Today, as it has for the past two days, the calendar on the wall in our house says Mama Away in blue magic marker. “Mama go Auntie” my kids would say as I rehearsed with them that I would be leaving and when I would be returning. I never expected my newly two year-old twins to get how many days I’d be gone, or even that the blue marker means mama is away and the green means mama is here. The big takeaway was supposed to be mama WILL be back.
“Mama go Auntie” is toddler for me flying to Hawaii to sing in a close friend’s wedding. Because that’s why I’m here, to sing, right? It would be wrong to disappoint a close friend. I’ve found myself doing a lot of rationalizing over the past weeks when the topic of my trip has come up. But I’ll tell you the truth – as I sit here in a quiet hotel room listening to waves crash outside my window. I am not here on some kind of mission of mercy, to throw myself on the sword, leaving my babies to fend for themselves with no one but their totally capable father, as well as grandfather, grandmother and babysitter. I am here because I won the fucking twin mommy lottery. At the perfect time, just when I need it most, just when I thought I was going to explode with restlessness and tedium, a close friend asked me to sing in her wedding in Hawaii.
Two days ago I walked through the airport all alone, boarded a plane for a ten hour flight, which I spent deliciously, luxuriously unplugged and alone. No internet, no phone, no patients, no demanding toddlers, no husband wanting to know why I’m so “prickly” lately. I can remember 5 hours into the flight, after I had done a crossword puzzle, napped, and read, thinking to myself how happy I was that I still had five hours left.
The last time I rode a plane without toddlers was before my pregnancy. It felt completely unworthy of comment at the time, even inconvenient. You would think I would have been eager to arrive in Hawaii, but the funny thing is I don’t think Hawaii was even real to me at that moment. All that was real to me was time. This long, delicious stretch of uninterrupted, unplanned time with no demands.
“Love is like plunging into the darkness toward a place that may exist.” – Marge Piercy
It took me a long time to let myself love, especially when there were penises involved. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of men now, but the first one I knew made a pretty bad impression. As a smart, cautious girl, the most prudent way for me to avoid re-creating my dysfunctional relationship with my father was to avoid men until I had had enough therapy to be able to trust myself around them. Of course that didn’t stop me from re-creating my dysfunctional relationship with my mom.
That’s right, during that time I was avoiding men, I dated plenty of women. I didn’t call it that at the time because we dated in all respects but one… there was never any sex. That would be too dangerous. One can never be entirely certain a woman is not one’s dad wrapped up in the body of a red-head, tomboy.
None-the-less, these sometimes enthralling, sometimes volatile, and always heartbreakingly ambiguous relationships taught me how to love, and how not to love. I even tried one with a man, eventually. Still gut-wrenchingly ambiguous, of course. Finally, in my early twenties, I had to admit that I had a problem. While these relationships were “safe” in some ways, they were mind-fucking me, badly. Trying to shield myself from intimacy for fear of getting hurt was getting me pretty badly hurt.
So I swore them off! If I was ever going to be really ready for love, I was going to have to go all in – “plunge into the darkness” without a parachute. But instead, I hid out. I avoided everyone. When I was 24, my mother was diagnosed with brain cancer. Just before she died, my dad and I stopped speaking. I assure you, he deserved it.
After I lost my mom, I felt raw, exposed, and yet opened up from the pain. I took a lot of time. I had the twenties I’d missed out on while I’d been researching cancer treatments and battling with neuro-oncologists and brain surgeons. I traveled around Southern Africa, to Costa Rica, and backpacked for 8 days in a remote part of Wyoming. I waited tables… very badly. I applied to graduate school. I went on real dates with boys who were auditioning to have to acknowledge we were more than just friends.
Almost a year to the day after my mom died, I met Seth. After all the drama and soul-searching, and years of tearful nights with female friends wondering if there was something wrong with me that would never be fixed, it was… easy. I had these surreal moments where I’d look at Seth and think can this really be happening, and how long until I lose him too? A few months before our wedding my Gram died. We had been planning for her to walk us both down the aisle. We were devastated.
Around that same time, my father showed up on my doorstep. It had been three years. He cried until he was almost sick. He didn’t deserve my forgiveness, but I knew withholding it would hurt me more than him. My therapist always said, “We don’t do well without our tribe.” Why did my tribe have to be so fucked up?
