If you’ve been following along over the past months, you may have noticed my once plucky mommy blog has been devoted almost entirely to the death of one of my best friends.
E. died in October. She died suddenly, or at least it seemed sudden to me. Had my eyes been open, I might have seen it really was not so sudden. She’d been ill. I’d been in denial. Part of my grief’s rawness these past months is in acknowledging that, had I not been in denial about her age and health, I might have had prioritized more opportunities to see her, to love her, to speak and share with her.
Sometimes I don’t make the time I should. While juggling the responsibilities of my life as a working mom and wife, I forget to make the call or send the card. I’m not assertive enough about making plans with people. It’s a crappy excuse, and an even crappier feeling to realize you missed a chance because you were stupidly blinded by the day to day.
I take comfort in knowing my last interaction with her was loving, sweet, and happy. And about a week before she died, I left a voice mail for her which ended, as it always ended, in “I love you.”
I’ve also taken comfort in writing about her.
E. was my first major loss. It doesn’t matter that I’m a therapist with training in grief and trauma. When you experience this stuff for the first time, it’s like any other new, uncomfortable experience. I’m bumbling through the dark tunnel, and channeling my frustration, and sorrow into posts and poems.
Grieving as a mom has also been challenging.
When E. first died, a friend said she hoped I could find space to grieve because it’s hard to do when you are a working mom, already stretched translucently thin. I’ve thought a lot about this over the past couple months- how as moms it is so hard to find the space we need to integrate all of our parts into one cohesive package. We can’t sit around and cry in bed when kids need to be brought to school, karate, and dance; need to be fed, washed, and snuggled. We still have to rise and go to work to keep heat on and food stocked.
In some ways, I wonder if my grief is taking me twice as long to “go through” because I pigeon hole it into these tiny chunks. As moms, we keep bits of ourselves in little boxes, high up on shelves. It seems we rarely have time to take them down, open them up and spread the contents all over, let alone pack it all back up in the proper compartments. I tell myself things like, “If I just hold it together for the next seven hours, I can cry in the car on my commute home.”
It’s exhausting, but it is what it is.
Despite the lack of time and energy, I’ve tried staying emotionally open to lessons this time has to teach me. I’ll share what I came up with so far:
1. It sounds like a cliche, but if I learned one thing about bereavement, it is that talking and sharing about the lost loved one helps. A selection of special people have been ready, willing, and able to bear witness to my memories and stories about E., and this blessing has not escaped me as it heals the heart.
2. Part of me knows I will look back on this time and see it as something precious, painful though it has been. E.’s final gift to me was the realization, that in leaving of this earthly plane, love remains stronger and truer than ever. There are ways we still connect and touch one another. It is a time rich in wonder and affection.
The intensity of the emotion paints layers of it’s own complex beauty onto my existence.
I haven’t written much about my kids, family, or life as a working mom. I’m still doing and feeling all the stuff that goes along with being a mother, but in my writing all of that has taken a back seat to my need to process my friend’s death. Anyway, there isn’t really anything new or different I can say about all of that right now. I’ve had mixed feelings about this shift in content, but it has needed to be, so I let it. Which leads me to my next lesson of sorts. . .
3. It is more helpful to hold our pain, sit with it, cradle it and explore its bizarre face than it would be to cover it up and hide it away. In my professional training, I learned, years ago, that trying to suppress trauma is like trying to hold a beach ball under water. It is slippery, unwieldy, and untenable. When I sit with client’s in the crisis of grief, I often share this analogy with them. I’ve been granted an opportunity to practice what I preach.
These lessons seem to be gifts from beyond.
Even as I embrace these things, I feel uncertain. Someone remarked that dealing with grief is almost like having another child to care for. It’s an apt analogy. And as though I am holding a newborn child, I am wondering if I am doing it right, if it will like and respond to my touch, if I will be able to handle it.
My uncertainty lies in the fear people won’t like or understand my current poems; that people will get bored with me and stop reading; that people won’t appreciate how fully my blog has shifted from life of a working mother to dealing with death. I worry people won’t see the connection.
