Military Moms: Tell A Mom Tuesdays

One of the best parts of my job is working with active military and veterans. For the most part, I would describe my military students as engaged, smart, and still healing from their service.

I didn’t know until I began teaching near Fort Bragg that female soldiers are expected to deploy as soon as four months postpartum. Some of my students have left their babies at four months and not seen them again until they were a year old. I can’t fathom that.

These women breastfeed their babies for one last time, get on plane, fly across the world, and get to work. And the thing is, many of them love their work. They are badass. They are strong beyond measure. They compartmentalize to an extent that I haven’t achieved and I don’t know if I’d ever want to be in a position to have to.

military mom

I also have the spouses of active military in my courses. These women parent for months and years by themselves. They stay at home with three kids and there isn’t any relief in sight. She cooks, cleans, puts them to bed, gets up in the middle of the night, and starts over tomorrow. She doesn’t know when he’s coming home. She worries and worries.Then she does more laundry and pays the bills.

And these students/moms rarely have a self-pitying attitude. In fact, they are some of the most resilient women I know. They don’t make excuses. They make shit happen.

Military Mamas, y’all amaze me.

History of the Baby Blues and Postpartum Depression

So I’ve started doing some research beyond interviews about postpartum depression and anxiety, and I hit the jackpot in terms of research sources: “Can’t A Mother Sing the Blues?” by Lisa Held and Alexandra Rutherford. Held and Rutherford detail every major magazine and news article about postpartum from the 1950s to early 2000s, and they correlate psychological theories and feminist movements along with the media’s portrayal. FASCINATING.

Here are some shocking, interesting, nerdy facts for you:

In 1953 a psychoanalyst-pediatrician, Donald W. Winnicott defined the “ordinary devoted mother” as someone who must demonstrate “an almost complete adaptation to the needs of the child” and “meet the needs of the child to the exclusion of any other interest,” including her mental well-being. Basically, when women became mothers, they were no longer people.

Um, my first thought when I read this section on Winnicott was DR. SEARS. Attachment above all else.

The article goes on to state pediatricians preached that “even minor separations from the mother or mother-substitute (um, dad?) could have dire lifelong consequences.” No pressure, y’all, just don’t leave your baby, EVER.

At this point in time, postpartum depression doesn’t even exist. There is only a mild mood disorder labeled the “third-day blues,” which was equated to the struggle of adjusting to getting domestic chores done once baby arrives. Basicallly, women were told a few hours of reading or relaxation would cure it. Women were blamed for this moodiness due to their inability to adjust to sacrificing themselves, completely.

The term postpartum depression was first used in 1960 in Good Housekeeping, and it was described as “causeless.”

The 1960s and 70s ushered in the use of tranquilizers for women suffering from mood disorders. If a woman didn’t bounce back within a week or so, she was given medication and expected to quickly return to normal.

This quote made my blood boil: “Immature young women may resent their lost status as the ‘baby doll.’ This type of mother, whose every whim was indulged before the real baby arrived, may never be mature enough to adjust to happy, normal parenthood.” This was from the New York Times Magazine in 1960 and written by a woman, Dr. Margaret Benz. Yes, I am just throwing a fit over not being doted on anymore. That’s exactly what postpartum depression looks like. Negative, Dr. Benz.

Then we have Rene Spitz in his book The First Year (1965) telling women that specific mood disorders link to specific physical disorders in children: anxiety in mothers equals eczema in babies. WTF?

The 1970s and 80s strengthened the women’s movement and support groups started to form. Women also started having less children due to the availability of contraception.

So postpartum depression began to be recognized as a mental illness, one out of the mother’s control. However, it was sensationalized in the media, which mainly portrayed postpartum psychosis, like the Time article in 1988 titled “Why Mothers Kill Their Babies.” Remember, only 1% of mothers suffer from postpartum psychosis. It’s rare.

