Thursday, 5 November 2009

Cliches are cliche for a reason - But that doesn't make me feel like less of an ass for using them

I am still alive. I still have meandering trains of thought which overwhelm me and which I need to sometimes get down on (the proverbial) paper. The difference now is that I am a working mother living in an unfinished house and struggling to raise an 8 month old boy without secondary carers and without the (immediate and physical) support of my extended family. Time is short, and blogging has slipped to the bottom of an already badly suffering priority list. But as I crawl out from my babymoon and begin to allow time for things in my life which existed before my son, I have missed my writing. There is only one problem - I don't know what the hell to write about. This can only be attributed to one fact. I am happy. For the first time in my life - and this is not an exaggeration - my psyche has been pretty quiet.

Ladies and gentlemen, I think that I am content. I think that I am finally satisfied.

Maybe it is a phase, perhaps I can attribute it to the oxytocin released into my system from the breastfeeding. Maybe I have entered a stage of temporary madness. Whatever it is, it is foreign. But God it is comfortable. I could get used to this. Whatever is an obsessive misery addict like myself to do with such emotion? It is not that I don't feel stressed anymore, because stress is a pretty permanent fixture in my present life. It's not that I never feel sad or angry. It's just that for the first time in my life I am not looking for the next thing. Not telling myself that things will be great if I could just do X or if I just had X. I feel like I have everything I need, like anything else is just gravy. I don't need tomorrow to come quickly because I am perfectly happy to see what happens today. Some of the more Zen readers in my small audience may know this feeling well, but it is a new one for me. It is a feeling that I genuinely never believed I would know.

Once, about four years ago, I came home from a disastrous day at work and ran myself a bath. I climbed in, lit some candles, and drank a bottle of Chablis in just under an hour. Drunk as I was, I can remember that night so clearly. I sat there in the dark, weeping, and telling myself that some people just were not meant to be happy. Some of us were supposed to always feel like something is lacking, regardless of whatever joys entered our lives. I accepted then and there that I was one of those people. That I would never know what it was like to just feel all right. For days afterwords I listened to sad songs and buoyed myself with the comfort of self-awareness. Since then I have had plenty of happiness in my life, but until now I remained fairly convinced of the "epiphany" I had that night.

But to quote the Monkees, "now I'm a believer." Some people find God, I found motherhood. Please don't misunderstand me here. I have not suddenly decided life is worth living because I have a child. I have not placed my entire self-worth on the tiny shoulders of my poor, unsuspecting son. Milo's birth is not the reason, it was simply the catalyst. A moment of clarity in a previously foggy life. How incredible, and embarrassing, to think that all this time all I needed was for someone to drag me out of my own head and force me to focus on something else entirely. By stepping outside of myself in order to better care for this tiny creature who needed me so badly, I was forced to take a good long look at my life. And it is good. It has always been good, even when it was bad. I am lucky, I am blessed, and for once I am finally grateful.

Kind friends, do not despair. I have not become a child-obsessed, happy-clapping optimist who quotes "Chicken Soup for the Soul" (God I hate that shit). But I am happy. Welcome to the Unbridled Rantings of a Jaded, but Contented, Idealist. I hope satisfaction makes me more, rather than less, interesting.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

A Song for Milo

Three days before Milo was born, I heard Ash play this song at a concert in the Ulster Hall. I had never heard it before, but I immediately fell in love with the lyrics. The day Milo was born I could hear it playing over and over again. It felt like a love song to him. So here is my first dedication to my son - and a glimpse into just how enamored I am during this 'babymoon.'

Adding 'Mother' to my List of Titles

My absence can be explained in a word; or rather in a name - Milo.

On the 12th of March my life changed forever when my son Milo finally made his debut. In a dimly lit room, sitting in a warm birthing pool and holding my husband's hand, I experienced the most brutal/bittersweet pain and the most intense relief of my life. Milo was born into the water and placed into my waiting arms in a whirlwind, and within moments he had opened his dark eyes and looked at me with an odd recognition. I wept, of course - with exhaustion, and relief, and love, and a million other raw emotions. It is a moment I would re-live over and over again for the rest of my life if given the chance. My body is covered in goosebumps at the mere memory of it. Never a fan of greeting card sentiments, I am suddenly lost for non-cliched phrases or words to describe what the last five weeks have been like. I can't stop looking at him, holding him, talking about him or thinking about him. I have daydreams about his life, about what he will be like and what things he will do. I watch him sleep and wait eagerly for him to wait sometimes - other times I pray he will sleep a bit longer so I (and my poor breasts) can have a few moments alone.