Seth and I’s partnership ceremony was the most authentic, radical thing I’d ever done, and the people in my life accepted it joyfully. It was so disorienting, I literally lost my balance. I started having these inexplicable and quite horrible dizzy spells. It was like my world was spinning on a different axis that my body wasn’t used to yet. Still, I felt like I was building something, finally, instead of sifting through ruins. I even invited my dad, and he was strangely behaved.
Getting married for me was like stepping into a strangers life. It was the first time I felt like I wasn’t fighting like hell just to continue to exist. Was this what it was like for “those people” I saw walking around in the world? It finally occurred to me… I did have a parachute. I was my parachute. I’d gotten me here. I’d been the one who padded my fall, got me back up, and plunged again into the darkness.
When Seth and I started talking about children, the idea that I could actually add people and not just have them be slowly stripped out off my life was intoxicating. I couldn’t change the past, but I could create a better future. Then we discovered Seth had a fertility problem. Then we discovered I had worse one. We were told we would never conceive. My husband once read me a quote about your family or origin being your roots and your children being your branches. I already felt like my roots had been cut off, and now I felt like I’d lost my branches. The babies that would move like my mother or laugh like my Gram would never exist.
This is my life, I thought. This is the life that happens to me. Not the strange, surreal fairy-tale life where I meet a soul-mate, form an egalitarian partnership, and finally feel like I can be who I truly am in the world. That was indeed some kind of fantasy. Reality was back, and it was harsh. My eggs were more than ten years older than I was. It felt fitting. I felt awfully old. We grieved.
Then things started happening so fast I could barely catch my breath. Just a few short months later I found myself wandering around Soho, confused and delirious, my hippie gynecologist’s words echoing in my ears – “You have a line.” I must have sat there looking stupefied for a good half hour, while the doctor and phlebotomist tried to impress upon me that I was pregnant. A few weeks later, we saw two yoke sacs on an ultrasound. Twins. “Whoo-hoo,” I heard myself cry. Fear be damned, this was probably my only shot, and I was more than okay with a two-for-one deal. Who knew how long this stretch of miracle would last!
This isn’t a post about loss. It’s a post about how loss can make it hard when you don’t lose. For eight weeks I held my breath every hour of every day. I wasn’t just scared to miscarry. I believed I would. That’s what I’d been told. When the doctor at the fertility clinic found out I was pregnant she looked at me suspiciously, like I was some kind of witch or something. When I hit that Sunday – 12 weeks – I had that dizzy feeling again. Can this be real, I wondered? I was already showing.
There I was in that other woman’s life again. Like all those pregnant women who’d made me cry inside just a few short months before. I began to open my heart to my babies. I could feel them kicking, hiccuping, and squirming. At 16 weeks I was told I had a boy, but the other little stinker was hiding. That was a long week. Then I was told I had a girl. I wept for joy. I think I knew that was the closest I’d come to getting my mom back. I saw every little body part at my twenty week ultrasound times two.
Then one day we went to brunch with some friends. In the bathroom I saw two tiny spots of blood. Every little twinge I’d felt for twenty weeks had me panicked, but this was different. This was the real deal. Then the waiting game started again. Counting down the hours, until they became days, until they became weeks. 21 weeks – I may not get to keep them. 24 weeks – still hardly any chance I’ll get to keep them. I remember my OBGYN giving me a stern talking to – warning me that my cervical shortening was unpredictable, and there was no guarantee I’d make it two more weeks. 28 weeks – hallelujah, I will probably get to keep them!!
My babies were born healthy and strong, almost 5 pounds each and breathing on their own, at 33.5 weeks. We were told numerous times they were the healthiest ones in the NICU, but the reminders not to get too hopeful were everywhere. I’ll never forget one night during their 19-day stay. We were leaving very late with some family. The babes were already in the step-down unit, and as we walked back through the main NICU, we could tell something was very wrong. A huge crowd of doctors and medical personnel were huddled around a tiny little girl. You could tell by the looks on their faces the situation was grave. The next day, the little girl was gone.