And the thing is, while many of these quotes and facts shocked me, they also felt so familiar. The media still portrays postpartum depression as postpartum psychosis. Women are still put into the categories of “good” and “bad” mother all too often. Doctors, pediatricians, and lactation consultants often put breastfeeding before a mother’s mental health. There are still too many male, and female, physicians giving women bogus advice on parenting that’s not based on any science.

I’m still processing all of this information, and I just needed to share it with you. It’s made me think a lot about my mother and her mother, and the women of those generations who really had to suffer alone. There weren’t options. Postpartum support groups have only been around for thirty years, y’all. That’s a flea on the dog of time. I don’t think I would have survived without my support group. We’ve made some progress, but so much of what I read hasn’t changed very much at all.

Bad Feminist and Baby Books

I’m currently reading Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist. So far, I highly recommend it. Gay discusses a feminism that isn’t high and mighty; that’s flawed because it’s made up of people who are always somewhat flawed. Gay admits to being a “bad” feminist. I love this concept because sometimes the pressure of feminism is what keeps people from trying it on at all.

I realized I’d been a bad feminist when it comes to Mae’s books today. The books we keep downstairs are a small portion of her “library,” but they are the ones we consider her favorites. After reading The Hungry Caterpillar today, and wondering why the caterpillar is a male, I decided to categorize her books based on male protagonist, female protagonist, male and female protagonists, and gender neutral animal protagonist. Here are the stacks of books:

IMG_3848.JPG

The tallest stack, unsurprisingly, is the male protagonists. The stack with two books is gender neutral, and the stack with one has both male and female characters. No fourth stack: no solo female protagonist. Baaaaaaad feminist.

I think I’m conscious of sexism and the ways women are treated unfairly, but then I’ll get smacked in the face time and time again with something I missed. For right now, I can just replace the he/him pronouns with she/her, but we’ve also got to make a conscious choice to buy books with strong female characters. Raising a daughter means I have to accept my imperfect feminism more often than I did in the past, because it’s shoved at me all the time, but I’d much rather be an imperfect feminist than not one at all.

Shaving Your Legs (and other seemingly easy tasks)

Before motherhood, this is how you shaved your legs:

You open up your bathroom cabinet anytime of the day and lo and behold there’s an entire packet of razors because you have time to go shopping whenever. You take a bath or shower and shave your legs. The end.

Here’s how it goes after having a baby:

You shave for a week (or two) with a razor that isn’t really working well, or at all, before you notice this fact.

You write down on one of numerous sticky notes to buy razors.

Another few days pass.

You randomly remember to pick up a razor while getting your flu shot at CVS. Score!

The razors sit unopened on your bathroom counter for two days.

By the third day, you open the packaging and place a razor by your tub.

Tomorrow, you swear you’ll shave…

IMG_3842-0.PNG

Tell A Mom Tuesdays: Mamas of Sick Children

I don’t have time to write a post today because Mae is sick, the sickest she’s ever been in her eight months, and it’s just pitiful. She can barely breathe due to the congestion and she’s got a rattling cough. Her left eye is leaking fluid from being so stuffed up. I want to make it all better, and I can’t. I am doing all the things: humidifier, nose suction, etc, etc, but it still just sucks, and I keep thinking about the moms of children who are really sick, probably not going to ever get better sick, and I can’t fathom it. I know it’s one of those things that you just do when you’re in it, because what’s the alternative? But it still must take a level of strength that I don’t know yet.

So here’s an article from Slate about mothering a terminally ill child. This must be the hardest work on the face of the earth, but many mothers do it.

A Day for the Books

Today was special, and not for any particular reason. We all had breakfast together and then bundled up and played on the porch. Mae gave us her biggest grins of the days, always in the morning. Jimmy and I actually read the paper for a few minutes each. Mae napped and we both worked some. Then we went on some errands. I know this all sounds boring, and it is, but we went to THREE different stores and Mae was happy as could be. A few months ago, I couldn’t dream of being able to do that. I used some coupons and robbed CVS and Kohl’s, and the most helpful man in the world helped us at Home Depot. Ask for Frank in the paint section. He knows his stuff and is nice about it.