Suddenly life feels very short - days seem to blend into each other and I wonder where each moment has gone. Already I feel the ache of a mother watching her child grow before her eyes and begging the time to slow down long enough for me to enjoy it. I am breaking all of my own rules already. My determination to use cloth diapers and cotton wool and water died before week three as I struggled to change my son without a screaming fit and a room covered in poo. My fear of allowing a newborn to share my bed was lost after several nights of only 20 minutes of uninterrupted sleep. My disgust for the use of pacifiers went out the window when I realised that my child can sometimes only be comforted by suckling at my breast - which is already weary from overuse by such an eager eater.

I find myself checking to see if he is breathing, taking his temperature without much cause, and watching intently to see if I can notice any odd or disturbing movements or color changes. Suddenly I am aware of what it feels like to have something in your life that you CAN'T be without, CAN'T survive the loss of. The fear can be overwhelming if explored too fully, and so instead I try to push it as far out of my mind as possible.

Although I have brief moments of feeling bad or embarrassed about being so engrossed in motherhood and so unable to think about much else - I have decided to embrace this short time I have where my baby and I are still almost one person. I will grapple back the other aspects of my persona in time, I will develop new aspects as well. For now I am reveling in this new part of me. This new title - mother.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

On being defensive

I have often been described as a drama queen. In fact, my family have had me firmly slotted in to this role for as long as I can remember. I must admit that I have certainly played up to the expectation in the past - in the not so distant past if I am completely honest - but it is only as I get older that I have started to question my "natural" over-dramatic reaction to things. While I once accepted that I am "too emotional," or "hot-tempered," I have started to find myself taking time to analyse things before reacting or being able to laugh at myself more often. Perhaps I am not burdened with genetic programming to be forever kicking and screaming and shouting at the injustice of my life and the world in general?

There is a comfort in accepting yourself for who you "really" are, even if you hate that person. A lazy, easy comfort which means you don't have to change certain behaviours. I have been thinking about this a lot lately as my sister has been going through a bit of soul searching - which has led to her searching the souls around her as well. Suddenly someone other than me is questioning my parents' reactions and behaviours, and because I am not the one doing the questioning my parents are responding to this line of questioning to me. The over arching theme in these responses - Defensiveness.

The more questions my sister asks, the more she demands changes in their lives or answers for their past, the further they both plant themselves on the back foot. My mother defends her commitment to motherhood, my father his lifestyle choices - both of them defending their parenting practices to me unsolicited. They are angry and caught off guard, they react quickly and with little reason. They are behaving, well, a bit like I used to. Given further thought, I realise that this behaviour is something that has existed as standard in my family for as long as I can remember. Everyone is always defending themselves, always justifying and reacting before and accusation can even be made. All of us ensuring that we will be the first to strike, lest we be struck upon ourselves. A family who should have a throw cushion with the motto "The best offense is a good defense" embroidered on it.

I have been thinking about what underlies my defensiveness, about what makes me react the most negatively and with the intense need to protect my image/actions/behaviours/personality. It didn't take long to make the connection between my greatest insecurities and the things about me I defend the most. We react this way to protect the fact that deep down we are petrified it is the truth - the truth we have the most difficult time facing about ourselves. For me it is the implication that I am stupid, cruel, unattractive, oversensitive or false in any way. So obvious, as these are the insecurities that creep in when I am left alone for too long. I fight so no one can see that the very things they are insinuating (or not, but that I have percieved them to be) are the cold dark truths I am trying to hide from everyone else.

Not long ago I would have labeled my parents' defensiveness as cruelty and a failure to keep their temper/sense of humour in check when dealing with their children. Today I am starting to look at how scared they must be that the things my sister is touching on, that I touched on so many years ago, are actually true. What fears and insecurities go through my father's head when lies down at night? Is he afraid that a terrible diet and a lifelong battle with obesity will be the end of him? Does he think he is no longer of any use to his daughters now that they have grown up and built lives that he wasn't able to give them as children? And what about my mother - what fears are keeping her awake? Does she worry that her children will never forgive her for past indiscretions? That she will be alone forever? That people only loved her because she was young and beautiful? That she doesn't know how to be a good mother? It is frightening, saddening and incapacitating to think of my parents with such insecurities, with any level of fear or self-doubt.

But perhaps the thing I find the most difficult is how a family full of people who are so unsure of their own value, so desperate to defend their own insecurities, can fight past this heated reaction to find a common ground. Who better could understand my need to feel attractive in order to be valued than my ageing mother - the woman from whom I learned such behaviour? Who could know my need to hide any trace of not knowing the answer better than my father - who is more insecure about his lack of education than anyone I have ever met? Who better to share my concerns about not being a good parent with than my sister, who was raised in the same house and with the same unsure parents that I had? We all have so much support and advice and direction that we could offer each other.