Now take these babies home and love them. Love them like none of this ever happened, like you weren’t told you’d never have them, like you didn’t almost lose them, like your mom didn’t call you that day from the hospital and ask you if the plumber came to the house before nonchalantly adding, “They found a brain tumor.” Take these babies home and love them like you have no idea that every moment of life is spent walking on the edge of death- like every path toward the light hasn’t led back into the darkness.
This post was inspired by a post called It Took Me 18 Months to Fall in Love with My Daughter. Sure, I loved my babies from the moment they were born. I loved them even before they were conceived. Why else would I have grieved so hard when I’d been told they were never going to come.? I love them so much it terrifies and sometimes paralyzes me. On the other hand, a part of me feels like I’m letting myself love them little by little everyday as I slowly let go of my fear.
The past two years have been like a roller coaster ride back through all the things that terrify me. Sometimes I feel like I’ve been holding my breath since they told me about that “line.” After 9 months, I finally felt like I was getting out of survival mode. I was doing it. I was keeping them alive, and myself sane. My worst fears hadn’t come to pass. I even found myself having fun now and then. Seth and I marveled at the two stunningly perfect lives we created. “Our roots are a bit gnarly,” we agreed,” but our branches are spectacular.” Then it happened… another “line.”
This time I was equally thrown but for totally different reasons. This one wasn’t planned, and I knew on some level I’d been holding back connecting emotionally with my babies. I was already overwhelmed by trying to love more than I ever had despite all that loss-baggage. But I’m already fucking up with the ones I’ve got, I thought to myself. Miscarrying was a major set back. It didn’t just set me back to when my babies were born, or even when I’d been terrified of losing them. It set me all the way back. Back to when I was terrified to jump at all.
Suddenly, I felt completely unsafe. Unsafe in my marriage. Unsafe with my babies. Maybe this was all a big mistake, and the universe knew I wasn’t supposed to have them, either? I think on some level I believed I’d killed my baby, and I was poison. Perhaps I thought on some level that the clarity of knowing for sure that I was dangerous and deadly would feel better than accepting the randomness of when I’d lost and when I hadn’t and when I’d been told I would but didn’t.
I wanted safety, even if it hurt. Even if I risked destroying everything .I spent the months after my miscarriage working together with my husband to drive our relationship to the brink, feeling overwhelmed and ill-equipped with my friends, and becoming way too dependent on a friendship that I eventually also ended up nearly destroying.
In the midst of all this, I was still trying to figure out how to be queer. I guess I always thought by time I had kids I would have found myself. I didn’t realize finding oneself happens again and again. If we’re lucky.
Turns out I didn’t lose my parachute last winter at all, I was just falling faster and harder than I had in a long, long time. The truth is it was there all along, because as close as I came to the edge, when it came down to it, I did the work I needed to do, I stuck with therapy, I held my marriage together, I was there for my kids, I realized just in time that my focus wasn’t where it needed to be, that I was acting out of terror and had lost clarity, and I started slowly, slowly pulling it together. This blog was born a year ago today, during a time of darkness and loss, only a couple short weeks after my miscarriage. I did give birth to something after all, this blog turns out to be Baby C.
In my first post on this blog, I talked about feeling like a snow-globe with all the parts of me shaken up, not knowing where they would land. Motherhood will do that. Over the past year, Undercover in the Suburbs has helped me reclaim and re-order those parts. The truth is when we become uprooted (as we inevitably do when we become parents), when we lose ourselves for any reason, as I did last winter, when we find ourselves again, we are never quite the same. I’ve lost a lot in my life, and sometimes it’s felt like losing myself.
Still, I feel the most fully me I’ve ever been right at this moment. Perhaps the truth is that every path into the darkness eventually leads back to the light. Undercover has helped me find that light. It’s been a chance to come back home to writing, to feminism, and come home for the first time to being queer. It’s helped me let go of damaging cultural notions of motherhood and define the role for myself. It’s a space where all the parts of me can co-exist, peacefully for the most part. It’s a space where I can connect with others who are travelling similar paths, and be comforted, and learn from those who’ve made different choices. It’s a space where I can make myself more whole, recover from my losses, and thus make more room for love. I’m still working at it. That’s what I’ve learned. I will always be working at it. For me, love may always feel like plunging into the darkness, but I’ve got this parachute. Me. I’m the parachute. Thank you for reading.
