A friend of mine recently posted a video on Facebook.
This video seemed to be some kind of veterinarian (Dr. Andy Roark) speaking at a veterinarian conference, about veterinarian things.
Only, those things were applicable to all of us and I found that his message really stuck with me.
He began by speaking about the different between joy and happiness. That joy is fleeting; it’s unsustainable. It’s an amazing feeling, and it’s often why we do the work we do, but it’s just a glimpse. And happiness is “full of pain.” He said, “Buddhist philosophy says that life is suffering.” It made me think of the far more lighthearted quote from The Princess Bride.
But I had heard all this before. The part that got me was that he said, “The best thing that we can do is choose how we suffer.” He went into an example of losing a beloved pet, and how much grief and suffering that caused him. But it was suffering he chose, and would choose again. He said, he could have chosen not to get a dog to avoid the suffering of eventually losing him, but he would’ve suffered a little each day coming home to an empty house.
And that’s when I got it for me.
Right now, I’m suffering. I’m struggling. Sometimes I’m not sure if I’m happy…but, by this guy’s definition, this is happiness. It’s not JOY all day every day, (which is what too many people think happiness should be) but that wouldn’t make for a very meaningful life, for without suffering there is no joy.
There was one time when I was really breaking down about what a shit time I’d been having slogging through mommyhood, and someone said to me, “…but you’ve chosen this. You wanted this.”
Yes, I’ve wanted to be a mom pretty much my whole life. I wasn’t sure I could physically be a biological mom for an entire decade, but miraculously, here I am. I planned this, I actively participated in building this life. And man is it HARD. Did I want all the suffering that comes with this? Of course not. I don’t want it and I don’t like it, but I chose it.
I chose it over the suffering of not having kids. Feeling like there was something profoundly missing in my life. Feeling like my family was incomplete. Grieving the loss of kids not here. Having a house that was too big, too quiet. Too clean? (Maybe there’s no such thing as too clean.)
Make no mistake, though: just because I chose the suffering that comes with raising kids, that doesn’t mean I don’t get to do just that…suffer. Complain. Lament. Break down. Have regrets. Be human. So yes, I did choose this. But I get to own it, too. Just as I get to own the glimpses of joy that peek through. The hugs, wet kisses, sleepy bed-head faces.
I need to keep reminding myself that joy and suffering are not mutually exclusive. And I need to keep reminding myself why I chose to suffer this way.
How do you choose to suffer?
I just experienced the most amazing thing. You have no idea. Or maybe you do. It’s worth its weight in gold, and I think it’s going to end up being my savior.
What is this magic, you ask?
It’s called PRE. SCHOOL.
OMG, you guys. My oldest had his first day yesterday and it was HEAVEN ON EARTH.
He was excited to go and the drop off was a breeze. I squatted down to give him a little peptalk, told him I loved him, asked for a hug, and I got a little choked up for a second and then sucked it back because I didn’t want to lose it in front of him, and then…we left. And he was HAPPY. Playing with the math beans. Preschool has “math beans,” who knew?
I went home dazed. I had no idea what to do. I hadn’t planned this out. Usually I have A PLAN. Well…first things first, I made coffee. And drank it HOT. You heard me. Holy crap, you guys, hot coffee tastes GREAT. It tastes like preschool tuition well-spent. And then I went on FACEBOOK. Because I don’t go on there enough, amirite? I made sure to feed and diaper my youngest, but then…she fell. ASLEEP. And then my head exploded because now I was really lost in mommy fantasyland.
So I did the dishes, put away laundry, and started to pack for my FIRST WEEKEND EVER AWAY FROM MY KIDS (but that’s a whole other post entirely).
I ate lunch. MY OWN LUNCH. It was hot. I didn’t have to share. I still ate standing up for some reason, because hey, let’s not get too comfortable here.
When I picked up the boy after what felt like 20 glorious minutes in heaven, he was still HAPPY. And, ladies and gentlemen, he was still wearing the same shorts as when I dropped him off. Which can only mean (and was confirmed by asking the teacher) that he DIDN’T PEE HIS PANTS on the first day. Angels were singing, my friends.