If only we could stop trying to convince each other that we have no insecurities or faults at all.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Full up

I am so full of baby right now. Physically and mentally and emotionally full of this baby. There is little time and space in my life for anything else, and he/she hasn't even come out of the womb yet. The closer the due date gets (we're just about four weeks away now) the more consumed I am with how I am going to keep my baby safe, how I am going to deliver him safely, how I am going to get him home safely and feed him and clothe him and bathe him safely. No one and nothing else matters at all, not even myself. I am overwhelmed with my apathy towards everything I usually hold dear as I brace myself for this change, brace myself for the seismic shift that is about to occur in my life.

There is plenty of room to worry about normality, though. Is it normal to gain this much weight? Is it normal to have Braxton-Hicks contractions for this long? Is it normal to think about the baby morning noon and night? Is it normal for the baby to kick that way or this way? Is it normal that I care so god damned much about being normal? Under typical circumstances, I find the 'norm' to be dull and almost offensive. I fight against it, hoping to challenge or surpass it. And yet now all I want is for someone to tell me that this pain is normal, that this worry is normal, that this anxiety is normal. That I am normal and the baby is normal.

Is this what I have to look forward to in motherhood? A resignation to being known and behaving only as some one's mother? A life filled with hoping for normal? It is the antithesis of what I have always strove for. And yet it feels so comfortable, so right at this moment in time. If for a moment I am distracted from all things baby I feel guilty and panicked. I am overwhelmed with love for this tiny person, am so excited to meet him that I can hardly take it. I talk to him as though he is another person living in my house with us, as though he could answer me back.

I think I will just try to enjoy this time, this feeling of fullness. I remember what the emptiness feels like, and I don't want to know that again. Those who know and love me will understand my retreat from the real world, from my other self. I am sure she will re-emerge someday soon. Stronger, better - warmed and shaped by the love of a child and the wisdom of motherhood.

Will you bear with me until then?

Monday, 15 December 2008

The Un-birthday

No long posts today. Just an acknowledgment. Today would have been Grace's, the baby I miscarried in April, due date. I have been dreading it weepily for weeks now, wondering exactly how one deals with such a day. Better to let it pass without incident? After all she was so new, according to medical text books she barely existed. Just another of the 10-25% of pregnancies that end in the first trimester.

So much seems to have transpired since April. Each new day that comes with my current pregnancy is a wonder. I must admit to sometimes hovering nervously outside myself, watching my belly grow and wondering when it will all be taken away from me. Yet in spite of the time elapsed and the things which have taken place since, the rawness of that loss grates on me some days. Each time someone asks me "is this your first?" and I give them the standard, non-depressing answer of "yes." But it's not. This is not my first baby, not the first little life I longed for and loved. Each answer of "yes" to queries about first child status is like a betrayal to that tiny creature that I had for such a short time.

This day feels like a betrayal as well. Just its existence seems wrong, as though there is no purpose for it now that there will be no baby born on this day. I wait for someone to remember, but I know no one will except me. Silly, stupid me and my refusal to just let go of it, quietly humming that old Skeeter Davis song and feeling guilty if I have a moment of happiness on this day of quiet remembrance.

Fuck it. It's my grief. It would have been our day. I don't care who finds me silly or over-dramatic. I know my loss could have been greater, that I could have grown to know and love that child even more and to have really experienced pain when she was taken from me. I know that other women have suffered immeasurably, that their pain is something I could not (and please, God, will not) understand. But that thought doesn't diminish what I feel right now, which is angry. And sad. And screwed out of a moment that would have been so beautiful. I love this new baby, March 15th is a day I look forward to with great hope and anticipation. I have worked hard not to let my first experience mar this one. But I need to acknowledge this day, the first day I looked forward to with that same hope and anticipation.

So happy birthday, Grace. I loved those brief moments when you were with me. You were my first baby, and while I have said goodbye I will never forget you. I will not forget that you showed me how ready I was to be a mother, how much I wanted to know the joys of having a family. I will not forget that you helped me learn how to heal myself after grief. I hope that there is a time and place somewhere that you still exist, and that someday I will know you there.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Home is where the [insert answer here, please] is.

I'm back, or somewhat back. I have been reading but not writing, observing but doing very little participating these days. I didn't think I could possibly be any more inside my own head than I was before my pregnancy, but somehow this introversion and introspection continues. The most horrible thing about it is how inarticulate I have become in expressing what happens to me during these times of soul searching. Once I could fill page after page with my musings on life, sadness, happiness or self-doubt. Now I am constantly lost for words, or even lost for the desire to find them.