So what will the next year bring? Integration. My next step must be bringing my “real” life more in line with Lyla Cicero’s online existence. Stay tuned this year as I work toward that integration. Stay tuned for posts on coming farther out, honoring my inner teenage lesbian, battling mono-sexism in myself and the outside world, egalitarian/feminist/non-heteronormative parenting on a collision course with SCHOOL, and thus, the large society, and many other subjects.
My main goal for the blog this year is to get more of you involved. Despite the catharsis of writing these posts, the greatest joy and fulfillment I get is from reading your comments, getting your emails, and dialogue-ing with you. I hope to get more folks reading, and more of you commenting and making your voices heard. Undercover isn’t just for me. It’s for anyone searching for themselves and working to create a more LGBTQQIAPK-friendly, sex-positive, identity-fluid, gender-egalitarian world.
“Opened the door, knew what was me, finally realized, parachute over me.” – Guster
Before I started graduate school, I spent several years taking courses I needed in order to apply, volunteering in clinical and research settings, talking to folks who already had doctorates, and simply thinking about whether this was what I wanted. I knew getting a doctorate would be a massive undertaking that would impact every aspect of my life. I knew a lot of the steps in the process would be grueling drudgery, like taking my comprehensive exams and writing my dissertation. I had enough people warn me that there would be times I would wonder if I had made the wrong choice, and might even consider quitting, so when those things happened I wasn’t completely thrown. I reminded myself I had been warned but had made the decision anyway because I believed, in the end, grad school would be worthwhile. I wasn’t expecting to feel great all along the way, but I sure did feel great when I walked up and claimed my diploma and folks started calling me doctor.
I have a very smart friend who also has a doctoral degree. When talking about the transition to having a daughter, she told me she thought having a child would disrupt her life for about two months, and then she would return to her “normal life” – back to work, back to the status quo in her relationship, “just with this cute little person there.” Well you can imagine the rough transition she had when reality hit! Imagine going into grad school expecting to have your life hardly be altered? No one would ever get their degree. Imagine thinking you could just write your dissertation on the side in your spare time. Imagine showing up for the New York Marathon expecting to feel blissful the whole time. Expectation is everything. The same experience can feel drastically different depending on what we are expecting. But it order to manage our expectations we have to make an informed choice to do something and not have it thrust upon us.
Some key ways to manage expectations about having children:
A brief respite from the storm - view from our cruise ship.
Sometimes parenting is like walking into the surf during a hurricane. You keep getting knocked down, you keep getting back up, and just when think to yourself, “I’ve got this one, I’m still standing,” a bigger wave comes along and knocks you on your ass. I guess I was expecting my kids to get sick a lot in the first few years. What I wasn’t expecting was the number of ailments I myself would be afflicted with. It’s one thing balancing toddler twins and working. I’m pretty sure that alone would be somewhat manageable. Add in to the mix that those toddler twins are sick, and the odds start stacking against me. Those giant waves just keep coming. Now add in that I somehow manage to repeatedly get even sicker than they are, and just for good measure, sprain my ankle as well. Now we’re moving into the realm of a tsunami.
Valenti argues that complete maternal love and maternal instinct are overblown concepts used to promote the idea that mothers should be sacrificial and expert on all things related to their children.
To what extent do you believe in maternal instinct and the idea of all-encompassing maternal devotion? In your experience are these concepts mostly societally-generated or do they ring true to your experience or that of people you know? If you believe they are part of an un-natural societal ideal, what function does this ideal serve?
For me, these concepts mostly do not ring true. I have definitely had great instincts about my kids at times. I often feel like I know why they are acting a certain way, what they want or need, and notice things others don’t. Having said that, there are also many, many times where I feel totally perplexed by them. I often feel other mothers are aware of minutiae about their kids that I would never pay attention to, like how many times they poop. I also feel my husband has many moments of great instincts about our kids that I’m oblivious to. If I tend to get it right most often, it’s only because I’m with them the most. But I would say my husband is a close second, and could easily have “the best” instincts if he were with them more than I.
