Sunday, August 10, 2008

Therapy: It's All Fun & Games...

until the therapist asks you the tough questions.

So, after a few weeks of uncharacteristically crazy behavior (and believe me, I'm not winning any awards for my mellowness even at my most chill) and some parenting that made me look like I graduated Magna Cum Laude from the Joan Crawford School of Shitastic Parenting for the Bat-shit Crazy, I decided it was time to seek clarity and some Zoloft-y solace from a professional. So I whipped out my reliable google-fingers and located someone within walking distance. As an aside, seriously with the "walking distance". With all the walking I've done here, how am I not rivaling Nicole Ritchie in a boniness competition?? Oh. Well, it might be because as I type I am sipping an English breakfast tea that's probably more half and half than water. Oh, and eating a cookie. Um. That solves that cunundrum.

My last therapist was nice, and she was great to talk to. I have no complaints about her; she let me spill my guts about a lot of stuff while I was seeing her. We participated in more of a weekly gab-fest than therapy, I think. She never asked me anything tough, really. I don't really remember many questions at all, come to think of it. So I walked into this appointment last week expecting to just chat and give some background about myself and what circumstances had led to me getting my crazy on in the past month or so.

And for the most part, I did. I talked about our move, and how sad I am still when I wake up on Thursday mornings and realize that 3,000 miles away, so many of my friends and their little ones are at play group while Ethan and I stare at each other, trying to figure out what to do with our time, me secretly hoping I can make it to noon without bursting into tears or yelling at Ethan for, oh I don't know, thinking that it would be super cool to play target practice with the cat and his sippy cup (sippy as projectile; he can't pick up the cat....yet).

(wow. that was all one sentence? Can you tell my teaching license has expired?)

So we got through that, and I glossed over the whole PPD episode because even though she's a therapist, that sort of talk seemed more like 3rd date material, know what I mean?

But she came back to it. In a big way. With, "Are you sure you should have another child?"

Um. Wow. Can you say "shut down"? My brain clamped shut with the only reaction I could fathom having. Pure and utter disbelief and insult. I mean, really. Who asks that??!!

Oh, a therapist.

She asked towards the end of my session, so I didn't really have a lot of time to do anything but stagger through "well, we've always wanted two kids. and I'd be on medication for the PPD. and yes, two kids. Two." I'm sure the word she wrote down on her notepad was "textbook". Which I hate, because of all the things I could be described as in this world, I hate to be "textbook" (which in an of itself is probably, um, textbook).

Over the past several days, though, I've been quietly ruminating over this question, picking it apart and examining my motivation.

There is the pregnancy to consider. For some crazy, kicked-in-the-head stupid reason, I loved being pregnant. Nevermind the first three months of constant panic that somethinganythingeverything will go wrong. I distinctly recall that I didn't go to the bathroom once for fourteen weeks without checking for blood on the paper. And the two times I found it? Fear down to my toenails. And the bedrest? Fourteen weeks in bed. Two of it in the hospital. But then there was also watching my belly grow, and feeling Ethan move around in there, for the first time, the hundredth time, the last time. The thought of doing all of that again, with a toddler? Makes my head hurt.

And Ethan's newborn phase? Dark times, my friends. I hate to admit that. It's hard for me to admit just how tough it was. Very few people know, but the first few weeks he was home, I would lock myself in the bathroom, sit in the tub, cry, and wrack my brain trying to figure out how to convince Husband that we should give Ethan to my friend Karen because she and her husband had been trying for years to get pregnant with no success. Seriously. It seemed perfectly rational to me that Karen should have Ethan--she so desperately wanted a child and I had somehow ended up with one that I didn't know what to do with. (Even now I write that with a cringe in my heart that you will all be aghast and horrified; but there it is).

The tears I cried then were the tears of a woman who hated herself for not being madly in love with her baby, and they were also the tears of a woman in shock at the "no going back"ness of it all.

There's simply no way to prepare for how your life ceases to be what it once was when you become responsible for the well-being of another human being. Prior to Ethan's being born, I was, well, more than a bit self-centered and I can admit that I bordered on spoiled, in that I basically could do what I wanted, when I wanted, how I wanted.

