history in which to have a baby. Just about every piece of information you could want, right at your fingertips!

The thing is, for new moms, most of that information is telling you all the many, many ways in which you are doing it all wrong. Sushi when you’re pregnant? Poison. Formula? Basically just corn syrup. Breastfeeding? Have fun with little Norman Bates! Cribs? Jail cells without ceilings! Co-sleeping? OH MY GOD YOU’RE GOING TO SMOTHER LITTLE NORMAN BATES HOW CAN YOU DO SUCH A THING. Wait, are you using a stroller? Are you babywearing? Did you pick up the baby? Did you put down the baby? Have you looked at the baby today? You’re not supposed to look them in the eye. They’re like gorillas. Unless you circumcised, in which case you need to look them in the eye at all times so you understand what you’ve done to them. You look anxious. You shouldn’t be anxious. Babies can sense anxiety. Here, rub some coconut oil on yourself and say nine Hail Hydrasenses.

Can I just grab this bullhorn for a second for those in the back? Thanks.

*crackling noise*

FUUUUUUUUUUCK THAAAAAAAAAT.

“But the books said–”
“But my mother-in-law said–“
“But the mom group said–“

Nope. Seriously, fuck that. Fuck everyone who thinks they know your life and your baby better than you do. Is your baby fed? Are they clothed or, failing that, quite happy to be naked? Are they safe from whatever wild animals are native to your area? Are they loved? You are doing a great job. Are you making mistakes? You sure as shit are, and if you haven’t then you have some doozies waiting for you. There’s no way to be handed a squalling football without the capacity for speech and raise it to functional adulthood without a few screw-ups on the way. Just give yourself permission to start fresh every day, or every hour if you need to. Give yourself the kind of compassion you would give a friend dealing with the same thing. Give yourself a break. There is no one right way to do this.

Ever since my friend said that to me almost two years ago, I say it to all my new mom friends. Sometimes I even say it to myself.

In case you needed to hear it today, you are doing a fucking amazing job.

I Hate Pants and Everything Else

At twenty pounds into this weight loss thing, new clothes are a necessity. This is not just me looking for an excuse to buy new things. This is my supervisor telling me that a relaxed dress code is not an excuse to hold my pants up with bungee cord suspenders. When the drawstring on my scrubs is as tight as it goes and the pale glow of my ass still threatens to illuminate the room before my sparkling personality even has a chance to do so, it is time to bite the bullet and go shopping.

The thing about the post-pregnancy body is that even when you go back to the weight you were before your beloved dumpling of a firstborn turned your torso into a beach ball, things aren’t necessarily where you left them. Kind of like subletting your apartment for nine months and coming back to find your furniture has not only been rearranged but nailed down. This is where the couch is now and you better learn to like it, which is all well and good until you need to redecorate and holy SHIT does your old artwork not look good anymore.

I love my body. I love clothes. Unfortunately, they are in an arranged marriage that is polite at best and calamitous at worst. This has not been improved by the move to plus size clothing, the manufacturers of which I can only assume either hate women or have only heard vague and mumbled rumours about what they actually look like. I haven’t designed clothing since my Fashion Plates days but maybe making a shirt for someone over size 14 should involve more consideration than “I dunno, like a regular shirt but wider and with cap sleeves that flatter exactly no one ever.”

Seriously, you guys. Is this difficult? The idea that even larger women come in different shapes? Why is the front made to accommodate large breasts but the back is sheer to showcase the entire (probably beige) bra? Why are these 2X leggings not built to withstand leg friction because literally what shape would I have to be to have a thigh gap at my size? What is this fabric that holds in every last bit of body heat and why are we not insulating our homes with it? What the fuck is the obsession with horizontal stripes and that weird Magic Eye print? Am I supposed to invite people to stare until they find the hidden image?

sailboatguy.jpg
Spoiler alert: It’s a sailboat.

It’s not entirely grim. If you’re willing to invest the time in searching around, you can build a decent wardrobe of flattering to semi-flattering pieces. If you are more evolved than I am (and I say this without a hint of irony, bless you and never change), you can buy whatever you want without worrying if it looks good. If you just want to say fuck it and become a nudist, I am about three dressing room experiences behind you so save me a seat at the hopefully splinter-free picnic table.

Wait, am I still allowed to wear earrings there? ‘Cause I have like 80 pairs and those still fit fine.

 

 

 

Memoriam

My first real clear memory is of being four years old and sick. I remember how close the ceiling seemed to the bed, the chalky taste of a chewable Children’s Tylenol, the sour smell of fever. I have no idea if this really happened. But I remember.

Many times during Zee’s first year I took comfort from the fact that she would have no memory of my seemingly endless array of mistakes, not least of which was my rousing version of The Skeets on the Bus. (One day she will learn that they say “eff yer mudder” all through the town, but it will not be from me.) As my baby grows into a little girl, I can see her becoming the person she will be, and I wonder what she will remember.

A couple of nights ago I walked up a staircase I hadn’t ascended in years and felt my throat go thick with emotion at the scent; popcorn and spilled beer, salt and dampness, familiar and not. I hugged people I knew in another lifetime and raised a glass to a friend I will never again see in this one. We became a choir of voices as we went over all the old stories of remember when and what about the time and I can’t believe I never heard and yes, I remember. 

It’s just snapshots, all of it. A Mickey Mouse shirt and a boyish grin behind a shot glass full of mystery liquor, a little girl on her daddy’s shoulders reaching up to a sky of pooling blue, the pebbled texture of a yellow bedspread that has been washed a hundred times. Memories are just the stories we tell ourselves about who we are, going over them again and again until they have the smoothness of polished stone. Something not real and yet the only real things we have.