Six years ago this summer, I left the apartment where I lived by myself and walked to a train station with nothing but a large hiking backpack on my back. I would not return home for almost a month. After stepping on the commuter train to New York City, a conductor looked taken aback by my luggage. “Where you going?” he asked.
“Africa,” I said, barely even making eye contact. It never occurred to me that this might seem odd to him or anyone else. I went about my business, negotiating a variety of public transportation until I reached JFK Airport. The next night I was in Johannesburg. That was the year after my mother died. It’s a funny thing how horrific pain can lead one to freedom, and joy can sometimes feel like a prison sentence.
Iceland, Germany, Japan, Malta, New Zealand, Latvia, Belarus, Moldova, Romania, Czhech Republic, Macedonia, Bosnia, Croatia, Ecuador, and a total of 178 countries have federally mandated paid maternity leave. Fifty of these countries offer leave to fathers. (Yes, they all should!). The United States has no federally mandated paid parental leave. ZERO. See here for specific parental leave policies.
I have read so many reactions this week to Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Atlantic article Why Women Still Can’t Have it All (which discussed societal barriers to women achieving the work-life balance the feminist movement has been striving for). So many of these responses have disregarded and negated an important feminist policy agenda by blaming women and feminists for the inability to “have-it-all,” and drumming up in-fighting among groups who should be banding together to advocate for the policies Slaughter calls for. They have crticized the idea of wanting to “have it all” as a privileged, selfish pursuit, bemoaned women expecting too much and having too high expectations, and discussed the fact that men, too, struggle to “have it all.” They painted an overall picture of neurotic, perfectionistic modern mothers driving themselves crazy and needing to take it down a notch.
Ok, maybe no one “has it all,” as this Jezebel article argues, but women in Malta have 14 weeks of 100% paid maternity leave. Women in Sweden enjoy 16 months of 100% paid parental leave which they can use or share with the child’s father until age 8. In France, every child has access to free daycare, early childhood education, and healthcare. Clearly the women in these countries need to stop buying into some fantastical feminist line about a work-life balance no human being can attain!
Seth has been amazingly supportive since I came out as Pansexual last fall. It wasn’t a shock by any means. He knew I was attracted to women. But now I was asking him to embrace an identity I hadn’t really had when he married me, and he did. He keeps asking me the same question though… why now? What about having kids created this impulse to embrace a queer identity?
All I knew was the possibility of being queer no longer felt like an intellectual exercise, but a necessity. I wondered if it could be hormonal. My attraction to women felt stronger than ever, could this be some kind of bisexual hormone surge? But that didn’t feel right, because my need to identify as queer was about so much more than just finding women sexy. The truth was, that need did grow out of the mommy role. It grew out of months of feeling isolated and lonely, attempting to connect with other moms, but feeling thoroughly unsatisfied and unseen. For the first time in my life, passing as straight felt like being invisible.
When I got “married,” in some ways we had a rather queer wedding. We called it a partnership ceremony, took communal vows which included working toward marriage equality and creating an egalitarian family which celebrated diversity. I kept my name. We eliminated anything gendered from the ceremony, as well as from the marriage itself, setting up the structure of our relationship based on other aspects of who we were. I never felt erased or closeted by my marriage, because I never felt forced into a hetero-normative, un-feminist role when I became a wife.
In fact, during my marriage I actually became more fully who I was. I felt the safety and stability which allowed me to explore my sexuality and sexual orientation. I was able to be open with Seth, and felt truly known by him. During the years between marriage and becoming a mother, I was getting my doctorate in psychology, a role which fit my sense of myself as an independent, ambitious, intellectually curious woman.
Before graduate school there was a period of years when I waitressed for extra money. I can remember feeling utterly invisible, seen by most patrons as uneducated, with nothing to offer other than serving their food, and in some cases, being a sex object. But I have never felt more erased than when I became a mother. When people look at me, they see everything society ascribes to a mother, and erase everything it doesn’t. Intellect, erased. Sexuality, erased. Curiosity, ambition, creativity, desire, activism, politics, raunchiness, erased. The creepiest part was the distinct feeling of suddenly becoming asexual in the eyes of the world. But I could deal with society labeling me, rendering most of me invisible. I could even deal with relatives and friends who ignored me as if only my babies existed. I could understand that, my babies were, in fact, quite captivating.
