Archive for September, 2010|Monthly archive page

Haiku: Fallow

Distance recedes ‘neath
tired skies. Pen and voice both
reduce to mumbles.

Leaves droop, swoop and swirl,
Fall.  I too am a muted
colour explosion.


It’s a process.

I can’t sleep.

It happens a few nights a month now, when my body turns itself to brooding (in the literal sense – the figurative sense isn’t limited to only a few nights a month). I’m exhausted, heaviness infusing each limb, each eyelid – but my brain won’t shut off and no amount of just lying there wishing for sleep will make it come.

When I was pregnant, it was like that every night. Three trimesters spent with my brain and body discordant – wakey when I most needed to be asleep, sleepy when I most needed to be awake.

We’ve since discovered, Doc and I, that it’s my hormones setting the scene, chemical messages misfiring. “You’ll likely be this sensitive to your hormonal balance for the rest of your life”, Doc told me a few months after childbirth, when we were starting to finally figure my crazies out – the whole growing a baby no longer masking my condition. Great.

I was talking about pregnancy with my very pregnant friend a few days ago (a gravid gravitation). This is her third, true courage if I’ve ever seen it. She mentioned in passing that she and her husband had been discussing the number of children their various friends had (I being one of the uni-children family varieties), and the topic of my hard time had come up. She’d said to me that she couldn’t really remember what my story had been, just that she’d shuddered many times upon hearing it. I sidestepped the conversation somehow, shuddering myself at retelling it, reliving it, remembering it. But it’s stayed on my mind, and now I can’t quite stop. Especially on this night of nights, when my body is literally reliving it, tossing and turning.

It wasn’t any one thing. It was everything.

And it still is.

I was overhearing some childbirth horror-story-telling from the next cubicle over today, a first-time mom with her pregnancy just recently announced now sitting there. The mature mom in the conversation was trying to describe to a childless male colleague what labour pains feel like (in front of the horrified and mesmerized mom-to-be, oh the traumas we inflict) – and all I could think of was how labour was such a small part of the unending pain for me. Just a single day amidst a year of days. As painful and long a day as it was, at least on that day, we kind of knew what we were doing. We understood the possible outcomes. We were surrounded by medical attention and options and I was supported in every way. Boy, do I have stories to tell about that day, ending up with an emergency birth due to both my son’s and my life being in the balance, but they are stories of just one day. If all I feared was another traumatic birthing, I’d be over it already, and have had another child or one on the way at this point.

Everyone always seems to focus on this, on the experience of childbirth, as if it is the only thing women really go through.

I’ve been drawn very much lately to the topic of telling secrets, of taboo subjects. I’ve just finished reading an incredible novel on the Armenian Genocide in Turkey at the beginning of the first world war. I watched an astounding interview by an Iranian woman author detailing the conditions in Iranian jails in the early 1980s the other day. I lent my ear to a friend admitting to me in a whisper that she feared she might be suffering from post-partum depression, struggling with coping with a 5-week-old who wasn’t gaining weight or sleeping (not to minimize whatsoever the reality that she might very well be suffering from PPD, but can’t we also talk honestly about the fact that weeks of unrelieved sleeplessness is an acknowledged torture technique, and that all human bodies go nuts under those conditions – let alone while also recovering from surgery, experiencing roller-coaster lactation hormones, and being utterly responsible for maintaining a new human life?).

It stuns me on a daily basis that pregnancy and its aftermath are not talked about, not really. Oh, we mention the aches and pains, the inconveniences superficially. We laugh about the absurdities. But we don’t really talk about, don’t admit the fear. The hijacking of our brains. The unending, ovewhelming physicality. The demands. A life sentence of monthly sleeplessness.

I don’t fear pregnancy and childbirth and infancy themselves. I fear who I will be during them.

How will I parent the challenging child I already have while barely holding myself together with the demands of growing, birthing, nurturing another? When I’m barely holding myself together now without them? When my depression is hormonally-directed (and has become a permanent, though fluctuating, state), through a year of guaranteed hormonal flux?

What I’d tell my friend, if she were brave enough to ask again, is that the reason we don’t have more than one child at this point is that my story never ended. It continues. I haven’t recovered yet. I’m still limping, both figuratively and literally, still wracked by all kinds of pain.