But there’s always a connection, tenuous though it may be.
Being a mom is my most important role in life. I mean, two living and breathing organisms kind of count on me to keep them alive. But other parts of me sometimes do not get the time and attention they truly need. My blog gives me space to process and complete my emotional self so I can tackle the other stuff I need to do. It helps me integrate and consolidate the contents of all the little boxes into the whole me.
I have faith in myself and in the process. Being a mom may have prepared me to patiently nurture and understand grief, even as it has complicated my grieving process. We are always stronger and more flexible than we think or dream. Sooner or later, I’ll get back to writing about all of the other stuff. In the mean time, thank you for bearing with me and for bearing witness. Every like, comment, and share has meant more to me than I can properly explain.
A while back, I mused about what would become of my breasts when I was done nursing my youngest of my two children, Emily.
Emily weaned completely about six months ago, shortly after her fourth birthday.
Weaning had been a very long process for us that took close to two years, as Emily slowed her nursing sessions to twice per day, and then only to once per day either in the morning or before bed.
I had wanted weaning to be a gradual and mutual decision. I didn’t want it to be traumatic for either of us. The beginning of my nursing relationship with Emily had been very traumatic as I suffered extreme nipple damage and had to really fight to keep my supply and the nursing relationship between my baby and myself.
Initially, I felt robbed of the “perfect” nursing experience with my daughter. I’d had tons of struggles and antenatal depression with my first child, and had ended up needing to supplement with formula with him.
Although I am beyond thankful that all was well that ended well with my son, when I was pregnant with Em, I was really committed to the idea of exclusively nursing. I felt certain that I had been better educated on breastfeeding due to the trial and error with my son, and that everything would go off without a hitch.
My confidence was shattered shortly after Emily’s birth when my nipples became mangled as a result of her tongue tie. For 11 weeks, I battled a nipple wound that would not heal. Finally we got things sorted out, but my supply never got back to what it needed to be to be able to pump milk for her to have upon my return to my job at 12 weeks after her birth.
I took a huge amount of comfort in the fact that she continued to nurse whenever she was with me, and that she almost always refused the bottle at daycare and then would reverse cycle all night with me. Sure I was tired, but I was thrilled that we were not having to supplement with very much formula, and that Emily was such a champion nurser.
Eventually, I accepted that while our relationship was not what I could label “perfect” from the get go, it ended up being pretty amazing and sweet.
And it endured much longer than I thought it would.
My son had weaned completely at 23 months. Like I said, we’d had to supplement him with formula, but he continued to nurse first thing in the morning with me until one morning he woke up, asked for milk in a cup and that was that.
I don’t remember having any truly intense feelings related to this weaning. Sure it was bittersweet, but it was not devastating in any way. And as a first-time mom, I was thrilled I’d been able to milk it out to nearly two years (pun intended!).
I had figured Em would wean around the same time. But she didn’t. She turned two and then three and still loved her milky cuddles with mama. Around the time she turned three, we started talking about what it would be like for her to not nurse anymore. Long story longer, she went another whole year and was still occasionally nursing when she turned four.
Then she stopped.
It was so gradual. It was almost unnoticeable.
To be honest with you, I don’t really think about it all that often.
Until I do think about it and then it is difficult to stop thinking about it.
A client came to my office with her toddler a while back. The child grew fussy, and she surprised me by offering him her breast, which he eagerly took and settled right down. It was absolutely the most natural and graceful thing to watch. I told her how thrilled I was that she was nursing her toddler, but the image stayed with me throughout the day and into the night along with a feeling of deep sorrow.
It had been the first time I’d seen a mom nursing since I weaned Emily.
And this is going to sound crazy, but I felt an actual physical sensation in my breasts like I used to feel when my milk let down. But it was different. It was like the shadow of that let down sensation, and I felt bereft. It was like my boobs actually felt sad.
When you are bonding and nursing with a new baby, your body creates oxytocin which is the chemical that signals the need to produce milk. It also creates a drowsy, sweet, loving feeling between you and your baby, which for me also extended to the world at large.