Pride Onesies for the twins!
What I couldn’t deal with was trying to fit myself, a square peg, into the round hole of mommy culture. I saw other moms not only accepting this invisibility, but imposing it on themselves. I’ll never forget a mom who had been an accomplished professional before having children advising me to make sure I left the house sometimes because she waited three years to leave her children alone with her husband, and he wasn’t comfortable with them now. All these smart, educated, skilled women seemed unable to connect around anything other than babies. It was as if they were trying to convince each other that yes, in fact, those other parts of their identities had been neutralized. I felt so lost, so unseen, so different after these gatherings, that I was left asking myself… what am I?
I have always been queer. Even before I was sure my sexual orientation wasn’t straight, I was queer. I was queer when I stood up to my misogynist father when my mother wouldn’t. I was queer when I devoted myself to studying gender and identity, and became an activist against discrimination and in favor of human rights. I was queer when I created relationships that didn’t fit neatly into platonic or romantic, straight or gay categories. I was queer when I met and fell in love with a man, and we created a nontraditional, egalitarian marriage. I was queer when I spoke up and spoke out in situations where other women were unwilling or unable… when I allowed myself as a woman to be competitive and ambitious. Yes, I was queer when realized I was attracted enough to women to no longer consider myself straight. But I have never been as queer as I am as a mom. I have never had to be.
I am a mother. I am a loving, devoted mother who has moments of sheer bone-shaking, organ-trembling terror, like any mother, at the thought of harm coming to her babes. But I am so much more than that. And I am different. Not just because I like girls, but because I don’t accept the role society tells me to take on as a mother. Queer is not just a sexual orientation. It is not just about one part of one’s life. It is a perspective, a stance, a refusal to fill the role society dictates, and an insistence on being who we truly are. Just as I got married, but did it the way that felt right to me, and just as I am a woman in the way that feels right to me, I have to do mommy my way. And I am going to need every piece of my soul for this one. The mommy juggernaut is just too powerful. I can no longer afford to be quietly queer. I am banging down the door of motherhood’s closet. This is my coming out party.
Copyright 2012, undercoverinthesuburbs.com, All Rights Reserved.
Trigger Warnings: Drugs, Written while in a dark, jaded mental state
It’s 4/20. That’s right… four–twenty, and I am sitting here staring at a bottle of Zoloft. I just returned from an evening jog through town on my way to the pharmacy to procure said Zoloft, with my kids in the jogging stroller. I live near a university, so there are many graduate students in our town (I used to be one of them). But tonight I was passing so many groups of students, some carrying cases of Corona, others with large bags of Thai take-out, some decked out, others casual, but all with a bit of a spring in their step. What is going on tonight, I kept thinking – the weather has definitely gotten warmer – and then it hit me, four-twenty, and I thought about my plan for the evening which included showering and deciding whether to take this Zoloft. After a serious pang of jealousy, I realized, I have pot envy.
Back in college, 4/20 would have been met with an eye-roll followed by staying in my dorm room alone while my friends (all much cooler than I) went out to some party I wouldn’t have approved of. It wasn’t so much the pot itself that I had a problem with, it was the peer pressure. Ever since I can remember, I’ve responded to peer pressure by spitefully refusing to do whatever I’m being pressured to, even if that refusal defies all logic and reason. This same phenomenon lies at the root of my utter obliviousness toward pop culture. No, I’m not really too dumb to remember the names of celebrities, television shows, and movies. I’m simply so oppositional that I will myself not to know. The more people that are doing something, the less likely that I do it! Every-time I heard, “Oh, come on Cicero… Cicero’s gonna smoke tonight… tonight’s the night… Smoke! Smoke! Smoke!” my will to never smoke became stronger. I would NEVER give them the satisfaction!! So I dug my heals in, and they’ve pretty much been dug in ever since… except I’m almost 35 years old and no one’s pressuring me to smoke pot anymore. In fact, the peer pressure now is quite different. Not only am I supposed to totally overdo this mothering thing, but I’m supposed to love every minute of overdoing it, obliterating my soul in the process! Mindfuck. Enter Zoloft.