Motherhood, at least initially, changes that so completely that I think a lot of those tears were withdrawal symptoms, grieving the old me, to make room for the new me. She is, in fact, a better version of me, and I'm so glad to have made room for her. I have seen a lot of moms fight the rebirth of self they go through after having a child and I'm glad that, though it was painful, I let myself go into that cocoon and come out on the other side. And, having done that once, In a way, i don't expect to go through that sense of loss-of-self as intensely a second time around.

Stephanie talks in her book Sippy Cups Are Not For Chardonnay about being the mom who doesn't fall madly in love with her child from the moment s/he come screaming out of your body. I was that mom. It took me a long time to feel that intense love. It took me a long time to feel anything but exhaustion, frustration, disconnectedness and resentment. That? I don't want to feel again. If I knew there was no way around that feeling again, the answer to the therapist's question would be a resounding "NO. I should never, ever, ever do that again."

And I won't. Not that. The reality is that having a complicated pregnancy and a newborn IS tough. It is mind-numblingly challenging. And I'm sure with a toddler in the mix, it is exponentially more fraught with craziness-inducing difficulties. But back then? I had no identity as a mother.

Pregnancy and new motherhood forces you into roles for which you can't prepare, for which there is no personal compass. Sure, you can read every book ever written on the subject, but it's no substitute for experience. And now, at least to some degree, while I'm not old Mother Hubbard, I've had some experience, and I know, at least to some extent, what to expect of myself and of the journey.

And beyond all of what I know now, Husband is going to be the PPD police. You can be sure of that.

(And just so we're clear, I look at Ethan now and I can't fathom that there was ever a cell in my body that didn't just hurt with love for him. There is a little piece of guilt tucked away in my heart for always that I didn't immediately know just how phenomenal he was and that I didn't beam with love for him from the very get-go. But that love, when it does (finally, thank god!) take over, is the most intense emotion I've ever felt. I'm not sure I can imagine how my heart could grow enough to love another one as much as I love him, but I've seen it happen, so I have to believe it's possible.)

I also don't think our choice to have two children is based on the idea of having two babies. For some, babyhood is the part you have to go through to get to the "good stuff". Don't get me wrong, I do look forward to having another sweet, tiny, cuddly newborn wrapped in receiving blankets and nursing at my breast. Many of the things that caused me such angst then have smoothed out around the edges in my memory. No, I didn't sleep more than an hour or two at a time, but I laughed at Conan O'Brien a LOT during those first few months.

For us, having two children is about having two children, not about going through pregnancy or infancy twice. Yes, we have to do that to get to where we want to be. But it's the kids--playing together in the backyard, horsing around under the dining room table under a tent of blankets, building sandcastles together at the beach, and probably beating the snot out of each other on a daily basis for several years. That's why we want two kids. It's about watching two people learn from us, each other, the world around them, to see who they turn into and watch that development in the coming years; hopefully contributing to it in some positive way.

It's so that over holiday dinners years from now, they can tell stories to their wives or husbands and children about what crazy things they did to each other as kids. If they are like Husband and his sister, they will commandeer each other's memories so that wild and unresolvable arguments about whose memory it actually is will ensue to the point of absolute hilarity. It's so that when we are old and they are faced with losing us, that they should have each other to lean on. So that they are never alone.

I couldn't put all of that together when she first asked if we "should" have another child. All I could do was stammer and read her question as a condemnation of the depressed woman who shouldn't torture herself, her husband, toddler and newborn with her own craziness at going through the process again. And I'd like to promise that I won't go through any of that again. That next time I will breeze through it all with the grace and aplomb of a natural earth-mother. I'm not sure I will, though. There could be some craziness in the forecast. But just like now I know the colic will stop and the exhaustion will stop, I know the feelings of darkness can come with new motherhood will also stop, and that I can do something about it before I ever find myself crying in a dry bathtub trying to figure out on whom I can pawn off my newborn (especially since Karen has her beautiful and perfect Sammy now).

