Potsy Mamas: What We’re Hiding

No, I’m not talking about marijuana, though that would definitely be an interesting article. I’m actually talking about coping with chronic illness while raising a family. Perhaps you’ve heard of Disautonomia, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), or Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. Perhaps you haven’t. But these conditions are very real, and being a mom of four (soon to be five) while living with them is a surreal experience full of both suffering and beauty.

Imagine for a moment that, like every mother on the planet, you have more things to do in a day than are physically possible to accomplish. Now imagine trying to tackle that when your body feels heavy like you’re wading through thick mud, and coffee only makes the feeling worse. You’re exhausted like you’ve just run a marathon… ALL THE TIME. Walking up the stairs is like mountain climbing without oxygen. You have to constantly write yourself notes and set alarms on your phone because your memory is swiss cheese. Complex situations are overwhelming because your brain is in a fog, like when you first wake up in the morning, except it never goes away. The mere act of standing makes your heart jump in your throat, and the smallest movements can dislocate a rib or hyperextend a knee. And you are in significant pain every waking moment.

What happens when you live like this every day is both heartbreaking and inspiring. A series of things start to unfold. The first thing to go is your house. Dishes and laundry pile up, as does random clutter everywhere. You forget to clean the cat box and don’t have the energy to mow the lawn. Your house starts to look like an episode of Hoarders and you’re too ashamed to invite people over or even let your kid’s friends inside to play.

Then goes your self esteem. You blame yourself for all the things you know you should be doing. You feel lazy and worthless. Thoughts creep into your mind like “I’m not trying hard enough”  “I’m such a burden” and “My family must be so disappointed in me.” You curse your body for not working right, and feel resentment towards both yourself and towards healthy people who live more mainstream lives. Your marriage suffers, both physically and emotionally, and you start to tell yourself that your spouse would be happier without you.

The guilt and self-blame are the worst when it comes to your children. You want to give them the world, and instead they don’t even bother to ask if you’ll take them to the park because they know that pained look in your eye all too well. You teach your children to be self-sufficient and independent; more out of necessity than anything else. You are proud that your teens can cook dinner, wash their own clothes, and fix their own bikes. You love how your younger kids can quietly entertain themselves outside in the fresh air without you hovering over them. But you also know that their childhood is flying by at lightning speed while you’re laying in bed trying not to throw up.

Then comes the judgement squad. Doctors not familiar with your condition, random people on the street, your kid’s teachers, coworkers, sometimes even your own family members. Everyone has an opinion on how severe your illness is and how you should be handling it. A lot of people don’t even believe your condition is real because you look “normal” on the outside. Your slurred speech and shaky movements means you sometimes get mistaken for an alcoholic or drug addict, and then treated with open disdain and discrimination.

Some people will be sympathetic, but insist you’ll be cured if you would just take more ginseng, or stop eating gluten, or do more yoga. My personal favorite is when they tell you to think positive and visualize yourself healthy.

I am a strong believer in homeopathy, clean eating, healthy exercise, and so on. But none of these things are magic cures that will stabilize the blood flow to my brain and keep my joints from dislocating. None of these things will keep my autonomic nervous system from misfiring like an electrical short. This is what leads to the final stage: the mask.

You start hiding your condition as best you can from the world. You grit your teeth and smile through the dislocations and spasms. When someone asks what’s wrong, you tell them you’re “just a little tired” instead of telling the truth. People get tired of hearing about your symptoms and start to tune you out. You avoid social interaction as much as possible, and start lying to cover up for it. (“Oh I’m sorry I missed the meeting, I had a flat tire”). You completely shut down in stressful situations because everyday life is already stressful enough, and you just can’t bear any more. You decide it is so much easier to put on the normal facade than wasting energy trying to make everyone understand. (Because 80% of them never will.)

I am trapped inside this body like a butterfly in a cocoon, except I don’t get to break free and fly.

There is an odd beauty to it though. This purgatory of inbetween health- not sick enough to be disabled, but not healthy enough to be normal- is like slowing down and living your life in stop motion. You learn to appreciate tiny moments like the sun warming your skin, the crinkle of smile in your daughter’s eyes, the earthy flavor of a hot cup of tea. You appreciate the people who stick by your side, and love them fiercely for it. You learn to let go of the things that don’t matter; like messy hair,  dirty kids, and judgemental people. You learn to slow down and just breathe.