I’m going to try again to sleep now, and hope that some relief will come. Of any sort.

Whispers From My Future Self

Oh Honey,
slow down.
This time is so short,
so blessed,
so pure.
It is passing as you sleep.
It will not always be so hard,
I promise.
I promise.
Tears are nectar well brewed,
well spent.
They are a tribute.
This is a beautiful time,
more beautiful than you can see just yet.
You too.
Take your time.
Take the time.
Trust in time,
it is not the enemy you think.
Take it all in,
every drop –
and make of it all a few precious memories for me.

Defining Depression

I don’t get good days anymore. I get good moments, good stretches (sketches) – but in doses. Like medicine, the goodness wears off.

I can’t tell if the melancholy is the negative space, or the object – the background or the fore. I can’t tell which (or what) is my natural state.

I am laughing, enjoying the raindrops, my smiling boy, the piercing sun. And then suddenly (unexpectedly, always), the bitterness sets in. Returns. Inserts.

Oh yes, now I remember. I forgot – I thought the happiness was what’s real. But no. It’s this instead.

I’d hung the wet umbrellas over the railing, into the stairwell to dry. When bringing the laundry hamper down to start a load, I’d ducked under the tips of them, smiling at their incongruity. When I was bringing a basket full of clean clothes up moments later, I’d completely forgotten they were there. Had I been looking, head up, of course I would have seen them and ducked once again, another small inevitable smile. But instead, my thoughts were on how many unfolded loads where already piling up in the livingroom, my eyes on my feet. So I got poked in the head while climbing the stairs with fifteen pounds of clothes in my arms, by the very objects I’d placed in my own path.

Depression is like that.

Bumping you in the head when you least expect it but most should have.

“But I don’t understand!” Dearest says, “You had a great day! You went apple-picking with Bonhomme, and said it was gorgeous!”

I did. It was.

But that was then. This is now. And that’s something he will never understand – how could he? Even I don’t.

Each day is a battle, a burden. The good stretches are my armour. Some days one weary foot forward, plodding along is the best I can do. Some days it’s not even that. And yet, I stand my ground, claim my stake. I don’t know what victory looks like (is) – but  I do know defeat. And if my won’t is stronger than my will, well, so be it. Every picture has negative space. That’s how objects get defined.

Picking Apples

I have grass in my shoes, rain in my hair.
My pant legs are soaked and my eyes are hazy tired.
You are asleep in the rearview mirror,
a bundle of limbs and doughnut crumbs.
Weaving in and out of the apple trees, I lost you.
A branch found your cheek and marked it,
two red lines criss-crossed by hot tears.
I followed your wailing until I found you,
cared for (but not comforted, no) by some random mother.
When we get home, you’ll wake just long enough
to remind me to tell Daddy about the fresh cider doughnuts
(and to confirm that there will still be one left for you).
We’ll make apply crisp out of this rainy orchard day,
and fill the house with the smell.
I wouldn’t have gone without you,
I wouldn’t even have realized the loss.
The wipers clear the mist – for a moment only.
The road is humming us home.

Mother’s Milk

We mothers don’t do each other any favours.

The last thing, the very last thing mothering in the 21st Century needs is criticism, competition, comparison, condemnation, covering up or outright lies. And worst of all, worse than all of these combined, is simple silence.

Today, I talked my friend New Mom back from the brink, from that OMG-I-can’t-do-this brink, over the bane of all new moms the world over: breastfeeding. For most, it’s exhausting, painful, uncomfortable, inconvenient, complicated, embarrassing and all-consuming. For some, it’s miraculous. And for a few, it’s impossible. Whether due to poor letdown, poor latch, poor supply or any other number of challenges, for some of us, breastfeeding just doesn’t work, no matter how hard or how long we try.