As a therapist, I am forever suggesting that patients go consult with a psychiatrist. It’s part of my job. I can’t prescribe meds, and for some people psychotropic meds are the only way to maintain functioning. For many others, they relieve unnecessary suffering. Despite this, I have always been vehemently against taking anti-depressants myself. I rode out a serious depressive episode in college, my mother’s fight with and death from brain cancer, and a lifetime of anxiety without them. I have resorted to sleeping pills (“benzos” as we therapist-types lovingly refer to the class of drugs including Klonopin, Zanex, Ativan, etc.), starting after mom died, and on and off since then. The last few months have been one of those times.
So I finally found a psychiatrist I can get along with. This is no small feat as my interactions with psychiatrists (as well as most medical doctors) typically end with increasing levels of hostility followed by me refusing to return, then having to find another doctor who I know will be an even bigger asshole. But he is strangely immune to my provocations. So I told him at our first session two months ago that I’ve always been anxious, that I’m have post-traumatic stress symptoms most likely related to my own childhood and triggered by being a mother myself now, as well as by the miscarriage I had in December. Like any respectable psychiatrist, he suggests an anti-depressant. (For those non mental-health nerds among you, anti-depressants work fairly well and are the first-line pharmacological treatment for anxiety). I politely refuse. Shortly after that, my best friend (also a shrink) tells me I need to go on an anti-depressant, after I tell her for the millionth time about how emotional I’ve been over my marital problems. Well this gets me thinking, but I decide to give it a few more weeks.
So today I saw Dr. Strangely Reasonable, and I had to admit to him that on top of everything else I’d mentioned before, I’ve now resorted to sleeping in a tent in my backyard to try and get rest… and here I am with this prescription. The thought that if I could be less anxious it would probably be better for my babies has also crossed my mind. Plus, he was just so damn nice about it. He didn’t try to push me at all… unlike those pot-pushers in college, he knew just how to draw me in! Subtle bastard!
Which brings me to my primary question as I sit here on 4/20 staring at a bottle of Zoloft – should I be using pot to control my symptoms? After repeatedly telling anxious patients to go see a psychiatrist and hearing how well pot is controlling their symptoms and how they’d rather use a natural remedy than psychotropic meds, I’ve started to wonder. Another anxious mother. A young man with bipolar disorder who is able to keep a job for the first time by smoking pot whenever he can tell he’s in danger of a problematic outburst at work. A transgender patient who is saving his marriage by smoking pot every night so he doesn’t lay awake wishing he was a woman – do they all know something I don’t? Physician heal thyself… with weed?
I even have colleagues who subtly advise patients toward marijuana over anti-depressants, especially for anxiety. Some of those colleagues also prefer pot for their own symptoms (we shrinks are an anxious bunch, hence choosing a profession where you’re basically paid to be anxious and obsessional about other people’s problems). I always prefer natural solutions, and I’m not at all sure putting my money into the drug trade is any less problematic than funneling it to the pharmaceutical companies. So instead of popping pills should I be embracing the ganja? Is this what I’m missing? Is this how the other grownups are dealing with toddlers, twinsanity, marital problems, work-life balance, the general absurdity of existence, the fact that we’ll still be paying off our student loans when our kids start college, and the recognition that the government is spying on us even with Obama in office, while big agra and big pharma work together to keep us fat and sick as the FDA looks the other way? Am I just an arm of the corporate machine pushing pills that will numb my patients out to the reality of the modern condition thus preventing revolution? Is Zoloft the new opium of the masses?
Even my best friend’s DAD smokes pot. He is some kind of expert in it. He knows which kinds pick you up, which bring you down, he’s a regular weed-kipedia. I feel like I’m doing things backward sometimes. What was I doing in college when everybody else was experimenting with drugs, and apparently learning how to manage their mental health symptoms in the process? What was I doing while everybody was experimenting with different sexual partners and in some cases, orientations? I was distracted by righteous indignation. I was trying to save my mother from my father, and later from a brain tumor. I didn’t trust people enough to have sex and I didn’t trust myself enough to do drugs. So can an old dog learn new tricks? My friend’s Dad has. Ani DiFranco’s latest album features a song which hails the benefits of promiscuity, but ends with how she’s monogamous now and happier for it. If Ani can choose monogamy, can’t I choose pot? Why does the trajectory have to be from wild to restrained, kinky to vanilla? Is it too late for me to go through my rebellious phase? Promiscuity could be tricky at this point what with the marriage thing and all… but I never vowed not to become a pothead.