We are moms (and dads) worth knowing.

 

 

Using Sexism for Communication: “Mansplaining” being a SAHM

I’ve been seeing a lot of blogs out there recently, written by women trying to explain to their working husbands what it’s like to be a stay at home mom. Unfortunately, these blogs are all written from the raw and complex emotions of the feminine brain, and are often putting men in the stereotypical position of trying to decipher a language they find extravagant and melodramatic. While there are always exceptions, I believe that most of the time men think in squares and women think in circles. If we want to connect and communicate there has to be some bending from both sides. So it is with that in mind I decided to explain being a stay at home mom in terms more coherent to our angular-minded mates. Here it is:

Imagine for a moment that you are at work. It is 7am, you didn’t have time to brush your teeth before you left; and having hardly slept the night before, you cling to your cup of coffee like a life raft. Your boss, looking fresh and chipper, heartily announces to everyone that YOU will be training the new guy. Great.

It doesn’t seem so bad at first; the new guy is young, but funny and full of energy and enthusiasm. But as the day wears on, you begin to realize how demanding it is to train him. He doesn’t know the first thing about your line of work, and is constantly interrupting, asking absurd questions, and making a mess of things. You also notice he physically touches you a lot more than is necessary. Not in a perverted way; he just seems to have no sense of personal space.

Your boss, who is usually gone all day in meetings, stops by at the end of the day and notices that your work is barely even started. You try to explain that babysitting the new guy took up most of your time, but he either doesn’t care or isn’t listening. You grit your teeth and frantically get as much work done as you can before the whistle blows.

Finally you are ready to go home and  put your feet up and relax, when surprise! You LIVE at work now. With the new guy and your boss.

You spend the next several hours making your boss and the new guy comfortable, making sure they have everything they need and get plenty to eat. Your boss takes the new guy into the break room to watch TV for a little bit- just long enough to sweep up the cafeteria and check your email- before you are expected to prepare sleeping arrangements for everyone. You have a splitting headache and you are exhausted to the point of feeling murderous, but you grit your teeth again and do what needs to be done.

Finally, after everyone goes to sleep and you were able to steal a 2 minute shower, you are just about to collapse into bed… and the new guy wakes up and needs something. Your boss is snoring and oblivious.

This happens eleven more times throughout the night.

The next morning, feeling like you haven’t even slept at all, you are awakened by the new guy yelling something about donuts and hear a plate shatter on the floor. You come into the cafeteria just as your boss is sidling into his office, mumbling that the new guy is YOUR responsibility.

You eventually get to your station and start working (you forgot to shave AND brush your teeth this time) only to find out there is a staff meeting. You put your work down and head to the break room. The subject of the meeting is a new policy overview- in which it is announced that weekends have been eradicated, and you will be training the new guy 24/7/365… and you will be expected to do so with infinite patience, good humor, and energy. Good luck!

 

10 Awkward Parenting Moments

Parenthood is a trip.

Literally, tripping on leggos and hastily-discarded backpacks and barbie shoes. (seriously, how can such a tiny rubbery shoe make you face plant the door frame?) Around every corner is a new snag; dried play-doh and fruit snacks stuck in the carpet, tweens thinking you are the “dumbest mom EVAR”, etc. etc. But as I was sitting on the toilet today as my two year old contemplated my menstrual cup, it occurred to me that there’s a whole world of awkwardness in the great parenting adventure that no one ever talks about. Sure, we all know about the big ones- the sex talk, the you need-to-wear-deodorant talk, and the bathtub self discovery moments, among others. But what about those little day to day moments? Here’s a list of ten little gems you might relate to:

#1 Potty Training Monkey See: When your toddler wants to help you wipe your butt.

#2 Aunt Flo Owies: When your toddler thinks a panty liner is a band-aid for your lady parts and then wants one the next time she scrapes her knee.

#3 Classroom Vocabulary: Having to explain the meaning of (or at very least why not to say) words like pussy, douche, dildo, bugger, and tosspot.

#4 Genital Announcements: When the shopping cart has a wobbly wheel, and your 4 year old sitting in it loudly announces to everyone that it tickles her vagina.