So, when I saw this mom nursing, it was like I got a surge of oxytocin but there was no milk and no baby to nurse. I went home and felt the need to give Emily and Jack extra cuddles.
I think about how I am no longer nursing at other weird times too. Like when I went to the pharmacy and was browsing the antacids and realized that I could take alka-seltzer again. It used to be my go-to remedy before pregnancy and nursing, but it has aspirin in it so you can’t use it during the aforementioned times. So I purchased it with a mix of hey-this-is-awesome and hey-this-is-super-sad.
I’m bummed about weaning in a lot of ways. It makes me sad to not have that connection with another human any longer. It is a reminder that children grow so quickly and things change faster than you can ever imagine. I also blame the ten pound weight gain on weaning, as well as some of my hormonal shifts and mood swings. . . although I realize those should be well regulated by now.
There is no going backwards in life.
And as I continue marching forward, I am having trouble trying to figure out what to do with these floppy appendages that seem to be a permanent DDD cup size now and give me back and neck pain. They are like an accessory that has gone out of style, only I can’t pack them away into the back of my closet or toss them in the junk drawer.
Once upon a time, they were pert and pretty. They attracted people and were objects of potential sexual pleasure. Then I had kids and they became vehicles of nurturance and nutrition.
About a week after I had Jack, I developed a urinary tract infection and went to a doctor. She was excited to hear that I was breastfeeding and shared that she had nursed her kids and it had been a great experience for her.
“But your breasts are ruined for sex forever,” She had mused. “They become like these tube socks with golf balls at the end.”
Well. . .
I guess mine are more like balloons with permanently erect, frozen peas at the end, so her very lucid description was a bit off there. But she was right about one thing– my boobs are of no use for my sex life anymore. There is a cognitive dissonance that these soft things that Emily still likes to pat and rub her face on could be used for anything other than bringing comfort to my babies.
So, I guess it is a blessing my husband is an ass man. Anyway, I digress. . .
Six months after weaning Emily, and I am still wondering what will become of my breasts now that I am done nursing. I’m trying to figure out how I feel about them, and what to do about the sense of sadness and loss.
At the end of the day I am very proud and content with the nursing relationships I had with both Emily and Jack. They were conflicted and diverse, but they were filled with love. Even as my boobs feel sad that it isn’t something I’ll ever share again with another human, I am grateful for the experiences I did have breastfeeding.
What was your weaning experience like? Did you experience any hormonal shifts or depression with weaning? Talk to me in the comments below. I love to hear from you! And please feel free to share my post on social media, or with other nursing/weaning moms in your life. xoxo and momaste!
Did you ever pitch a “no hitter” day as a mom?
Look, I don’t watch or play ball, but I think that in the sports world, a no hitter is a game in which the pitcher executes every pitch so pitch-perfectly, that the opposing team can’t hit a single one. Or score. Or something. At least that’s the definition I’m going with.
Somedays are tough with kids from the get-go. They wake up too early/cranky/sick/demanding and every move from there on in is fraught with difficulty. These days are exhausting and stressful and leave you craving coffee/wine/a desert island by two p.m.
But then there are these other days. These other, unexpected, golden days. Everything just flows. There are no struggles with the kids or spouse. Maybe there is an errant tantrum, but even that is managed with ease and grace. Difficulties are readily redirected.
Sure Emily wet her pants twice, Jack spilled chocolate milk on his freshly washed gi, and the Hubz was late getting home. It didn’t matter because we were all in this state of blissful relaxation, getting along with one another in such a kind, friendly way. The kids listened and cooperated and even got along with each other! They ate their dinner without complaining, and for once, we all sat at the table and ate the same freaking meal! Oh and also the kids didn’t hit each other, or me, giving a double meaning to “no hitter!” (See what I did there?) These days are total sweet spots. They are the cool spot on the pillow on a hot night. They are a butterfly alighting on a purple flower on a sunny day that is not too hot and not too cold. They are the perfect game.
