Friday, September 29, 2006

Bad Biology

To those of you with two children or even one reaching the age of two, you might identify with my current struggle:

My body is sending unmistakable signals that it's time to procreate again. There is the usual frantic urge for sex during the time that I ovulate. There are weepy, rueful feeings upon looking at my children's baby pictures. And then there are the stray thoughts, more disturbing than the physical and emotional urges, that say getting pregnant again just might be the most wonderful thing to ever happen to me.

Lord, get me to the hospital. I need shock therapy, a lobotomy, or at the very least a tubal ligation. No time to waste.

So, at dinner last night, M and I resumed our long conversation about whether or not one of us should get surgery.

"This is a big issue for me," I reiterated while picking at his crab cakes.

"It's a big issue for me, too," he reminded me.

"Yes, but I'm the one who gets pregnant. Right now you don't want surgery, but you don't want me to have surgery, so I feel rather stuck." I polished off my cocktail and ordered a glass of wine. "I am starting to like the idea of a tubal ligation."

M looked at me with exasperation and tenderness. We were both painfully aware of having had this conversation many times before, most recently quite loudly in a swanky bar where we no doubt scared the hell out of the 20-somethings at the surrounding tables.

"I just don't understand why you can't wait until I am ready," he said.

"Because, when will you be ready? In five years, when I'm forty and you're an old codger, will you finally be ready? Or will you be ready before the next time we have an accident?"

I am referring, of course, to the accidental pregnancy that resulted in our beautiful baby girl, Miss A. During the time of that accident, we were practicing the Fertility Awareness Method.

Now, I am a big fan of FAM. FAM is based on close observation of the menstrual cycle, which you carefully measure and plot on a chart. Reading the signs and the chart will tell you when you are most fertile, and when there is no chance of conception. Roughly, five days before ovulation and a few days after ovulation are times of fertility. This is good to know, especially if you are trying to concieve. But there are things to watch out for. Like, sperm can survive for up to five days before penetrating an egg. It can swim round and round in the fertile, semen-like cervical fluid that floods the female parts during this time. So if you, like me, are about to engage in unprotected sex because you have not yet seen any signs of ovulation (such as stretchy, egg-white-like fluid), consider that it just hasn't come down yet but is about to any second. Stop what you're doing and apply your least-hated form of birth control.

Or else:

[see above adorable photo of Audrey]

Here is where the triumph of Man, our ability to override evolutionary compulsions, becomes so important. It may be true that my body wants me to make another baby. This has nothing whatever to do with whether or not I actually want to have another baby. All it has to do with is my biology. So, I must learn to ignore it. I can do that. I have learned to pass over many other urges, such as stealing drugs from medicine cabinets, inappropriate involvement with people not my husband, and eating entire cakes in one sitting.

Resisting a biological urge that comes wrapped in sentiment and mystery is not easy. If you want proof, witness how many women continue to fall in love with men who can't talk or notice when they have a feeling. The baby one in particular is tricky. It's designed to propogate the species, so it has to be at least as strong as the sex urge. Because for those of us who are married with children, the sex urge may not necessarily be able to trump the self-preservation urge that causes us to kick our husbands away in the middle of the night. So evolution has created the Misty Baby Urge.

Bah, I say. How soon can my OB/GYN be here with his scalpel?

Chocolate Shit Cookies

Bake chocolate chip cookies. Great. Hide my intellectual, professional, and artistic failings behind the fact that I can bake.

(And I really can. When I took cupcakes to my book group, several people agreed that I should start a bakery. That would be a terrible idea, but I sure appreciated their confidence.)

Not only can I bake! Ho no, my friends, I can also organize. And arrange furniture. And decorate a house in pleasing colors, textures and shapes. I can make a delicious four-course dinner for six friends. I can arrange flowers. I can cultivate plants. I can mat and frame pieces of art and hang them on the wall with decent skill. In short, I know how to do most of the nurturing, creative, comforting, beauty-making things in the large repertoire called The Domestic Arts. And that's not nothing.

But it's not everything.