#5 Kiss the BooBoo: When kids hurt their butt, crotch, or tongue and want you to kiss it better. (Bonus: when they bite their tongue while eating a hot dog and want you to kiss it still covered in half chewed wiener.)

#6 Sneak Attack Milkies: When your older nursling tries to be sly and pull down your shirt ninja-style.While you are introducing yourself to the new neighbors.

#7 Poker Face: When your kid is in trouble at school for doing something completely absurd, and you can’t laugh.

#8 Stranger Danger: When an elderly gent stops to admire your baby’s red hair, and your 6 year old says “Ummm… you have a lot of hair in your nose.”

#9 Thug Sister: When your son has to get a shot at the doctor’s office, and his 3 year old little sister  screams “Don’t you hurt my bwudder!” and punches the nurse in the face.

#10 Gas Giant: When you go out to a girl’s lunch with your preschooler, and she cuts a fart so big everyone turns and looks at YOU.

Have I forgotten anything? Feel free to add your awkward moments in the comments below!

Embracing the Other Parentheses: Learning to Love the Mommy Body

After my fourth child was born, I was ambushed by my own body.

But let me start from the beginning. I had been moderately slender my whole life, occasionally going on (short-lived) diets when I felt unattractive, but otherwise I was more concerned with the deep purple bags under my eyes and small breasts than I was with my dress size. I idolized my older sister, who was a redheaded version of Marilyn Monroe; all voluptuous curves, full breasts, and face like a renaissance painting. As a teen I was green with jealousy over the attention she got from boys. I felt invisible next to her. It made me determined to get breast implants and plastic surgery on my eyes as soon as I was old enough.

Fast forward fifteen years. I never got the surgery or implants thank goodness. Having babies didn’t make me look like my sister, but my breasts did fill out to a C cup. I was still a size 8, even after having three babies. I would rocket up to around 200 pounds by the end of my pregnancies, but I was a mad milk machine and lost the weight within 6 months from breastfeeding alone. Then it happened: I got divorced.

During my time as a single mom I lost a lot of weight from stress (and being too busy to eat) and plummeted down to a size 2. I was working, taking college classes, and raising 3 kids on my own. It is difficult to describe what it’s like to be a single mom to someone who has never done it. It’s exhausting to the point of permanent zombie status, and you NEVER stop moving. But having to do everything yourself with no one to lean on is oddly liberating and empowering. I never felt more strong and free than I did during that time.

But the heart gets lonely, and while doofing around online I blundered into the angel now known as my husband. I had delivered my first three babies naturally (aside from a bit of IV pain medication) so when I got pregnant with my fourth I expected things to be the same. HA! The relaxin hormone combined with a little known genetic condition called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome had done a number on my lower spine, and I was in excruciating pain on top of barely being able to walk. I had three other children to care for at the same time, so when my OBGYN suggested inducing me at 38 weeks I jumped on it.

Unfortunately the nurse left my pitocin drip in too long, and without a midwife or doula to support me I broke down, went against everything I believed in, and asked for an epidural. My husband, bless his heart, had no idea how to help me, so he encouraged me to get it too. I had no idea at the time that epidurals sometimes delay milk production.

We left the hospital a day early, and I was confident that everything was going to be fine.

That first night home, despite having a strong latch and nursing frequently, the baby seemed unusually fussy and restless. The next morning when I changed her diaper and noticed her urine was brownish and very strong smelling, I knew something was wrong. We gave her some formula and waited.

By the fifth day of no milk coming in, I was absolutely devastated. I strongly believed in breast milk, and had nursed my other three babies with ease. I felt like I was letting my baby down this time by not being the mother that she needed me to be. I felt helpless, worthless, and alone. My poor husband tried to help, but breastfeeding was a new thing to him and everything he said ended up making me feel worse, not better. It was a very dark time for me.

I didn’t give up though, and after two months of nurse-first-then-bottle and countless sessions of tearful pumping, my milk finally came in. I wasn’t the mad milk machine anymore, and I didn’t have the overproduction or strong let-down that I was used to, but I made just enough for her to grow and be healthy, and that was good enough.