These are the days you take a selfie with your amazing kids, post it on social media and make everyone instantly jealous because you are living such an awesome existence.
These are the days that keep you going, give you hope and sustenance. They make you feel, even for a little bit, that you are not totally sucking at this parenting thing.
They don’t happen everyday, but when they do. . . oh, man. . . Like I said, I don’t play baseball, but if I did, I can only imagine this feeling I have, tucking my feet under me on the couch at the end of the day with my babies sleeping peacefully a few doors down, is what it feels like to walk off the field after pitching a perfect game.
Things could have gone differently.
It’s the thought running through my brain.
Like, I could be on life-support. Or in a full body cast. Or paralyzed. Or really badly bruised.
My morning had gone off without a hitch. The kids were cooperative. Lunches got packed just so. I posted an ironic and witty Wordless Wednesday post, which I thought was an apt follow-up to the post I wrote last week about Seasonal Affective Disorder, and the winter pummeling we are getting in the North East this year. I replied to a couple comments on my blog.
I even had extra time to fully dry and round-brush my hair. In my cashmere sweater and ruby lip stain, I felt pretty and confident.
I dropped my son off at school and proceeded to work.
It is creepy to think those could have been my last movements on this earth.
Our lot at work was full. It is always full lately due to the excessive snow. There is an overflow lot across the street next a big, old cathedral. I pulled into the overflow lot and took the last space, in front of the building.
Since I am a creature of habit, I have a little ritual when I pull in to work. Even when I am running late, I take a moment to collect myself before getting out of my car. I take a breath. Sometimes I look in the mirror and tell myself I am a sexy beast capable of anything. I turn off the music streaming from my iPhone, and unplug it from my car. I gather together my lunch, pocket book, and then check to see if there are any new alerts on my phone. Today there were a couple Facebook notifications.
As I was completing my ritual by checking into Facebook. Something happened.
There was a roar of thunder, a hiss, a pounding.
I saw a flame of white sparkles shower my car, followed by mounds of white.
The pounding continued.
My brain could not narrate this story for me as rapidly as it was happening.
I saw my windshield shatter. I heard myself scream.
My first impulse was to start my car and back away, but my car would not start. This was probably a blessing because, in my panicked state, I probably would have backed into the cars parked like sardines in the lot. I grabbed my keys, lunch, and pocketbook and leapt from the car.
Through screaming and hyperventilating, I realized that an orca-sized avalanche of snow had slid off of the cathedral and onto my car.
Through my screaming and hyperventilating, my brain worked to remind me I was experiencing trauma. My body was flooding itself with fight or flight chemicals, my brain was working overtime to formulate words to accompany the storyline.
You’re shaking because of the adrenaline, my mind told me kindly, ever the social worker. You’ll work it out. Your breath is fast and your muscles are tense because you have been scared, and your body has responded in its most primal way.
A woman approached and I asked her to get someone, anyone from work. I instructed my fingers to dial 911. The police station, which is less than a half mile away, took my call and let me know someone would be on their way. I heard sirens and my shrieks melted into sobs.
Some of my colleagues came out and held me and waited with me. We waited. And waited. There were sirens all around but no one was coming. Then we noticed the street was blocked off and there were flashing lights congregated at an intersection down the street. There must have been an accident.
As we were standing there, another avalanche of snow came thundering down off of the roof. The thudding rumble terrified me. I started screaming again, then sobbing and shaking.
My boss instructed my coworkers to take me inside, so I let myself be led into the building through the back. I did not want to run into any of my clients looking like I did, whatever that was.
I sat in an office with some of my work pals. We waited. And waited. I grew calm and then hysterical again. I was hugged. I was given water. Our program’s psychiatrist came down and put a bag of frozen edamame on my neck as she rubbed my back. On a primal level I was aware of how upset I was, but on another level I was deeply conscious of being loved, cared for, tended to.
I felt confused.
I could see people around me and they were talking. My head hurt and I felt confused, like I was looking at them through an aquarium.