Not to say that I have been unhappy. I have had more moments of contentment in the past five months than I think I have ever experienced before. Suddenly there is a wave of acceptance that the life I have is the life I want, that I am where I need to be. With one important factor changed - the location. Yes, that tyrant of emotion Homesickness has reared her ugly head again. And lately she possesses a fury and determination that doesn't allow me to write her off as easily as I have in other battles. There are several elements to my homesickness, some stronger than others, some more familiar than others. Some are real, some imagined. All are conspiring to disrupt my little bubble of contentedness - this happy little world where I love my husband more than I thought I ever would, where I rub my bump reassuringly to send my little one off to sleep after hours of kicking and flip-flopping, where I am respected at home and at work, where I have time and space to do the things I find important, where I am a wife and a mother-to-be building the family I have always wanted.

The first factor is the physical environment. I miss the seasons - all four of them. I miss winters full of snow and ice and hot cocoa; crisp, cold and sunny mornings; long underwear and LL Bean Boots. I miss springtime that is not drowned in rain and hampered by regularly cold and dark days - real spring where you can feel the weather changing and see the green starting to find its way back into the Earth. I miss summer. Hot summer days spent at the beach or on a blanket in the park. Days when the heat is so strong you think you can't bear it, but then the thunderstorms come in a torrent. They are over in minutes, but have stayed long enough to break the heat and leave you with a beautiful summer evening to spend alone in a hammock or on the patio of your favourite bar with friends. I miss Fall - not Autumn, Fall - and all of the beauty that the changing of the leaves brings. I miss playing in leave piles, apple picking and hay rides.

I also miss the beauty and convenience of the places I called home before Belfast. In Maine I was minutes from the ocean, from the river, from the little reservoir with an island. In Washington, DC I was surrounded by the beauty and bustle of the nation's capital. Living in Dupont Circle meant that art, food, culture and an exquisite variety of people were just outside my front door. I could spend all day strolling through (free) museums at the National Mall, or read in the unfathomable quiet of the Library of Congress. I felt constantly in the middle of something - of protests and movements, of history as it happened, of a city that was truly alive and bursting with energy and potential.

But these environmental factors are minimal concerns in the grander picture. Belfast may be a bit dreary sometimes, but it has its own beauties and charms. I have grown to love it, to feel pride in its ability to change and grow and regenerate. I will continue to adjust to the rainy summers and the snow-less winters without too much fuss. No, Homesickness' grandest weapon is the power of the relationships she represents.

It might sound contradictory to some of my previous posts, saying I miss the relationships in my life at home. Many of them have been riddled with strife and misunderstanding. But it was my strife and misunderstanding! There is something so extraordinary about being surrounded by people who know you - who have always known you. When someone has seen you at your worst and your best, knows every dirty detail and every little secret, it provides a sense of freedom that doesn't exist in any other relationship. My husband shares this with me, and for that I am truly grateful. But in Belfast he is a solitary member of this exclusive club. I want those people I can call at 1am back, for better or for worse. In times like these, the most unlikely of things starts to happen. The very things I have tried to get away from become the things I long for the most. How strange that I would miss things like people laughing at loud bodily functions, or family members willing to fight and shout at each other in a direct and confrontational way? As a teenager I longed for trips to Europe, cultured holidays. Now I would give anything to spend the weekend at a cheesy campground with all of my family, crude jokes and all, gathered round the campfire til the wee hours of the morning.

I have made difficult decisions in my life, but they are decisions that I think reflect the person I have always felt comfortable being - in spite of this, sometimes I just want the opportunity to slip back into my previous life. Like those jeans with the holes in the knee that you just can't get rid of because they are too comfortable, and because they have lasted with you through so much. I have worked hard to kid myself into thinking that living away from my family isn't a choice, that it is what I need to do to make the best life for me and my husband and our new family. But lately I have been thinking a lot about how deliberate that choice has been and whether or not it was the right one. I hate that my mother and father are watching my bump grow through a series of digital photographs, that my child will be almost 9 months old before she meets my sister and brother - or anyone in my family outside my parents. I worry about sharing holidays, about what will happen if my parents fall ill and can no longer care for themselves, about my children feeling closer to my husbands' friends and family than they will to mine. I feel like I am missing out on so much - my brother growing up, the chance to run to my mother's house when I need someone to look after me for a couple of hours, being able to stop by and see my father unannounced.

How does one ever know if the decisions they make in their lives were for the best? How do you know where you belong? How do I get through feeling like this when the homesickness sets in? How do I figure out once and for all where home is?