So, yes. I should. We should. And hopefully, we will.


Sarah said...

Oh my gosh-- I love this post-- especially the part about forming an identity as a mother-- so well written.

It really does suck sometimes having an infant and a toddler-- no reason to sugar coat things-- but everything you said about them growing together and having each other is right on.

Also, last week I called Ben and told him he had to come home because I quit-- and for about 5 minutes I meant it. So, if you wind up crying in the bath tub once in awhile, that's okay, too.

Good luck on your quest to give E a sibling-- and have fun along the way :)

Sarah said...

One more thing-- Joan Crawford line-- hilarious! I always want to teach Harry to say, "I'm not mad at you, Helga, I'm mad at the dirt," but I know how weird that is.

Stefanie said...

I got knocked up knowing that I hate the babyhood phase. And you know, I still do. But the cool thing is, I know this part is finite and that at the end of it I have a two year old to look foward to. Not that there aren't great moments with the babies but for me, it's mostly a lot of worry and weariness. But this time around I don't think I'm a horrible person for feeling this way. I just know that it's freaking hard and it will get easier. And this is coming from someone with TWINS so you will do fine. one more thing, Zoloft immediately did help.

Are you gonna call me sometime or what?

Becca said...

Such an excellent post. I didn't immediately fall for Charlie either. I mean, I loved him on an intellectual level, but like you said, once I got to know him and did fall in love with him it was the most intense emotion I have ever experienced. Watching him get a heel stick as a newborn was nothing. Watching him get blood drawn in the ER at 13 months shook me absolutely to my core with empathy. It was as if we were connected.

There were many days in the beginning that I sobbed in the car when I picked Ryan up from work during Charlie's first months. You were right on about the "can't go backness of it all". That was exactly what was so overwhelming for me.

And I am also not a baby person. There were fun moments during infancy, but they do not even come close to how much fun we are having now. I am so looking forward to the growing up years and the Christmasses home from college, just like you said.

I identified with so much of this post. Thank you. I hope you find some solace with your therapist.

Mind Body Shop said...

past life therapy offer(s) a rapid method of treating psychiatric symptoms, symptoms that had previously taken many months or years of costly therapy to alleviate…

Lindsay Margenau said...

What an amazing post Sarah. Going from 0 to 1 is - from what I hear - the most shocking of parents transitions. Heck, you were there as I cried my way through the first 3 months with a baby who wouldn't sit, wouldn't stand, wouldn't do yoga, wouldn't do massage... and now sometimes he's even a cool kid to hang out with. At least now we know - if our second ones are as bad as our first - at least it WILL end, and life WILL get better. I don't think we knew that the first time around! Great post, I totally agree - babies grow into kids, who grow into families, and thats what you are building... not just another baby to add to your complicated life!

Leap Year Dad said...

Sarah, I would never EVER think of you as textbook, and I sincerely mean that in the most positive manner.

Remember that every child is different and has their own quirks, cuteness, and conundrums to be overcome. So, if/when the E-man gets competition, the challenges will be more perplexing, and more interesting.

If you go beyond two kids...well, that's just wrong. God only gave you two hands to hold over their mouths, and two legs to hold them down...How could you do three?

Hey, 3000 miles away in NH were about 90 minutes of thunder showers, so playgroup would have been inside today, Wii not included.

KMW said...

You rock. This is a great post. Having two is so so hard (I wish it weren't) but those amazing things you mention are already there. Baby O looks at her brother with total adoration--it's so satisfying to see that they already have their own relationship, separate from ours, and she is not even 4 months old. I also think you know what to look out for and that your lifestyle is already changed so much, so the adjustment might not be so terribly hard. Your a mom. Then you will be a mom. Go for it!

Tress said...

1) I think you actually DID read every book ever written on the subject of motherhood, if I remember correctly...

2) Just had this chat with my girls yesterday about having a second baby. Relayed to them how initially frightened I was that I wouldn't have any love left for another child, given how over the moon I was for Fourth Grader. Then tried to explain the miracle of exploding, multiplying love when that second child appears. Can't be explained. Just happens. And Fourth Grader almost went back to live the hospital several times during the first week.