We came home, he ate the rest of his half-eaten lunch (score!) and then HE TOOK A NAP.
The best part – we get to do this THREE. TIMES. A. WEEK.
Preschool tuition tastes like heaven in this mommy’s mouth.
(I think I’ve lost the ability to complete a coherent thought now, but I think you know what I mean.)
My kid does this thing where he behaves beautifully in public, when we’re in front of other people.
And when we’re at home, or in the car, especially when I’m the only adult around, he’ll completely break down and fall apart. Worse yet, lately he’s been misbehaving on purpose. Taking things from his sister, doing the opposite of what I’ve asked, throwing things, etc.
Let me be clear – overall, my kid is very well behaved. He’s always been quite mellow, a rule follower, compliant, agreeable. It’s great, he’s great, and I know I’m very lucky. While I’d love to take all the credit for his amazing disposition, I know that he was just partially born that way, and partially due to my (mostly) awesome parenting (plus the much more patience-filled parenting job his dad does).
What sucks, aside from me having to deal with the breakdowns (unintentional) and the defiant threenager behavior (intentional), is that my mommy friends usually just see compliant, agreeable Dudeman. This sets up a dynamic where I don’t feel like there’s room for me to complain about my situation.
It’s the little comments and compliments like, “Wow, he’s so well behaved!” or, “I could never imagine D doing something like that!” There’s a mix of emotions that comes with hearing these. On one hand, the compliments are very nice and very well received. There’s a certain amount of mommy pride that comes with the reputation for having The Good Kid. On the other hand, like I said before, I can’t complain about the bad times and feel like I am being believed because no one ever sees them. It makes me want to wear a GoPro or one of those police body cams so I can catch D-man in action and then play it for my mommy friends.
See?! See THAT?! He was just a total asshole to me!
I guess I just want to feel accepted. I want to be part of the club. I army crawl through the trenches and slog through blood and piss and shit just like y’all. Even if you don’t see it.
And now that I type this, I find myself laughing on the inside because I’ve always thought of myself as one of those moms who didn’t care if she didn’t look put together. At least, I care about sleep more than I care about looking put together…because I’m not. But, with D’s behavior, it’s not like I’m hiding anything. He’s just more likely to behave when he’s being stimulated and is around other fun people and kids, which is when we’re hanging out with the mom friends. It’s when we’re alone and sick or bored or tired or hungry that he’s more likely to push my buttons and test boundaries. Totally normal, I keep reminding myself. (More than normal, even, because he’s testing me because he is safe and loved with me) There’s just a part of me that wants to wear some of that blood and piss and shit on my sleeve as proof that I’ve been to war. Maybe a purple heart would be less smelly.
So obviously I’ve realized that, as a stay at home mom, I want a witness to my suffering and my hard work. It’s like when you want your boss to say, Great job, Janice! (if your name was Janice. If not, that would just be weird), but you’re doing the kind of work that when it’s done right and done well, no one notices. This is why, almost every day when my husband gets home from work, I insist on giving him a detailed play-by-play of my entire day. I need him to hear my struggle, see my pain, congratulate me for getting through it and being such a badass.
And now I’ve come full circle, I’ve realized, to my last post. Because I feel invisible, the work I do is invisible, and my struggles are also invisible, I find myself searching for witnesses. Empathy. Validation.
Can you smell the shit?
It’s been really hard trying to adjust to life in Oregon.
People have been telling me that it’ll take time. Like, 2 or 3 years. You know, to find friends and get used to the rain.
Well, it’s been 3.75 years and I’m still waiting. Waiting to feel…adjusted.
I’ve moved before and it hasn’t felt like this. So I’ve been wracking my brain to figure out what is different about this time and this place.
Many things are different: this move is permanent, with no end date in sight. I didn’t move here for a reason of my own, meaning that we moved here because of my husband’s job and not because of work or school for me. We don’t have any family close, not anywhere in state. I moved here 8 weeks pregnant and have been largely housebound raising kids ever since. The weather suuuuuucks.