To the women in my family, it is everything, or at least, the most important thing. Keeping a clean house is the best way to save face on every possible issue you can imagine, from infidelity to alcoholism. I'm serious. If a woman's house is clean, we can look past the empty bottles of vodka in the trash. "At least she's keeping it together," we will say, with a nod. Conversely, the most devoted wife and mother is only as good as her housekeeping skills. "Yes, she is sweet to her children, spoiling them a bit, I might add, but did you see her stove? Full of grease spots. That's the first thing I always look at: the stove. You can tell a lot about a person by the state of her stove." And so-called career women? The term in itself is a vulgarity. Career women are selfish. End of story. (Don't get me wrong, all the women in my family have always worked, but they have static jobs they complain about and believe everyone else should, too.)

So that's where I come from. Like my aunts, mother, cousins and grandmother, I used to hold my domestic competence in high regard. I used it as a weapon against smarty-pants boyfriends. "So what if he can quote Derrida?" I remember ranting to my writing group once about a boyfriend. "He can barely read a calendar and he doen't know how to scrub out the bathtub!" (Incidentally, the men and women of the group stared at me as if to ask what in the world was my problem.)

I believe that, as a woman, you just can't win. So why try? I'm reaching the point where I just do what feels right and don't worry about What It All Means.

Until today, of course, during this fit of insecurity. I am reading a review of Linda R. Hirschman's book, Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World. Hirschman is famous for pissing people off with an article she published last year that told us we should stay in the job market for the sake of society. She says we give up too much when we agree to more than half the housework and primary care of the children. (Or, I should say, child. Those of us who pop out more than one are apparently screwing ourselves irrevocably.)

I will admit to being interested in the ideas in this book. I'd like to turn them over in my mind and see where I come out. I am very concerned about the future of equality in this nation when it comes to male-female relations and for sure when it comes to mothers' rights. At the same time, damn! I'm so weary of everyone having an opinion about what I should do with my life.

You know what Hirschman's arguments remind me of? The mud and algae covering the pearl. I made this analogy months ago during my Major Depressive Episode. For me, all the stuff covering the pearl were the stories I had told myself about who I should be, and all the stories other people had told me about who I should be. I based way too many decisions on what would be best for The World, and not what would be best for my soul. Hirschman wants to add to that? She really wants me to go out and start teaching again so I can spend the best hours of my day wrangling other people's children? (Probably not. Teaching is probably one of those wimpy helping-profession jobs that women need to start shying away from.)And, incidentally, I know a lot of women who make their decisions this way. I am not sure it is always for the best.

When are people going to start writing high-profile books about what men should be doing with their lives?

(I know, I know. Only their wives would read them. Men aren't obsessed with self-improvement like we are.)

Letting go of self-improvement was a huge step toward recovering my health this year. So was letting go of the expectations of my family, my old boyfriends (they do haunt me), radical moms, and the image of a groovy, savvy, political, artistic, devoted mother that I held up as my ideal. I flushed it all. And then I was able to do what my soul wanted.

That's pretty good women's lib. And yet, that rejection letter. I can hear the shriveled black spot in my heart saying, "Get back in the kitchen."

But you know, that rejection letter means something very important: I made contact with the world. And that is more than I could say about myself over the last five years of pregnancy, birthing and breastfeeding. So I've posted it on my wall, which I hear a lot of writers do, because it shows that I've made a step.

A batch of cookies right now would just be false comfort.


Ok, so today I got my very first rejection letter after restarting my anemic freelance career. I am happy that I got a response. I just wish it had come at 5 o'clock instead of 10 a.m. There's a lesson not to check e-mail until the end of the day...

And then, AND THEN I opened the latest Brain, Child to see that all these other women are writing about all the stuff I care about, and doing it fabulously well. My issues are all over this issue! Alcoholism, motherhood politics of working/not working, saying goodbye to sex, drugs and rock-and-roll. Nothing about depression, at least. Maternal depression beyond the scope of PPD seems not to be a hot topic. Not now. Not until I start flooding parenting and women's mags with submissions...