Yesterday at a yard sale, we bought two worn but nice night stands, hence the trip to Home Depot. So while Mae took a colossal nap, I made chalk paint (for the first time) and painted them. Jimmy roasted an entire chicken from Eco River Farm, and the smell of garlic wafted outside as I painted. I listened to reggae the entire time and found myself in a deep trance, not thinking of anything at all. It was lovely.

Then Mae woke up and we went on a family walk, talking to neighbors along the way. The weather today is beside the word perfect in the dictionary.

I painted a sealant on the tables while Jimmy and Mae gathered kindling for a fire, and then we ate delicious chicken around our firepit in the backyard.

That’s it. Nothing special, but wonderfully ordinary. I want to remember today always. Mae’s constant whispering of “da da da.” The way she watches the sunlight through the trees. My husband coming outside to praise my work. The sounds of children riding bikes in our neighborhood. Arthur sunning on the porch. So many little blessings. So thankful.

IMG_3831.JPG

IMG_3832.JPG

The Family Car Sticker: Why I’ll Never Have One

Warning: this is a soapbox post and a rant.

sticker-1

Am I the only one who gets totally annoyed by these stickers? My instant reaction is to cringe, and this has stayed the same pre and post parenthood. So why do I dislike these stickers so much?

*My initial thought was aren’t people with these stickers advertising to pedophiles? I know that is cynical and bleak, but I did think about how you are telling the world: Hey,we have a baby boy and daughter! Oh and the mommy sticker is holding a briefcase, so she might not be home after school!

*And that gets to my next reaction. So sometimes these stickers go beyond being stick figures and they have little accessories. Maybe the son gets a soccer ball and the daughter gets a pink princess wand (ugh), but the mom, the mom, almost always has a briefcase, a purse, and I even saw a vacuum once! Oh lord, don’t get me started. Yes, these are all the roles of a mother–we either work or shop or clean. The husbands, however, never seem to have a briefcase. I guess because it’s a given that they work, so that’s not a needed symbol. The husbands get accessories like a grill or a football. If women get anything “fun,” it’s a cellphone or a wine glass (because we love to drunk chat). I mean I do love to drunk chat, but that’s not my main focus in life. Could a woman be in uniform? Could a girl be reading a book? Or maybe a mom likes to grill?

What does the woman with the curly hair represent? Hysteria?

What does the woman with the curly hair represent? Hysteria?

* I’ve never seen family stickers depicting a same-sex family, ever. Now I live in the south, and NC just legalized same-sex marriage!, so maybe same-sex family stickers are happening elsewhere. But, I think many same-sex couples/families wouldn’t feel comfortable/safe advertising their family on the back of their car. (You also don’t see mult-racial families represented). There are people who might key their car, smash a headlight, or even worse wait for them in a parking lot, based on knowing that personal information. So, I guess what really bothers me about those heteronormative family stickers is the brag factor and privilege that comes with displaying one. Look at me! I have a family like society says I should! We have a dad, mom, son, and daughter! We fit inside all the boxes! Check!

little boxes

* I like bumper stickers that are funny and maybe tell me something interesting or original about a person, but these family stickers just reinforce how unoriginal people are. “We are exactly what we should be” is what these stickers say to me. There’s something sad to me about people who feel the need to express themselves in such a limited way. So you get to pick wavy or straight hair and an accessory? And this feels expressive to you? I’d honestly rather you stick a pro-choice or Sarah Palin bumper sticker on your car; it might say more about you.

Now I realize this post is going to piss off some people. They’ll say I’m a grump, and I probably am, a little. They’ll say they are just happy. And why can’t they just be happy? Well, they can be happy, if ignorance is bliss. And why can’t they just be proud of their family? They can, just be proud in a more humble and decent way.

ass family

Also, I’m not talking about the zombie family stickers. Those are awesome.