But all this I’d been over in my mind, again and again, and nothing felt heavy enough to be such a roadblock. Perhaps all of them put together is what is blocking my road?
Of course, there’s more. My life is pretty unrecognizable from what it was 4 years ago. I was working full time, not yet married, not yet a mom (of two). I had friends and family. Hobbies. A brain. A life.
Now I feel like I am getting somewhere – that along with grieving the loss of my homeland (via the move), I am grieving the loss of my identity. Before, I was a therapist. A partner. Active, creative, thoughtful. Productive. Energetic. Mobile. Free.
I look at the clothes hanging in my closet, and I don’t recognize the woman who wore those clothes. She’s not me, but I kind of remember her, the way one remembers a grandmother who died when you were a child. I deeply miss her.
I feel like becoming a capitol M-O-M has wiped out any identity I had that doesn’t pertain to my relationship with my kids. People no longer ask about me, they ask about the kids. Or they ask about how I am in relation to the kids, as a mom, and not as a person. (Because moms aren’t people, you guys.)
Edit: To be fair, my momfriends very much DO genuinely ask how I am doing. It’s just that most often, I’m unable to answer honestly or with much gory detail because of the circumstances (read: kids running around trying to kill themselves).
Make no mistake, I’ve definitely been making an effort to integrate myself into my new life. This introvert and homebody has forced herself to join a moms club, get to library story times, and go to various playgroups. I’ve made friends and enjoyed some of what Oregon has to offer.
What finally hit me was something my good friend said to me recently. I was bitching about how being a mom gets in the way of making good quality friendships because even when my momfriends and I can get together we’re still always chasing after our kids and can’t have a decent conversation. I can’t remember how the conversation went, but I think I said that my momfriends and I mostly talk about our kids because that’s what we have in common, but we don’t share who we are as people. And she pointed out that none of the people I am meeting and trying to forge relationships with in Oregon knew me before I had kids. I just read back what I typed, and I can see how that may not sound so earth-shattering, but it definitely felt that way to me. Besides my husband and this particular friend, zero people in Oregon knew who I was before children. There’s been essentially no carryover from my old life to the new one, in every way possible. Ugh.
As I take this thought and play the tape through in my mind, I’m seeing another layer of difficulty in trying to make new friends: not only do we lack the logistical opportunities as moms, but I am working blind. I don’t even know who this new me is yet, and no one here knew the old me, and in that sense I feel completely invisible – swallowed up by my children (and then pooped out for me to clean up).
She ran with elation, with fortitude.
The grasses licked her limbs as they parted, faster and faster as she ran.
She didn’t know quite what she was running from. From everything.
Except everything was actually unfolding before her
As she ran.
The wind became her breath
As it traveled into her mouth, down her windpipe, filling her lungs.
Oxygenating her blood.
And whooshing back out.
Again and again and again.
Faster and faster.
As she ran.
Her dusty bare feet softly thudded the earth.
Heel first, then ball, toes last, pushing off.
Heel, ball, toes. Heelballtoes.
Her hair, blazing in the sunlight, trailed behind her, furiously trying to keep up.
Her dress did the same, only it tugged as it caught on the grasses.
Tears streamed across her face, blown back by indulgence.
A warm glow ignited deep in her belly and slowly radiated out
Down into her pumping thighs, calves, thudding feet
Up into her heaving lungs, biceps, hands, fingers
Spine, neck, brain
Sparkling eyes, flushed cheeks, parted lips.
A smile spread, automatically.
Laughter escaped, bubbling up and spilling out
Like a caged animal set free.
It could not be stopped
As she ran.
Where was she going?
She only knew where she’d been.
She just kept moving, afraid to succumb to inertia.
She was desperate to remember how it felt
As she ran.
Life is really tough right now.
I knew it would be, but this doesn’t make it any easier.
People ask how I am doing, and what am I supposed to say? I tell them the truth – that it’s hard and that I am doing the best that I can – but if I truly stop and express to them just how hard and just how much I struggle, then I fear I’ll just fall apart.