Ani’s a mother now too. At her shows this winter she bemoaned the fact that she tried to raise her kid gay, but it wasn’t working. Even HER daughter is obsessed with princesses. Does Ani herself struggle with unrealistic expectations of mothers? Does she feel closeted and invisible as a mother, married to a male? Does she struggle with how to stay true to her feminist/radical/queer ideals? Ani, how do you balance work and family? How do you balance being a mother with being the fucking coolest person in the world? I bet you pick up a joint from time to time. Or are you too staring down Zoloft bottles? What’s a girl to do, Ani? There are so many questions. Where would I get the pot, there’s the whole legality issue, what about my lungs, I guess I could get a vaporizer, or I could do the baked goods thing, but that combined with the munchies could prove really dangerous for my ass. Please, Ani, I’m sitting here in my tent waiting for a sign from goddess…
In the meantime, I guess I’m going to go ahead and take this fucking Zoloft… bottoms up! God Bless America!
Copyright 2012, undercoverinthesuburbs.com, All Rights Reserved.
I clipped four fingernails this week. Four out of forty, and they were all on the docile one.
There was a poop incident. J pulled his own diaper off and tasted what was inside.
I dropped O one day as the nanny was walking up. I think I was just so done my arms gave out when I saw her.
The babies have a hit out on a mole on my chest. They take turns trying to rip it off. Today O found another one on my neck… damn!
We go outside now. I’m just letting them eat dirt… and basically anything else organic, unless it is large enough for them to choke on.
There was another poop incident. This time with something that didn’t go down when the toilet was flushed – still experiencing post-traumatic stress over that one.
Incidents involving shit make me feel the most like shit.
There’s this sweet moment when you think a baby wants you to pick him/her up to be close to you… but almost immediately an inevitable little hand points in the direction he/she wants to go and a guttural noise accompanies it, which probably roughly translates to “go now” or in some cases “go now bitch!” Is this what it feels like to be a horse?
Three calls to poison control… that makes my record one every 5 months. Could be worse right! They were all for her. He doesn’t waste time eating toxic substances when he could be eating actual food.
Three baths in 15 months. That makes my bath record the same as my poison control record. Eek! Everyone else just seems to be better at it than I am. It’s fucking scary bathing the two of them!
I’ve had a prescription for fluoride in my wallet for three months. Perhaps when they’re in high school I’ll make a decision about whether to give it to them.
I honestly don’t think my shoulders are going to make it.
I leave a lot. The more I leave, the happier I am when I return. Whoever said “absence makes the heart grow fonder” must have been a parent.
I am writing this from a tent in my backyard. I have been sleeping here. It is the only quiet place I can get any real rest.
A room of one's own?
O’s idea of kisses is biting my chin as hard as possible. Other forms of affection include putting her fingers (keep in mind the razor-sharp, refusing-to-let-them-be-cut nails) in my nose and trying to rip it off, shoving her whole hand down my throat, poking out my eyes, and pulling large chunks, small wisps, or single strands of hair. Then there is the face scratching. My patients must think I’m being abused at home.
J’s approaches to affection include “mount and hump” and “nuzzle and squeeze.” “Mount and hump” involves climbing up my body, finding a position guaranteed to cause maximum discomfort, and then bouncing up and down as hard as his little body can muster. “Nuzzle and squeeze” starts out okay with him nuzzling his little head between my breasts, however, to make sure he has me right where he wants me, he tends to grab my nipples and squeeze mid nuzzle. He also tries to rip my ears off.
But OH how I would long for that pain… It is, after all, the sweetest pain in the world. I’m reminded of Giles Corey in The Crucible as he was being pressed to death exclaiming, “More weight!” The crushing self-doubt, the paralyzing ambivalence, the ever-present anxiety, the physical attacks… Isn’t that what parenting is…