With me, it took until Bonhomme was three weeks old and had lost a significant amount of weight and some mightily worried medical personnel before we broached the topic of looking beyond 100% breastmilk. It took another three weeks of me getting twenty minutes of sleep every three hours (that’s three weeks straight of twenty minutes of sleep every three hours) while I breastfed, pumped AND bottlefed (and changed diapers and sterilized bottles and bathed and soothed and cleaned and occasionally went to the bathroom) before we broached the topic of looking beyond breast at all. For the next two months, I only pumped and bottlefed (and nurtured an infant), and forwent breast contact. Beyond those first few weeks when he was literally starving, Bonhomme was never wholly fed on breastmilk, for the logical reason that it wasn’t feeding him enough. I never produced enough milk for him, even after we’d dealt with the latch, letdown and supply challenges. You’ve heard of cluster feeding? Try cluster pumping.

Only now, three years later, am I letting go of the guilt, of the shame, of feeling like a failure.

If there are any words, any words that I can utter that will save even one woman from feeling that, I will. I will utter them until the day I die.

Let us, we modern mothers, be honest about what our infants need.

They need nutrition.

And they need healthy moms.

They need whatever combination of whatever solution will give them that. Not necessarily only that, but that first. Nutrition, and a mom healthy enough to both deliver it, and deliver every other ounce of mothering that infant needs.

We do NOT need guilt. We do NOT need boob nazis. We need support, comfort, information, and options.

Breast is best. Absolutely. But – thank heavens – it’s not the only. It doesn’t have to be either or. Choosing what and how to feed your infant doesn’t have to be a war. It can be a continuum. And it can be a compassionate one.

As I told New Mom today, and I wish to all that’s holy someone had told me when I’d been going through what she is right now, there’s so much more to mothering than our breasts. Let us not diminish the incredible gift breastfeeding is to our children, nor the cost of it. But let us not reduce our mothering to it either. As Madame Halushki says, being a mom means learning to bike across water. So sustainability is key.

Betchya Bottom Dollar

What a difference a day (or three) makes.

The fog has lifted, whether temporarily or not, and today, goodness reigned. I felt useful. I contributed. I actually knew what I was talking about – I went toe to toe with one of our resident experts with twenty years of knowledge behind him. I solved problems. I made jokes. I thought thoughts. I brought people together and set balls rolling and reported on progress. Dearest says that he’s sure I’m always so very good at my job – but it’s very rare that I can actually tell (alternately either due to the nature of my job or the nature of me).

Even through a splitting headache, and with exhaustion lurking, I didn’t lose my cool with Bonhomme – though of course, he tested it. I didn’t curse slow coffee or slow drivers or even the rain.

It was a good day. A very good day. A day of goodness.

“Arguing (Again) Over Uneaten Toast”

“Arguing (Again) Over Uneaten Toast”

“Arguing (Again) Over Uneaten Toast”

Artist: mindofgrace
Title: “Arguing (Again) Over Uneaten Toast”
Materials: Acrylic on stretched canvas
Size: 10″h x 12″w
Date: 22 August 2010

Autumn Again

A flock hangs in the air, a ribbon afloat.
Dark clouds loom, rain threatens.
The still air catches my breath.
The thread of wings unravels, lands.
The geese call me home.

Commute of a Bureaucrat Mom

The pavement smells of warm summer rain – earth, slate, worms.
My toes are getting damp from the storm even within the bus shelter.
I squint to decipher the route number of the oncoming bus – yes, it’s mine.
I soldier into the downpour, wait bedraggedly.
The traffic snakes before my eyes, a Hansel and Gretel trail of red taillights.
The wipers can’t keep up.
To the right, a lightening sky; to the left, a lowering one.
The corn almost overshadows the roadsign (Ottawa has an experimental farm in the heart of the city).
I advanced everything today, and finished nothing.
I keep pushing, trying to roll the ball downhill, but it’s too big. Or there are too many – I can’t tell which.
I am on my way to house, husband and child – my second shift.
Raindrops slither down the pane, one by one; dandelion fluff sparkles.
The sudden storm pauses to take a breath.
My belly is empty, my shirt is damp, my head is aching, my body is tense, my heart is full.
The sun is shining through a curtain of rain, warming my face.
Police sirens wail someplace nearby.
The most beautiful woman gets off the bus, all ebony pearlescence and grace. She opens a red and white striped umbrella, sets her shoulders, and makes her way to her own second shift. She is a work of art.
Dearest has a hole in his tibia which may require a bone graft. But his leg still has structural integrity.
So do I.