I need more human contact. My son needs more human contact. It’s good for us. But getting there, getting OUT, is SO. FREAKING. HARD.
Today we got up and tried to get to playgroup. I got up around 7:45. The playgroup started at 10:30. By 11:45 I was still feeding my youngest a bottle. I texted to cancel. We ended up taking a walk, by ourselves, in the freezing cold because it was the easiest and quickest way to get outside. Yes, it was better than nothing, but man, it sucked.
And that’s the thing – I don’t expect perfection, but I feel like I am trying my hardest and that I’m still failing. At some point in the day, I’m always failing SOMEbody. Sometimes it’s me (because I can’t make social contact with friends), or the baby (because she’s screaming hungry and has to wait), or my toddler (because he’s screaming that he wants to go outside but has to wait), or my husband (because he listens to me complain and cry and fall apart).
I usually start the day off trying my best to cope, like today. But the time ticks by and more and more gets in the way of reaching our meager goals (getting to playgroup), when it finally comes crashing down because my toddler kicks me in the jaw and I burst into tears, or my baby won’t nurse even though I know she’s hungry and I burst into tears. These days, it’s rare to get through the day without feeling like the walls are crashing down on me.
I have glimpses of hope and reminders that life gets better. I try and hold onto those. But living in the moment requires breaking down, because the here and now is often unbearable. That’s why I am always on my damn phone – if I can just check out for a minute, maybe I can regroup and reenter my life. Or just pass the time; maybe when I lift my head, things will be different. Better.
So I’m coping. At least I am getting more sleep these days, but I am still choosing sleep over most other things. I choose sleep over chores, over human interaction, over getting out of the house. Because if I am not moderately rested, nothing else matters. That may sound dramatic, but it’s true. Here’s the catch, though: if I’m not a zombie physically (sleep deprived), then I’m a zombie emotionally (isolated). It’s like I can’t win.
Not to mention that this winter, everyone and their mom is sick. Everyone in my family was sick a month ago, including my newborn, and that was pure hell. Less sleep and meeting with other people all mean a higher chance of getting sick again…so perhaps hunkering down is what we just need to do right now, even though I don’t have a whole lot of choice in the matter at the moment. I suppose all these circumstances just mean I super prioritize what get togethers we try and attend.
Lest I begin rambling, I will simply repeat my point in closing.
Life is really tough right now.
Today is my birthday, which means I usually: 1) get a massage, 2) go to Starbucks, and 3) write a blog post. Today is no exception.
So far, today has been fabulous. My little girl started sleeping through the night about 3 days ago, which has been a godsend because everyone in the family (including her, poor thing) is sick. Today, my babies let me sleep in til 9am. NINE. In the MORNING. Best birthday present ever.
We snuggled and breastfed and ate breakfast and danced and sang. I tried on my pre-pregnancy jeans (always a gamble) AND THEY (just barely) FIT. Let’s just take a moment to glow in that last sentence. Aah. As if that weren’t enough, I saw a rainbow on the drive here. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw a leprechaun today. Or maybe Bigfoot.
So. Since last year I blogged about my own birth, and since then I’ve given birth, so let’s talk about that one.
The two times I’ve given birth were extremely different. For my first, I was induced, labor took 32 hours (including 2.5 hours of pushing), and ended in a vaginal birth aided by an epidural.
The short version of my second L&D is as follows: labor was so fast that it only took 3 hours and ended with me giving birth on my bathroom floor while my baby was delivered by firefighters. It was the most physically painful and intense experience of my entire life.
Allow me to back up. Because I was induced last time at 41 weeks, I was determined to do everything in my power to try and go into labor naturally. I asked my OB to sweep my membranes on Tuesday, December 20 when I was 39 weeks +1. Initially I had some cramping, but nothing major. At 2am Thursday morning, I woke up with contractions. They were mild, but strong enough to wake me up, and I found that they were coming at regular intervals once I started tracking them.