Oh, I am such a foolhardy human. I am one of approximately eight billion mother-writers out there with a lot of half-baked ideas and notions and a wimpy C.V. I really feel like lying down on the floor and having a good cry, but the meds make it hard for me to get to that crest of emotion. So I sit here with a pit in my belly and try to breathe.

And let's take a moment to talk about all the better blogs out there. Dooce, for example, is totally stellar. Not only is Heather Armstrong hilarious, irreverent, and a smart-ass, but she, too, is a mom on meds. She even had to be hospitalized due to severe PPD.

See, all the cool people are not just smarter, but crazier than I am.

I do hate this feeling if being an almost-funny, almost-smart, almost-talented writer. I started my life in a deficit and there I have remained. Wow, I haven't had such a crash of self-worth in a long time! So, so, so, how to survive it?

Get another submission out there.


Make chocolate chip cookies.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Mommy's Groove

My little girl runs to me from the kitchen crying, "Mommy I need you!" and leaps into my arms. She curls her fat arms and thighs around me and instantly becomes an extension of my body.

She weighs nearly thirty pounds now. I reach behind me and settle the two of us down on the hard wooden window seat in the dining room. I lean against the glass. I run my hand along her chubby form as it curls against my breast and belly. The sun beats onto my back through the window. It catches stands of her summer-lightened hair. I can feel her drinking me in. I sniff her head.

"Mommy," she murmurs.

Her desire nails me to the spot. Briefly, this is where I want to be. There is nothing else like this exchange of nectar between us. I clutch her and breathe. She clutches me and breathes. Who knows where this need comes from today? Is it a part of her brain developing? Is she frightened by her new muscles, her new thoughts?

It is impossible to know. But the relief, for me and for her, is that I care. For this moment, I can stop and just be what she needs me to be.

Kids will take us however we come, but it's so much better for them when we can be strong. And there.

Lauren Slater, author of Prozac Diary, writes in two of her books that kids of schizophrenic women fare better than those of depressed women. Of the schizo moms she read about in her research, she says: "They were crazy as bats, but at least they were responsive."

As I regain a certain level of health and the mental clouds clear bit by bit, I can see how unresponsive I have been. How inured to the whining and demands (3 per minute per young child, according to John Gottman) I have grown. This is depression, but also parenthood. I watch other parents do it, too, especially my husband.

For example, at the breakfast table this morning, we played our usual game of chicken as the kids whined about more cereal, more yogurt, wipe my face, yadda yadda yadda. M and I continued to rattle our newspapers and slurp coffee. Each of us pretended to be so enthralled in the newspaper articles (was it "Seattle Symphony Season Looks Ahead" or "This Year's Hottest Urban Accessory" that so captured our attention?) that we couldn't tear ourselves away. We took turns eventually giving in – he wiped J's face and then I poured more milk for A. But we can both go a long way before getting irritated enough at the noise of banging bowls and whingeing voices to get off our chairs.

This is the kind of thing that drives new and non-parents crazy. But you have to reach a level of skill when it comes to ignoring demands, or you will never eat a meal, finish a telephone conversation, or brush your teeth. And there are many demands that it's easy to ignore, because they are, as I call them, bullshit demands. "I want a fork so I can eat my milk," is such a demand.

I guess what's different now is that sometimes I have the presence of mind – and the desire – to look the child in the eyes and say, "I will help you in a minute. Right now I need to finish my bagel." In a moment of deeper generosity, I will add, "Would you like a bite while you wait?" During less lucid times (and they still occur, often), I'm more apt to fling myself around the kitchen in a fit of resentment, slamming doors and slinging cereal boxes. (Or curl my chin into my chest and start crying. The beauty part of depression is never knowing how my coping skills will fail me.) But right now, at least, I'm able to keep hold of my senses more often.

Any parent will tell you this whole routine is a self-perpetuating cycle. I find that the more responsive I am, the less demanding the children are. They don't have to yell so loud, whine so long, or make quite the spectacle that is required in more desperate times. When I can say, "Come here, my love, it looks like you need some Mommy," instead of "Get off me!" everyone is so much happier.

Thank you, Celexa, for allowing me the neurological space to relearn this behavior. May the new groove I'm wearing in the pathways go deep.

Friday, September 01, 2006