Briefly, I wondered if I would pass out or die. But I didn’t. I said, maybe it was good I was with the car and knew that it happened, as opposed to coming out after dark at the end of my work day and having to deal with it all then? My friends nodded and agreed sympathetically.
I called AAA. I called my husband. I called insurance. The police still had not come. I called the police again. “Yeah,” the dispatcher said. “We were responding to an accident, and then another accident, and then there was a domestic dispute. We’ll send a cruiser out when we can.”
My husband texted me and told me to make sure I took photos. I texted him back and let him know it was not safe to get close enough to the car to take pictures.
It was at that point, I realized that if I had gotten out of my vehicle even seconds earlier, I would have been pulverized by that falling snow.
I imagined myself lying, bloody and broken in the parking lot, unconscious, unable to call for help. And with all of the city’s resources being diverted to other accidents, I could have laid there for hours.
What would have become of me?
I can’t let my brain go there, really. But it does.
My husband called me and asked me a bunch of questions. I got pissy and ranted about how, geographically speaking, I was in Hitler’s asscrack, and this was the worst possible place something terrible could happen to a person because of the common crapulence.
After a while, I was calm. But not a nice calm. Shock calm. The kind of calm where you are numb and a little off.
I peeked out a window and saw a cop car circling around the lot where my car was. I gathered my stuff and ran out. The cop took my report and waited with me for AAA to come. We waited. And waited. As we were waiting, another avalanche of snow came off the roof. I felt validated by the cop’s response of surprise and awe.
Eventually the tow truck came and got my car out of the pile of snow.
I made it home to hug my family and that is all that matters.
But something about the whole experience today just feels. . . deep. That’s not even the word. I don’t really have a word.
A couple days prior, the psychiatrist (who put the edamame on my neck) and I were talking about how sometimes we fear we might go crazy from the relentless stress of working with people who are at high risk for going crazy. I’m ashamed to write these words, but I said to her, “Sometimes I fantasize about getting in a minor car accident on my way to work so I can go be in a hospital for the day instead of at work.”
Is there fate? Is there karma? Did this happen to me to prove to me that those sort of thoughts and statements are totally bogus and that you should never wish for anything so awful? Gosh, I don’t know. But it gives me pause. And I’m terribly thankful.
This is the kind of crap we are dealing with in the North East this winter. We are dealing with seasonal depression, property damage, accidents, slip and falls, loss of revenue, and cabin fever.
We are also dealing with orca-sized tons of snow that fall off roofs 200 feet up and crush our vehicles with us in them, which I can honestly tell you is something that had never even crossed my mind.
Be careful out there.
Hug your people.
Send out positive energy and rainbow-colored light for goodness. (Note I did NOT say “white” light.)
And take a moment to pause and notice where you are and what you are doing. Imagine, if I had not had my little pre-work ritual before getting out of my car. That little moment I keep for mindfulness before going into work may have saved my skin.
I wonder what my trauma response will soften for me, and what the chemical reflexes will brand into my brain.
It is all still so fresh, so I don’t know.
Thankfully, I have been granted the time to wait and see.
Stop, think and breathe.
Take more walks.
Speak my truth.
Don’t take car selfies.
Write more poems.
Allow myself to be swept away when I see the ocean.
Text Dad photos of the kids.
Call my sister.
Tell people I love them.
Sit still, and when I feel I can sit no longer, sit longer.
Do not worry about bedtime.
Make mindful purchases and try to save money.
Live fiercely and quietly.
Don’t try to explain.
Drink green tea.
Wear jasmine perfume.
Buy green cleaners/makeup/soaps.
Nap whenever there is a chance.
Watch the children play.
Stand back when they fight so they can learn how to solve their differences.
Do things slowly.
Forget the time. Be late, even.
Don’t worry about dinner.
Let him know.
Believe in abundance.
Don’t get anxious about carbs or protein or sugar or caffeine or yoga or cross fit or the mom across the street.
Live one moment at a time. Then live the next. (I’ve done it before, and I will do it again.)
Let go of expectations.
Ask for help.
Drop the storyline.
Believe in just enough.
Eat more cheese.