I woke my husband and we called L&D. The nurse asked me a bunch of questions but she wasn’t convinced I was in labor because the intensity of my contractions just wasn’t there. She advised to call my childcare person to come over but to wait another 30 minutes and see if the contractions ramped up at all. Her guess was that this was false labor and they’d go away and she was right. I felt horrible for getting my friend (who was also pregnant) out of bed for a false alarm, but we all went back to sleep.
That day I took it easy and had a few wimpy contractions here and there, but nothing out of the ordinary. We went to bed. I woke up at 3am Friday morning with contractions again. This time, as I tracked them, their intensity increased but their frequency was all over the place. Around 5am Brian woke up and I told him what was going on and we talked about what to do between contractions. At 5:20 we decided to call L&D, so I said I’d get up to pee and then we’d call.
I stood up and quickly discovered that I couldn’t walk as the intensity of my contractions rapidly increased. I turned around, grabbed the side of the bed and instinctively swayed and moaned to get through the waves of pain. Brian was still quite groggy and wasn’t grasping onto what was happening so I finally barked at him to get up and help me walk to the toilet. As we moved I started to panic because my body no longer felt like it belonged to me; some force had just taken over.
As soon as I sat down on the toilet, my water broke. I turned to my husband and told him (screamed at him) to call L&D. Immediately, my body was rocked to the core by a contraction that started pushing my baby out of me. I couldn’t believe what was happening. My instinct was to try to suppress the urge to push because there was no way my baby was coming so early. In hindsight, this probably made things all the more painful.
My husband couldn’t hear what the nurse was saying over my screams, but she could most definitely hear me scream that I needed to push, I need to push! She told him to hang up and call 911. By this time it was 5:40am…and my baby was born at 5:57am. It took the firefighters 9 minutes to get to our house, and Audrey was born 8 minutes after that.
The dispatcher told my husband to get me flat on my back and to get some towels. It was only then that it dawned on me that they were getting me ready to have the baby right there on the bathroom floor. I don’t think I’ve ever been so terrified in my entire life.
My husband started grabbing our good towels we got as wedding presents and, in true form, I was still able to scream, NO! NOT THE GOOD TOWELS! GET THE OLD ONES! because I’m a freak. And bless him, he got the old towels for me. The dispatcher continued to ask questions, one of which was, Do you see the head? He looked once, no. He looked again, and yes, yes he could. YOU CAN SEE THE HEAD?! I screamed in reply. I was still in shock and denial about what was happening. Contractions were back to back at this point and I was screaming pretty much the whole time. In case you’re wondering, my two-year-old was down the hall and slept through the whole thing. Like I said, my kids (angels) are sleepers.
We could hear the firetruck arrive and B ran downstairs (still in only his boxers) to let them in. They had trouble finding me at first but I think they just followed the screams. I immediately asked them for pain meds – ANYTHING! – and they sadly shook their heads and said they couldn’t. I was devastated.
Pretty soon her head was born (worst pain of my entire life) and they told me to keep pushing to get the rest of her body out, and I remember thinking that I just couldn’t. I needed that 15 second rest between contractions. I pushed again and she was out. She wasn’t crying right away and I held out my arms for her, but it felt like an eternity while he rubbed her back, suctioned her mouth and got her properly breathing. Once it was apparent that we were both just fine, the 6 firefighters who were crammed into my bathroom were overjoyed. They proudly announced the time of birth and her Apgar score.
They had B cut the cord and gave us the shears to keep, joking that they make great cigar cutters. One firefighter asked for our phones and started snapping pictures. She was here. My little girl was in the world. I couldn’t believe it.
We were carried downstairs and into the ambulance and taken to the hospital. A few firefighters even stayed behind at the house to wait for my childcare person to get there. Later that day, she brought my son to the hospital so he could meet Audrey. We came back home the next day – Christmas Eve – to start our lives as a family of four.
Best Christmas present ever.
I can say that having a newborn the second time around, for me, has been easier than the first time. That leap from non-parent to parent was so intense and life-changing, and nothing could have ever prepared me for that experience.