3) Mind Body Shop? Is this a vengeful therapist that you rejected in favor of traditional methods? Wow.

Fabulous post.

SSU said...

It took me about 2 days to actually realize I was a mom and AJU5 was born. I think some of it had to do with sleeping during the c-section and her being in the NICU, but still. I believe God won't give us more than we can handle, so when He thinks you are ready for number 2, you will get pregnant. Praying for you!

Emi said...

Well done, Well done, jolly good show!!! :-P You made me laugh, you made me cry.. I am glad you think that husband and I's (?) penchant for absconding with each others stories is least we amuse you.. just remember when it gets to be too much you can send them over to Tia Emi and tio Pete... and vice versa of course...quid pro quo Clarice...!!!! love ya

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your post. I'm currently battling ppd and it really helps to see I'm not the only one and that things really do get better.

Anonymous said...

This is a great post! Im a fan of your blog and really can relate to your honesty... best of luck to you!

Anonymous said...

I so remember having all of the same feelings about child #2 and the whole family thing. Now, almost 18 (and 16) years later, I wouldn't trade a moment of it. Okay so that's not completely true, I would give some moments back in a heartbeat! It's not always been easy, but I have two great young men who are not only best friends but are really fun. With each and every passing year I like being with them even more.

I also agree with ssu's post that God will not give you more than you can handle. Although at times, I have wished he didn't trust me quite so much!

Don't let anyone, especially some therapist you met for the first time, talk you out of the family you and hubby want!
You are great parents and your identities as such will just keep getting better!


Alice said...

What a great post. I think women are sold the "love at first sight" story, and if we don't feel it so intensely right away, we feel there is something terribly wrong with us. I've been reading your blog for the last 2+ years (wow they grow so fast!) and you are such a funny person, a great writer and a wonderful mom. Ethan is really lucky to have you. So if you and your husband decide to have another, that will be a lucky babe as well.
The great thing about therapy is that it helps you really examine the tough questions and hopefully at least some of the time, come to real and satisfying answers.

Anonymous said...

I am always impressed by how wonderful you are with Ethan. We all have our moments where we're not proud of how we handle our kids, but I think having a sense of humor about life and not taking yourself too seriously are two of the most important qualities to good parenting, and you guys are highly qualified. I am really hoping things work out for you guys. Also that you have a girl because we have lots of clothes for you!

miraclebaby said...

I have been there on the depression front... not PPD, but clinical depression for several years... and it is not fun. But depression of any kind is treatable, and why should a case of PPD keep you from having the family you desire??? It shouldn't! And being that you've been there before, you'll have more of an idea of what to watch for next time. Don't let her words discourage you, and I hope you explain to her so eloquently your reasons for wanting another one. I for one hope you do have another one, and soon.

Avonlea said...

*nods head in agreement* The no-going-backness is pretty overwhelming. Also, you weren't the only one who, in those first weeks of new motherhood, thought about who you could give or foster the baby to because you didn't think you could do it. It's hard to imagine thinking that now when my heart gets so filled up with love for our little guy.

Amy said...

This is why I blog and read blogs. Right here. Complete honesty about motherhood. Because as I like to say, it's not sunshine and rainbows streaming out of your ass 24 hours a day. It's hard and it's not instinctive and it's not rewarding some of the time.

I think you will find a way to handle Baby2. We all do. It will be hard at first, but once you get into the swing of things, you will forget you ever had just one.

For the record, it was never instant love for me either. It was more of an instant like, the grew into love.

Crystal said...

I have to tell you that, one night after about three months of 45-minute naps (for me AND Keira), I told DH in tears, "I think we ruined our lives!" I laugh about it now, but at the time, I really thought so, and hated myself for it. Come to find out, when I finally admitted that to my aunt, she said, "Oh, a few weeks after we brought Steve home from the hospital, I cried to your uncle that we had to take him back and it was all a huge mistake!" Um, WHY doesn't anyone tell you that's a normal feeling?? Anyway, thanks for a great post, as always.