By the time the baby was a year old, it became apparent that I wasn’t losing any of the baby weight. I had erroneously assumed that the weight would come off from breastfeeding just like it did with the first three babes. I remember one morning looking at myself naked in the mirror, and thinking “Wow… I look like Ursula from The Little Mermaid, only with stretch marks and smaller boobs.” The realization hit me hard, and I began to spiral back down into that dark place again. I wasn’t used to the sideways looks and quiet snickering behind my back when I went out in public. I was used to being the invisible girl! My body had ambushed me, and now suddenly I was the round mama with too many kids. People started making assumptions about my eating habits, my income, and my birth control choices. Sometimes these assumptions were made out loud. To my face.

I remember one day in particular when I was shopping for bras. The baby was eating solid foods and only nursing for comfort now, so all my old, ratty nursing bras were getting to be too big. I wanted to get some pretty new bras, maybe with some matching panties or even a nightie to surprise my husband, so I went to a lingerie store in the mall. I was there with stroller and kids in tow, dressed casually in jeans and tank top. There was one other woman in the store- a young, skinny, twenty-something thing dressed in blinged out jeans and sequined top with strappy little heels and too much makeup. The store employee came out to greet us, and stopped dead in her tracks. She looked me right in the eye, did an obvious once over of my body, and then turned to the younger woman and asked if she needed any help. Wait… WHAT!?

I was shocked, embarrassed, and angry. Wasn’t my money just as good as sequin girl’s? Didn’t I have the right to shop for pretty things too? I did eventually get a formal letter of apology and a 30% off coupon after calling the company to complain, but it didn’t fix the way I felt that day. As if my size and family status somehow made me unimportant and a waste of time. Well fuck that.

I started my trademark yo-yo dieting again, and tried to walk as much as possible. I have trouble with Disautonomia (a condition that goes hand-in-hand with Ehlers-Danlos, and causes chronic hypotension among many other things) so aerobic exercise was out of the question. But my goal was different this time anyway- I just wanted to look like I wasn’t still pregnant. Shouldn’t be too hard, right?

Wrong.

When the baby was two we bought a treadmill and I really got serious about getting healthy. I worked out for 45 minutes every day and stopped eating sugar and high fat foods (except avocado and nuts). My weight did go down 5 lbs… at first. But then I started gaining weight again. To say I was discouraged would be an understatement. I was convinced my husband would get tired of me and start looking for someone prettier… and thinner. I started hoarding bottles of wine in the basement so I could sneak down and have a drink (or three) after everyone else had gone to bed. It kept me from thinking about how much I hated myself, and helped me sleep. I knew it wasn’t the right way to deal with the pain, but I didn’t know what else to do. Besides, millions of moms drink wine every day, and it’s just accepted as the norm. But our house is strictly dry, so the guilt of hiding it was almost as bad as was the reason for drinking.

The turning point came one night when my husband asked me what was wrong. I’d had an exceptionally stressful day with a sick toddler, a hysterical/hormonal tween girl, my son intentionally picking fights with his siblings, and a disaster house looming in on me like a crowd of mother-in-laws tsk-tsking at my incompetence. His simple question broke the flood gates, and I told him about my day, my self esteem and weight issues, and how afraid I was he was going to leave me. His reaction was not what I expected… He laughed at me.

He told me how ridiculous it was for me to think that he would want someone else- he married ME, not my dress size after all- and that while he encouraged me to be healthy, he secretly didn’t want me to lose too much weight because he had grown rather fond of my round bottom.

OH.

The next day I took a long hard look at myself naked in the mirror. I looked at all the things I hated about myself: the bags under my eyes, the odd-shaped breasts, the pink and silver stretch marks, the back fat that morphs into a muffin top, the thighs that are always one pant size larger than my waist, and my permanent baby bulge.

Then I looked at myself according to the things my husband has complimented. I saw my naturally arched eyebrows and light blue eyes. I saw the soft hollow of my throat and the curve where my spine meets my butt. I saw my round and slightly squishy hips, perfect for grabbing. I saw Aphrodite standing there- soft and curvy and fertile, voluptuously ripe and tempting. I was HOT.

I decided then and there that I was looking at the wrong set of parentheses.  The set that looks like this ).( is just a pause, a lull inbetween dialogue. The parentheses that look like this (.) are the ones that contain all the juicy secrets.