This time, though, I’ve realized that the only thing that can prepare you for baby number two (if anything) is…baby number one. And it’s not the baby that’s doing the preparing, exactly, but it’s the experience of being a parent, of having to care for a newborn. This time, I knew to expect the extreme sleep deprivation, and what that felt like. I knew to expect feeling isolated, feeling trapped inside the house, feeling resentment at my baby, at my husband, at everyone who wasn’t me and didn’t have my issues. I also knew to expect that this newborn phase would pass (and quickly), that there was definitely light at the end of the tunnel. I had done this before; I could do it again.
Because of this previous experience, I think I was able to fall in love with my baby a whole lot sooner than with my first. This time, I had already given up my freedom, my childless status, my sanity, so there was no resentment. I had little else left to lose! I’m already crazy, baby, so you can’t even come close to rocking my world (in a negative way) the way my first one did.
And this time, this baby made my family complete. Because she’s my last kid, I figure I had better enjoy the good parts while I can. I also did this with my first, to be sure, but it’s different when you know something is the last time going in.
Another point is that we already had all the baby crap. There wasn’t new stuff to research and buy and worry if you’re getting the right thing, or enough things. We had all the things! They just needed to be washed, is all. Easy-peasy.
This time, it’s been a little easier because we, my husband and I, have more balls to just smile and nod while our baby’s doctors tell us to do impossibly time consuming and unrealistic things, and then go home and do what we know will work for us. Namely, we’ve been told with both babies to wake them up to eat every 2-3 hours. We are blessed with babies who love their sleep. Waking them up made them pissed (like me) and they didn’t want to eat. It wasn’t working. We killed ourselves trying to comply with the doctor’s orders for baby number one. For this one, fuck that. We’re letting her sleep, and guess what – it’s working. And that’s only one example, but it’s an important lesson to just follow your gut because it’s made all the difference.
This time around, my physical recovery was easier, which may seem counterintutitive. I was anemic with my first, so I felt weak, tired, and out of breath. This time, although my labor and delivery was crazy amounts more intense than the first (that’s another post entirely), I’ve felt more energetic and sooooo happy to have my body back.
One of the biggest reasons why this is more manageable: my husband and I have already hashed out how we deal with all the baby-related chores. This may not sound like a big deal, but trying to figure out who does what and when and how and what feels fair is the biggest deal of them all. It’s so easy to feel alone, unsupported, and resentful when you don’t feel like your partner is doing their fair share of the work. We got through all those sleep deprived, tear stained arguments two years ago, so now we’re good. Feeling the ease of routine and the support from my husband has been incredible.
So what’s been hard? The hardest part by far has been trying to meet both my kids’ needs, often simultaneously, not to mention trying to meet my own. There’s always at least one person waiting for needs to be met, and it kills me. I feel like I owe both my kids an apology. I’m sorry to my toddler, who’s been used to having my undivided attention his entire life and suddenly has to share me and wait for things. I’m sorry to my infant who has never known my attention to be undivided, who sometimes has to wait for things. I never worried about being able to love both my kids; that part is easy. But feeding them at the same time? Goodness help me. It’s one huge juggling act.
How am I holding up? Better than with my first baby, that’s for sure. The first 6 months with him were the hardest, and if this time is anything like the first, then I definitely see a light at the end of the tunnel: come June, I’ll be getting more sleep, we’ll have found our new normal, we’ll have a routine and a schedule, I’ll feel better in my body and I’ll be ready to be more active and my god, the weather will be nicer. Walks! Parks! Bike rides!
Right now, I’m rediscovering a realization I had when my son was tiny: that good days and bad days don’t depend on what happens, but they depend entirely on how I am feeling and my ability to cope with what happens. If I am well rested and have patience, it’s going to be a good day. If I can remember to sing and dance and laugh, it’s going to be a good day. Even if that day includes a tantrum and tears and potty accidents. That all may sound like a no-brainer, but it’s huge. It makes all the difference.
Here’s to surviving the newborn phase being a mom of two. Cheers.